On September 19, 2021, Wyoming Rising gathered an outstanding group of Wyoming leaders to engage in a free, online discussion:
“Democracy 2021: The Future of the 2-Party System”
We were excited to host Sen. Al Simpson (R), Gov. Mike Sullivan (D), State Senator RJ Kost (R), 2020 U.S. Senate candidate, Dr. Merav Ben-David (D), and moderator Nate Martin, Executive Director of Better Wyoming. The event was introduced by Wyoming Rising Chair, Mary Keller.
Simpson served as a U.S. Senator from 1978-96 and as a member of the state legislature, 1965-77. Sullivan served two terms, 1987-95, as Wyoming Governor and subsequently two years as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, 1999-2001. Kost is currently serving the 19th district in the Wyoming Senate. Ben-David won the 2020 Wyoming democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, ultimately losing the general election. Martin, Wyoming native and community organizer, has led Better Wyoming since 2017.
The video can be seen below and on YouTube at https://youtu.be/yoy2Dy94O48
If you don’t have time to watch the entire discussion, here are some takeaways from the conclusion.
Nate Marten asked “What do you think the threats to democracy are today?”
Dr. Ben-David: The main threat is a few powerful rich people are taking over control of both parties and obstructing agendas. We are facing the biggest challenge in human history [climate change] – we need to find a way to mobilize all our resources, but we are facing internal conflict and Party purity tests. The first thing we need to do is reverse Citizens United and get $ out of politics. We must mobilize the Country. We cannot give in to violence and intimidation and control by a few rich people, or we aren’t going to be able to do what we need to do.
Senator Kost: It’s true that there are threats. Social media is out of control, everybody saying whatever without filters, you don’t know what’s true or not true. The other thing is the extremely narrowed vision, “win at all costs”. We need to operate by thinking what’s best for our people and our nation, not what’s best for me. What is our purpose as a legislator? Don’t let money and prestige overrule honor and integrity.
What is working: the system of checks and balance. We need to talk about collaborating more.
Governor Sullivan: The US has respect and admiration with people around the world – they expect US to be a leader and I think we have the capacity to do that. I admire Mike Enzie’s approach to politics, which was a quiet, steady willingness to work across the aisle. Enzi was a workhorse not a show horse. One couldn’t help but be proud of Wyoming for the strength that was shown at his funeral. We have remarkable leaders and when we can get through this “brief bad patch” where people speak up instead of being silent about the abuses, like Jan 6, that we’ll be back to a collaboration that promotes progress.
Nate Marten asked, “how should people in Wyoming advocate for a healthy democracy?”
Dr. Ben-David: When I spoke to people one-on-one during my campaign, I met a lot of people who have very different values than mine. What was encouraging in these discussions, I learned a lot and there was complete respect. I have not experienced any attacks. That makes me feel hopeful — that’s the key, having respect for each other. Different views are acceptable, they are ok. When we come to differences of opinion we need to look at and listen to facts, professionals, experts. If we treat each other respectfully and listen to the experts I think we could change the political climate in this state.
Senator Kost: I feel people are the answer. They need to ask themselves who best represents my positions, will a candidate listen to my concerns, are they open to collaboration. What matters are the values and integrities of the candidates. Reaching out and being more familiar with the candidates and the platform so you vote with some understanding of who the candidates are, not just because they are trying to win votes. Are they going to be honest and real? I believe in the people – if they’ll research the candidates, talk to the candidates, and find out who they should vote for.
Governor Sullivan: In WY you [a candidate or elected representative] are expected to get out there and talk to the people … can you convey the values that you hold in a way that lets them think that while I may not agree with everything he said, I believe he’s being straight with me, I can trust him as a candidate.
Learn about why you should support a candidate. Try to use public radio, Casper Star Tribune. Are [the candidates] just saying what they need to get your vote? Are they being told what to say by political action groups? Do they have their own opinions? Citizens should watch how important it is to the candidate to get elected and stay elected.
Senator Simpson: Get involved in your local party. Show up where you can participate. If you are an elected politician have town halls. Show up. Listen. People must be able to read and understand – whatever happened to common sense? The most uncommon thing in the world is common sense. Remember, the people own you, they pay you. I always figured they were paying my salary and they deserve to hear from me. Demand that the candidates hold forums, show up, and talk to them.