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1905 - Cheyenne is center of Wyoming universe now

The road from Lander to Cheyenne is about 275 miles long and we were on our fifth trip recently in a month on that route.

         During the winter, I favor the northern route through Riverton-Shoshoni-Casper-Douglas-Wheatland-Cheyenne.  It takes about 40 minutes longer but I get to avoid the fun weather events at Beaver Rim, Muddy Gap, Separation Flats, Elk Mountain, and the Summit.  Plus I am not sharing the ice-packed highway with 10,000 semi-trailer trucks.

         But I digress.

         On this latest trip, the wind was blowing near 70 mph between Wheatland and Cheyenne and it felt like a hurricane.

         Wheatland is one of our favorite towns and we stopped at Interstate Conoco to drop off some books. Brian and his staff do a great job selling all sorts of wonderful products.  We had a nice lunch at Western Skies restaurant next door, meanwhile looking out the window at the swirling wind.

         Once in Cheyenne, Nancy and I attended a couple of legislative receptions and caught up with some of our state’s lawmakers.

         Sen. Eli Bebout (R-Riverton) joked that he was convening a meeting of cancer survivors when he was chatting with Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander), Rep. Jeff Wasserburger (R-Gillette) and Sen. Michael Von Flatern (R- Gillette) at a get-together at the Old West Museum, sponsored by the Wyoming Education Association. Case runs a hotel restaurant operation in Lander. Eli operates an energy company with his brother Nick in Riverton. Von Flatern operates an airplane charter service in Gillette.

         Bebout has recovered from bouts of throat cancer and esophageal cancer.  Case is in remission from a bout of melanoma from a few years ago. Wasserburger is responding well to treatment for lung cancer.  He never smoked and said his treatment is going well. When not being a legislator, Wasserburger is the principal of the largest junior high school in Wyoming in Gillette. Von Flatern had prostate cancer but is doing fine now, he says.

         Nancy and I were attending the annual Governor’s Tourism Conference, the biggest event of the year for the state’s second largest industry.

          I have been attending this event for 30 years. The Newest trends are the emphasis on digital marketing and how the whole world is a market.

         Had a nice chat with former legislator Pete Illoway and his wife Chloe.  At 78, Pete looks hale and hearty.

         Two of my favorite people are Sen. Hank Coe (R-Cody) and long-time tourism activist Kari Cooper of Jackson.  They recently got married and carry on a long-distance relationship.

         Lander is 160 miles from both Jackson and Cody so Hank and Kari get together an often as possible in my hometown.

         The venerable Sen. Charlie Scott (R-Casper) took issue with my question about increasing transparency in Wyoming government. He said legislators have gotten pushback from smaller governmental entities that contend they cannot afford to comply with requests about their financial affairs.

         I told Sen. Scott other states have systems where this does not require special effort. What Wyoming needs is a culture where all things are already transparent. This is good government.

         Chris Brown does good work as the main lobbyist for the tourism industry.  This industry is going through its most dramatic transformation when it comes to funding its national and international advertising and promotion campaigns.

         For decades, the Department of Tourism has been funded directly from the general fund.  Now a program is being considered that will call for a five percent statewide lodging tax, which will generate around $14 million per year to promote Wyoming tourism. As I write this, it looks like this great program will pass.

         Enjoyed eating a meal with Doug and Kathleen Campbell of Saratoga. They won the Big WYO award last year and are long-time tourism promoters as owners of the historical Wolf Hotel. Congratulations to this year’s winner, Rick Hoeninghausen, who heads up marketing for Xanterra, the Yellowstone Park concessionaire.

         Tom Hirsig, the CEO of Cheyenne Frontier Days, was there promoting his event.  It will celebrate its 125th anniversary in 2021.

         Wendy Volk was beaming.  Her project is promoting the new Cheyenne-Dallas air service.  We flew that service over the holidays. It was convenient and a great deal.

         Rachel Girt, the new communications director for Gov. Mark Gordon, was coordinating his visit with tourism folks.

         Sen. Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) was holding court. As vice-president of the State Senate, he has a lot of responsibility and says the session has been busy.

         I love visiting Cheyenne, especially during legislative sessions.  You can just feel the energy. Nothing quite like that pulse.

        

1904 - A dog, a new truck, ducks . . . and dynamite!

In 2015, a 61-year old Green River man, John M. Henderson, fell through the ice on a frozen Flaming Gorge and drowned.

         In 2016, a couple driving a Ford F-350 pickup at night across Boysen Reservoir east of Riverton broke through the ice. They narrowly escaped by kicking out the back window and scrambling out of the water-filled truck. Their pickup went to the bottom of the lake.

