A family-owned daily newspaper serving Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming since 1949

Politics creeping in

Mar 24, 2014 - By Steven R. Peck

Not every elected office in Fremont County needs to be held by a politician

Election years give voters plenty to think about. The primary and general votes coming up later this year will prove the point again.

But there is such a thing as overthinking an election, and some of our county races also could prove that point in 2014.

A trend discussed nationally concerns hard-core political ideology creeping into campaigns for elected offices that are political positions only nominally, if at all. Wyoming would be well served locally, as well as admirable in the bigger picture, to steer clear of the trend.

In one case given some national attention recently, two candidates in another state, appearing in a public forum ahead of their primary election for an office apparently similar to our Clerk of District Court, found themselves being quizzed over their views on climate change and immigration.

One candidate was troubled by the tone of the forum, and said so,while the other endeavored to give the political answers she felt the audience wanted her to give. At no point, according to news reports, was either candidate asked anything having to do with the duties of setting up the docket and filing the appropriate paperwork required of the clerk of court.

This year in Fremont County, the incumbent county coroner is retiring, and two candidates for the office already have emerged. There might be even more. One semi-regular visitor to the newspaper office this week wondered aloud how one of the candidates felt about the Affordable Care Act, as if the person's position on a nationally controversial political topic had a place in local considerations in the choice for county coroner.

Many times through the years, readers have read a question in this part of the newspaper -- namely, must everything be politicized?

When some voters seem to think an elected clerical position must be framed within the debate on global warming, or when the person elected to determine causes of death in accidents and crimes also must pass a litmus test on Obamacare or grizzly bear policy, then the answer to that question, apparently, is yes.

While we are asking questions, here are two more: When selecting candidates to non-political positions, should it matter most that the candidate is qualified to perform the described functions of the job, will work honestly and conscientiously, and be a good manager of his or her department? Or must a person's political ideologies be coaxed to the surface so as to trump good public-service qualifications?

The answer is to affirm the first question over the second. There are whisperings, perhaps even rumblings, that politics of this type soon will enter into basic administrative elections even in Fremont County.

Some years ago in Fremont County, one political party's local leaders decided to target the non-political incumbent who happened to be registered in the opposite party. The thing that mattered to the organizers of the campaign was charting the number of elected offices held by one party over the other. The actual performance of the duties of the position, which were very important, didn't enter into the discussion at all.

It was a less-than-pretty party performance, but the targeted incumbent one anyway, and by the wide margin.

Score one for common sense that year, but that was several election cycles back. One wonders now whether an experienced officeholder or candidate for an office whose work falls outside the realm of partisan politics could survive such an onslaught today.

The best thing for our county would be to never find out, for the right reasons - meaning that the political onslaught never takes place. Not every elected office needs to be filled by politician. Those who would deny that for the sake of political statistics do a disservice both to our county and their statistics.

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