Meet Cynthia Lummis: Rancher, Lawyer, and Now, First Woman Senator of Wyoming
JNS.org – Cynthia Lummis is celebrating a number of firsts. She was just elected the first female US senator from Wyoming, which, interestingly enough, was the first state to allow women the right to vote. A Republican, she will also be the only new female freshman senator in the 117th Congress, which will be sworn in on Jan 3.
Lummis, 66, a widow with one daughter and one grandchild, served in the US House Representatives from Wyoming’s at-large district from 2009 to 2017. Prior to that, she was the state’s treasurer and a member of both chambers of Wyoming’s legislature.
Having served in Congress, Lummis is no stranger to the US-Israel relationship. She has been there three times, her most recent visit in 2016.
In the Nov. 3 election to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Mike Enzi, Lummis easily defeated her Democratic opponent, Israeli-American scientist Merav Ben-David, 73.1 percent to 26.9 percent, respectively.
While Lummis has not had the chance to discuss with Ben-David what it was like for the latter to grow up in Israel, the two “had a lovely conversation on the evening of Nov. 3,” reported Lummis, saying they have agreed to meet “so I can get to know her better and to learn from her. She served in the military in Israel, and her life experiences there will become part of my education as I become Wyoming’s new US senator.”
Wyoming has an estimated Jewish population of 1,150 with seasonal tourism, especially near Jackson Hole, that brings both travelers and those who have second homes in the area.
JNS talked with Lummis by phone on Nov. 18. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: What’s your overall stance on the US-Israel relationship?
A: We have and need to maintain a very strong relationship with Israel. The US relationship with Israel continues to be the most important relationship that the United States has in the Middle East. Having a democratic government embedded within a region that’s hostile to democracy makes Israel and America strong allies, and that relationship needs to be bolstered, strengthened, embedded and going forward, I want to make sure that’s the case.
Q: How familiar are you with Israel’s agriculture and agritech developments, such as drip irrigation and desalinization?
A: I am somewhat familiar, interestingly, with drip irrigation in Israel. Specifically, when I was in the US House, I visited areas where agricultural products were being produced in what looked like a desert to me. And if you go north of Jericho towards the Sea of Galilee, I couldn’t believe the diversity of agricultural products! I am impressed by a number of the innovations that have been undertaken in Israel, specifically which are directly applicable to my arid state of Wyoming.
In addition, the last time I was in Israel, we were working on the “Red to Dead” issue, which is allowing water to be taken from the Red Sea, desalinated, and then have the brine put in the Dead Sea so potable water could be used by Jordan. There were concerns that as the level of the Dead Sea declines, the brininess of the Dead Sea could actually affect the few species that survive on the floor of the Dead Sea. So the interesting uses of water and the efficient use of water by Israel has created a situation where the Dead Sea is dropping because there’s not as much runoff of the agricultural community, and so vibrant and innovative that water isn’t running off, it’s being used, and it’s an impressive agricultural community with a robust innovative attitude. I look forward to learning more about it.
Q: What have you thought about U.S. President Donald Trump’s policies towards Israel?
A: I was absolutely thrilled when he implemented the policy that had been touted by Americans for years but was never implemented, and that was moving our embassy to Jerusalem.
I had been at our consulate office in Tel Aviv. Israel was the only country in the world where the United States did not recognize that country’s chosen capital city. To do that to our closest ally in the Middle East just seemed irrational to me. The fact that the president finally implemented what had been written U.S. policy all along and opened the embassy in Jerusalem was a huge policy victory and a further validation of the U.S.-Israeli relationship.
Q: What is your reaction to the Abraham Accords?
A: Very positive. The efforts that have been made in solidifying the US-Israel relationship in these last few months have been quietly acknowledged, but not touted, in the United States about forming relationships in the Arab community to defend both Arabs and Israelis, as well as America and others, from Iran and the Persian efforts to undermine Western democratic principles. It is an unacknowledged success story for the Trump administration.
The US-Israel relationship under President Trump was strengthened dramatically, and I believe that we’re going to miss President Trump with regard to those relationships. I am hopeful that a new administration will be mindful of the progress that was made during the Trump administration, and they will choose not to re-engage in Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
Q: How do you feel about the rise in antisemitism at home and abroad?
A: To the extent that antisemitism is on the rise, so is anti-Christianity. I’m a Christian, and I have seen a tremendous rise in anti-Christian activities in the United States and elsewhere. It does tend to dovetail with antisemitism. Both Judeo-Christian religious and life experiences are under attack, and I want to defend pro-Christian and pro-Jewish religious experiences worldwide.
Q: How do we best combat antisemitism and anti-Zionism, especially the anti-Israel BDS movement?
A: The BDS movement is obviously an example of an international effort to undermine Israel and to thwart a two-state solution, so we have to work to delegitimize BDS and to stop anti-Israel economic policies and campaigns that put Israel on the defense. It’s important that the United States have strong economic ties to Israel—that we set an example for strong economic ties and that we continue to work at the United Nations, where it’s so difficult to have a dialogue that is respectful of Israel.
Q: You mentioned a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What are your thoughts on that?
A: It is so important that those decisions be made by Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and that the United States and other countries not interfere with decisions about parcels of land. Those are better addressed at the Israeli-Palestinian level in discussions.
But I do support a two-state solution. I don’t think it’s going to happen as long as Palestinians don’t recognize Israel’s right to exist. When I was in Israel, when we would put that question to Palestinian leaders, they would not acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. To me, that is kind of the ultimate stumbling block to getting a two-state solution, so I think that hurdle has to be crossed before the opportunity for a true two-state solution can be achieved.
Q: What was your reaction to more than a dozen GOP freshmen women, including yourself, elected to Congress (though you previously served in the House)? And how does it feel to be the only new incoming female freshman in the Senate?
A: It’s a great honor. Wyoming was the first government in the world to continuously grant women the right to vote. And I am just honored beyond my ability to explain the opportunity to represent Wyoming in the US Senate.
My career, which has surrounded natural resources both in terms of being a rancher and being a lawyer who practiced natural resource law, has meant that I’ve lived in a man-dominated occupation, and I have great comfort in working with men. But I can tell you it’s really fun to see this many new Republican women who are pro-liberty, pro-free enterprise, pro-business, pro-Bill of Rights be elected to the US House and the Senate. And I have been just delighted at how welcoming and accommodating the other women of the US Senate have been with regard to my arrival.
This is a very happy occasion for me personally and hopefully for the people of Wyoming. This is the state where I was born, where I was educated, where I worked my entire life, and I really love nothing more than the State of Wyoming. It is just kind of the love of my life and so to get to represent it in the Senate means more to me than I can even describe.