I'm a registered Republican, and have been all my voting life. While I find myself agreeing with a conservative philosophy (I lean somewhat right of center), I refuse to vote along party lines, especially if I believe a Democratic candidate will do a better job than his or her Republican counterpart.
I'm no fan of partisan politics, and the more polarized our political system gets, the less I like it.
As a state government reporter in Cheyenne for four years (and a general assignment reporter who frequently covered state government issues for three years before that), I grew to admire the majority of lawmakers in the Legislature, most of whom sacrificed a great deal and worked very hard, often for very long hours, to represent their constituents. They truly wanted the best for their constituents, and for the state.
But the experience also served to increase my dislike for partisan politics. Too often, I saw a good idea passed over without consideration because it was proposed by the wrong person, representing the wrong party. On the other hand, there were times when a proposal with fewer merits advanced with little question or challenge because it was proposed by someone noteworthy in the “right” party.
But there were some really exciting moments, too, when I saw lawmakers from both sides of the aisle come together for a good cause.
The best example of that was the passage of the bill that created the Hathaway Scholarship program. It was nothing short of thrilling to see the support for the proposal gather like the proverbial rolling snowball, with Republicans and Democrats alike putting aside politics and mundane matters for a while to envision something that could benefit every qualifying high school student in the state, as well as their families.
While there were disagreements over what the nature of scholarships and their qualifications should be, lawmakers recognized the value of the program as a whole and compromised over their differences to make it come to fruition.
While that kind of cooperation is much more common in our state and local governments than in Washington, D.C., it's still far too rare — and that needs to change.
That change needs to start at the local level, in the mindset of the voters. Instead of voting mindlessly for candidates belonging to one party or another, we need to vote for the person we believe will do the best job — regardless of political affiliation. To do that effectively, we have to do some research and become informed so we know the issues and the candidates, then vote for the person we believe is most qualified and who will perform best in the position.
I am so tired of hearing Republican and Democratic leaders sounding the rallying cry to vote only for members of their parties. That sends a message that all Republicans, or Democrats — regardless of experience, knowledge, skills and personality — are best for the job because they have the right letter behind their name.
That is just wrong. Being a member of a particular party doesn't automatically make a person competent or qualified for a position, and party affiliation isn't always a good indicator of a person's political philosophies. Especially in Wyoming, some Democrats are more conservative than some Republicans.
We need to send a message that we want government to be run efficiently and without regard for party affiliation. We can't do that unless we, as voters, are willing to cross party lines when needed.
Then we need to make it clear that we expect our elected officials to be willing to do the same.