Thursday, December 31, 2009
952 - Highlights and lowlights in Wyoming in 2009
The winds of change blew relentlessly across Wyoming and our country during 2009.
At times it was a cleansing wind and other times it could be argued that pollution and confusion were its byproducts.
Some of the highlights of the past year included:
• The sports year ended with a bang with the UW football team wining a bowl in a football game as wild and wooly as anything ever seen in the Cowboy State.
Great seer Jim Hicks of Buffalo predicted a resurgence in Wyoming football in last year’s predictions column and he was right.
• The year started with the country mired in the deepest recession since the great depression, yet Wyoming avoided the deepest pits. It is a high point that our state’s economy is still chugging along, although not as vibrant as that wonderful 2003-2008 half decade.
The Legislature and Gov. Dave Freudenthal are sharpening axes in preparation for severe cuts to budget requests when they meet in Cheyenne.
• Those winds of change sort of became winds of resistance in 2009 as opposition formed to fight development of wind energy.
We were also again tagged as the number one windy state (no surprise, there) and gigantic turbines sprouted throughout Wyoming.
In some places, it appeared the old guard (coal, natural gas and oil in Wyoming) was fighting the new “windy” boys, although some of the biggest companies, like Rocky Mountain Power, were on both sides of the discussions.
Real debate about a power tax will occur in 2010 as leaders try to figure out a way to tap into making some money off these very passive power providing wind turbines.
• When it comes to real energy, the development of electrical transmission lines is a big deal. We want to generate the energy here (creates jobs and property tax base) but there needs to be a means to get it moved to the population centers.
When it comes to having a big transmission tower in your back yard, the NIMBY folks are humbled by the NOPE (Not On Planet Earth) folks.
Low points included:
• We lost many great citizens. Two of our oldest and most brilliant were Cliff Hansen of Jackson and Tom Stroock of Casper.
• A guy in Colorado really does want to steal our water so that lawns on the Front Range can bloom. What a terrible scam this project is and a rightful opposition formed to deal with it.
Sweetwater County leaders are heading the fight to keep Aaron Million of Fort Collins from siphoning off 81 billion gallons of water a year from Flaming Gorge.
• And we may have to put tolls on I-80 to pay for repairs from all the big trucks. I prefer calling them maintenance fees and making the rigs that cause the damage pay the bills.
In the national news in 2009:
We have a new president who besides winning the Nobel Peace Prize increased the stakes on one war and is trying to get health insurance and “cap and trade” energy legislation through Congress. Tough slog on most accounts.
The recent revelations about crazy emails from Anglia, England, scientists about global warming plus the absence of data from Russia when Al Gore’s estimates were put together, makes Tucker Fagan quite the predictor when he speculated in my column a year ago: “Unbiased research will show that Al Gore`s predictions of global warming produced by man are without substance.”
Two best quotes of the year included this remark by Gov. Dave Freudenthal, who was asked if he was considering a third term because he was worried about early announcer Ron Micheli of Fort Bridger:
“It’s not Ron Micheli who concerns me, it’s the puppet master, Diemer True.”
Mr. True is the longtime national GOP committeeman from Wyoming and the acknowledged most powerful behind the scenes person in Wyoming politics. He backs Mr. Micheli.
Second best quote occurred when former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin arrived in Montana for a book signing. The Billings Gazette reported the following:
“She’s a real person and I think she deals with the stuff that we deal with. We all know people that have knocked up teenagers and special-needs kids,” said Tammi Littrell, who drove 120 miles from Dayton, WY.
“Ms. Littrell wore a raccoon coat to keep her warm during a wait that began at 6:30 a.m. As she stood near the middle of the shivering queue of hundreds, she joked that she hoped no liberals would show up to throw paint on her.”
Friday, December 25, 2009
951 - The problem with annual prediction columns
Well, it looks like my 2003 prediction of a 20-year Wyoming “Golden Age” may have fallen short.
So did my 2004 prediction that a hydrogen-powered fuel cell will be a reality.
Those are two of dozens of predictions I have made in this column over the past seven years.
In August of 2002, this column debuted on a statewide basis and each year around New Year’s I made predictions about what would be coming in the near future.
Before launching my prediction column for 2010, it seemed to make sense to look back on how accurate my predictions were in the past.
It has always been easy to brag about my prediction of the Golden Age that did bless Wyoming from 2003 to 2008. It seems every other pundit or politician in the state was too superstitious to believe the trend lines that were occurring in the Cowboy State in 2002, which would lead to a tremendous boom in natural gas, coalbed methane gas and coal for the following half decade.
Let’s look back to some of the other predictions made over the years.
Another correct prediction back in 2002 was that tourism would do very well in Wyoming despite a huge national downturn caused by the 9/11 tragedy. We correctly predicted that people would prefer car trips to air trips and that family vacations to natural destinations would replace trips to Las Vegas and Disneyland.
