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1726 More political stories about Wyoming

Former U. S. Rep and Vice-President Dick Cheney would often tell this story about how his last name is pronounced.

         He says he attended a family reunion some years ago and sought out a favorite uncle who was the oldest person there. The old man was sitting in a rocking chair with a gentle dog in his lap.

         Dick asked his uncle: “Is our name pronounced CHEENEY or CHANEY?”

         The uncle paused for a minute and then said “it is pronounced “CHANEY.”

         Dick thanked him and complimented him on his little dog. “What kind is it?” he asked.

         His uncle replied “that it was a BAGEL.”

         Another line from Nebraska-born Cheney that I always enjoyed and have shared with him was his comment “I wasn’t born in Wyoming but I got here as quickly as I could.”

         Mary Guthrie of Cheyenne told me the following: “Here is a fun Wyoming political story.   It was related to me by Jim Griffith, former State Treasurer and Auditor and wonderful raconteur.  Given that it involves Jim’s father, I have to think that it is true.

“James Griffith, Sr., was the state chairman of the Wyoming Republican Party.  In 1942, no Republican had shown an interest in running for the U.S. House of Representatives.  Griffith had encouraged several people, including Frank A. Barrett, to run, but had no takers.   Barrett had unsuccessfully run for the seat six years before and had decided that national politics was not for him.  Griffith felt that there must be a Republican candidate, so he filled out a Petition for Nomination  in Barrett’s name, signed his signature,  and filed it with the Secretary of State.  

“When Barrett learned that a petition had been filed, he angrily called Griffith and said that he was going to withdraw.    Griffith convinced Barrett to think about it for a few days.  Griffith then got busy and called lots of his Republican pals and asked them to contact Barrett and encourage him to stay in the race.  This outpouring of support convinced Barrett to run and he was elected.  Later he was also elected Governor and U.S. Senator (the only Wyomingite to occupy all three offices).    

“It is an interesting twist of history that Senator Barrett might not have been such a successful politician but for  Griffith’s machinations.”

Former Craig, CO. publisher Dave Simpson, who now lives in Cheyenne,  related this gem: “When I was a reporter in Laramie, one of my daily stops was the campus police. One day on my beat, I saw a campus police report that Governor Ed Herschler had gotten a parking ticket on campus. The report said, No Press Release! but in those Watergate days, I figured there was no valid reason for that, and duly reported in the Laramie Boomerang that the governor got a parking ticket. No big deal, just one sentence along with all the other entries that day. The next day, the campus police went ballistic.

“Herschler, however, figured he parked in the wrong place and deserved the ticket. He put a $5 check in an envelope and sent it to the Laramie city manager, and asked him to make sure the fine was paid.

“I grew up in Chicago, where politicians fix tickets all the time, and when I saw the Wyoming governor paying his own parking ticket, I realized that Wyoming is, indeed, different, and my kind of place. Yes, it was printed in the Daily Record section of the Boomerang. It was my job to go out and compile all the news in the Daily Record every afternoon from late 1973 until the end of 1978. Some of the most fun years of my time in the business.”

Brad Mead of Wyoming Whiskey fame and grandson of former Governor and Senator Cliff Hansen tells this story about his grandpa: “Cliff gave a great talk to a rousing crowd in Casper.  Afterward, he was feeling pretty good about himself and mentioned to his wife Martha, in the car, that ‘I wonder how many really important people there are here in Wyoming?’ Martha replied, somewhat dryly, ‘probably about one less than you think there are.’”

         Roberta Popeck of Lander tells this story about Hansen: He was campaigning at a ranch house near Tensleep and told the group including an old rancher, “I hope you folks remember me at election time.”

         Bert said the old rancher replied: “I hope you remember us when you get elected!”

         Former Cody publisher Lee Myers, who now lives in Omaha,  recalls a time when presidential candidate Barry Goldwater was campaigning in Wyoming and stayed at a private home in Lovell. “Doubt we would ever see that again,” he says.

