CHEYENNE — With Democrats running for office in Wyoming acknowledging they’re part of the state’s political minority, some candidates told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle they’re helping to provide a needed balance in perspective and politics.
“Monoculture is not good in horticulture or in politics,” said Ken Chestek, Democratic candidate for House 13 district in Laramie. “If Republicans didn’t have Democrats to bounce their ideas off of, test them and challenge them a bit, they’d be making much worse decisions. So, to make a good decision on anything, you need to have all points of view to consider.
There are three Democrats seeking the seat in the United States House of Representatives, the only one for all of Wyoming. In total, there have been about 30 people vying for state office in the 2022 election cycle. Many will go without having to face a primary opponent on August 16, but will need to win a majority of votes in a state. distinctly red.
Wyoming was ranked the most Republican state in the nation after the 2020 election, according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index, which is calculated based on how strongly a U.S. congressional district or state leans toward a certain party. . Although former President Donald Trump lost the presidential election nationally, he won 69.94% of the vote in Wyoming. It’s the second-highest winning percentage of any state by a presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
Albany and Teton County remained blue in the last presidential election and still hold the majority of Democratic state legislators in Wyoming. Of the 90 seats in Wyoming’s 66th Legislature, nine lawmakers identified as Democrats, seven of whom were from the two blue counties.
“One-party rule is no good anywhere in the world, let alone in Wyoming. Diversity of views is important,” said Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, who is seeking re-election. “And I’ve even heard some of the more conservative Republican voices say that diversity of opinion is important. Because otherwise you won’t know if you’re right or wrong, if there’s only one voice telling you what’s right.
Without getting discouraged
Currently, no other Democrats hold statewide office. These include the offices of governor, state superintendent of public instruction, state treasurer, and state auditor.
Candidates interviewed this week said this has not deterred them, nor made their voices obsolete in the political arena. Yin has been in the House since 2019 and he said the idea that only Republicans can pass laws because they hold a majority is incorrect. One of the property tax rebate programs passed in the 2022 budget session wouldn’t have existed without him introducing the amendment, and he said it proves minority’s impact on the state .
Rep. Trey Sherwood, D-Laramie, said she sees many lawmakers working together on partisan issues, and that strong two-partisan systems often achieve more meaningful results. She said after reflecting on her first term in the Legislature that dialogue and disagreement are healthy, especially if it means a better product for residents.
“I would like to see more Democrats elected, I would like to see more Moderates elected, so that we can continue to respectfully bring these different opinions to the table,” she told WTE. “So that what we pass as law is for the greater good.”
Although they see their role in politics as a balancing act, Democrats still face winning a large pool of registered Republican voters.
Some candidates said they weren’t worried there wasn’t a welcoming campaign environment.
Ted Hanlon is campaigning against Republican incumbent Lynn Hutchings in Senate District 5, and this is the first time he’s asked residents to vote blue for him in Cheyenne. He said he was treated very well by those he meets, regardless of the individuals side of the political spectrum.
“I received a few negative comments, but 99% of the people I spoke to really encouraged and supported me,” he said. “So far it’s been a great experience.”
He said the election hinged on building relationships with every voter in his constituency, as Hanlon said he would lose by a wide margin even if all Democrats put his name on the ballot in November. He thinks he will have to show swing voters and Republicans that he is the best candidate.
Sherwood echoed the importance of connecting with voters from the other political party, as she said it was her responsibility to represent all of her constituents. She is happy to knock on doors, interact with interested voters and understand their needs.
“I meet my constituents downtown, at the grocery store or at community events,” she said. “And so being closer to the people helps us to be more realistic and responsive in terms of the policies that we work on.”
Sweetwater County Treasurer and Wyoming Democratic Party Chairman Joe Barbuto said he could count the number of negative experiences he’s had on the one hand over the past decade. He said small points of contention are natural in all political situations. It’s nerve-wracking to see the response you’ll get on the campaign trail, for both Republican and Democratic candidates, he said.
“Everyone is nervous about going out there and putting themselves in danger like that, but it’s really not often that someone is so mean to you that it discourages you from the process or from campaign,” he said.
Not everyone had a positive experience.
A Democratic candidate for the US House race, Meghan Jensen, has said she was pushed back by those who questioned her name on the ballot in the primaries. She said her fellow Sweetwater County Democrats want her to drop out of consideration and run for a local seat instead, or think she should change party identities in order to vote for the incumbent. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., during the primary.
Before running for Congress, she said local election environments had already changed over the past few years. She noticed it when she had a booth at the county fair last summer, and while a lot of people were receptive, she felt the negativity seep in. People threw insults at her when she was with her son, and she said she never thought she would face this kind of treatment in Wyoming.
Chestek said his own conversations with voters as a Wyoming Democrat have not been difficult, which he says is due to the respect residents have for one another. He said the culture of Wyoming is “live and let live.” So he said people can be okay, not disagreeable, and support each other when needed.
Where he sees the problem is among state and federal political leaders. He said he knows there will be races in Wyoming where the opposition is aggressive and in attack mode, and he doesn’t think that’s good policy. He thinks rhetoric should be about politics, not personal character.
“Some of the leaders of the Republican Party have gone so far to the right and made the political discourse somewhat toxic in places,” he said.
The difference in political atmosphere was recognized by other candidates. Barbuto said that after the 2010 election, there were many more lawmakers in the Wyoming Legislature, who likely identified more with the Tea Party. He saw these politicians place more emphasis on the letter of political affiliation after an individual’s name.
“It was more about promoting an ideology than looking for practical solutions,” he said. “And so that was, for me, the beginning of Wyoming politics starting to look a little more like what’s going on at the national level, where there’s such a divide between the parties.”
He said this split among lawmakers has helped stall the federal government’s progress or success, and is now more widespread than ever in Wyoming.
For those currently serving in the Legislative Assembly, Sherwood and Yin said there is camaraderie in the House.
But Yin said the election campaign had turned ugly because of the tone in the federal races. He said there was an addiction to repeating Trump’s election lies and playing a “blame game”, rather than solving problems. “I would love to keep pushing that back,” he said.
Still, Yin said there are many issues in the state where partisanship doesn’t matter, and those should be given priority.
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