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1605 - Shameful vote on Medicaid expansion

It is embarrassing to see how shortsighted and stingy, the “settler” members of our Wyoming legislature can be.

         Gov. Matt Mead pointed out this during a recent meeting with the Wyoming Press Association when he criticized a vote by members of the Joint Appropriations Committee to reject $20 million in federal money for Medicaid.

         Mead’s recommendation lost narrowly. Yet most folks hope it can be resurrected during the budget session.

For these committee members to vote down such an important infusion of cash into our state is not only unbelievable, it is inexcusable. Mead figures their actions could end up costing the taxpayers of Wyoming over $33 million.

         Mead pointed out it makes no sense for these men and women to vote against this important infusion of cash because they are afraid, that at some point in the future, the feds will quit funding the program.

         “Our hard-earned individual tax dollars, which we send to Washington, D. C., in the form of income taxes, are supposed to come back to Wyoming to help our citizens,” he said. “But no. In this case, our money goes to D. C. and then goes to fund Medicaid programs in Colorado and California.”   

         Wyoming is not funding the needs of 20,000 of its poorest citizens, Mead says. These folks have serious medical needs. Their emergency room calls are breaking the state’s small hospitals by using the services but not being able to pay their bills. Spokespeople for small hospitals have been begging the legislature to reconsider this as this Medicaid money could make or break them.  Hard-liners just are not listening.

         Mead thinks the state can write a bill that would protect the state if the feds quit providing the money.  He is flabbergasted that this project failed, especially during budget shortfall years like now, when the state should be seeking all the money it can find.

         The motion to kill the expenditure was made by Tim Stubson, R-Casper, and seconded by Drew Perkins, R-Casper. Other naysayers were Representatives Burkhart, Harshman, Moniz and Greer with Senator Burns also opposing.

         Yes, it appears the majority of members of the Joint Appropriations Committee really are settlers.  They are settling for appearing to be mean and stingy to our most desperate citizens, most of whom work but cannot afford health insurance. These are the under-employed people working every day in our restaurants and convenience stores.  These folks do not deserve this cold shoulder.

And these legislators are settling for sending Wyoming taxpayers’ hard-earned money to other states. 

And finally, they are settling on making the job of operating small hospitals in our state even harder than it is today by not approving the acceptance of these federal dollars.

         It is shameful.

         On another subject concerning health issues and legislators, here in Fremont County, we have been dealing with an odd coincidence involving our two state senators. Both have been in serious health battles with cancer.

         Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) had completed an experimental series of treatments for melanoma at a Houston hospital and it appeared the prognosis was going well.

         Recently, though, he had cancer return in his neck and he now is being treated at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City. He made his case public in the Lander Journal and has kept his constituents informed. He recently started a 12-week series of treatments.  Despite that, Case plans to be a vigorous presence at the 2016 budget session.

         Eli Bebout (R-Riverton) had a serious bout with esophageal cancer about 12 years ago and came through treatment well.

         He and I ran in the 2002 statewide primary together. Bebout was the big winner. When he did not win the general election, he reportedly decided to get his health checked and the cancer was found. There was some speculation that had he won that race he might have been too busy to have had gotten himself checked in time.

         Thankfully, it was caught and he has been on the road to recovery ever since.

         He reported in the Riverton Ranger Jan. 21 that he has just completed oncology treatments at the same Huntsman Cancer Institute where Case was being treated.  Bebout’s treatments took place over a six-week period and he says he no longer has cancer, which had been localized in his throat.

         He reported he is raring to go with the upcoming legislative session, which starts Feb. 8.

         We hope these two hard-working men can get their cancer scares behind them.

1604 - Big Horn Basin reports the news well

It is easy to feel good about Wyoming’s future when visiting the Big Horn Basin.

         In recent weeks, we have been to events in Worland, Cody and Powell and met with hundreds of optimistic, busy people.

         In Powell, long-time publisher Dave Bonner, hosted me at their Rotary Club and gave me a tour of his newspaper prior to the meeting. 

         The quality of the Powell Tribune is jaw-dropping.  Wyoming is famous for great community newspapers but Bonner has the best (and biggest) staff, per-capita, of any newspaper in the state. 

         Bright and articulate describes both the staff members and the finished product. If you get in the Powell area, check out this newspaper.  It is the heartbeat of the community and I do not know anyone in the biz who boosts his community more than Dave.

         The Powell community is gearing up for its big Mardi Gras event on Feb. 9, where almost 300 people will gather to support the local hospital. It is a must-see event in the Big Horn Basin.

         The previous day, I spoke to the Park County Historical Society in Cody and then had dinner that night with retired publisher Bruce McCormack.  I gave Bruce one of his first newspaper jobs back in the 1970s.