         We’ve heard other unusual stories about going out on frozen Wyoming lakes.  Most will curl your hair.

         There was a report from a Wyoming agency recently that told about how to save yourself or someone else who had fallen through the ice.  Their main lesson was – be super cautious about going out onto the ice to save someone else.  If you fall in, too, then you have two dead people instead of one.

         Here is a supposedly true story about an event some years ago here in Wyoming where the ice reportedly gets really, really thick – about as thick as the skulls on these two unfortunate duck hunters.  The title of this story is: “Too bad about the dog.”  I apologize to whomever originally told me the story. They swore this occurred in the Cowboy State and I did not check with Snopes to verify it.

This supposedly occurred on Flaming Gorge or Boysen Reservoir or Glendo Reservoir or Seminoe or some other Wyoming lake.  Here goes:  

 Back around 2001, a guy buys a brand new Ford Pickup King Ranch Edition for $35,000 and has $500 monthly payments. He and a friend go duck hunting and of course all the lakes are frozen.

They drive to the lake with beer, with guns, with beer, their dog, with beer, and of course the new vehicle. They drive out onto the frozen lake and get ready.

Now, after a few beers, they decide they will be needing a landing area for the ducks. A place where decoys can float in such a manner to entice over-flying ducks to come land on the water.  And get shot. In order to make a hole large enough to look like something a wandering duck would fly down and land on, it is going to take a little more effort than an ice hole drill can make.

So, one of these bright fellers disappears into the back of the new King Ranch and emerges with a stick of dynamite armed with a 90-second fuse. Now these two Rocket Scientists do take into consideration that they need to place the stick of dynamite on the ice at a location far from where they are standing (and the new pickup). They don`t want to risk slipping on the ice when they are running from the burning fuse and possibly go up in smoke with the resulting blast. They decide to light this 90-second fuse and throw the dynamite as far away as possible.

(Remember a couple of paragraphs back when we mentioned the beer, the vehicle, the beer, the guns, the beer, and the dog?)

 Yes, the dog: A highly trained Black Lab used for retrieving.  Especially things thrown by its owner. You guessed it, the pooch takes off at a high rate of doggy speed on the ice and snatches up the stick of dynamite in its mouth with the burning 90-second fuse aflame.

The two men yell, scream, wave arms and wonder what to do now?

The dog, cheered on, keeps on returning.  One of the guys grabs the shotgun and shoots at the dog. The shotgun is loaded with #8 duck shot, hardly big enough to stop a Black Lab. The dog stops for a moment, slightly confused, but soldiers on.

         Another shot and this time the dog becomes really confused and of course is terrified, thinking these two Nobel Prize winners have gone insane.

The dog takes off to find cover, (with the now really short fuse burning on the stick of dynamite) and ends up underneath the brand new pickup.

BOOM!

The dog and pickup are blown to bits and sink to the bottom of the lake in a very large hole, leaving the two idiots standing there with this "I can`t believe this happened" look on their faces.

 The pickup owner calls his insurance company. He is told that sinking a vehicle in a lake by illegal use of explosives is not covered.

He still had yet to make the first of those $500 a month payments.

1903 - High expectations for Gov. Mark Gordon

So there was the new governor – standing by the copier patiently waiting for some copies to print. He was making a little banter with Alfrieda Gonzales who keeps things humming in his front office while chatting with the plain-clothed highway patrolman, who serves as security man and all-around helper.

         Making his own copies?      

         Mark Gordon promised to run a lean operation but this was impressive.

Finding the governor’s office in the maze that is the Jonah Building in Cheyenne can be difficult. And the governor’s office is definitely not opulent.

         Sometimes it is important to compare perception to reality.  I have known Mark Gordon for more than ten years and always found him an easy-going, “comfortable in his own skin” kind of guy.

         But during that crazy Republican Governor Primary Campaign of 2018, Gordon often seemed nervous and uncomfortable during public speaking.  Compared to his primary adversaries, Foster Friess, Harriet Hageman, Sam Galeotos, and Taylor Haynes, Gordon often competed in a tentative manner among that group in joint appearances.

         Gordon was great in one-on-one and small group situations. He started out the front-runner and ended up an easy winner. 

         As governor, he is much more composed than he appeared as a candidate. 

         One example was watching him answer 23 questions from 200 members of the Wyoming Press Association at that group’s annual convention last week.  They peppered him with tough queries over lunch. The reporters and publishers all chowed down and asked questions while Gordon’s own meal was getting cold.

         He was confident and decisive.  In a word, he was “gubernatorial.”

