Buzzwords and party labels are mere political slogans, which Pulitzer Prize winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen called “empty suits draped on the corpse of an idea.”
That statement protests the fact that too many people see their vote as little but an empty suit as they forfeit it in favor of some ill-conceived loyalty to their political party.
Let’s face it, in Wyoming most legislative districts winners are determined by whether the candidate is a Republican. People don’t choose the best-qualified candidate. They vote a party.
A second empty suit is buzzwords. If a candidate affixes labels such as “liberal” to an opponent, otherwise good candidates lose.
Imagine an election where voters take more responsibility for doing the right thing. Let’s pretend party labels don’t matter and that voters are willing to look behind the buzzwords. How then would that voter make a choice?
Take House District 8, the “bad, bad Leroy Brown district.” I call it that because, after all the Gerrymandering, it looks like Jim Croce’s lyrical character Leroy Brown after his barroom whooping, that is “like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces gone.”
Republican Bob Nicholas is the incumbent. He’s served since 2010. His challenger is Cheyenne attorney Linda Burt, a public servant for over twenty years, working as an advocate for Constitutional protections including privacy and freedom of speech, and criminal justice reform. She was executive director of Community Action of Laramie County, Wyoming Legal Services, and the ACLU. Unfortunately, if voters decide only on the basis of party label or buzzwords like “ACLU,” Mr. Nicholas will be reelected when maybe that’s not the best result.
Let’s add some facts. As member of the Appropriations Committee, Mr. Nicholas voted to deprive working families with healthcare by thwarting Medicaid expansion. He voted to curtail or eliminate programs providing critical support to the disabled, the elderly, and the poor.
In 2014, Representative Nicholas single-handedly killed a bill compensating those who’ve been wrongfully imprisoned. Mr. Nicholas’s conduct spurred me to write a column in 2014, which was admittedly too vitriolic. I later apologized for the harshness of my words. That apology doesn’t change the facts.
Andrew Johnson of Cheyenne spent 23 years in prison for a rape that DNA evidence later proved he didn’t commit. In February 2013, Johnson became the first wrongfully convicted person to benefit from a Wyoming law guaranteeing post-conviction DNA testing for some inmates. A judge scrutinized the DNA evidence and then released Mr. Johnson under an “Order of Absolute Innocence.”
The Judiciary Committee tried to make that right. Legislation was proposed to compensate wrongfully convicted citizens. The bill was defeated when a conference committee couldn’t agree with Mr. Nicholas’s eleventh-hour amendment shifting the burden of proof from the state to the accused.
Mr. Nicholas strategically offered his amendment when there was no further opportunity for testimony or hearings, arguing vehemently, according to news reports, that the DNA tests didn’t prove Johnson’s innocence.
Most conservatives believe someone imprisoned for a crime the evidence and a judge say he didn’t commit deserves compensation. The HD8 Republican incumbent made sure he wasn’t. So Andrew Johnson struggles as a part time janitor, rebuilding a life interrupted by nearly a quarter century wrongfully imprisoned.
Isn’t the defense of personal liberties a value Republicans support? Yeah, but there are those labels: “Democrat” and “ACLU.”
There’s more to this race than party labels and buzzwords. Ms. Burt’s career was spent defending people like Mr. Johnson as well as low-income working families, the disabled, and elderly who lost critical help because of Mr. Nicholas’s votes? Those who defend freedom on battlefields are heroes. So are those who defend freedom in courtrooms and the halls of government.
Will HB8 voters look beyond the party labels and buzzwords? Will it matter only to voters that Mr. Nicholas is a Republican or will they contemplate what he did to Andrew Johnson and others? Will they see Linda Burt as a champion of people’s rights or as just another Democrat?