Enough gloating, though.
My prediction that Wyoming would review its severance tax rates was ridiculously wrong, in retrospect. Our legislators have been totally convinced by the best group of lobbyists in the world (those pesky mineral folks) that our severance tax rates are fair. Oh well.
Since 55 percent of our gasoline taxes are paid for by travelers, I thought people would wisely consider an increase. No way. Our taxes are still the lowest in the country.
With the incredible growth Wyoming enjoyed in the past five years, I predicted in 2005 the development of a well-financed and angry “anti-growth” organization in the state. If there is such a group, it has not gained traction.
My predictions included a good showing for former House Speaker Fred Parady when he ran for state office. He lost and ended up in Alaska with former State School Supt. Trent Blankenship.
I also predicted the easy reelection of Gov. Dave Freudenthal, which was a no-brainer to me, but certainly ticked off some of my Republican friends.
We talked about such grand ideas as the Hathaway scholarship program and UW developing the best energy school in the country and even the creation of a Wildlife Trust Fund. We were skeptical these things could come to pass, but thankfully, they did.
Also in 2005, we hoped for the state to use some of its vast money to create some public-private partnerships in the energy industry. This finally occurred this month in 2009. Way later than it should have. The reluctance to state officials to use this valuable technique to create state wealth will cost Wyoming billions in the long run.
Because of our great cities and towns plus our economic boom plus our low taxes, I predicted in 2006 a huge rush of aging baby boomers moving to Wyoming. This is happening but not nearly as fast as predicted. Along with this, it was easy to go along with the 2007 prediction that we would become the “oldest” state in the USA.
I did not believe that the legislature would give as much money to education as it did. This resulted in fulfilling my prediction that our schools would gain tremendously skilled teachers from around the country who would migrate to Wyoming.
My prediction that cites in Texas and New York will have electrical brownouts and blackouts did not come true because of the country’s economic problems. They will happen in 2010, which might prompt some to hold off on shuttering coal fired power plants.
We goofed on some international predictions like seeing Hugo Chavez being ousted in Venezuela. Back in 2007, it seemed like things were going to cool down in Afghanistan. Instead, some 30,000 new soldiers are heading to that troubled area.
Technology-wise, we predicted the dominance of cell phones and crowed about the Amazon Kindle.
Luckily, our Wyoming boom has cooled but not disappeared.
I would give myself a C- when it came to predictions. And when viewed through the hindsight of the craziness of the past seven years, well, that’s not too bad a record.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
Saturday, December 12, 2009
950 - What old guys think about when they think about getting old
Grandpas are storytellers, big word spellers ballgame yellers.
They’re silly–songers, take-alongers, big and strongers. Grandpas are kiss-and-huggers, pigtail tuggers, dolly snugglers . . . they’re funny teasers, bounce on knee-ers and super-duper grandkid pleasers. – Bruce Kennedy
Wyoming today is cold and snowy. The high on the day I am writing this is six degrees. Another four inches of snow has fallen. The sun is nonexistent.
And I am sitting here thinking serious thoughts.
Not sure anyone really cares what old fellers think about, as they get older. But when you get to write a weekly column, well, I guess my readers get to be subjected to my thoughts.
Today those thoughts are subdued.
Odd how generations can seem so different. When my dad was 63, I thought he was an old man. As for me, I really do not consider myself so “old” at 63.
Baby Boomers have always looked at things differently. I don’t buy into the concept that 60 is the new 40. Well, maybe the new 50. Or 55.
So what conclusions do we think about when we look back on six decades of life on this planet?
• Probably the first obvious fact is how pleased we are that we are here at all. When you live this long, you look back on a long list of friends and family who did not make it this far. Why we were so lucky when others had heart attacks, succumbed to cancer or car wrecks?
But here we are. Why? Is there some special purpose we are designed for? If so, we better get with it – time is running out.
• A second conclusion is pure thankfulness. You are grateful for all those wonderful things in your life like your spouse, your kids and grandkids, your friends and your wonderful life experiences. You are thankful for your health. You also are sometimes thankful even for bad events because most helped you build character.
• A third goal is eager anticipation of the rest of your life. We still have a lot to do. We have the experience and the resources to do great projects. This should be the credo of today’s aging boomers.
Who is a boomer? You had to be born between 1946 and 1964 to qualify as a member of the “Baby Boom” generation.
I am one of the oldest boomers, having been conceived in June, 1945 and born in March 1946. Following me is a staggering total of 78 million Americans.
We have experienced a lot. For example:
My group of boomers was 17 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. By the time we graduated from high school, there were plenty of jobs. Not everything was rosy. The Vietnam War was snatching many of us. Flower children were experimenting with drugs, some suffering permanent negative effects.
We saw men walk on the moon. We saw the end of the Soviet empire and the beginning of the Internet.
This is a group who can talk for hours about their successes, their failures, their health, their hopes and their omissions.
