Although it may be common practice in other states, the defacement of political signs is a rarity in Wyoming.
That’s what makes the spray painting of Majority Floor Leader Albert Sommers’ (R-Pinedale) signs a surprise and a disappointment to many Wyoming politicos including Sommers and his opponents.
Some time before dawn on Thursday morning, dozens of Sommers’ signs were defaced in red spray paint with the acronym RINO (Republican In Name Only) on both sides.
The Pinedale Republican was out canvassing his district on Thursday to see how many signs were defaced.
Dozens Of Signs
He told Cowboy State Daily that most of the affected signs that he could see, so far, were out of Pinedale town limits and stretched from Boulder to Big Piney although there were some in Pinedale.
Sommers was disappointed by the actions and compared it to social media where anyone can say anything without ramifications.
“I’m surprised that in Wyoming, people are stooping to this level,” Sommers said. “Our discourse has got so broken down in this country that some people resort to using a spray can in the dark of the night.
“It’s almost like social media to me,” he said. “We can say or do anything at night — just like saying anything on social media.”
Sommers’ two opponents were quick to condemn the actions.
Former Game and Fish Commissioner Mike Schmid said he left a voicemail with Sommers and told him that he would join with him to set up a reward to “find the perpetrator and bring him to justice.”
“This is not right. This is not Wyoming. This does not represent the state that I love and the people that I love,” Schmid said.
Schmid said he has known Sommers since grade school and has respect for him.
“We have different views on politics and that’s why I’m challenging him but neither one of us would go down this route. We have too deep of roots in Wyoming to be pulling off this crap.”
Sommers’ other opponent, Bill Winney was saddened to hear of the defacement and that there were individuals on both sides of the aisle who believe they are “so right” that the end justifies the means.
Winney, who has been involved in Wyoming politics for years, said he has never seen signs in Wyoming be defaced before. Stolen, yes. But not defaced.
Don’t Physically Attack
But things have gotten heated in District 20, he said, pointing to an email he received announcing the candidate forum scheduled for Thursday evening.
In that email, the Sublette Chamber of Commerce reminded candidates not to physically attack each other.
“We wanted again to remind you all that this will be a civil forum,” the email reads.
“We expect everyone to be respectful of each other. We ask that you do not personally attack other candidates verbally or physically,” it said.
If a candidate “gets out of line,” the email reads, they will be “escorted off the premises by law enforcement.”
Noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich, who lives in Pinedale, said he wouldn’t be waiting for law enforcement.
A Sommers’ sign was defaced on his property. Ulrich said he was “disgusted” that the political climate has led “some idiot to believe they can trespass on my property and vandalize my property and get away with it.”
“The next idiot that tries this will be sampling my new bear traps,” Ulrich said.
Loss Of Civility
Former Wyoming Senate President Diemer True, who also served as chair of the Wyoming Republican Party, said the defacement of signs was indicative of the loss of civility overall.
When he was in the Wyoming Legislature, True said, lawmakers would argue “with great intensity” and then go have lunch with each other.
“We’ve lost that ability to be very committed to what you believe in but then also listen carefully to what the other people have to say,” he said.
He said the House Freedom Caucus’ recent decision to kick people out of its caucus was another example of incivility. “That’s the way to become the minority,” he said.
Better Than This
For Senate Majority Floor Leader Ogden Driskill, the disappearance of political signs is something that he’s dealing with. But the defacement of political signs is a different level of rancor which Wyoming has, he said, been better than historically.
“Our elections are set up to be free and fair and people have the right to exercise the First Amendment,” Driskill said.
“Races in Wyoming are bare-knuckle and that’s ok. They’re tough as they should be. But to deface signs flies in the face of everything our founding fathers believed in,” he said.
Won’t Back Down
Sommers won’t back down in the race, he said. And he’ll continue to be civil.
“One of my hallmarks over time has been my civility,” Sommers said. “I’ll stand strong on opinions and I’ll stand strong on issues. But I don’t resort to name-calling.”
Sommers doesn’t suspect his opponents had anything to do with this but he did say that words matter and there have been half-truths told about him, specifically mentioning a radio advertisement.
“When you say things, you know, it can ignite other things and I think that’s unfortunate,” he said.