I had the honor of taking some pictures for the Wyoming Democratic Party’s photobank this last legislative session. During “Love of Reading Week,” a group of state legislators sported hats similar to Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat. On the left, you have John Freeman (D-Green River). Mr. Freeman was a teacher of mine back in high school. I remember when he was elected to his first term. Wonderful man and an excellent educator and legislator. Next to him is JoAnn Dayton (D-Rock Springs). She was just one of 11 women in a House of 60, but the way she crafted arguments either for or against specific bills was certainly to be admired. In the green hat is Stan Blake (D-Green River). His infectious laugh can light up a whole room and his demeanor is very down-to-earth. Finally, on the right is James Byrd (D-Cheyenne). The few times I interacted with him, he was very genial and results-oriented.
It’s a rather long preface, but I promise, this story is going somewhere. Three of the four legislators in the picture are local elected officials – my elected officials.
The first time I went to the Capitol this last session was in February. A group of ASUW senators, executives, and justices went to Cheyenne to lobby on behalf of House Bill 13. ASUW President Brian Schueler, Vice President Emily Kath, and Director of Governmental Affairs Grant Rogers invested a lot of time during their tenure into student email privacy. With help from state legislators, a bill (House Bill 13) was drafted to protect the privacy of student-to-student communication through college-sponsored emails. To help garner support, we traveled to Cheyenne to ensure that everyone was on board.
Being a native son of Sweetwater County, I was tasked with contacting legislators from the county: Blake, Dayton, Freeman, Sen. Bernadine Craft (D-Rock Springs), and Rep. Mark Baker (R-Rock Springs). Before the trip, I was able to contact the first four via email correspondence. Within a matter of hours, I heard back from Freeman and Blake. They were both strong supporters of the bill and gave me a well-thought explanation of their reasoning. A day later, JoAnn Dayton emailed me, again in support of the bill. Not only did she give her reasoning behind her stance, but she also kept me updated with the progression of the bill through the House.
When we arrived at the Capitol, I asked to meet with all five of them. Stan Blake, JoAnn Dayton, and John Freeman came out of the House chamber to meet with me in the lobby. We had a nice conversation about the importance of the bill and whether or not it would be met with any resistance. Granted, it was a quick meeting because the legislative agenda is always changing and always busy. Still though, that face-to-face constituent interaction is important. I met with Bernadine Craft as well, who offered her support for the bill. Sadly, the one no-show for a meeting was Mark Baker.
Legislators are busy people. Contrary to how it’s portrayed at a national level, state legislatures and its legislators are quite productive.
However, it is nice to know that the people you elect to office are doing something. Interaction with their constituencies are key to their re-election. When residents of their districts have questions, they would like an answer. I was extremely happy with the constituent services I received from at least four out of five of my legislators. I was happy with the fifth legislator when he voted in favor of House Bill 13. Though I did not have that face-to-face meeting with him, I would like to thank Mark Baker for his vote on an issue I felt strongly in favor for.
In today’s world, postpartisanship does not come easy to many people, especially when it’s so easy to be a party-line voter. Regardless of whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, chances are you’ll be in favor of your party’s candidate. Yes, there are important issues that our state currently faces, and you may favor the stance of your party’s candidate when compared to the contrary. Yes, those are important things to keep in mind. I’m going to challenge you. Strip away your beliefs, your convictions, your party preference – just for a moment. Is the person elected to your local, state, or federal office interacting with you? Are they communicating what they’re doing and why in a satisfactory manner? If the answer to either of those questions is no, you have the opportunity to create change in the ballot box. Democracy is a powerful thing. Use your vote to the fullest.