By Dave Bell, guest columnist
I have been following the bizarre events at the Legislature and asked several of my friends if they have ever seen anything as bizarre as what has transpired in the Wyoming legislature this year?
The accusations, fights, stripping and removal of committee assignments or the newest headline regarding Senator James’ cell phone all mark new low points for civil discourse in our great state.
What has changed?
I try to stay away from the Capitol. It is big and humbling and while some good comes from that building, many times the opposite is true. But – I have always been proud of the way our state’s business has been conducted, short and focused legislative sessions and our “citizen” legislators taking care of business. There are not many states who operate as we do, and we should be proud!
No professional politicians allowed. We have enough lobbyists to make up for professional politicians.
The trend over the past several years has left even me, with my rose colored glasses, concerned that something terribly wrong is afoot. The civil decorum, which has generally prevailed, has been lost. The politeness has given way to anger and sharp tongues. This is not to say that there have not been major disagreements at the capital before. For heavens sake, of course that is the case. Now the grudges seem to be deeper and more sharp.
Some long time Wyoming residents wonder if it isn’t the keyboard. The ability to write a mean and rude email, hit send, and have no consequences. Or maybe we are emulating Washington, DC, where rude behavior, use of extreme words and finger-pointing have reached a historic crescendo.
Possibly it is the arrival of non-Wyomingites. They are bringing their learned behaviors to Wyoming from their former states. That is how we conduct business in California or Colorado or New York, they might argue.
But I think it is a couple things, which are more basic.
The concept of compromise has given way to hostility and intransigence. As much as we don’t like compromise, sometimes it is necessary to a certain degree to effectively conduct the business of the state.
Maybe what we are losing is the result of one-party rule in our state. I am a Republican but when we have the bellowing, yelling and arguing within our own ranks it seems maybe it is time for the rise of some “moderate” Democrats into office to interject a different perspective into the discussion. I think there are a few left out there.
Have the rules changed in some way to cause this mess of personalities? Not to my knowledge. As has been reported, the volume of citizen interest in participating at the capitol, in the discussions and debates by offering testimony, has significantly increased.
This has put significant pressure on committees to conduct their business in a timely manner, yet let all those who want to be heard be heard. This puts pressure on our volunteer legislators to read all that testimony and understand it. The stress of the job is becoming more intense.
One observation several of my friends and I have mused about is the number of “non-fiscal” bills which were introduced and considered during a “budget” session. This is a 20-day session. The focus should be on the budget. There is plenty to consider and deal with. Why muddy the water with so many controversial issues when it is a “budget session” and time is so severely constrained. Sometimes just saying “no” is the correct decision.
Have the personalities changed to cause this mess? Maybe that is the problem. Maybe some of those who have been involved in the scuffles are not on the same page as “legislative decorum” insists. A reconsideration regarding their attitude and RESPECT for the process, the capitol, and most importantly the citizens of Wyoming might be overdue.
I am not making any accusations against specific persons or events. But sitting in my seat, in rural Sublette, a very low bar is being set in Cheyenne by some who appear to have an ideology or a chip on their shoulder or a lack of respect for the citizens of Wyoming.
Personally, it is time to clean it up. This behavior is embarrassing to our state. Accusations need to stop. Finger-pointing needs to stop. Grudges need to stop. It is time to put your “big boy or big girl pants on and do your job as an elected official”. Leave the grudges at home.