BY RICHARD JOHNSON
Next year, when Cheyenne and the rest of the country proudly march forward promising change but absolutely lacking vision, you'll probably see an article much like this one.
Here's a direct message I received recently:
“I have to ask: Do you really think Marian Orr is a slam dunk for re-election, or are you just jerking people's chains? Because I have to tell you, I couldn't disagree more.
She may squeak through. She's the incumbent and her husband might literally be the sharpest political mind in the state.
|Front page of the local paper on Election Night 2016.|
“But she has antagonized one hell of a lot of people. It's like she is trying to be a small-town Trump, and it just isn't working. Against an inept opponent, she may narrowly win a second term. Against a strong opponent, she loses in near-landslide proportions. That is assuming she survives the primary – which she probably will, but even that is not a sure thing.”
You see, the first female mayor of Cheyenne is going to be mayor until she decides to do something else. Look at her Facebook feed and you'll notice a disturbing trend of non-stop self-promotion as "friends" seem to chant: "That’s our mayor!" with posts and shares of revere.
Most of what I see is a subliminal message that whispers, "Cheyenne is just fine the way it is. Nothing needs to change. If you don’t like it, move!"
You can doubt me if you want, but the lack of candidates willing to run against Team Orr speaks volumes. If a waitress at a local restaurant gets called in by the Team Orr muscle simply for telling the mayor how she feels about Cheyenne, imagine the verbal beatings and slander campaigns in store for any opponent.
That’s right, folks. No candidate who cares for their reputation in this community or their families wants the shameful ostracism of Orr's “House of Cards” mudslinging: “Your kid experimented with marijuana, so you’re a bad parent.” “Your ex-spouse had this to say about you ..." “You shoplifted candy when you were 4 years old.” “You said a bad word in a private meeting!"
You get the picture. Your skeletons just grew back their skin, exited the closet and are exploring the Greenway, “Walking Dead" style. The generous and kind Mayor Orr will make sure your life's zombified mistakes will have plenty of hot brains to consume; she'll demand all her staff members donate their frontal lobes to the zombie soup kitchen cause.
Some speculate retaliation is due as a few Cheyenne political observers have stated, “If she starts to sling crap on opponents, there will be nasty stuff coming out at her – in spades.”
Most serious candidates know it's an uphill battle to run against an incumbent. If former Mayor Rick Kaysen had decided to kick it four more years, the current mayor wouldn’t have run.
Incumbents have name recognition. Even if you also have name recognition, popularity, and decent ideas, incumbents can annihilate you in debates alone (if anyone watched them), burn you in the papers and can easily make up stories just to give the bored, salivating media hounds news to cover at 10 p.m.
They already have the power (sadly) to call the shots and set the pace of a campaign. You don't. Who cares if they burned the city to the ground the last three years? The shelf life of political memory is two weeks. It sure feels like, in 2020, those incumbents running for office will just have to clear their schedules to take pictures with kids, veterans and the elderly to win.
Don’t count on the media to cover anything of substance or hold politicians accountable. I’ve often said, “A campaign promise is the first lie a candidate will tell you.” One blighted structure bought by the city cost $43K, and it’s on the record that will never be recouped. Congrats Cheyenne, you just got screwed out of $43,000.
Did you hear anything about this in the papers or on the news? Nope. You're reading about it here on an effing blog. How depressing is that?!
Then there's the idea of the "distraction candidate." This concept has political think tanks chugging coffee and working into the night developing strategies on how to beat the mayor in the primary. The idea with this strategy is to first get a heavy hitter, someone to run against the mayor who can afford to be politically crucified and pose a decent threat.
Then you recruit a third candidate, someone legitimate who could do the job and take the election by gathering enough votes to pull ahead of the votes split by the incumbent and the heavy hitter.
Granted, this strategy likely means the legitimate candidate will be bought by the good old boys who run this town. Rumor on the street is that the steering committee is being constructed right now and the people on the committee have ample cash flow. The question is, how much are they willing to drop to win the mayoral seat?
Let’s play by the numbers. In 2016, Orr had 14,381 votes and Surdam had 11,161 votes. Let's say the mayor made two people mad per day who would vote differently in 2020. There are 1,460 days in four years times two people. That means 2,920 people flip. Subtract 2,920 from 14,381 and you come up with 11,461. That’s still more votes that Surdam had.
As you can see, Orr will be Cheyenne's mayor for life if she so desires.
According to my own homemade formula, this blog piece will be read 750 times in 24 hours with a max two-week shelf life before there is another flower pot scandal. Chances are only 13 percent of voters know anything positive or negative about the mayor.
Most folks probably couldn’t tell you if Cheyenne has a strong mayor or city manager because they just don’t care. All they know is they get an hour off on election day to put an X in a box, and they know her name. It's sad, but true. Do nothing, fail to keep your promises, scream and cry that you're bullied, kiss some babies, drink some booze then put your feet up on that mahogany desk as you lean back and scroll through fake news.
That, my friends, is how you win an election.
Most political scientists state the following, “Even voters who pay close attention to politics are prone – in fact, more prone – to biased or blinkered decision-making. The reason is simple: Most people make political decisions on the basis of social identities and partisan loyalties, not an honest examination of reality.”
It is possible for an incumbent to be beat, but it is no walk in the park. State Rep. Jared Olsen unseated Mary Throne in the 2016 election. In the 2014 election, Lee Filer was unseated by Harlan Edmonds. Fred Emerich was beat by state Sen. Lynn Hutchins in the 2018 election. Then state Sen. Floyd Esquibel lost to Affie Ellis in the 2016 election.
If you are serious about running against Orr, you will have to work hard and dedicate both time and money. The reality is that it is an enormous amount of work to campaign. People think you throw up a couple of signs and run a couple of newspaper ads. It takes knocking on doors, going to parades and social events, newspaper and radio ads, signs, social media pages, a website, etc.
All of these things cost money. If you run television ads, buy billboard space, send mailers or put stickers on the front page of the paper, the costs escalate exponentially.
Friends, like it or not, Orr will be the mayor for four more years if she chooses to run. Those are the facts, plain and simple.
Richard Johnson is a former City Council member from Ward 3 in east Cheyenne.