U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi’s announced retirement set off a firestorm of excitement among Wyoming voters. It’s not every day that one of those lifetime appointments to Washington opens up. In fact, since I became eligible to vote 41 years ago, there have only been three open Wyoming seats in the U.S. Senate.
But if there is one thing the Wyoming GOP hates, it’s an election.
Which is why Liz Cheney fell in line and accepted her role as Representative for Life instead of seeking the Senate seat. It’s also why Sens. Enzi and John Barrasso joined hands and endorsed former U.S. Rep Cynthia Lummis when Foster Friess threatened to take his case for the seat to the voters. That was to make clear to Friess and any other potential challengers that there was to be no election in 2020.
Some things are too important to leave up to the voters.
We must remember that it’s not enough to have elections in which the votes are counted accurately. Representative democracy requires a fair and robust contest before the ballots are cast.
And yet, already both political parties shut down primary challenges to protect incumbents from their voters. Kevin McLaughlin, the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, put it bluntly when he said, “It is the policy of the NRSC that we will defend any member of our caucus from any challenge — be it in a primary or general election — by any means necessary.”
But here in Wyoming we’ve gone one step further. Enzi and Barrasso coordinated their endorsements to occur nearly four months before the filing deadline for candidates, long before they even knew who among our state might raise his or her hand and run for office.
There can be no other explanation for what they have done. It was for the sole purpose of discouraging any would-be party crashers from running. Which explains why only a few days later, Friess — often described as a “GOP mega donor” — fell in line and withdrew his candidacy. Likewise former George W. Bush Whitehouse staffer and party loyalist Bob Grady hasn’t been heard from since, despite early speculation that he may throw his hat in the ring.
At least up until now we voters could count on the occasional open seat to provide us with a say in how we are represented. Yet long before our two senators even knew who might run, they decided what was best for us — before any debate among candidates about healthcare solutions or discussions about the best path forward for our coal communities could even take place.
This is serious stuff. When those already in power get to choose their successors, that is not democracy. There is nothing more sacrosanct to the survival of a democratic system than free and open elections. They create accountability to those currently serving, provide voters with the opportunity to listen to new ideas and allow each of us an equal opportunity to raise our hand and offer to serve our community.
Rather than our government officials celebrating democracy by encouraging all interested Wyomingites to enter the arena and make their case to voters, our two senators chose the opposite path. Stalin would be proud. Instead of encouraging our state to have a spirited and healthy contest in 2020, they employed the party apparatus to shut everything down before it had a chance to start.
The parable of the frog in the boiling water describes how if the water temperature gradually climbs, the frog doesn’t notice the heat until it’s too late. That is what is happening to our system of government.
Given Cheney’s age of 53, it’s almost certain I’ll never live to see anyone but her as our House representative, and the same may be true for both our Senate seats.
Our state is now ranked the 42nd worst economy in the country, we’ve had six recent bankruptcies in our coal industry, healthcare costs are soaring and the country has never been more divided. As a country, we’re facing one of the greatest threats to our economy as the COVID-19 virus spreads.
With this as our backdrop, our two sitting senators didn’t put their thumbs on the scale of democracy. They stepped on it.
This story has been updated to correct Liz Cheney’s age. —ED.