         Retired Thermopolis publisher Pat Schmidt shared this story: “Remember State Treasurer Stan Smith being left on the interstate by his wife Harriet in his underwear? He grew tired and asked her to take over driving on Interstate 80 late at night. She slid across the seat as he got out and opened the back door. Rather than wrinkle his suit, he took it off, hung it up and, deciding to get it the other side, closed the door behind the driver`s seat.

“Harriet drove off, leaving Stan standing in his underwear. Stan was eventually able to get a trucker to stop and give him a ride to the next truck stop. He called the WHP who finally stopped Harriet and his suit.” 

         Stan and Harriet would always be campaigning playing the fiddle and piano, rather than talking about issues.



1725 - Was June 12 worst day ever for WYO weather?

Now this is a headline that I never thought I would write for any news story or column: Tornadoes strike Wyoming.

         But on Monday, June 12, sightings of up to 20 tornadoes were reported all across the state, luckily not killing anyone but causing lots of damage and scaring the heck out of everyone.

         Along with that came 90 mph winds in some places and hailstones the size of baseballs.

         It was a long night as power went out, trees came down and punishing wind, rain, and hail bombarded folks from little Otto up in northwest Wyoming to the State Capitol in Cheyenne some 400 miles away. 

         Just about everybody in between those two locations experienced some kind of oddball extreme weather event.

         Perhaps the worst event was at the Lay Ranch, 30 miles north of Torrington.

         This ranch family endured a terrible fire last year; then, during the tornado June 12, they lost just about every other structure that was still standing.

         Michelle Lay reported on Facebook: “The barns are gone, the shop is gone, tractors are gone, just gone. We are thankful we are all still here and well. We`ll try to keep our heads up and our spirits, but bear with us, as this is tougher than the fire last year for us. If we seem grouchy or hurt please help us. We thank everyone for everything they`re doing and greatly appreciate it!”

         According to a GoFundMe effort to raise $10,000 for the family, “ . . . had to put down 2 horses and take 2 horses into the vet to get stitched back up. The tornado took the big shop, and the big barn and just leveled it. Uprooted all the trees, have damages to the other 2 barns and the house. It has totaled out 2 horse trailers plus other vehicles.”

         Up in Otto, a talented photographer, Michelle Olsen, was busy snapping images of tornadoes that swirled around her little town.

         Damage was not extensive as there is an awful lot of empty ground up there; the images she was able to capture are amazing. Check out her Facebook page.

         An early news report said that 20 tornadoes were reported in the state.  The estimate was later lowered to 18 and in some reports, to 11.

         Now 20 is a heckuva list of tornadoes but does anyone in Wyoming remember a time when more than one tornado was reported in the state?

         There was a tornado 10 miles northeast of Cheyenne, another one near Pine Bluffs, a tornado touched down at Bar Nunn, north of Casper and tornado sightings were also in Kaycee and Otto.

         Here in my hometown of Lander, we saw 72-mph gusts of wind with some places claiming gusts over 90 mph. Lots of trees down and more than 200 electrical power outages. Our home was off power from 7 p.m. until 2:30 a.m. Wind gusts of 67 were reported in Farson and 62 mph in Rock Springs. Wheatland also endured hailstorms.

         Tom Satterfield of Cheyenne reports: “We were on our way back from Dubois, and noted a very large thunder cloud to the east.

“As we turned into Cheyenne everything changed.  A hailstorm had just quit and people were coming out of their houses to assess the damage of billiard ball sized hail.  Cars on the street had broken windshields and rear windows. The ground was white. We had shattered skylights and lots of hail and glass all over.  We found anything that was plastic or terra cotta was smashed and there was about 12 to18 inches of branches and leaves all over the back yards.  The poor Aspen trees had been almost denuded. 

“Mark Stewart had been helping his parents Patty and Mack cover their broken skylights. He climbed on our roof and covered ours to keep out the bugs, birds and any rain.  He was our angel.  Those hail stones put deep depressions in my lawn (looks like it was aerated) and could have done serious damage to the human body.  It was a memorable day where all I thought I had to do was drive home and cut my lawn.” 

