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Mike Sullivan

Former Wyoming Gov. Mike Sullivan, pictured in September 2015 in the Casper offices of Lewis Roca Rothgerber, where he practices law, will be named the 2016 Citizen of the West in January at the National Western Stock Show.

Mike Sullivan has said that government works best when the executive branch was of one party and the majority of the legislative branch was of another, as it was in the 1980s and 1990s, when he was the Democratic governor of Wyoming. There was compromise and civility, he said.

But nowadays, he’s not so sure.

“Washington wouldn’t seem to reflect that in the last eight years,” he said. “For a good part of the time, they didn’t get anything done.”

Al Simpson, a Republican and former U.S. senator, said he hears people in Wyoming and elsewhere say they hate Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump all the time.

“When you just hate some S.O.B, your country has taken a serious decline, and that’s what is happening today in America,” he said. “It’s very real.”

The lack of civility throughout the country concerns the Democratic and Republican statesmen, who are speaking on the topic at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Center for the Arts in Jackson. Former Wyoming Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Kite is moderating the discussion.

While on opposite sides of the aisle, Simpson and Sullivan had kind words to say to each other. They worked together when Simpson was in Washington and Sullivan was in Cheyenne. Sullivan even faced a Simpson family member in his 1986 race for governor.

“I’ve always been proud of the fact that I ran against Pete Simpson, Al’s brother,” Sullivan said. “We were friends when the campaign started and better friends after.”

Simpson said some politicians are exploiting social issues such as bathrooms for transgender people because it distracts the public from real issues, such as the increasing burden of Social Security payouts.

“These social issues mean nothing,” he said. “We haven’t had a budget for six years. You can’t run your house or a nation without a budget.”

Wyoming had been an example of how government worked well when Washington was hampered by bickering and name-calling. But both men said that the tone of politics and elections in the Cowboy State is degrading.

Last year, a Republican legislative leader kicked a member of her own party out of a committee meeting during a discussion about gay people. The lawmaker made a comment about pedophilia and wanted the bill enacted when hell freezes over.

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This election season was highlighted by negative campaigning and no clear signs of who was paying for the literature.

“I think part of what has happened is money,” he said about elections. “It’s altering the course, in my view. And the ability of people to engage and involved in campaigns with having to be accountable.”

At the national level, rhetoric is especially nasty because it’s election season. Simpson said it might tone down after Nov. 8, when the nation chooses a president.

But it might not, he said.

After all, Clinton and Trump are among the most disliked candidates in American history. It’s an open question whether the victor will be respected.

“Whichever way it goes, you may have an ungovernable country,” Simpson said.

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Follow political reporter Laura Hancock on Twitter @laurahancock

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