They also talk about retirement plans, vacation homes, grandchildren and the myriad of medications they take for real and imagined ailments.
Are we the most spoiled generation? A lot of smart folks think that the boomers have had it better economically than the generations that followed. And we definitely had it better than any generation before.
And now there are two more generations also hanging around – Generation X and the Millennials.
We oldest boomers recall graduating from high school in the 1960s. My commencement was in a gym at a consolidated high school between Elgin and Clermont and Wadena, Iowa.
Principal Paul Zurbriggen said this would be the last time we would all be in one place together. I remember shaking Harlan Bilden`s hand. He was a short, freckle-faced farm boy. Harlan was killed in Vietnam a year later.
One of my buddies was Larry Halverson. He went to Vietnam, too, and was wounded. He came home, married his sweetheart Peggy, had several children and led a fine life. He died from a heart attack while squirrel hunting at the age of 56.
Five years ago, I attended my 40th high school reunion. It was fun, but I had to wonder, who were all these old people? Where did all my young classmates go?
Those questions and more are some of the things that old guys think about on a wintry Sunday afternoon in Wyoming.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
949- Who will run for governor of Wyoming in 2010?
This is such a fun time of year if you enjoy watching politicians getting into position for future races.
We are not talking about Sarah Palin but rather the contenders (and pretenders) lining up support for the 2010 governors race here in Wyoming.
And the best place for candidates to show off was recently in Casper at the Wyoming Business Alliance annual confab.
All the overdogs were there. The underdogs are still under the radar.
Most prominent of the overdogs:
• House speaker Colin Simpson (R-Cody). He played a prominent role in the two-day event and gave an informative report on the recent energy conference in Jackson. It was sponsored by the state of Wyoming, at his insistence.
• Former State Ag Commissioner and legislator Ron Micheli of Fort Bridger hosted a party for his backers.
• Former U. S. Attorney Matt Mead of Cheyenne, a Republican, would very much like to succeed his mentor, Gov. Dave Freudenthal, a Democrat, as governor.
• State Auditor Rita Meyer seemed to be everywhere.
If there are any Democrats thinking of running, they have not formally announced. Outside of State Sen. Mike Massie (D-Laramie), few folks are even making many headlines. Or he may run for State Supt. of Schools.
Maybe Gov. Dave Freudenthal really is planning on a third term. If so, he has scared away anyone else from jumping into the fray.
A few even asked me if I was going to run again now that so many more people know about me, thanks to this column. They were told the same answer: “If so, not with this wife.”
After that last experience in 2002, I promised my wife of 43 years that that would be my only attempt. I keep my promises.
Back to candidate watching.
Incredibly, you would think that Rep. Simpson would be front-runner but the guy making all the noise is Mr. Micheli.
He is being touted by one of the GOP’s biggest hitters, National Committeeman and former State Sen. Diemer True of Casper. Mr. True is a force in Wyoming politics and his endorsement helps a bunch, especially in the primary.
Having Mr. True in your corner is a big help, but Mr. Micheli is not shy about touting his own reasons why he thinks he can win, especially if it is a busy primary.
He correctly assumes that a small number of dedicated voters could win it for him. And with Wyoming pretty much a one-party state, winning the primary could mean winning the governorship.
“In a crowded primary, 40,000 votes could win the election,” Mr. Micheli says. “So, with an Ag base, an LDS base, a social conservative base, a minerals base and then the western Wyoming base, it doesn’t take too long to get to 40,000 votes, so we think it’s doable. We’ve made that analysis,” Micheli said.
“It will be a crowded primary with a lot of good candidates. But we’re definitely viable,” he told the Uinta County Herald in Evanston.
Besides the time he spent in Cheyenne as a legislator for 16 years, he also lived there for eight years as former Gov. Jim Geringer’s Agriculture Commissioner.
One of his biggest secret weapons is he also has eight children who are all working hard for him.
Other contenders such as Rep. Simpson, Cody, worked the crowd hard at the Casper get-together. The son of long-time U. S. Senator Al Simpson and grandson of former governor and U. S. Senator, Milward Simpson, he no doubt feels he has the organization and family connections in place in make a serious run.
Mr. Mead is son of the late Mary Mead of Jackson, who ran for governor against former Gov. Mike Sullivan. He is also the grandson of the recently departed former U. S. Senator and Gov. Cliff Hansen.
Mr. Mead is a little younger than the others and has never run for statewide office. Pressing the flesh seems to come a little difficult to him and he looked somewhat uncomfortable, at times. But he says he is getting better at it.
And always hanging around was State Auditor Mrs. Meyer, Cheyenne, who also hails from Gov. Geringer’s administration, where she was both chief of staff and head of the National Guard. As someone who has already won a statewide election, she knows how to work a room.
Now is the time when candidates need to line up supporters and financial backing.
The political season has officially begun. Let the campaigns start.