Wyoming small-government conservatives revolt against GOP social agenda

Western Republicans have traditionally exhibited a libertarian bent. They like small government, genuinely small government, the kind that intrudes as little into their lives as possible. Those kind of conservatives have looked on with shock as Republican lawmakers heady with victory since November have sought as a top priority to expand government reach and draw on more taxpayer cash in a controversial bid to limit access to abortion around the country. In Wyoming, the reddest of red states, the two Republican parties are battling for the soul of the party. So far, the small government Republicans are winning there.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow zeroed in on the battle Monday night. She argued the Wyoming battle highlighted a larger tug of war at the heart of contemporary Republican politics, which she described as an “ideological wobbliness” at the center of the party that will shape Republican election politics in 2012. The big government Republicans lost last week in Wyoming, where Republicans (there are few Democrats in the Wyoming legislature) voted down an intrusive anti-abortion bill. But as the news coming from Washington these days— where abortion and planned parenthood and gay marriage lead the GOP agenda– suggests the big-government Republicans will dominate the national party in the year and a half leading up to the presidential election.

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Maddow talked with Wyoming lawmakers Sue Wallis and Lisa Shepperson. The two women lead the charge against the abortion bill put forward by their colleague Bob Brechtel. Shepperson pointed out the skewed philosophy guiding Republicans who on one side voted against federal health reform legislation because it inserted government into the private sphere and limited choice and on the other side voted in favor of state intervention into women’s reproductive health care in order to limit choice and guide citizen decision-making.

“When I go to the doctor, it is the most private thing you can imagine. I want myself, I want my husband and I want my doctor there. I don’t want any government there…. The doctors don’t need to be told by any of us… I mean we don’t even know what we’re talking about. All I’m asking is that we keep government where it should be and that’s out of the doctor’s office.”

Wallis took her analysis a step further, pointing to the paternalism of Brechtel’s proposal.

“What this bill does is say that, as a woman, I’m not smart enough to know the decision I’m making, that somehow the state is required [to intervene] in this particular decision, where [the state] is required in no other medical decision.”

Shepperson and Wallis agreed that Republicans should refocus.

“I was taught that government should protect us from each other but government goes wrong when it starts protecting us from ourselves. We as competent adults can make those decisions for ourselves. That’s not the role of government in my mind. I really wish Washington would focus on things that will make a difference to our economy.”

Wallis said the November victories were not a referendum on abortion and gay rights.

“I just think it’s a huge mistake… I think the sea change that happened [in November] was all about the economy, all about opportunity, and really has nothing to do with these restrictive, oppressive social issues.”

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