SUBLETTE COUNTY – The first time Pinedale rancher Albert Sommers ran for a seat in Wyoming Legislature’s House of Representatives 10 years ago, the state’s political scene was more locally focused – and much more civil.
Sommers considered himself conservative, with his focus to benefit the people of Sublette County and on outward to Wyoming. He reluctantly took advice to create a Facebook page for his first term representing House District #20. This year, running his last campaign, Sommers said, social media was a much larger and unsettling factor.
“The first time I ran 10 years ago, you didn’t run a campaign on social media,” he said.
Up to the actual primary election last week, supporters of his challenger, businessman Mike Schmid of LaBarge, brought the campaigns to a new level with personal and political attacks reminiscent of the cutthroat tactics in much larger campaigns.
He was called a “RINO” and discovered the red word painted across a dozen campaign signs. “Imagine calling me a RINO,” he said. Also disconcerting was an ugly flyer sent to local post offices by a Virginia PAC extolling Schmid and skewering Sommers. Personal attacks continued online.
“Social media has ruined politics in America,” Sommers said after winning the Aug. 16 primary. “People can say whatever they want and don’t have to say it to your face. That’s not a debate.”
That far-right Republicans’ “acrimony” has seeped into local state politics is a bad sign, he said.
“It’s changed from the first time I ran – I’ve seen acrimony across all the races in the state and it’s really unhealthy for our democracy.”
The decreased civility or desire to build relationships to achieve goals is affected – “You can’t run somebody down one minute (on social media) and try to talk to them the next minute like nothing happened.”
During his campaign, Sommers heard more people express “this uneasiness that is in the population right now and fear where it’s leading the country, so that is disturbing.”
People asked more “about Liz (Cheney), what Biden’s doing and things at the state level” that interact with national implications, he said.
“People out there are very worried about the state of our country and where we’re headed nationally,” Sommers said. “That bled over into races at the state level.”
He greatly appreciates his constituents’ support shown in the primary, who reelected him with 518 votes as one of four Republican Precinct 1-3 (Pinedale West) committeemen.
In the larger contest for House District #20 – which Sommers ensured was reconfigured to include all of Sublette County and LaBarge in Lincoln County – Schmid took LaBarge with 226 votes to Sommers’ 26 and candidate Bill Winney’s 2. In Sublette County, Sommers pulled in 2,113 votes to Schmid’s 1,193 and Winney’s 156.