By Jim Stanford on February 11, 2008
Capt. Bob Morris, one of the most prominent Republicans in Jackson Hole, has changed his party registration and plans to vote at the Teton County Democratic Convention on March 8, supporting Barack Obama for president.
Morris, 75, a longtime GOP committeeman and candidate, registered as a Democrat last week for the first time in 36 years.
The change marks a reversal for Morris, who has spent nearly four decades in Jackson Hole trying to get young people to vote in Republican primaries.
“Obama has the power to see ourselves as others see us,” he says.
Only twice before has the iconic Teton Village resident registered as a Democrat: 1968 and 1972, both closely contested Democratic primaries in which the Vietnam War played a pivotal role. A passionate peace activist, Morris supported Gene McCarthy in 1968 and George McGovern in 1972.
“John McCain believes the Vietnamese might have consented for the southern half of their country to be ruled by former quislings for the French,” Morris says. “And now he believes the Arabs could consent for Iraq to be ruled by a regime brought to power and kept in power by the ‘Great Satan.’”
Morris sees parallels between 1968 and 2008, with Hillary Clinton playing Hubert Humphrey to Obama’s McCarthy. Humphrey was the candidate of the Democratic establishment. In ’68, polls showed McCarthy would beat Richard Nixon, Morris says, while Humphrey and Nixon were neck and neck — much like the situation with Obama, Clinton and McCain today.
At the convention that year, party bosses (read: superdelegates) chose Humphrey, who lost in a close election to Nixon, ushering in a shameful period of U.S. history.
Morris has long been a maverick in the GOP because of his support for progressive causes. He describes himself as an “Eisenhower Republican” for whom fiscal responsibility is paramount.
Today’s Republican Party has been “hijacked by the right wing and deficit spenders,” he says.
Morris ran four times against Dick Cheney for Wyoming’s lone congressional seat, appearing on the GOP ballot in 1986 and ’88 and as a write-in candidate in 1990 and ’92. He feared that El Salvador would become the Vietnam of that era.
To his horror, Cheney, on becoming vice president, orchestrated the invasion of Iraq and has bogged the United States in a quagmire expected to cost more than $1 trillion.
Morris served as a GOP precinct committeeman, representing Teton Village and the Nethercott area off the Village Road, for more than 10 years until Republican Party officials redrew the precincts to remove him from his post in 2006.
A frequent candidate for Teton County commissioner, Morris shocked the GOP establishment by winning the Republican primary in August 2000. But on the ill-fated election night of Nov. 7, 2000, Morris lost the general election by 11 votes, a figure later boosted by a recount to 17.
Morris is not the only Eisenhower Republican to throw his support behind Obama. Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of the late president, recently endorsed the young senator from Illinois as well.
“One by one, all of my friends who I respect have come out for Obama,” Morris says.
For years moderate Republican candidates have encouraged Democrats and independents to vote in the Republican primary. Peter Moyer made such an appeal, for instance, during his 2006 state Senate campaign against Grant Larson.
But following Larson’s victory, Teton County Democrats, emboldened by a string of victories, responded that it was time for moderate Republicans to start voting in the Democratic contests.
For Morris, changing party registration is a pragmatic decision. That’s why he used to encourage young voters to hold their noses while participating in GOP primaries.
“Joining a party does not strengthen it, neither does it signify your allegiance for it. One joins whichever party has the more significant primary, even if that is the party which is the more contemptible,” he says.
Anyone registered as a Democrat by Friday, Feb. 22, may vote at the Teton County Democratic Convention on March 8. You need to have lived here only a minute.
Register from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday in the basement of the Teton County administration building (corner of Willow and Simpson streets). Bring a driver’s license or other photo ID.
In his remark about Obama seeing “ourselves as others see us,” Capt. Bob is borrowing a line from the Robert Burns poem “To a Louse.”
• Capt. Bob’s last stand (Aug. 16, 2000)
• can Wyoming put Obama over the top? (Feb. 6, 2008)