         There are high expectations for him as governor. This is the first time in 50 years that Wyoming has a chief executive who comes into office having served in one of the state’s top five statewide offices.  His past six years as State Treasurer have prepared him well.  He has served on those important state boards and attended countless meetings. He has heard hundreds of hours of important testimony and made scores of critical votes.

         His learning curve is not steep. The people of Wyoming are expecting a lot. 

         In his first television campaign ad back during that primary election, the future governor was shown in his cowboy clothes and the message implied that he could round up cattle so he can also round up Legislators.

         The true test of Gordon’s success as governor will be how he deals with the legislature.

         In recent sessions, the legislature has flexed its muscles and occasionally ignored the executive branch.  Gordon expressed a conciliatory tone during this state of the state address.  The general belief is that Gordon is a moderate. But he tilted more to the right, politically, since being elected.  The Legislature seems to be controlled by conservatives and Gordon is sounding more conservative all the time. Based on this, you would assume they will all get along just fine.

         He says he prefers a lean government, which is reflected by the spare staff he has so far surrounded himself in the governor’s office. 

A big issue during the primary was Wyoming’s lack of transparency.  Gordon operated his State Treasurer’s office in a transparent manner.  He told the Wyoming Press he wants to be “the most transparent governor” ever.

         He and new State Auditor Kristi Racines have teamed up with a transparency initiative and formed a working group to try to open up Wyoming’s books more. Good luck on this and it will be a breath of fresh air when that happens. Wyoming is just one of three states in the USA that does not offer total transparency.

         His wife Jennie was with the governor when I interviewed him.  She says she has not decided what special emphasis she will promote as First Lady. They obviously make a good team. They have not moved into the governor’s residence as some repairs and modifications needed to be made.

         They are staying in the house they already own in Cheyenne.  Mark has also opted to keep his Ford Expedition rather than getting a new governor’s car.  “It works just fine. No need to change,” he says.

         Wyoming has moved slightly out of the recessionary times that haunted the state the last few years. This should help Gordon as he finds his way as our new state leader.

         Gordon is the sixth Wyoming governor that I have interviewed and gotten to know over the past almost five decades. He seems to be coming into the office with a real Wyoming tail wind.

1902- Our Wyoming wind can be taxing

A recent forecast predicted 80 mph winds on Interstate 80 in southeast Wyoming.

         To folks in most places, this would be seen as dire news. In Wyoming it barely got a ho-hum.  If you live here, you better love the wind.  Or at least get used to it.

         As the windiest state in America, Wyoming is now seeing a boom of new construction of giant wind turbines.  Seen as a renewable energy source, politicians in western states like Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon, and Washington are passing laws requiring folks in their states to shift from energy generated from  “dirty” sources like coal to “clean” sources like wind.

         And the best wind in America is here in Wyoming. Our average wind speed of 12.9 mph tops the country. Among the reasons our wind works so well for those west coast states is because it often blows very hard in the afternoon. In most hot states like Arizona and Texas, the afternoon winds calm down, when the power is needed the most.

         Thousands of big windmill turbines are on the drawing boards in Carbon, Albany, Natrona, Converse, Platte, Laramie, and other Wyoming counties. The promoters of the projects are spending big bucks in Cheyenne to convince the Legislature not to put higher taxes on their production.

         Wyoming has been successful in taxing non-renewable resources like coal, oil, and natural gas.  Severance taxes are charged on these products because they are “severed” from Wyoming and gone forever.

An opposite example is a renewable resource like a forest or a cornfield.

         Proponents argue against increased taxes because wind is renewable. It has always been here. It’s here now. It will always be here!

         Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) is the biggest proponent of an increased wind tax.  He says these gigantic windmills are ruining the “viewshed” all over the state.  “These wonderful views are gone for 200 years once you put windmills all over them,” he says.    

         He also likes to bring up the fact that these folks out west are willing to pay whatever it takes to get their wind power so why would we not tax them a fair rate?

         Promoters plus folks who live in Wyoming’s windy places already feel that wind energy is taxed enough. They worry talking about increased taxes will cut back or eliminate the projects.

Sen. Case quotes Windpower Magazine, which predicted Wyoming is one of seven states that will double its wind capacity during 2019.  Wyoming and the less windy part of New Mexico are in the western power grid, so they would be the only states with the ability to send power out west. “Clearly for the wind developers, Wyoming is the best choice,” the article states.   Another consideration is New Mexico has a 7.6% corporate income tax when Wyoming has none.

It seems like Don Quixote’s worst nightmare is occurring here. The Man of La Mancha went crazy jousting against huge windmills in Spain that looked like giants.  In real life, giants are marching across our landscape here, and yes, they really are windmills.

