If politics truly is the art of compromise, Anthony Bouchard is no artist.
But he is a politician. He proved that by coming within 42 votes of defeating veteran state senator Wayne Johnson in the Republican primary for Senate District 6 in Cheyenne two years ago.
The gun rights advocate is the executive director of the Wyoming Gun Owners Association, a group that prides itself on being the only “no-compromise gun lobby” in the state. In that role, Bouchard has made some enemies among the lawmakers he hopes to serve with as he seeks his party’s nomination in House District 10 in August.
Almost all of Bouchard’s battles have been with fellow Republicans, since the 12 Democrats in the 90-member Legislature don’t have enough clout to get something as difficult as gun legislation passed on their own. If they did, the minority party would surely reject the kind of gun bills Bouchard and his group supports.
So the GOP primary voters in HD 10 can select between incumbent Rep. John Eklund, who is a member of the right-wing of his party, and Bouchard, who represents the extreme right-wing. What a great choice!
During this year’s budget session, Eklund sponsored House Bill 111, which would have allowed school district employes, volunteers, coaches and contract workers to carry guns on school property. “I think in a classroom situation, a teacher with a sidearm strapped might be intimidating,’ Eklund said.
Bouchard opposed the bill, as did the Wyoming Education Association and several other school organizations.
But unlike the other opponents, who objected to the removal of public school gun-free zones, Bouchard objected to Eklund’s bill because it didn’t guarantee that guns could be brought to schools. He didn’t like a provision in HB 111 that said school districts MAY set policies to allow guns on campuses; he wanted the language to mandate the districts SHALL do so.
To do less, he argued, would be to subvert the Second Amendment, because anything that infringes on people’s right to carry guns openly is un-American. Remember, no compromises.
If the WyGOA director wants to be a state legislator who represents the public, he needs to realize not everyone in Wyoming agrees with his views opposing all gun restrictions. In fact, 70 percent of Wyoming residents support background checks for all gun purchases, according to a Wyoming Sportsmen’s Alliance-commissioned statewide poll conducted last November by DFM Research of Minnesota.
So HB 111 died, as did a similar measure, Senate File 109. In fact, every piece of gun legislation offered was killed. Fortunately, that includes one that would have punished federal officers or judges for enforcing federal laws and orders on magazines or semi-automatic weapons.
For the death of bills that pro-gun lobbyists supported, GOP legislative leaders were targeted. Laura Hancock, a Casper Star-Tribune reporter, described how they were treated in a March 19 article after the session.
“Legislators would speak or act in a way that bothered Anthony Bouchard … who would create anti-legislator memes, usually photos with overlaid political statements, and posted them on the Wyoming Gun Owners Association’s Facebook page,” Hancock wrote.
She added that one image showed a Republican lawmaker with President Barack Obama, with text suggesting that the legislator agrees with the president’s gun views. “Another includes a legislator’s photo with a pop culture reference that suggests the lawmaker has a small penis,” the reporter wrote.
Both the images and the comments on Facebook got under legislators’ skin, Hancock noted. But their complaints were laughed off by Bouchard, who said, “I think they need to get thicker skin and I think they need to start acting like leadership instead of a bunch of crybabies.”
What else would you expect but tough talk from a guy whose ringtone is the theme to “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly?” We’re not kidding.
We’ll get a chance to see how thick Bouchard’s own skin is if he wins the HD 10 seat this year. He’s certain to come under attack by some Republican lawmakers who haven’t liked his tactics since he became a lobbyist four years ago. House Speaker Tom Lubnau (R-Gillette), who called Bouchard’s tactics “unscrupulous,” won’t be returning to the Legislature, but enough Republican incumbents who will be back will be in positions to make it harder for Bouchard to get any bills he may sponsor even considered if he’s elected.
Normally, the prospect of a candidate as far to the right as Bouchard is would give the Tea Party/wingnut faction of the GOP a chance to get another legislative seat to join such House members as Gerald Gay, Kendell Kroeker and Troy Mader. But Bouchard doesn’t necessarily consider all of these guys his friends, particularly Mader, who was singled out for abuse on one of the WyGOA’s webpages because he isn’t enough of a maverick for Bouchard’s tastes.
Bouchard said when Mader was appointed to his seat earlier this year in Campbell County, he vowed to go to Cheyenne and work for limited government.
“But now it seems he has already fallen in line with the inner workings of the ‘establishment,’” Bouchard wrote, adding that Mader claims to be an expert on gun issues because he “wrote an essay on the Second Amendment … then he went on to say we should succumb to the political machine.”
Not wanting to compromise on his principles and picking fights with certain legislators may have helped boost Bouchard’s name recognition and scored him enough political points with his far-right base to win election. But if he’s successful, it’s difficult to see how far his “my way or the highway” views will help him get much done as a legislator that promotes his cause.
Bouchard seems to not recognize how his tactics may be perceived by others. In 2011, the Cheyenne man traveled to Casper to testify before the city council against a proposed ban on deadly weapons being carried at council meetings. There’s a memorable front-page Star-Tribune photo of Bouchard at the podium, carrying his gun in a holster on his wide belt as he told the council how they shouldn’t be intimidated by anyone carrying a gun.
But they obviously were intimidated, as were many in the audience, who said so. Then-Mayor Paul Bertoglio also complained about the lobbying tactics of Bouchard’s group.
“When I get a call to my house, and I’m told I need to vote no ‘because that’s what’s good for me,’ I find that very offensive,” the mayor said.
Bouchard apologized, but said he can’t speak for his whole group. “They’re colorful, I’m sure,” he said.
“Colorful, with an undertone of threat,” Bertoglio replied. The mayor voted no, but the council approved the ban, 6-3, and Bouchard took his gun and went home.