         He is enjoying retirement but agreed with me that the load of being the local publisher sure can be heavy. You don’t really realize the size of the responsibility on your shoulders until it is lifted away.

         When it comes to how insidious that load can grow to, I compared it to when I collected medical data from a clinic here in Lander that has taken care of me for 40 years.  I had gained 40 pounds in 40 years.  A pound a year should not be too much, right?  Just sort of snuck up on me over the decades.

         Same thing happens to our jobs and the stresses connected to them.

         While in Cody, had a chance to chat with retired U. S. Senator Al Simpson, who at 84, is busier than ever. He had just gotten back from Denver where he attended a Broncos game with his son Colin.  Earlier, he and brother Pete had hosted a community-wide fund-raiser in Sheridan that raised thousands of dollars. What a show that must have been!

         He demurred when asked whom he might support in the race for Cynthia Lummis’ Wyoming House seat in Congress. He could not (or would not) answer my question of whether Liz Cheney was going to jump in?

         My talk to the Historical Society was the fourth such talk I have done in the past two years.  These groups are so much fun. The folks are engaged and super interested in the history of their areas.  Most of my talks are to service clubs, chambers of commerce and groups like this.  Usually those talks are 15 to 20 minutes, but the historical groups want a longer talk, which is never a problem.

         I always quote Mark Twain, who described creative writing as: “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter piece.”  It is actually easier to talk longer or write longer than it is to polish a piece down to a more concise size.

         Lenox Baker, owner of the Pitchfork Ranch west of Meeteetse, is the president of the Park County group. He talked about how pioneer photographer Charles Belden (whose family formerly owned the ranch) used to raise pet antelope.  That is another story for another time.

         The week before, we were in Worland at the Washakie Museum for the opening of a four-month display of huge, mounted photos from my most recent book.

         Thanks to Cheryl Reichelt and her outstanding team, the display is amazing.  Some 146 people attended the opening and enjoyed a delicious chili supper.

         The display also included some historical photos of the area taken by Rico Stine back around 1907.  Very well done.

         During another visit in Worland, ran into Patrick Murphy, the publisher of the Northern Wyoming Daily News. He is also running a fine operation there with strong community reporting.

         Ran into other fine Big Horn Basin publisher in Dave Peck the next week at the annual Wyoming Press convention. He is another outstanding example of how you can serve your communities (in his case, Lovell, Basin and Greybull) as a publisher.

         Bonner’s Powell newspaper and Peck’s Lovell newspaper were big winners at the convention as the Wyoming best for their size.


1603 - Recent movies were about Wyoming

Not sure what a writer from Torrington, Oscar nominations and Rudyard Kipling have in common, but that is what this column covers.

         Last week, movie nominations were announced for the annual Academy Awards and Wyoming was prominent in both the nominees and the passed over movies.

         But first, on a recent dark and cold night (-13), I was being forced to watch American Idol by my wife Nancy and, as is normal in our household, I was leafing through a magazine and checking items on my iPad.

         The latter drives her crazy for some reason. “You need to pay attention to what’s on TV,” she might say lovingly (or not so lovingly.)

         While leafing through an issue of Time Magazine, it was hard not to notice the two big movies they were reviewing had big-time Wyoming connections.

         The first was The Hateful Eight, a Quentin Tarantino bucket of blood that contains perhaps more swear words per minute than any movie ever made.

         Time says the movie . . . “introduces us to a world – post-Civil War Wyoming, in which the Inuit’s quasi-mythical abundance of snow translates into an un-color wheel of satin grays, sable blacks and primal whites.  In the opening, a dappled, ashy form that appears to be a gnarled tree turns out to be a stone crucifix, partly obscured by pillowy snow, a forgotten Jesus in a godforsaken land.”  Well, so much for a touristy endorsement of the Cowboy State!

         The review continues by bemoaning how long the last two hours of the three hour movie is, by stating: “ . . . what begins as a chilly adventure . . . evolves into a frostbitten, claustrophobic chamber piece in which an assortment of miscreants debase one another  . . . until only bits of them, barely fit for crows, are left.”

         Perhaps this movie is some kind of continuation of Tarantino’s earlier movie Django Unchained, which was partially filmed in Jackson Hole in 2010, with its emphasis on weather and crazy characters.

         I am also anxious to see it also because the great composer, Ennio Morricone, supplied the music.

         As I turned the pages of Time, here was another movie with Wyoming connections. The Revenant has received a dozen Oscar nominations and according to Time: “Never has film suffering looked so ravishing. . . a true-life tale of one man’s terrible adventures in unforgiving 1820s Wyoming.”

         The movie is adapted from a novel by Torrington native Michael Punke, which was written in 2002.

