Guest Column: Somebody Has To Say It

Guest columnist Ray Peterson writes, "When I see a Facebook post from current legislators, calling out the traitors or turn coats that voted against the special session, my skin begins to crawl."

Ray Peterson

April 06, 202414 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Another legislative budget session has finished up and legislators have now returned home to report to their constituents how things went. 

This is where it gets interesting. The recent session seems to have had more fireworks than most. 

From an outside perspective, it seems that the divide between members of our majority party is getting worse and distracting many away from the real reason they have been elected. 

The recent discussion and vote of having a special session to override the Governor’s vetoes has once again exposed the divide that seems to be growing between our good ole Republican legislators. 

With a super majority such as we have in Wyoming, we certainly have our disagreements among same party officials. This has always been the case. 

But this time it seems different. A bit nastier and more direct. 

When I see a Facebook post from current legislators, calling out the traitors or turn coats that voted against the special session, my skin begins to crawl. 

Know From Experience

Because I’ve served in the Wyoming Senate, I wondered how I would react to such a public comment from a fellow legislator. 

In my years of service, I saw more than my share of grandstanding moments from others that I worked with. 

Most of the time I would ignore the attacks but the increase of these attacks and the trend of blowhards using social media to poke or stab at colleagues is starting to irritate me a great deal. 

Here’s why: it is self-promoting political grandstanding. 

These caustic remarks are directed to politically hurt any opponent, while attempting to elevate the grandstander. 

Now, I’m a big boy and some may say it’s fair game or that it is politics, but what really irks me is when these same folks that make these attacks on fellow legislators cry foul when they are passed over for leadership positions in the body they serve in. 

They tell their constituents that they are being mistreated because they dared to stand up to those in power or refused to kiss the ring. 

The reality is that these folks can dish it out, but they can’t take it. Much like the typical bully from school, when finally confronted they fold like a napkin.  Sadly, the end game to all this poor behavior is nothing but wasted time. 

The Vetoes

Proof of this is the poorly crafted and passed bills that the governor elected to veto. 

The logical person should ask themselves this question: if the governor knew that these vetoes would be political suicide, then why would he veto these bills? 

I’m sure he struggled with them and put himself on the line by using his veto power of bills that were supposed to be important to the citizens of Wyoming.

Yet he chose to apply his authority to provide a check and a balance by using his veto power. 

Why would he do this unless he had valid concerns that he will now have to explain every time he is asked about his actions on these bills. 

Having been in similar positions, I can tell you that his decision took a lot of thought and courage to make. 

But rather than taking the high road, those that might disagree with their governor and these vetoes have taken to the social media outlets and labeled all those that opposed having a special session, with the usual banter, name calling while applying labels to any opponent that gets in the way of their efforts.

How To Respond  

To those that have chosen to play to the crowd by slandering their fellow legislators, may I suggest a few ideas of how they may better respond to having a different opinion on a matter.

“I can’t speak for my colleagues that voted against having a special session, you’ll have to ask them why they voted as they did, I can only tell you why I voted in favor of having a special session.” 

Or maybe this, “I’ve tried to understand the concerns they may have with a special session but feel that the importance of these particular bills far outweighed the concerns that some had.” 

It’s not that hard to say the right thing when you check your ego at the door and have a better understanding of mutual respect and honoring the position these people hold.   

Words matter. Using correct language when speaking about colleagues such as “my friends” or “my good friends across the aisle”. 

Common Decency

As I served in the Senate, mutual respect was a constant practice. But this common decency among legislators seems to be more lacking with each passing session. 

I attribute this downward trend to extremism, frustration, constant bombardment of violence from the world we live in with social media and 24-hour news and a tired and uninformed electorate.  

We would rather get our information from a nasty Facebook post or blog that entertains us rather than asking the person directly. 

We really don’t want to know the truth of a matter but would rather assume the worst of an individual. Our standards have been lowered and we seem quick to judge or fight without getting the facts. 

We assume that everyone is an enemy and we stand ready with gun in hand to shoot before asking questions.

There is no doubt that the differences between groups are magnified as we degrade ourselves by pointing out these differences rather than finding common ground. 

It seems we’ve lost the art of compromise and substituted diplomacy with “take no prisoners."

Standing Ground

Some may think that it’s time we stood our ground and dig in if we are to save our values. 

Sadly, the result of standing your ground is that nothing moves while the dead bodies continue to stack up, much like the trench warfare of World War I. 

A great example of a futile exercise: when both parties are dug in and unwilling to move, the dead bodies will begin to stack up with little or no positive movement or effort. 

I would point out to the reader that the attitude of these so-called true Republicans have set themselves up as the judge of who is a good Republican and who is not. It is nothing more than a mob mentality. 

For a glimpse of the end game of this movement could be provided by a study of the extreme party in Germany that began much the same way. 

They were looking for a change and the purists showed up promising reform. Their tactics were justified as a love for their country. 

The tactics became more brutal as time went on and as the true extremists became more prominent. Justification and love for the country was the practice of the day. 

Soon the radical ideas were casually accepted by the majority. 

It came to an end when the rest of the world had seen enough and millions of lives were lost, bringing accountability to a power hungry few.

Looking To Campaign Season

As we enter another election season, I would strongly recommend to the voters to ask your legislative candidates where they feel they stand on this important issue.

How will they be an effective legislator? What are their plans for leadership positions? 

Do they have any experiences that would assist them while serving in this position? What ideas they may have or will work to introduce? 

For the incumbent, you can ask them how they get along with their colleagues. Ask them if they feel they are being effective in representing us and our needs. 

Ask them about the success they’ve had in the bills that they have sponsored and gotten passed. Do they hold any leadership positions in the House or Senate?   

