Voters’ motivations are often complicated and personal, so it tends to be anyone’s guess as to what exactly propels one candidate over another in a given election.
Former state Sen. Ray Peterson, R-Cowley — who just wrapped up 13 years of service in the Wyoming Legislature — has apparently been spending a lot of time on the subject, theorizing about what led to his loss in August’s Republican primary.
In a kind of exit interview with the Lovell Chronicle, published last week, Peterson spoke at length about the factors that he believes caused his downfall:
• He describes being “thrown to the wolves” by Senate leaders, who asked him to sponsor a bill — Senate File 117 — that would have cut millions of dollars from K-12 schools; Peterson thinks local voters, and educators in particular, made up their minds against him after he took up the bill and wouldn’t listen to his attempts to explain his intentions.
• He believes the Wyoming Education Association — which he says doesn’t “do anything except fight for teacher salary increases” and should be scrapped — influenced educators and voters against him.
• The Senate veteran also contends that he failed to explain to voters just how important it is to have a lawmaker in Cheyenne with seniority.
Giving up on someone who’s closing in on a leadership position is “kind of like starting a chess game with your opponent reaching over before you start and taking your queen and replacing it with a pawn and saying now let’s go,” Peterson told the Chronicle. “That’s what happened.”
Peterson is probably right that all of those things played some role in his loss. However, we believe he’s missing much of the big picture — including the significance of Park County voters declining to send him back to the Senate.
In interviews, Peterson has remained focused on Big Horn County residents: Had they just backed his candidacy, he seems to suggest, the county could have had its first Senate president within the next couple of years.
However, Big Horn County voters did support him — Peterson took nearly 60 percent of the vote there.
His real problem is that he failed to get even a third of the vote (collecting just 32.7 percent) over here in Park County, in and around Powell.
While Peterson has made much of the education association’s lobbying and objections to his stance on education funding, we suspect a bigger issue was that he, as Powell’s senator, was not a frequent presence in this part of his district; the Park County side of Senate District 19 (which makes up roughly half of the district) didn’t seem to be a priority for Peterson. We hope his replacement, Sen. R.J. Kost of Powell, maintains strong connections with both the Powell area and northern Big Horn County.
That, of course, brings us to the primary problem with Sen. Peterson’s post-election autopsy: While the results can be framed as a loss for the veteran lawmaker, it’s more accurate to describe them as a victory for Kost.
We reject the idea that this was a race where voters turned out to cast their ballots against either candidate. Both Peterson and Kost are respected, dedicated public servants and advocates for our communities. The overwhelming majority of local voters surely knew they were picking between two good people.
In our minds, that Kost won out had little to do with SF117 and more to do with the trust he’s earned as a teacher, school administrator, hospital board trustee and community member — people in the Powell area know and respect him.
That’s why it’s been frustrating to see Peterson growing more and more strident and negative about the election in the months since the primary. He should instead be reflecting, with pride, on his commendable and extensive record of service.
We wrote in this space in August that it was refreshing to see Peterson and Kost speak highly of one another following the primary. We certainly appreciate them both — we’re looking forward to Kost’s service over the next four years while feeling thankful for the hard work and good ideas that Peterson gave over the past 13.
When anyone rehashes last year’s elections, we hope that’s their lasting takeaway.
Editor's note: This version correct the number of the Senate district.