THE BUZZ 3: Liberal Energy
Teton County Dems’s new leaders want to see the county lead the way for Wyoming Democrats.
JACKSON HOLE, WY – The line stretched out the door at the Senior Center Saturday as a mix of longtime Democrats and new faces filed in for a meeting of the Teton County Democratic Party. More than 100 people attended the meeting, where six officers were unanimously elected.
Attendees and new leaders are emblematic of an increasingly politically engaged local populace that spans several generations. Seasoned Dem Marylee White, 60, was elected chair and Michael Yin, 31, secured vice chair.
Director of InterConnections 21, Shelby Read, 34, was elected treasurer, and Andree Dean, 26, a staffer at the National Museum of Wildlife Art, was voted secretary. Previous party officers Mike Welch, a consultant, and Lauren Dickey, of Friends of Pathways, were elected state committeeman and committeewoman.
A common theme of the meeting was encouraging Democrats to get engaged in local and state politics, from activism efforts to running for office. Explaining why she wanted to run for treasurer, Read told the audience, “I want to be involved. It’s my duty and responsibility to jump in.”
White, the executive director of the Old Wilson Schoolhouse, spoke about her commitment to Democratic ideals. Emboldened by her recent campaign for House District 22, in which she lost to incumbent Marti Halverson by 785 votes, White told the crowd, “We can do better than we’ve been doing.It’s been a depressing year for Dems, but I see you here today and it is hard to be sad. We have to work together and stand up for truth in the face of Republican misinformation.”
The energized, activist tone of candidate speeches continued with Yin, a mobil software engineer who said he wants to “turn Wyoming blue.”
“I’d like to see increased active party membership,” Yin said. “It needs to happen across the board. I want to build coalitions to make the county party bigger.”
An organizer for the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016, Yin cut his teeth in politics last year, also getting out the vote for Hillary Clinton when she became the Democratic presidential candidate. Locally, he was part of the door-to-door campaign in support of the 1 percent sales tax and campaign manager for Jessica Sell Chambers when she ran for town council.
After the meeting, Yin spoke of being heartened by the turnout. “There is a lot of energy of people wanting to make a difference. Before, they thought things were going fine. Now they know they have to get going and do something, which I think will portend well for the party in the future.”
Dean, another newbie to the political scene, said this was her first elected position. Last year, she too was an organizer for Chambers’s campaign. Dean said she is inspired by the energy she sees pouring into the Democratic Party. “I want you to look at us in the party leadership as your support system,” she told the crowd.
Leaders also discussed the Dems’s local victories and their larger concerns. “We have plenty of reason to be motivated and mobilized,” said outgoing party chair Luther Propst, referring jokingly to “the Putin, er, Trump regime.”
“I have serious questions about Trump’s ability to serve as president,” Propst told the crowd. “And I am troubled by a Republican Party that puts loyalty to party above loyalty to country.”
Propst pointed to gains close to home. He cited the demise of a bill in the Wyoming Legislature that would have paved the way for privatizing public lands. He also noted strong local Democratic candidates, including Greg Epstein’s successful bid for county commissioner, leading the polls with 6,214 votes in the November election.
State house Reps. Andy Schwartz and Mike Gierau were also in attendance to report on legislative happenings.
Gierau said the highlight of his year was sponsoring a bill that would support education for immigrants with “cloudy” immigration status. Though the bill was denied a hearing in the House, Gierau said he was able to attach similar language in an amendment to another education bill, and that the issue got at least a bit of discussion in the house before it was shot down. The legislature, Gierau said, is “partisan as hell.”
Jackson Town Councilman Jim Stanford and County Commissioner Greg Epstein also spoke, encouraging people to vote in the upcoming May SPET election, when residents can vote to tax themselves to pay for projects like a new senior living center, affordable housing and a maintenance facility for buses and snowplows. The 10-item ballot will ask voters to consider nearly $70 million of proposals.
Finally the floor was open for comment from special guests and the audience. Wyoming Democratic Chair Ana Cuprill was in attendance, and spoke briefly of her campaign for re-election. Her rival candidate from Pinedale, Kendra Cross, also spoke.
Cuprill sounded a hopeful note regarding the party’s efforts in the state. “We only lost one seat in the legislature,” she said, citing other states where larger numbers of state legislative seats went from blue to red in the 2016 election. “We didn’t do so badly, considering.”
After the meeting, Cuprill told PJH about her plans for the state party’s future. “I am working to make Wyoming an example of resistance among our surrounding red states. I’ve created a coalition of the Democratic leadership in Montana, Idaho, Utah, and North and South Dakota to create a ‘voting block’ or voice in the Democratic National Committee,” she said.
Because of Jackson’s historically “blue” status, Cuprill said Teton County could become a launching point for Democratic activism across the state.
She said her first act, if re-elected, would be to organize an activist conference in Jackson. “Folks who are organizing outside of the traditional party structure and the party need to work in concert,” Cuprill said. “We are all working to protect the same values and to recruit and elect candidates who will protect those values.”
One such non-party-affiliated activist is Chrissy Koriakin, 31, of the young grassroots activism outfit JH Activate. She talked briefly at the meeting about her group’s effort to organize progressive activists in the valley. Recently this included the February 24 town hall meeting, which garnered more than 200 citizens to Teton County Library despite the absence of invited lawmakers—Sens. Barrasso and Enzi and Rep. Cheney.
“If there’s a silver lining to the bad and ugly,” Koriakin said, “it’s this new group of activists that are stepping up.” PJH
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