Editorial:

There should be nothing partisan about serving as a coroner

Posted 7/27/21

It’s always seemed a little absurd that the coroner is an elected position on a partisan ballot in Wyoming.

After all, there is nothing (or at least there should be nothing) political about …

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Editorial:

There should be nothing partisan about serving as a coroner

Posted

It’s always seemed a little absurd that the coroner is an elected position on a partisan ballot in Wyoming.

After all, there is nothing (or at least there should be nothing) political about determining a cause of death. It’s a job that consists of finding facts and treating people with compassion and dignity — one that requires a dedicated public servant and not necessarily a politician.

But while it might seem a little silly to require coroners to campaign for their office, the more nonsensical part is that they must do so under the banner of a political party. Given the nature of the job, there’s no easy way to distinguish between a Democratic, Republican, Libertarian or independent coroner.

There is a fiscal conservatism that tends to go along with Republicans, so perhaps you might expect a smaller budget from a member of the GOP. In Park County, Republican Coroner Tim Power has done an admirable job of constantly watching out for taxpayers dollars. Power may be one of the only elected officials in the country who’s been reprimanded for taking too little pay, getting such a lecture from commissioners a decade ago, when he wasn’t billing the county for all of the calls he handled. Still, even this example shows the Republican moniker has limited value: Although Power made significant reductions to the coroner’s budget when he took office, his predecessor was a Republican, too. Power has said there’s nothing partisan about the job.

Having the coroner affiliated with a political party can create unnecessary complications, too, injecting politics into things that shouldn’t be political. Consider the recent brouhaha that bubbled up in Fremont County, when Coroner Mark Stratmoen resigned midterm.

Stratmoen was firmly in the camp that sees nothing partisan about serving as coroner.

“You’re working for the people but because of the way the statutes are written, you have to run as a party,” Stratmoen told the Casper Star-Tribune in 2014, as he ran in a contested Republican primary. “Being a Republican or Democratic for the office of the coroner has nothing to do with the job.”

Regardless, since the position is partisan, it fell to the Fremont County Republican Party to pick three potential replacements for Stratmoen and controversy erupted. Stratmoen’s chief deputy, Erin Ivie, didn’t make the cut and the Fremont County commissioners initially rejected the party’s three nominees, with one commissioner requesting “a list of qualified applicants,” the Riverton Ranger reported. For her part, Ivie was frustrated that her interview with the Fremont County GOP focused more on hot-button political topics, the Ranger reported.

Two of the nominees had indicated they would not talk to the press; Larry Degraw, for instance, pledged to only communicate with media outlets via written press releases, according to the Ranger’s reporting. That’s the kind of comment that sounds good as a political soundbite, but isn’t going to help get accurate information out to the public.

Ultimately, the Fremont County commissioners tabbed Degraw to serve as coroner, but it seems things would have gone more smoothly if politics had been taken out of the equation.

The coroner’s role has more in common with the nonpartisan members of a hospital or cemetery district board than a governor or county commissioner. We encourage state lawmakers to consider making the coroner nonpartisan to reflect the realities of the job.

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