Rodger McDaniel 2018 headshot

“The best argument against democracy,” said Winston Churchill, “is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

Sometimes I wonder why it took him that long. There are other times I think he had it wrong. The 2018 election produced evidence to both uphold Churchill’s claim and to debunk it.

As Congress and the Wyoming Legislature swear in their newly elected members, it’s fair to note that some of our fellow Americans used their sacred right to vote in frightening ways. Two congressmen, campaigning while free on bail, received a majority of the votes in their districts. Other voters chose the deceased owner of a Nevada brothel. A handful of Iowa voters re-elected a racist congressman his own party condemned.

Around the country, some voters were more thoughtfully democratic, electing a Muslim and the first female Native Americans to Congress. Coloradoans chose an openly gay governor, another state elected a bisexual woman to the governorship, one re-elected a lesbian to the Senate. Minnesota voters sent a one-time Somali refugee, now U.S. citizen, to Washington. Texans chose the first Hispanic women to represent them in Washington. Across the country, a record number of women won elections.

Churchill should have conversations with Wyoming’s bold voters, who used their ballot to make our Legislature look more egalitarian, representing the state’s great diversity. While candidates who succeed here typically represent rural, white, conservative Christian values, the state is more diverse than that. Now the state Legislature is, too.

Teton County voters elected Mike Yin, the state’s first Chinese-American lawmaker. Rep.-elect Yin says he will use his position to represent the state’s racial minorities and, as he told the Casper Star-Tribune, to “say that there are other people besides Caucasian-Americans” in the Equality State. That is a welcomed message among the totality of the composite of citizens who actually live, work and raise families in Wyoming.

Fremont County voters also crossed over from the white side of the ballot, electing a Native American woman. Andi Clifford was raised on the Wind River Reservation and, importantly, continues to work there, serving its people’s needs. Rep.-elect Clifford will offer a thoughtful voice as she educates colleagues on the urgent, often overlooked obligations of the state to the reservation.

Perhaps the most improbable 2018 winner was Sara Burlingame. Sara is one of Wyoming’s most effective, eloquent advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens.

Wyoming has steadfastly refused to join 46 other states in passing hate-crimes legislation. The state Legislature is a place where proposals making it illegal to discriminate against citizens based on sexual identification go to die and be ridiculed. A majority of the Legislature’s Management Council recently voted to strip protection from discrimination for LGBTQ residents.

Those whom the Legislature marginalizes have a voice now that the executive director of Wyoming Equality is state Rep. Sara Burlingame.

Sara’s heart for compromise leads her to seek understanding, rather than conflict, on the most difficult issues. She won a seat in the House because of her ability to develop personal relationships.

She listens. Because of that, she will be able to open the hearts and minds of LGBTQ opponents to an understanding of the suffering of the marginalized, particularly Wyoming youth, who often struggle on the margins of life, suffering rejection by their family and bullying from classmates.

Sara’s kindness combines a deep appreciation of differences with the use of good information, rather than sheer emotion, to bring others along on difficult issues. Before her first 40-day session ends, she will soften the hearts of most of her ardent anti-gay colleagues.

Because Reps. Kim, Clifford and Burlingame are there, legislators and their constituents will meet people they know only through stereotypes. They will have an opportunity to consider arguments and information to which most of them were never exposed. These representatives will leave their marks on a conservative Legislature not known for its appreciation of Wyoming’s diversity.

To paraphrase Churchill, the best argument for democracy is a five-minute conversation with the voters who chose these three freshmen legislators.

Rodger McDaniel lives in Laramie and is the pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne. Email: rmc81448@gmail.com.

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