Wyoming's John Barrasso Illustrates Why US Senate Is Permafucked
John Barrasso and Gary Trauner

John Barrasso, the junior US Senator from Wyoming, is probably going to be reelected this year to his second full term (he was first appointed to the seat in 2007 to replace the late Craig L. Thomas, then won a full term in 2012 with a ridiculous 76 percent of the vote). Barasso is a very vanilla conservative Republican who's enthusiastically embraced Donald Trump, because that's the fashion in these days. He finally has a Democratic opponent, Gary Trauner, who might be able to make the race interesting, and wouldn't that be something? As noted political pundit Our Girlfriend always points out, nothing in politics is a sure thing anymore. Except of course for things that just plain won't change any time soon, like the fact that as more and more of the population lives in the largest states, the US Senate becomes increasingly less representative of Americans as a whole. That's not just a problem for Democrats -- it's a problem for the country as a whole.

So, John Barrasso first: He's a Republican in a state that went 68 percent for Trump in 2016, so he has a huge built-in advantage for reelection. It's not a guarantee, especially if Barrasso goes and gets complacent about Wyoming's Republican majority, which of course we hope he does. Last year, before he was evicted from Breitbart and the circle of Trumplove, Steve Bannon considered Barrasso so insufficiently Trumpist that he pushed Foster "aspirin between your knees" Friess -- a resident of Jackson -- to run against Barrasso on the right. Bannon also tried to recruit Erik Prince, who declined because he's not from Wyoming, even, but mostly because he'd still like to be Viceroy of Afghanistan. (Friess ended up running for governor instead, getting endorsed by Trump, and then losing in the primary, HA HA.)

John Barrasso has mostly been a good Trumper all the same, especially since, as chair of the Senate Environmental Committee, Barasso got the chance to run interference for corporate agent Scott Pruitt, who had what energy companies crave. Barrasso took over the position from Jim "Snowball" Inhofe, and is equally unimpressed by science -- in 2010, Barasso objected to the CIA wasting its time analyzing how climate change could cause geopolitical instability, because since when have massive migrations of people ever had security implications? Barrasso thought the Agency "should be focused on monitoring terrorists in caves, not polar bears on icebergs."

Also, there's a running joke in Wyoming about Barrasso's uncanny ability to crowd into TV appearances as MitchMcConnell'ssparehead. How true this is. (We'd show you a montage, but copyright is a cruel master. See the several linkies.)

Barrasso has a refreshingly witty challenger in Democrat Gary Trauner, who is pushing his competent outsider cred a lot harder than the "D" next to his name, as a red-state Democrat must. His announcement video makes the anti-partisan pitch pretty well, and has some awfully nice regular guy who knows YOU don't have an offshore account beats:

Trauner really needs to buy a sturdier phone, though. Looked like a bunch of already-broken components when it hit the ground.

This isn't a quixotic campaign, either -- Trauner came remarkably close to winning Wyoming's single House seat in 2006, losing by about a thousand votes in a race against a Republican incumbent. Longtime Wyoming politics-watcher Kerry Drake wrote in June that Trauner may very well have the potential to give Barrasso a surprisingly close race, although that may also depend on just how badly Donald Trump screws up between now and November. This could actually turn out to be a fun race -- Trauner is engaging and has a sense of humor, and Barrasso is -- well, one of the more generic Rs out there, which in a deep red state may be all he needs. But this is shaping up to be a weird year during a weird presidency, and you should go send Gary Trauner some monetary love!

But before we mosey off -- moseying is the official walk of the Cowboy State -- let's just talk about the structural bias of the US Senate and why it sucks greatly in a nation where, by 2040, the 15 most populous states will be home to about 70 percent of the population. As ThinkProgress notes, that means 70 members of the Senate will represent less than a third of all Americans. Yes, there are small blue states like Vermont and Rhode Island (both of which, by the way, have more people in them than Wyoming does), but shifting demographics are almost certain to favor Republicans in the World's Greatest Deliberative Body. And in the Electoral College. That's a built-in Republican advantage -- probably, even as the majority of actual Americans have less and less use for Republican policies.

University of New Hampshire political scientist Michael Ettlinger explains how, even now, the Senate's two votes for every state composition gives undue weight to the interests of small states:

The average state has a population of 6.5 million, making the average American one of 6.5 million constituents for each of their two senators. Californians are, however, one of 39.5 million constituents for their two senators. That makes Californians 83% less important in the Senate than the average [...] At the other extreme, people in Wyoming are each one of 579,000 constituents, making them matter 10 times more than the average.

It gets even uglier for members of minority groups, says Ettlinger:

For example, individual Latino voters are either underrepresented or overrepresented depending on whether they live in large or small states — but because almost two-thirds of them live in the five largest states Latinos overall end up underrepresented. Adding up the under- and over-representation of Latinos in all the states they reside, they matter 32% less in the Senate than the average American.

That skewed representation extends to political interests as well: Rural Americans and gun owners have far more Senate influence than the average American, which helps explain both agricultural subsidies and the power of the NRA. Small-state imbalance helps ensure the continuing power of Big Coal, even as it employs far fewer Americans than green energy.

Golly, just look at how that's skewing teensy little factors in American politics like the makeup of the Supreme Court!

In 2016, when Senate Republicans blocked Chief Judge Merrick Garland's nomination to the Supreme Court, the 46 Senate Democrats represented 20 million more people than the 54 Republicans. In 2017, when Neil Gorsuch was confirmed to occupy the same Supreme Court seat, the 45 senators who opposed Gorsuch represented more than 25 million more people than the senators who supported him.

And of course, as Yr Wonkette pointed out a while back, that disproportionate representation has YUGE effects when, as in 2016, large amounts of empty space end up electing presidents. In 2016, for a fun example, Ettlinger points out Hillary Clinton got more votes -- 8.8 million -- in California alone "than the entire populations of 39 of the 50 states" -- let alone their total votes.

The problem, of course, is that small states aren't about to volunteer to give up their disproportionate influence. But there's a strong case to be made that a compromise that made sense in 1789 just plain doesn't work anymore, since the disparities between smaller and larger states have only gotten wider and wider since then, as Ettlinger notes:

At the time the Constitution was ratified the most populous state, Virginia, had 12.7 times as many people as the least populous, Delaware, and 2.5 times the population of the average state. Today, California has over 68 times as many people as Wyoming and 6 times the population of the average state. Although the difference in population between large states and small has grown greatly, they all still get the same representation in the Senate. The Virginians and Massachusettsans of 1789 made a deal that, on balance, worked for them. The Californians, Texans, Floridians, and New Yorkers of today are paying a much bigger price.

Hell, we won't pretend to have an answer, but there's something kind of fucked here. The fact that it was baked into the Constitution from the beginning seems like a poor excuse to keep it in place, no?

Then again, some guy on Breitbart pointed out that if you exclude the votes of the places where most Americans live, then Trump had an ENORMOUS majority, so you have to keep that in mind, too.

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[Wyofile / Casper Star Tribune / Gary Trauner for Wyoming / ThinkProgess / Medium / Politico]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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