By Tom Lubnau, guest columnist
Lubnau is former Speaker of the House in the Wyoming Legislature
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to observe an election or two. As this year’s primary season comes to an end, here are a few observations about Wyoming elections that were true years ago and are still true now. These are general observations. My opinions are not aimed at anyone in particular. This column is not about endorsing one candidate or another. You’ve already made up your minds who you are voting for this time. The column is more about looking at the campaigning process. Here are 15 observations:
1. Candidates who do not have a track record of public service are not running for office to serve the public. Those people who are truly interested in public service have donated time and money to civic organizations, churches and local charities. Folks who appear out of nowhere, with no record of public service, are not interested in providing public service. They are interested something else – usually power.
2. When we vote for someone, we are hiring them to do a job. Each job has skills. Being governor, for example, has less to do with setting public policy and more to do with managing a budget and hiring and firing staff. Rarely is being a mouthpiece one of the job skills required. Blabbermouths are skilled at blabbering, repeating buzz words and things other people told them to say, but often get little done when elected. We need to look at the skills and experience the candidate brings to office – particularly a track record of success. If we hire mouthpieces, we get excuses and lip service.
3. Wyoming voters generally react negatively to negative campaigns. Candidates who speak positively about themselves have better track records than those who focus on tearing down their opponents. Speaking negatively about the other candidate usually demeans the speaker and doesn’t affect the other candidate. Perhaps in the era of COVID and post-Trump, that observation has changed, but I like to believe the folks in Wyoming generally believe in the Golden Rule. Wyoming folks also understand that if a candidate is willing to throw opponents under the bus, he or she is also willing to throw constituents under the bus for political gain.
4. Rating websites usually don’t rate the full candidate performance. Here’s why. Since all politics at the Wyoming state level are local, it is impossible to evaluate a total candidate performance as liberal, middle-of-the-road, or conservative, when the true issue is whether the representatives represented the interests of their local constituents. So, the rating services pick out particular bills upon which to do their rating. Which bills to they pick? You decide, but it is interesting that candidates who receive the support of the proponents of the websites receive the highest ratings. One must wonder if the selection criteria make the candidates look good, or the candidates look good because the criteria was selected to make particular candidates Ilook good.
5. No member of the Wyoming legislature is coming to get your guns. Interest groups and candidates know this is a sensitive voting issue, and they’ll tell you someone is a gun grabber to gain an advantage. But no one from the Wyoming Legislature is coming to your house in the middle of the night to get your guns. The debate on the issues, especially this one, has driven itself to an absurd level. Soon, we’ll see bills to have the State of Wyoming issue a Colt 1910 to every newborn. If a candidate opposes that bill, they’ll be called gun grabbers.
6. Labeling oneself as a “Patriot,” “True Conservative,” or “Bulletproof Superhuman” is no excuse for a lack of vision. If a candidate cannot articulate a vision, and a series of tangible steps to achieve that vision, no amount of self-labeling is going to change the candidate’s ineptitude. It appears we are on a race to the bottom about who can be the most conservative candidate who votes “NO” on every issue. Wyoming has always been a conservative state – but a conservative state with a long-term vision. It seems we are evolving away from that vision to who a state where our leaders can scream “NO” the loudest. Our recent special legislative session was nothing more than an expensive fist shaking at the federal government. In the process of this evolution, our new generation of leaders has shunned the very people whose leadership made Wyoming the conservative paradise it is. “NO” is not always the answer. We need to anticipate and plan for our future, and sometimes that means having a vision of the future. Shaking fists, self-labeling and voting “NO” does not always position us for the future.
7. Calling someone a RINO or any other odd-toed ungulate doesn’t make up for the same lack of vision. Name-calling is a flimsy excuse for not having a substantive argument about why one is better candidate. Name-calling is intellectually dishonest and the last resort of scoundrels. [irony intended]
8. If a candidate runs only negative ads about his or her opponent, it’s because that candidate has nothing good to say about his or her own capabilities. A candidate should be able to stand on their own merits. Candidates should be able to stand on their own merits. Candidates who have no merits to call attention to spend their time chatting about all the things their opponent did wrong.
9. If one is going to vote “NO” on everything, that person should just mail in “NO” votes and make fewer people angry. Voting “NO” on everything, and not offering bills to fix the situation, only compounds the problem. If one has a clear vision, and a plan to get there, one should be able to persuade others to follow. We call this leadership. If one is running on a record of “no” votes, it’s because that person didn’t advance anything that deserved a “yes” vote, even if it is a proposal to end an unnecessary program.
10. If we receive a mailer from a group with a highfalutin emotional sounding name that we never heard of before, we should ask a few questions. Who are these people? Why haven’t we heard from them before? What’s in it for them? Where do they get their money? Why didn’t they care about us six months ago?
11. If a message about an elected official sounds too bad to be true, it is. No elected official wants to starve children, eat humans, or sneak into your house and purloin your firearms. Remember the old Abraham Lincoln quote: “Eighty percent of what you read on the internet is not true.”
12. Folks who tell you about how horrible an opposing candidate is and then ask you for your money, want your money.
13. No one want to pay taxes. We pay taxes to have firemen, police, schools, roads, prisons and healthcare. Those who tell you that Wyoming has the highest per capita tax rates are partially telling you the truth. Wyoming has high bills because we are a large state with a small population. What they don’t tell you is who pays those taxes. More than fifty percent of the state’s taxes are paid by the minerals industry. Individual taxpayers in Wyoming pay only a fraction of the state’s bills. When someone advocates for tax cuts, the bulk of those cuts are going to go to energy company executives and their stockholders. Don’t expect much impact on the family budget from any candidate’s tax cut. You should instead expect a cut in the services your family enjoys now. In Wyoming’s budget, dollars mean people.
14. Blame of other elected officials is just an excuse for failure. If one could not accomplish anything during his or her term in office, it was because that candidate, could not persuade other elected officials the plan was a good idea.
15. Politics in Wyoming is local. Very rarely do social issues or national issues appear on the legislative agenda here. Local school boards oversee local schools. So, when someone tells you that your school is teaching a “woke” agenda, you can call your local school board, because they are the responsible folks – not the Legislature, not the Governor, and not the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Don’t let people tell you they will fix a problem that 1) doesn’t exist and 2) isn’t theirs to fix in the first place.
These are my opinions. Some will agree. Many will disagree, but in the end, we should be glad we can have adult conversations campaigns, candidates, and the issues of the day.