Volume 8, Number 36 - November 27, 2008
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A private journey for public office
It sounds like a screenplay.
Two opposing candidates spot each other in front of the State Capitol. They are there for a State Canvassing Board meeting that will decide whether their House district will hold a special election.
One man has a four-vote victory; the other has questions about miscast ballots.
They meet at the bottom of the Capitol’s steps with each candidate wanting to return in two months as a House Member.
One extends his hand and the other replies in kind.
They shake, smile nervously and ascend the steps side by side.
It’s not fiction.
In fact, this scene played out on Nov. 12 just minutes before the canvassing board convened a meeting putting both men back on the campaign trail for 13 more days. The board decided to conduct a special election in one precinct of House District 22 (HD 22).
For Charles Stough (R) and Jim Roscoe (D) this year’s public campaign has belied a very private and profound journey.
Even though the political world focuses on the letter “R” and the letter “D” behind their names, the two men know that they shared a unique experience that has changed their perspectives forever. Neither man can recall how many hours he spent campaigning, nor could he compute how many miles he had driven, nor how many thousands of hands he had shook.
The numbers don’t really matter. All those obligatory duties muddle what being a candidate is all about: listening and learning from people.
“I don’t know of any other avenue whereby you get that kind of knowledge,” Stough said. “That’s why I’ve become a proponent that everybody should run for office. Because of the education you get that you wouldn’t gain otherwise.”
Roscoe agreed. “I absolutely agree everybody should run for office.”
It hasn’t been easy. For an extremely part-time job – the state legislature meets for no more than 60 days in two years – both men had to sacrifice time at work and more importantly, time with family. But the experience of meeting potential constituents and hearing their concerns has left an indelible mark on both candidates.
“I had no idea it would be this involved,” Roscoe said. “I’ve become so much more involved in state issues and some of my opinions have changed.”
Stough echoed Roscoe’s sentiment.
“It’s just given me such a deeper understanding of what’s important to people and a deep respect for all points of view,” he said.
Both men said they were impressed by how much people care for Wyoming and how much concern there is for political issues.
Issues such as property taxes were obvious hotbutton topics, but both men reported being caught off guard by the frequency of other topics.
Roscoe said he was surprised by how often he heard anxiety about gun rights, and Stough said he was surprised how many people brought up health care.
But regardless of their concerns, Stough said everybody he met on the campaign trail was kind and respectful “even if they weren’t supporting me.”
Roscoe said he met a rancher who told him: “I don’t know you from a bale of hay, but because you came all the way out here … and told me what you stand for, I’ll support you.”
It has been a long journey for the two men, and the close vote count and special election haven’t made it any easier.
But win, lose, or (heaven forbid) draw, they have traveled a similar road and arrived at similar conclusions.
It has been a positive, life-changing experience.
“Getting an opportunity to talk to the people throughout the district – what they are concerned about, and what’s important to them – is the best education I could have asked for,” Stough said.
That could be why both men talked to each other while they walked up the capital steps.
Stough joked that they should settle it the oldfashioned way with both men locked at the wrist, face to face; the last man standing represents HD 22.
Roscoe, not matching Stough’s size, offered an alternative resolution: a ski race.
“Here were two rookies thrown into this somewhat historic political process and we just wanted to see the process unfold,” Roscoe said. “And we were both excited to see it happen.”
Both men said the experience has given them a greater appreciation for people who run for public office.
As a newly minted campaign veteran, Stough had advice for anybody interested in following in his and Roscoe’s shoes.
“Make sure you win it in the first round.”
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