         Energy experts looked at three ways to provide renewable energy to Southern California, Nevada and Arizona: concentrated solar power, wind turbines there, and wind turbines one thousand miles away in Wyoming.

         To no one’s surprise who has driven I-80 in the winter, our wind is strong and consistent. You could build turbines here and transport the power 1,000 miles and it still would be cheaper than wind energy generated there. 

         This is amazing good fortune for our fledgling wind industry.

         As the country blows away from coal to wind, I am reminded of a story told at least five years ago by a lobbyist for the coalmines. He claimed it would take 20,000 wind turbines to replace one Jim Bridger plant. That coal fired power plant located east of Rock Springs has capacity of 2,120 megawatts.

         Well, not so fast. That lobbyist was talking about those original one-tenth megawatt wind turbines, which were small fry compared to the giants marching across the plains today.  Newer wind turbines can produce four megawatts, a gigantic improvement. 

Not counting wind, Wyoming produces about 6,000 megawatts of power, of which half is exported to other states. Half the 3,000 megawatts used here is for residential use and the rest for industrial.  

The wind is here. The big turbines are coming.  Legislators are trying to decide how or if to increase taxes on wind production.  If you have an opinion, let your legislator know.

1901- Looking ahead to 2019

Seems like those of us in the media love to focus on the negative.  But here in 2019, we have way more positives to consider than negatives.

         My first positive is the state Legislature and new Gov. Mark Gordon.  I really liked the positive energy that has been coming out of Cheyenne during these first weeks.

         My second positive is our Congressional delegation in Washington, D. C.

         With Senators in place like Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and a U. S. Representative like Liz Cheney, we have a tremendous amount of clout.

         As I write this, the government is still shut down, which has hurt a great many workers here in Wyoming. Hopefully they can use some of their clout to solve this mess.

         The past decade has seen a huge shift in national government as the country seems to be split 50/50 between red states and blue states.

         People living on the coasts and in liberal places like Denver, have become very progressive/liberal and their ideas for moving the country forward sure have a socialistic feel to them. Many folks of my generation are appalled by this shift but our grandchildren seem to think it is okay.

         On the other side are folks in our red states, who tend to favor more self-reliance, a bigger military, and conservative approaches to education and taxes.

         But from Wyoming’s perspective, having folks like Enzi, Barrasso, and Cheney in place gives us influence way out of proportion to our population.

         And when you talk about population, the blue state folks go crazy over the Electoral College.  They point to two elections this century where their Democrat candidates, Al Gore and Hillary Clinton, scored more votes in the general election but still lost because of the Electoral College.

         I love to remind anyone who will listen that when you look into the dynamics of the Electoral College, you find that Wyoming voters are the most powerful in the country.  The average Cowboy State voter is four times more powerful than a similar voter in California. When it comes to electoral votes, each vote cast by Wyoming represents about 190,000 people. In California, it takes about 700,000 to create an electoral vote. These are the votes that actually elect a president in national elections.

I always love the New York Times map produced a few years ago showing the states when it came to Electoral College influence. The map shows Wyoming as by far the biggest state with California the smallest.

Meanwhile back in Cheyenne, reality hits home as the legislature is grinding through the early days of its general session.

Hundreds of bills will be considered. As I write this, some of the more interesting ones concern taxes. For example:

• There is an attempt to raise property taxes to balance our budget when it comes to funding education.  This seems to have grudging support all around. But even after years of drastic cuts there are many folks who believe education can be cut even more.

• Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) is convinced Wyoming needs to tax wind energy.  He has lots of good reasons. Among them is that the wind energy is almost exclusively being shipped out of state, where the ultimate consumers can afford to pay for it.

• Our sales tax system is being re-visited by the legislators as they ponder putting sales taxes back on food or adding sales taxes to services. Both are controversial. 

Legislative leaders Steve Harshman (R-Casper) in the House and Drew Perkins (R-Casper) in the Senate are contending the two houses will work closer together than in recent years. New governor Gordon also is predicting harmony as the various legislative processes move along. 

Two issues that I would like to deal with include more transparency in Wyoming state government and promoting more attention to civics classes in Wyoming schools.

We can’t talk about state government with saying a fond farewell to outgoing Gov. Matt Mead and his wife Carol. What a class act!  Thanks again for what you folks have done for Wyoming over the past eight years.

And finally, on the world stage we are seeing literally unprecedented good times.

There are some small deadly wars going on but no major clashes for the first time in a thousand years.

And at last check, there are 116 countries in the world that consider themselves democracies with the citizens electing their leaders.

Now that is something to toast here in the early weeks of 2019.  Happy New Year!