Please do not let them off the hook with their typical answer such as, “Well I’m out-voted because conservatives like me are just few and far between. We are simply outnumbered.” 

Having served 13 years in the Senate, I can tell you that is only an excuse used by poor legislators. 

How can any legislator come home after a grueling session and criticize other serving legislators by calling them traitors or turn coats or "RINOs" or just plain idiots and expect to be treated nice by them in return? 

So why do they do these things?

Because they can come home and placate to the uninformed masses that they were the hero trying to do the right thing and the masses love them for it. 

They become the poster child of fighting against the evil majority that are nothing but greedy, selfish, and power-hungry. 

They will tell you how bad things are in Cheynne but, they, being the only purest in the group, are fighting an uphill battle. 

And because we seem to be too lazy to discover the real deal in Cheyenne, we continue to elect these types because we think that the government is a bunch of criminals as well. When the real fact of the matter is that we elected an ineffective legislator. 

Now that’s tough talk but it’s real and it’s truthful. 

A Good Legislator

I made many stands while serving for what I thought was right, but I never made enemies with those that I had to work with. 

A good legislator knows how to make a stand without injuring fellow workers. 

A good legislator knows that everyone is different and not everyone will agree with their positions and so they work to persuade others and to debate the issues with the goal of convincing others to see your view of things and to support your concept.  

A good legislator also understands that many times they will fail in their attempts to get a great idea or cause passed because some may see things differently.  

They don’t take it personally. They don’t allow themselves to be caught up in the “get even" game.

This is what good legislators do.   

When we elect folks that can’t do these things effectively, or in the right way, we get to the point where we seem to be now, a “we vs. them” mentality. 

The efforts to degrade the other position or the personal attacks to the opponents, are signs of a poor legislator struggling to elevate themselves by degrading another. 

They can’t run on their own merits because they don’t have any to promote. 

All they base their campaigns on are that they fight for freedom and liberty and are more conservative than the other person. 

Personal integrity is gone as they allow the slander from extreme groups that happen to agree with them, to flood the mailboxes and commercials during a campaign against their opponents. 

All of this because they are failing as a leader among their co-legislators.

Holding Them Accountable

When the campaigns start and we attend meetings to hear from our candidates, we should have a pretty good understanding of their views and positions before the meeting is over. If not, the meeting was a failure. 

We need to ask the hard questions. 

We need to see how fast the candidate can think on their feet, how they communicate their thoughts. Because those qualities will be required of that position. 

We need to hold them accountable for their past record or lack of one.  

Ask them about the issues of the day or their knowledge of state budgets and expenditures that will affect you. 

By the time these meetings are over, the candidates should feel like they’ve been run over because that is what a legislative session feels like.  

If we have the desire to send our best candidate to Cheyenne, then we need to run these candidates through the mill and weed out the fake want-to-bes that fall back to the sound bites that seem to resonate with the majority of the voters. 

That is the politician. Yet we elect them and then complain about the ineffectiveness of government. It might be a case of “I’ve met the enemy, and it is me.”

Lack of Decorum

I’m getting crochety in my old age and I grow tired of the nonsense around us, especially from our so-called leaders that represent us. 

I served my time in public service. I was in the ring.

For this reason, I have every right and the responsibility to call into question the lack of decorum of our state legislature and our state Republican party. 

I served and I did my best to carry out that responsibility as a public servant and I grow tired of the backstabbing, and name calling that seems to control this divide we now have.

Wyoming is better than that and we deserve better than that. 

Claiming to be more conservative than another is nothing more than a political stunt.  Calling another Republican a "RINO" is not only short-sighted but smacks of arrogance and stupidity.

We need to go deeper into these candidates for office.  

As for the other side, demeaning another for their position or labeling them a "rebel" or "hillbilly" is as ignorant as the other comments. 

Remember Who You Work For

We all need to remember that everyone that serves was elected by the majority, and with that carries the representation of that area and that area deserves respect and opportunity to be heard and represented. 

My suggestion is to leave the egos at home. Remember who you work for. 

Bring honor back to the position and the entire body. Try to build the team rather than tear it apart. Listen more than you speak. 

Understand that in Wyoming, we are all a pretty conservative bunch of folks with some occasional differences of opinions or ideas. 

Remember that even though you may think it, you don’t always have to say it. Understanding should be the key word and effort. All should have a place at the table and the opportunity to be heard. 

My own photo is on the walls of the Wyoming Senate, and I remain proud of the product we made and how we made it. 

I hope that those serving now will be able to say the same when they are finished. It does no one any good to say the ignorant things that I’ve had to read about or listen to from supposedly the best of us and who represent us.

A legislator should not be surprised when they are not considered or supported by the very people that they poke or make enemies out of continually. 

A good legislator builds bridges and friendships among those with a different position. A poor legislator digs in and lofts grenades into the supposed enemy.

A Few Requests

I’ve called for our legislators to pick up their game and make these improvements, the sooner the better. 

I would also ask our voters to step up their game as well. Be engaged. Learn about the issues that affect our lives. 

Do not accept the sound bites or one liner that fall short of real problem solving.  

We need to send our very best.  It is our responsibility to make sure we do. 

Finally, to our Republican party leaders: be careful how you represent us. 

We should never accept some of the practices of our party’s leadership as they promote the divide that exists among us. 

We do not want or should promote any tactics that lead us down the path of becoming like our Washington political machine, that is the very definition of ineffectiveness. 

This is Wyoming where we can still sit down together and talk about issues and even disagree but remain friends and yes even from the same party.

Ray Peterson represented Big Horn and Park counties in the Wyoming State Senate from 2005-2018

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Ray Peterson