Political courage among elected officials is so rare in these dark days of our civic life together that, when it does appear, it stands out like a comet against a night sky. Representative Shelly Duncan, of House District 5 recently gave us just that kind of display.
A few weeks ago, Rep. Duncan attended a GOP town hall in her district where she was presented with a pledge by Representative Chip Neiman, HD1, also from the Upper East Side of Wyoming. Neiman drafted the pledge and sent it to his colleagues in the Wyoming House and Senate, imploring their support.
The pledge in question solicited legislators’ commitment to vote for a bill to alter Wyoming’s election code to rectify what he perceived as problems with election integrity in the Cowboy State, specifically crossover voting and crowded GOP primaries. The impetus, of course, was the GOP gubernatorial primary of 2018, in which Governor Mark Gordon prevailed over a handful of primary opponents with less than 50% of the vote.
Elements of the Wyoming GOP have been seriously butt-hurt since that election, weeping, wailing, gnashing their teeth and promising to “find a better way” that will favor their chosen, less moderate candidates. And now, the crowded slate of hopefuls vying for Liz Cheney’s seat in Congress has them nearly apoplectic.
Enter Chip Neiman with his pledge to support a bill to do away with crossover voting and to establish a run-off election in Wyoming’s primaries. And enter political pressure brought to bear by the state and county GOP apparatus, subtle or otherwise, for Republican legislators to affix their signatures to that pledge and to prove that they are not RINOs.
Representative Duncan, feeling that pressure, reluctantly signed Neiman’s pledge. She was not the only Republican to do so. But she immediately began to have nagging doubts and second thoughts.
In the interim between the town hall and a meeting of the Joint Corporations Committee (the legislative committee responsible for Wyoming’s election code) , where Neiman hoped to present his list of signatories to the pledge, Duncan had time to consider what the pledge meant. Two things became apparent to her.
First, a pledge by a legislator for a future vote on a particular bill without the benefit of the rigorous debate among colleagues of the bill’s merits and drawbacks, and the necessary give-and-take among elected officials, binds the hands of a legislator and obviates the group genius of a representative body. A pledge like Neiman’s attempts to replace collaborative lawmaking with an edict from the Party.
Second, Rep. Duncan took time to research the legislation associated with the pledge and found it to be prohibitively expensive, impractical and likely unconstitutional. None of those facts were revealed in the pledge.
Now, here comes the lesson in political courage. At the aforementioned Joint Corporations meeting, Duncan took time publicly to rescind her support of the pledge, and to apologize to her constituents for signing something so obviously wrong. She did so with humility, and at potentially great political cost.
At the same meeting, several members of the committee also castigated Neiman for his ill-advised pledge, diplomatically and generously calling it a “freshman mistake”. Several country clerks -our frontline soldiers in elections – were also in attendance, including the clerk from Neiman’s own country and they too rapped his knuckles.
I hope that the entire Wyoming Legislature takes note of Duncan’s courageous stateswomanship, and emulates her at every opportunity.
I also hope that Duncan’s constituents realize how their best interests are served by her kind of wisdom and courage.
I hope they keep sending her to Cheyenne with that election certificate that she so clearly honors by, in her words, “voting the county line, not the party line”.
In these days of political darkness, black as the inside of a cow, we need to celebrate political courage when it is presented to us, and count ourselves blessed to have humble, brave Representatives like Shelly Duncan.