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SHERIDAN — Democrats in Wyoming need to get out there and work, then work, and work again in order to win seats in local and state offices, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., told a packed house at a Wyoming State Democratic Party fundraiser Tuesday night.
Nearly 70 local and state members of the Democratic Party filled the Timberline Room at Black Tooth Brewing Company for an evening of beer, wine, hors d’oeuvres and mingling. Tester spoke with supporters one-on-one throughout the event and gave a keynote address focused largely on how he won a seat in U.S. Congress as a Democrat in a Republican state.
“The bottom line is we worked,” Tester said in his speech.
Tester and his campaign team tried to knock on every door at least five times to have a conversation with people about what he would do in congress, he said. A working farmer to this day in Big Sandy, Mont., Tester pointed to his work ethic and his firsthand knowledge of issues that are important to Montanans as a way to convince even Republicans that he would represent their needs in Washington.
“If you take a look at the West, in particular, it was built by people who worked hard, people who went the extra mile, and in politics it’s no different,” Tester said in an interview with The Sheridan Press. “Whether you’re from Montana or Wyoming, there’s a real appreciation out there for people who strap it on and get out there and work, and sweat a little bit, and grind it out, and feel a little pain, but get out there and work.”
In politics, Tester said, that work means meeting people and telling them what you stand for and how you will represent them, whether in a school board, a town council, the state legislature or Washington, D.C.
Three of the 12 democrats in Wyoming’s state Legislature — Rep. Lee Filer, D-Laramie, Rep. Ken Esquibel, D-Laramie, and House Floor Leader Mary Throne, D-Laramie — were on hand at the event. There are 90 total seats in Wyoming Congress, 60 in the House of Representatives and 30 in the Senate. Sheridan County does not have any Democratic representatives in local or state government.
“I hope he’s right that there’s a reason to hope,” Throne said following Tester’s speech.
She said the biggest challenge for democrats in the state Legislature at this time is to fight back against extreme factions of the Republican Party — the Tea Party Republicans — who, she felt, could lead Wyoming down a disastrous path.
That division in the Republican Party is also seen as a boon for Democrats, Sheridan County Democratic Party Chairman Hollis Hackman said.
“What we’re hoping to accomplish is to let other democrats in the state know that the State Democratic Party is alive and well,” Hackman said about the purpose of Tuesday’s event.
“We’re in the process of growing, and I think we’ll continue to grow as we watch the other party move further and further to the right,” Hackman added. “It’s really looking like the Republican Party is the party of extremists, at this point, at least those in the party that are on the far right, and we’re a party of moderates. I would say that we’re moderates on most issues, and so we’re hoping that people who are disaffected with their own party, if they’re Republicans, will consider joining us or at least consider registering as an independent.”
Hackman said there are 3,000 people in Sheridan County who are registered democrat.
One of the biggest challenges the Democratic Party faces in Wyoming is finding candidates to run for office, Hackman said. He said the apathy in the state toward politics — displayed by low voter turnout in recent elections — needs to be addressed. He hopes to see people step up and get involved, which will automatically improve the process of democracy.
Tester agreed, saying that different perspectives make better politics.
“The West was built by folks working together; the whole country was built by people working together, and compromise is a part of that. If you have different perspectives to weigh, you’ll come up with a better decision,” Tester said.
Tester also advised Wyoming Democrats to avoid being stereotyped by actively letting people know exactly what they stand for and who they are.
“We’re all Americans first, and that’s the perspective we need to look at issues from,” Tester said. “Neither party is right all the time, neither party is wrong all the time. The bottom line is approaching things from an American standpoint, not as a Democrat, not as a Republican, but as an American.”