Republicans hold governorships and legislative majorities in 22 states, compared to 17 for Democrats and 11 states in which government is divided. Yet an analysis of voting records found that some of the most-Republicans states have some of the least-conservative Republican lawmakers. The following is the second in a four-part series on Republican-dominated state legislatures and how they lead.
It seemed like a slam dunk: Wyoming, the most conservative state in the country, was poised to introduce school choice, a policy overwhelmingly supported by conservatives that also enjoys support from most Democratic voters, especially minority ones.
There was no doubt the bill had the votes to pass: Out of the state House’s 62 members, 57 are Republicans. A majority of the chamber was not only supporting the bill, but had co-sponsored it.
Then, it died. Speaker Albert Sommers, a Republican, refused to let the bill come to the floor for a vote, saying in late February that “I am not going to bring that bill out from the Senate that’s identical to the one that already failed in my Education Committee.”
According to Wyoming legislature records, the Wyoming Freedom Scholarship Act was not rejected by members of the education committee, but “died in committee” February 7 after it was never brought for a vote by deadline.
Despite the rejection stoking shock and outrage among conservatives nationally, the chairman of that committee, David Northrup, seemed unfamiliar, responding to The Daily Wire’s questions about the “school choice bill” by asking for the bill number so he could “review it and get back to you.” After being provided the bill number, he never responded.
South Dakota, North Dakota, Idaho, and Oklahoma all are more than 80% Republican-controlled, but their brand of legislating ranks among the least conservative in the country–at 36th, 37th, 31st, and 35th.
The truth is that most of Wyoming’s Republican legislators, who chose the speaker, aren’t particularly conservative. One analysis of Wyoming lawmakers’ voting patterns found that 31 legislators were “very liberal”–and all but two of them had Rs behind their name. That put 29 Republicans further to the left of three Democrats, who were merely “liberal.” At the federal level, Wyoming elected anti-Trump Republican Liz Cheney.
And the state is not an outlier. Utah, another overwhelmingly Republican, rural state, elected moderate Republicans Sen. Mitt Romney and Gov. Spencer Cox. At the less-scrutinized state level, many states whose populations overwhelmingly vote Republican actually run their state capitols as moderates.
In Texas, Republicans even allow Democrats to chair committees. All of that means that in some ways, there is no conservative answer to states like California, Oregon, and Washington state.
A Daily Wire analysis compared the American Conservative Union’s ratings of state lawmakers with the partisan makeup of the legislatures they served in, and found paradoxically that the more “red” a red state is, the more moderate its Republican lawmakers tend to behave.
The states with the boldest Republicans were also some with the narrowest margins of control: Florida, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Arizona. Ninety percent of Wyoming’s lawmakers were Republican, but they ranked 43rd in terms of conservative voting records–behind Republicans in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Delaware.
South Dakota, North Dakota, Idaho, and Oklahoma all are more than 80% Republican-controlled, but their brand of legislating ranks among the least conservative in the country–at 36th, 37th, 31st, and 35th. (For purposes of showing the balance between Republicans and Democrats, the analysis excluded independent politicians.)
The restraint that many Republicans show stands in contrast to the behavior of Democrats in places like Virginia, who briefly took both chambers in 2019 and immediately began ramming through far-left legislation despite the narrowest of mandates.
Thomas Bradbury, the director of advocacy and policy at the American Conservative Union who helped craft the voting-record rankings used in The Daily Wire’s analysis, said “The ratings really illuminate the fact that we aren’t governing as much conservatively as you’d believe they would be.”
“When Democrats get in charge of a state, they ram thru as many bills as possible. There’s no dissent. When Republicans get control, we pass basically nothing,” he said.
The Louisiana speaker of the House is a moderate who was elected with more Democrat votes than Republican ones. South Carolina’s Republican Caucus booted 16 of its most conservative members.
Leading the charge against Wyoming Speaker Sommers were conservatives like Rep. John Bear.
“We have a lot of people who run as Republicans but have very progressive beliefs,” said Bear, a member of the Freedom Caucus, a band of conservatives with eleven state chapters that is sounding the alarm about one of the most baffling mysteries in politics–why deep-red Republicans don’t act like it.
The analysis showed that the average South Carolina Republican was more liberal than every state’s Republicans except Hawaii, despite Republicans controlling the governor’s mansion and both state houses there. And dramatic scenes playing out in the historic state capitol of Columbia this year bear it out.
After South Carolina conservatives organized a Freedom Caucus–and some candidates allied with it defeated entrenched incumbents–the party apparatus went to war against its conservative members, demanding that they sign an oath not to campaign against any incumbent and kicking 16 members out of the Republican Caucus when they refused to do so.
Separately, the Freedom Caucus was barred from raising money for electioneering on the basis that only party caucuses and those based on race or gender were allowed to do so. The Freedom Caucus filed a federal lawsuit against the House Ethics Committee as a result. South Carolina Freedom Caucus members say that most Americans don’t realize that the state is run by what they call “extreme moderates.”
Thomas Pope, South Carolina’s speaker pro tempore, declined to comment to The Daily Wire.
At a recent conservative event in Charleston, South Carolina attended by The Daily Wire, parents involved with a movement to rid their schools of leftist influence seethed at elected Republicans’ efforts to battle against critical race theory with a bill they described as a “sieve”–so full of loopholes that it would do little to stop it. They wondered whether that was worse than doing nothing at all, because it let lawmakers take credit for doing something and might lead parents to let their guard down even though in reality, little had changed.
Even while being at war with the leadership of their own party, South Carolina Freedom Caucus members have seen victories, including convincing the Medical University of South Carolina to stop offering gender transition to minors.
The Freedom Caucus’ newest chapter is in Louisiana, where Republicans have a supermajority in the state House, but the speaker was elected with more Democratic votes than Republican ones.
A conservative seeking the speaker’s gavel, Rep. Sherman Mack, had the endorsement of the House GOP caucus and the support of federal lawmakers like Sen. John Kennedy. But some moderate Republicans refused to vote for him, and Clay Schexnayder — who attempted to use taxpayer money to pay his wife and stepsons to renovate his office suit– was elected speaker after those moderates joined with all the state’s Democrats to vote for him.
Schexnayder blocked GOP calls to reopen the state following coronavirus, leaving businesses closed and a mask mandate in place for months.
Beryl Amedee, a Louisiana legislator, said that most of the time she introduces conservative legislation, it dies in committee or without a floor vote–a way that leadership can prevent a conservative bill from passing without being on record voting against it.
“You might look at the list and see a lot of Republicans, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re conservative,” she told The Daily Wire. “We have a minority of conservative Republicans in office, with a majority of the leadership–no matter which party they are listed with–pushing policies that are still fairly liberal.”