         The story is about Hugh Glass, a mountain man who was horribly mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead by his compatriots.  It might be true, which Punke tells in his book about the amazing resurrection (the word Revenant means that) of a near-dead man.  Glass was left without any guns and horribly wounded. Yet he made a 200-mile trek back to civilization where he planned to wreak revenge on the men who abandoned him. Leonardo DiCaprio is reportedly magnificent in the lead role.

         Neither of these movies were filmed in Wyoming, though.

         A movie that got passed over for consideration in its animated category is also about Wyoming.  The Good Dinosaur is an animated movie that is reportedly quite enjoyable.

         Gov. Matt Mead and his wife Carol recently went to Hollywood for the premier.

         The premise is that the movie takes place in early Wyoming and there are landmarks from our state in abundance.  The idea is that the dinosaurs were not blown to extinction and ended up living next to humans.  It is a story about a little boy who befriends a “good dinosaur” and their adventures together in early Wyoming.

         Alas, although I have heard reports that the movie is outstanding, it did not get a nomination for an Oscar. 

         And lastly, while I was sitting there ignoring both my wife and American Idol, I picked up a recent copy of National Geographic that was highlighting the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.  There was lots of copy and photos of Yellowstone  National Park, the world’s first national park.

         I loved the quote they attributed to Rudyard Kipling about Yellowstone: “Today I am in the Yellowstone park, and I wish I were dead,” he complained.  He was upset with all the crowds that were filling up the park.

         Was he talking about 2015 when a record four million visitors were recorded at this great Wyoming venue?

         Nope. That quote was in 1889!


1602 - Build me a Wyoming rancher

For some reason, small town newspaper publisher-types get called upon often to speak at funerals. I have done it many times.

         Usually, these folks are capable speakers and often they can put into words those expressions of sorrow and loss that help family and friends cope with the departure of a person who was important to the community.

         The best I ever knew at this was the late Bob Peck, long-time publisher of the Riverton Ranger. He was extraordinary when called upon to do this job.

         So who did the job when Peck, himself, died?  His two sons, both newspapermen, Steve and Chris, were eloquent in expressing themselves both as good sons and also as newspapermen with strong senses of what community means.

         The punch line, though, at Bob’s funeral was a eulogy by Gerry Spence, the famed Wyoming lawyer from Jackson. He was spellbinding.

         But I digress.

         Another publisher who does an excellent job at this is Jim Hicks up in Buffalo.  He sent me some notes of a eulogy he did recently for a rancher friend named Duane Foss:

“Duane and I were what you might call “partners in crime” on a number of adventures in years gone past. I’d guess nearly everyone here played cribbage with Duane at one time or another and it was always for money.

“Kyle Herman told me this week she played with Duane about three times a week. She played with Darrel Mauck and he’s gone. She played with Warne Stevenson and he’s gone.

Kyle, you and I are not going to play cribbage!

         “I thought of several ways to describe Duane. One word kept coming to mind: Cowman. In my mind, only two ranchers I’ve known really deserve that title.  One was Duane and the other was Johnnie Nelson. Neither one was ever boastful but always willing to give expert advice if it was sought.

“When Johnnie died his family played a recording of a short essay tiled “So God Made a Farmer.” It was written by Paul Harvey. Duane’s family asked if it could be read today.

“With apologies to Paul Harvey, I took the liberty of re-writing it: So God Made a Rancher.  God said, ‘I need somebody who is willing to get up every two hours for three months each spring to check calving heifers, do chores all day and then not miss the Parent-Teacher conference that night after supper. So God made a rancher.

"I need somebody strong enough to toss 80-pound hay bales for hours, yet gentle enough to wipe a tear from his grandson’s cheek when his pet cat dies. Somebody to face a blizzard and understand why the pickup won’t start, miss lunch and be thankful for a late, cold supper. God said, I need somebody who can watch a four-day spring blizzard take half the calves then have the optimism and spirit say ‘we’ll find a way to keep going.’ 

“I need somebody who knows his horse will respond best to a gentle word and hand. Who can make a halter out of bailer twine, repair a leaky toilet, re-roof the machinery shed, find the wiring problem in the tack room and fix fence until he runs out of daylight. So God made a rancher.      

“God had to have somebody willing drive a swather until noon and then run a bailer until 10 p.m. because rain was forecast, yet be willing to let his own crops go if his neighbor is sick and has 100 acres of alfalfa on the ground. So God made a rancher.

“God said, I need somebody strong enough to change a tractor tire, yet gentle enough to help a lamb get its first drink of milk or lose a full day’s work to comfort and care for his cow-dog and constant companion after it was kicked by a bull.   

"With a list of work that grows faster than can be accomplished, I need a man who has wisdom to keep his children understanding what is important in life. A man with smiling eyes set in a face weathered by Wyoming winds.         I need a man who knows his wife is the most dependable help he’ll ever have and somebody who’s thrilled to hear a son say ‘I want to be a rancher too.’ So God made a rancher.

