SHERIDAN — An anonymous website that purports to chart state Republican lawmakers’ adherence to the party platform has drawn criticism from Wyoming Republicans for presenting reductive and divisive characterizations of state legislators.
The site, WyoRINO.com, seeks to expose “liberal Republicans” or “Republicans In Name Only” by assigning every state legislator a score based on how their votes in the previous legislative session corresponded to the Wyoming Republican party platform.
That score, however, is based on legislators’ votes on 10 bills during a session when they voted on more than 500.
The site — which was registered anonymously through the online hosting service NameCheap, Inc. — chose to rank lawmakers on range of issues from opposition to lodging and corporate income taxes to support for a 48-hour waiting period before abortions and backing for laws that would prevent “crossover voting,” or voters changing their party affiliations immediately before primary elections.
Any legislator that did not support at least 70% of the positions the site included in its index was deemed a RINO by the site’s creators.
Many local legislators received high marks according to the site’s standards. Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, was awarded a 90% rating; Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan, also received a 90% rating; Rep. Cyrus Western, R-Big Horn, received an 80% rating; and Rep. Richard Tass, R-Buffalo, and Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, each received 70% ratings.
Rep. Mark Kinner, R-Wyoming, who received a 30% based on the site’s index, said the site’s criteria takes an extremely narrow look at lawmakers’ voting records and does not consider many of the factors that inform how they vote on a piece of legislation.
“There are bills that I vote against where I may be in favor of the idea, but the idea may not have been totally vetted yet,” Kinner said. “The idea may not be…’ready for primetime.’”
As an example, Kinner discussed a bill he voted against in a past session that would have videotaped all of the Legislature’s interim committee meetings. He said while he thought the concept of taping the meetings was a good idea, the bill hadn’t worked out what it would cost to implement the plan or identified where the videos would be stored. But Kinner added that he had a hard time taking the site seriously considering its authors have chosen to remain anonymous and said he does not expect it will have a significant impact on future elections.
“I think people in Wyoming can make up their own minds about the issues and who they feel best fits their interests in Wyoming,” Kinner said. “So to have an unidentified, very narrowly scoped thing tell people who to vote for is, I think, not very fair to the electorate in Wyoming.”
Sheridan resident Gail Symons, who serves on Gov. Mark Gordon’s Efficiency Committee and is an active member of the state Republican Party, spoke strongly against the site, calling it “propaganda” that reflects the concerns of a vocal minority of Wyoming Republicans.
“To me it is a symptom of something that concerns me greatly, which is trying to isolate (lawmakers) and drive this idea of party purity,” Symons said. “Ironically, when people do that, they are actually tearing the party apart, breaking down its foundation and actually causing a bigger rift than there needs to be.”
Symons also pointed out though all of the lawmakers listed are Republicans, they represent different constituents who have different priorities and needs based on the communities they live in and it should therefore be expected that their votes reflect different priorities.
“I have serious concerns about any of the lawmakers that got 80% or 90% or 100%,” Symons said. “What I have to wonder is, are they toeing the line for an ideology or do they actually think they’re representing the individuals in their district? The answer to that is their adhering to an ideology. Some of the folks who ranked very low are in very purple areas of the state, where their constituents are almost as equally Democrat as Republican, so these are folks who want to listen to their constituents and represent them.”
Ultimately, the decision over whether the concerns the site raises are valid will be left to Wyoming’s voters.