Wyomingites need better access to the people elected to represent them.
In the age of Facebook Live and other tools that bring audiences face-to-face with what’s going on across town, across the state, across the country or across the world, people who live here should be able to observe their lawmakers doing the state’s business without having to be in the same room at the same time.
Holding meetings during the interim session in smaller towns across the state – Thermopolis, Buffalo, etc. – is in one way a good start. It gives people who live in more rural areas a better opportunity to see their lawmakers in action than they would have if the meetings were held in Cheyenne.
But in a broader sense, the move is counterintuitive. Because lawmakers aren’t broadcasting the legislative goings-on, moving the gatherings to smaller towns actually decreases access for the bulk of Wyoming’s population – not a desirable outcome.
Fortunately, there’s an easy solution, and it’s one that comes at minimal cost. The Wyoming Legislature should invest in some basic equipment – we’d suggest a smartphone microphone and a tripod, for a total that barely reaches into three figures – and suddenly be equipped to connect with the rest of its constituents. Like many Wyomingites, we take pride and pleasure in our state’s open spaces and the opportunities for solitude they provide, but in this instance, it would be better to have the opportunity to come together to make decisions for the good of the state.
Though it wouldn’t cost much to broadcast and share the sessions, and it wouldn’t be difficult to do, the reward could be very high. People would be better empowered to improve their participation in government. Even if they weren’t able to watch a session live, recording it would allow them to catch up later at a time more convenient for them.
Improving access is particularly essential because of the magnitude of the decisions Wyoming must make in the coming years, many of them involving money. For example, the state must address its $530 million funding gap for public education — but recent polling suggests lawmakers aren’t as tuned in to the opinions of their constituents as they might have thought they were. They’ve long rejected raising taxes or creating new ones, sighing that voters just won’t support it. However, a survey recently suggested that three-quarters of Wyoming voters would be up for paying more in taxes to support public schools, while more than half would be OK with raising the sales tax.
That fundamental gap – potentially just one of many – indicates that legislators need more contact with their constituents, not less.
The choices our legislators make during the session that starts in January will resonate for decades. This is a pivotal point, one that deserves as much input and dialogue as possible.
More and better public access to legislative decision-making activities is a worthy goal that is within easy reach, and it’s time for our state government to make it a priority.