SHERIDAN — Conservative political consultant Mary Matalin and her husband, liberal consultant James Carville, are as opposite as possible on the political spectrum, but they do agree on this: they love Wyoming.
Matalin told a packed house at the Sheridan County Republican Party’s Reagan Day Dinner Saturday that Wyoming has become a favorite place for the political odd couple to visit and work over the last several decades.
“You’re so blessed to live here. Thank you for bringing me to this beautiful, beautiful, beautiful facility,” Matalin said as she stood inside the Edward A. Whitney Academic Center at Sheridan College looking out over nearly 1,000 flags fluttering below the Bighorn Mountains as part of the weekend’s Field of Honor project.
The patriotic atmosphere added a little extra shine to an event that drew U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. and Liz Cheney — who is challenging Enzi for his seat in the U.S. Senate in next year’s primary election. Attendees also included state Reps. Rosie Berger, R-Big Horn, and Kathy Coleman, R-Sheridan, and local officials such as Sheridan Mayor Dave Kinskey and City Councilors Alex Lee, John Heath and Shelleen Smith. Representatives of Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., were present, as were Susan Thomas, wife of deceased Senator Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., and Isabel Wallop, wife of deceased Sen. Malcolm Wallop, R-Wyo.
The Reagan Day Dinner is an annual event held by the Sheridan County Republican Party. Similar dinners — often called Lincoln Day Dinners — are held by each county around the state.
“The purpose of the function is to really just bring the Republican Party together, just celebrate being Republican, talk about our values, things that are important to us,” Sheridan County Republican Party Chairman Jesus Rios said. “We bring in speakers, as you saw tonight Mary Matalin, and it’s also our annual fundraiser, so this is really the beginning of our grassroots efforts to support candidates locally. As a result of what we do here, we can support Republican candidates from the county level on up to the U.S. Congress.”
The event typically raises $8,000 to $15,000, Rios said. The funds are used to set up a Republican office for people to find information during elections and to support Republican candidates locally, statewide and nationally.
Much of the evening was devoted to three main themes: Engage, fight and do it now.
“Policy is not about popularity,” Matalin said during her speech. “We don’t have the luxury to not fight. There is an urgency here.”
Matalin, who has served former Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, as well as Vice President Dick Cheney and countless senators and representatives in her career, said she is less concerned about the direction of the Republican Party than she is about the direction of the country as a whole.
She believes the solution is getting back to purist, conservative ideals, and avoiding a “kumbaya,” bipartisan, cross-the-aisle approach in the Republican Party.
“When we look at how the party did grow and when we were successful, it’s when we didn’t compromise,” Matalin told The Sheridan Press before the dinner. “Compromise has become one of these cotton candy words that look good, and they look big, and then they just disintegrate upon touch. You can’t compromise your principles. When we stand for our principles, we win elections and we transform the policies, we reform the policies.”
In her speech, Matalin touched on the $17 trillion national deficit, the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” and the need to develop energy in Wyoming, which garnered a round of applause.
Cheney, who is being supported by Matalin, echoed the same sentiments.
“We can’t go along to get along anymore,” Cheney said. “I think we’re in a situation now where people recognize that this president is very radical, and we can’t continue to search for common ground, in my view, with a president who is as radical as this one. We can’t say we’re going to compromise on 50 percent of this. We can’t say we all agree on 80 percent. We don’t. We have to fight back.”
Enzi, who is known for his efforts at finding common ground in Washington, D.C., disagreed.
“I find that if it’s an issue that we think ought to be done, we can probably find common ground for about 80 percent of it, and I’ve found that America really likes 80 percent better than nothing,” Enzi said. “But it isn’t compromise. Compromise means I give up half of what I believe in, and you give up half of what you believe in, and we wind up with something nobody believes in. If you leave out the stuff that isn’t common ground, you can get something done.”
Regardless of approach, many at the gathering agreed that moving the Republican Party forward will require solid goals, engaged citizens and politicians who are listening to the needs of America.
“I think people need to recognize that when it comes to what your belief system is, it all starts with a grassroots effort, it all starts with getting out and talking to people, and getting your issues out there, and getting your voice heard,” Rios said. “When we send people to Washington, do they truly represent the majority of us, do they really know what we’re after if we’re not engaged?”