Hicks continued: “In addition to his love of ranching, Duane also had great respect for the land. It was at the core of his character. Long before the word environmentalist became popular, anyone around him understood how much he valued clear air, blue skies, good water, healthy grass and the landscape that makes Wyoming special. From his earliest years Duane lived by two good rules. Treat the land with respect. Take good care of your livestock.

“More than 40 years ago when energy companies were buying up water and land in this area with plans to build gasification plants.  Duane called and asked if I would like to go fishing at Willow Park, along with my son, Robb, who was nine years old at the time

“Halfway up the face of the mountain his stopped the old jeep pickup, surveyed the expanse over Lake DeSmet and to the far horizon of the Powder River Basin. 

“He looked at me for a moment the turned to Robb and said: ‘Your dad thinks it would be good to build some power plants down there, but if it ever happens all you see from here is smoke.’

In true Foss fashion, the point was well made.

“So let’s just remove our hats, close our eyes, bow our heads for a moment while we think of those good times with Duane.”



1601 - Wyoming`s unique truths and values

The wind is our neighbor. Wind was here first. We deal with it. – Number 14 on the list of fundamental values.


         When you talk about Wyoming people or think about our wonderful state, are there specific universal truths and fundamental values that come to mind?

         Are they unique to our state and to our people here? I always thought so.

         It makes sense to talk about our truths and values in a column at the beginning of a new year.

         My quest to identify them started when I ran for state office back in 2002.  It seemed like a good idea then if I could identify them. This quest became a much bigger task than I thought it would be.

For example, it might be argued that many people of our state really live within spheres of influence in neighbor metro areas such as Denver, Salt Lake City, Billings, Idaho Falls and Rapid City.

         With all that distraction, what is it that ties us all together besides rooting for our football team? I might suggest some unique truths and values.

Do folks living on our state’s borders who find themselves traveling to Denver or Billings for just about everything, well, do they feel the same kinship with someone from Casper or Lander or Buffalo or Douglas?

In my search I came to the conclusion that yes, these truths and values do matter.  And they are conclusive. Wyoming people understand these concepts. Here are my lists of truths and values:


Wyoming Universal truths


1.    Wyoming’s economy will be based on commodity values of minerals for decades to come and thus will be vulnerable to the ups and downs of worldwide prices for energy.

2.    Wyoming’s future is intertwined with the desires of the people running the federal government since the people of the United States through federal agencies administer about half of the state’s land mass.

3.    Because of low population, long distance and some degree of isolation, Wyoming’s people have unique character traits. We celebrate the individuality of our people.

4.    In Wyoming, people dream.  They dream big. Hope and entrepreneurship is alive. The power of an idea is important. 

5.    Often we are alone, but we are not lonely.

6.    The idea of equality is celebrated in Wyoming although occasionally not practiced enough or at all.

7.    Wyoming`s people have always lived off its land its wild animals, forests, agriculture, minerals and scenery.  Since Territorial days we have exported our products and invited tourists to enjoy our unique blessings. 

8.    Despite being town dwellers or California imports, we will always be the Cowboy State.


Wyoming Fundamental Values


1.    The concept that small is good means more here.

2.    We celebrate clean air, clean water and a clean environment.

3.    As an entrepreneurial people, we believe in being persistent. We believe that anything worth doing is worth doing over and over with the goal that if we keep on trying, we will get it right.

4.    Our government is one of the most open in the United States. Our elected officials are among the most accessible. We celebrate that.

5.    Equality in opportunity and the power of the individual are celebrated in Wyoming.

6.    Wyoming people believe in being polite. We help out the needy. We wave at people we don’t know.

7.    Wyoming people appreciate good health.

8.    Water is perhaps our most valuable resource. Its value is never over-rated.

9.    In a place often described as a small city with extremely long streets – well, we appreciate our good roads.

10.         We cherish our pioneers and our veterans. We thank them for what they have done for our state.

11.         Hope for the future is alive in Wyoming. We call it a child.

12.         No place in the lower 48 states has the wildlife that Wyoming has – we celebrate the diversity of our animals and plants.

13.         Wyoming people appreciate seasons.  And dawns and sunsets. Big storms and lightning-quick changes in the weather.

14.         The wind is our neighbor. Wind was here first. We deal with it.

15.         We have learned that the way to deal with power is to share it, not hoard it.

16.         We do not drive by a stranded traveler on our back roads.

17.         Truth and trust are fundamental in our society. My word is my bond. You can trust my handshake.

18.         All else being equal, we must be fair.

19.         We are a God-fearing people. We celebrate our religious beliefs.