Commentary: Simpson, Sullivan Bemoan the Divisiveness in Modern Politics

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Latest definition of the word politics I have seen indicates that ‘poly’ means MANY and ‘ticks” means BLOOD SUCKING INSECTS. – former Wyoming U. S. Sen. Al Simpson

The world of politics in 2012 is described as both a place where it would be difficult getting elected and an even more difficult place to get anything done. Those conclusions were made during a far-reaching discussion among some of Wyoming’s most legendary politicians.

Former U. S. Republican Sen. Al Simpson and former Wyoming Democrat Governor Mike Sullivan were joined on-stage by current governor Matt Mead during a session at the recent Wyoming Business Alliance forum in Cheyenne.

Simpson and Sullivan worked together for decades, despite being in different parties, in the 1980s and 1990s. Both bemoaned what they see as a lack of cooperation on the national stage today.

Simpson said today that national politics has been taken over by “100 percenters,” as he called them. He said they are “seethers,” where in the past national politics involved honorable people he described as “seekers.”

“Today the word to describe someone who compromises is wimp,” he exclaimed.

Gov. Sullivan rolled his eyes as he recalled his two elections. He defeated Simpson’s brother Pete in the first one and Matt Mead’s mother, Mary Mead, in the second one. “And yet, here we are, “ he said. He said they finished the campaigns better friends than they were at the beginning.

And Gov. Mead pointed out that he campaigned against Simpson’s son for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. “He was first to call and wish me congratulations,” he said.

Mead also recalled his mother’s campaign against Sullivan and how both candidates kept things clean during the intense race. He said one of the photos on the wall of his state capitol office is of Sullivan and his mother dancing together during a campaign event back in those days. Amazing.

On the contrary, today Sullivan describes national politics as “the extremes are driving the bus.”

The governor, who served from 1987 to 1995, said the 24-hour news cycle and the Internet have ruined the minds of the American people. He said “discourse, truth and compromise” is what always got things done when he was governor.

He also recalled the bust he dealt with as governor. Times were so tough that one year they managed to balance the state budget because a wealthy woman died in Jackson. Her estate taxes provided $20 million to the treasury.

Simpson couldn’t help but tell a story about Sullivan’s predecessor, Ed Herschler, who was Wyoming’s only three- term governor. Herschler was a World War II veteran and did not want to meet with a delegation from Japan but grudgingly went ahead and had the meeting. He discovered that one of the Japanese men had fought in World War II on Guadalcanal where Herschler had also fought and been wounded. He recalled Herschler telling the guy: “You S. O. B., you shot me!” The meeting went downhill from there.

Though both men spent most of their time complaining about the national political scene, Simpson said he believes he could not be elected to the senate today from Wyoming. He reminded the large crowd that he is pro-choice and feels strongly about a woman’s right to choose. He also had no issues with gays. He said that would make it very hard for him to get elected.

He also blasted what has been happening lately on the national scene. “There is rigidity and hypocrisy. You cannot pretend you are a moral giant when you are having an affair with your secretary,” he said.

Simpson, who served as senator from 1978 to 1997, also complained about how much money is being spent in Washington. “One big problem today is that the folks in Congress do not really know each other. They only work there Tuesday through Thursday and then they are off trying to raise money,” he said.

Simpson and Sullivan agreed that politics in Wyoming is different from other states and from the national landscape. Both described Wyoming politics as “hard-fought battles but when it was over, we always tried to work together for the best of the state.”

The CEO of the Business Alliance, Bill Schilling, brought the men together for the program. Bob Price moderated it.

Sullivan served a very successful tour as Ambassador to Ireland after being governor and currently practices law in Casper.

Simpson, who lives in Cody, has been on the national stage in recent years as co-chairman of the National Deficit Commission.

Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns and blogs at He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written four books. His most recent book is “Wyoming’s 7 Greatest Natural Wonders” which is available

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