         All this weather came as a result of fast-moving cold front, which stormed across Wyoming. The front not only cooled down the mountains slowing down flooding but also dumped measurable snowfall at high elevations all across the state.

         Wyoming is well known as a windy state but as a tornado state?  Not until June 12, 2017.


1724 - How much clout does current threesome have in Congress?

As a long-time observer of our two U. S. Senators and one U. S. Congressperson, it would seem to me that today we have a chance to have more clout in Congress than ever before.

Senior Sen. Mike Enzi is one of the most effective bill-passers in the Senate and holds powerful positions.  He is widely respected and has been in Congress long enough that when he talks everyone listens.

Junior Sen. John Barrasso has chosen a path climbing up the power pole in the Senate and currently is the third-ranking senator behind majority leader and whip.

Our representative Liz Cheney is brand new but is already passing bills.  As daughter of a former Vice President, she is already listed as one of the 30 most powerful Republican women in the country. 

So, could this be the most powerful trio in our history, when it comes to influence?

A third of a century ago, Wyoming had Senators Al Simpson and Malcolm Wallop plus Rep. Dick Cheney in place.  They were arguably the most influential trio during modern times.

So I asked Simpson, who is retired and lives in Cody, what he thinks?

         “They have the potential to out-do us if they can get their own party’s problems resolved,” he says. “Back there, it is chaos. It is toxic. It is like sulphuric acid. It is unbelievable. Unless Republicans can get past social issue schisms in their own caucuses, they will never achieve their potential.

“It is valid to say to compare these folks with our team.  Cheney was third in leadership and I was second in the Senate. Wallop was carrying the ball for President Reagan for Star Wars.”

         A somewhat different view came from Rodger McDaniel, a pastor and author, in Laramie, who said:

         “These three do indeed have the potential to be most effective, but it is a potential they show no sign of fulfilling. Instead they have devoted themselves entirely to partisanship.

“These three are quite a distance from the Gale McGee-Cliff Hansen-Teno Roncalio trio or the Wallop-Simpson-Cheney days, but then so is American politics.

“These three could help change the current dynamic if they decided to be genuinely bipartisan but John is tied to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s hip. Mike found out that bipartisanship was not welcomed in the current GOP. Mike once touted his ability to work with folks like Ted Kennedy. It’s been a long time since he mentioned his 80-20 theory. That stopped when Liz pounded him over the head during the 2014 primary for compromising with the Democrats.” 

Former Lovell and Thermopolis newspaper publisher Pat Schmidt, now of Cheyenne, does not think the current group compares to some of the other trios.

“I`d put it somewhere in the Cliff Hansen- Teno Roncalio-Simpson- Gale McGee days when they accomplished so much. A high point was on the date they got through the increase in mineral royalty payments, which has put billions into the state`s coffers. That bunch had the ability to go across the aisle. 

“Second I would put the Simpson-Wallop-Cheney trio up there. Despite all Republican, they worked across the aisle well. Simpson was a powerful Senate leader until archconservatives replaced him with Trent Lott. Cheney was close to the House speakership. Wallop was effective; just look at the 1981 Wallop-Breaux Act that is still benefitting outdoor recreation with a fee on the sale of sporting goods.

Going back to statehood, historian, author and attorney John Davis of Worland says: “Wyoming had vastly more clout when Francis E. Warren was a powerhouse in the U. S. Senate.”

Historian and University of Wyoming Professor Phil Roberts, of Laramie, is pessimistic: “They have no clout whatsoever. One never has clout if (s) he is a rubber-stamp. That`s why the only times Wyoming members had clout was when 1) they represented both parties; 2) they chose to work together on a Wyoming problemnot some esoteric ideologically-driven knee-jerk question. 3) They clashed with their own President when it was necessary.”

Publisher and former State Representative Dave Bonner of Powell echoes the same theme: “I would agree with the summation that there is unrealized potential in today’s trio. I would like to see Enzi`s serious approach to budgeting gain traction on both sides of the aisle.”

Based on some comments here, it appears that most agree Wyoming has an extraordinary opportunity in Congress right now with these three but the toxic atmosphere may very well leave most of their potential unrealized.