‘Blue wave’ not on horizon for Wyo. state legislature

I had a dream where I was standing on a beach with my surfboard, waiting for that big blue wave to come in for Democrats.

Then I woke up and realized I was still in Wyoming, where there’s no beach to surf at and there will be no blue wave in November.

I still hold out hope that Democrats can be competitive in some federal and statewide races. But take the Wyoming House. Please.

I’ve racked up a lot of hours covering the Wyoming House since the late ‘70s.

If you ever want to find me during the session, look on the House side of the Capitol. I’m the bald guy typing with two fingers in the corner in the fetal position. If you take pity on this formerly ink-stained wretch now living in an all-Internet world and bring me a sandwich, I will probably eat it, but please know I can’t be bought.

I just looked at the general election campaign roster and it seemed like old home week. There are 29 incumbent Republicans — out of 60 representatives — who don’t even have an opponent. I’m fortunate that some will talk to me, even though they know I don’t agree with much of what they have to say.

For those who don’t talk to me, it’s OK. I get it. I’m never going to be a popular guy in your class. But I have a voice recorder on my phone and I will follow you around all day, hoping you will say something I can write about, so it’s almost as if we’re talking.

Here’s a secret: I do the same thing to Democratic legislators. With so few of them it’s an easier task. I wish it weren’t.

Currently there are nine Democratic House members. Three incumbents are running unopposed: Reps. Cathy Connolly, House District 13 in Laramie; Stan Blake, HD-39 and John Freeman, HD-60, both in Green River.

Four other Democratic incumbents have GOP opponents: Reps. Debbie Bovee, HD-36 in Casper; JoAnn Dayton, HD-17 in Rock Springs; Charles Pelkey, HD-45 in Laramie and Andy Schwartz of HD-23 in Wilson.

In addition to the 29 unopposed Republican incumbents, the GOP will automatically reclaim another seat because newcomer Cyrus Western doesn’t have an HD-51 opponent.

Republicans will control exactly half of the House seats without having to compete in the general election.

Sixteen incumbent Republicans have opponents — 13 Democrats and three independents. Meanwhile, six Democrats and one independent face seven Republican challengers for open seats.

In all, there are 26 Democratic candidates for seats in the Wyoming House of Representatives. Even if half of them win, which would be a huge night for the party since they only control 15 percent of the House now, they would still be outgunned 47-13.

It’s easy to see why so few Democrats choose to run for the House in the Equality State. One of the most difficult jobs anywhere is to be a candidate recruiter for the party here.

Here’s the rosy version of the basic pitch to a Democrat who wants to improve our part of the world through legislative service: If you run in one of the few pockets where Democrats have a chance of winning, you’re almost guaranteed to have a GOP opponent, likely an incumbent who has more money.

You will have to raise funds, so be prepared to tap your relatives and every friend you have for some campaign cash. While you have your hand out, ask them if they’ll carry some brochures and knock on some doors for you.

Some Democrats decide not to accept political action committee money, which is a noble gesture but it will likely keep your campaign coffers low.

Sign up for every legislative candidate forum you can, but please be aware that in many communities no groups sponsor debates anymore. If there is one in your district, don’t feel offended if your Republican opponent doesn’t show up, especially if he (and yes, he’s probably a he) is an incumbent. Some will, recalling that their Civics 101 teacher said transparency is a vital part of a healthy democracy, but in most cases they know that they don’t have to attend to win.

Finally, here’s the sad reality every Democratic campaign recruiter must convey, even if it hurts — and it will.

A candidate can pour his or her heart into the race, spend all their spare time telling people how they would govern, do nothing wrong, and still lose.

In extremely red districts, the margin between winners and losers can be in the high double-digits.

I admire people who are committed to public service and are willing to run for office, especially the Wyoming House — Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike. “Winning” means spending either a month or two every year confined to a stuffy room while lobbyists and the public gawk at you. They call, text and send you emails that say you don’t know what you’re doing, or worse yet do know what you’re doing and it’s some form of calculated evil. If you’re really bored you may find yourselves reading letters to the editors and columns that question why you were ever born.

It’s such a thankless job that maybe some Republicans should hang it up for a term or two and let the Democrats run things in the House.

I am sometimes astounded by readers of this column who complain I am not objective. What was their first clue? The fact I am admittedly biased because I am a Democrat, and not only that, but a liberal/progressive one?

If they would like to read or listen to an objective political news article, there are plenty of them out there written by Wyoming journalists who will be balanced and fair, regardless of their personal beliefs.

Try anything else on WyoFile for just the latest example. I, however, have been in some form of the opinion trade for about 16 years of my four-decade-long career.

“Fair” is always a goal I try hard to achieve, but “balanced” is not.

Whether  I’m parsing out praise or criticism — to people I share core beliefs, those on the other end of the spectrum and everyone in-between — it’s just one political columnist’s opinion. If not for unabashed opinion, why should anyone bother to read an opinion column?

Yes, I’m glad when readers think a piece is spot on, but I don’t mind if people tell me they disagree with every single column I’ve ever written. That means they’ve read them.

The purpose of this endeavor is to engage people with ideas, get them thinking and start a dialogue, whether it’s in the comments section below, at a dinner table or standing by a water cooler.

While in general I would like Democrats to win, I don’t always vote a straight-party ballot.

Sometimes when I’m feeling devious and want to pick the GOP’s candidates in their primary, I even temporarily become a Republican. I hope no one holds that against me.

Here’s what I hope both parties will think about while we share this exercise called a general election….

To Democrats, despite everything I said above that might discourage you, please run for office. Voters deserve a choice, and as long as the Russians let us continue to have elections, you should give them one.

To Republicans, don’t become complacent even though you hold almost all the seats in the House and all the cards in the high-stakes poker game of Wyoming politics.

There will probably never be a blue wave in Wyoming but there could be a trickle here and there, then a ripple, and maybe Democrats will eventually be standing up to their knees in the water, waiting impatiently for it to rise some more.

But for 2018 I’ve put the surfboard from my dream in the garage. I don’t even know why I bought the dang thing in the first place, even if I was asleep. I live in Wyoming and I don’t surf. Heck, I don’t even know how to swim.

But like most of my Democratic friends, when I see one of them win I’m proud, because I know they had to paddle like hell to get there.

Kerry Drake is a veteran Wyoming journalist, and a contributor to WyoHistory.org. He also moderates the WyPols blog. He has more than 30 years experience at the Wyoming Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune as a reporter, editor and editorial writer. He lives in Casper.


More In Opinions