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1849 - Winter, Jim Hicks honored, Joe Brandl issues

Today’s topics are winter weather, a good honor for one man and a bad one for another plus a discussion of a new way to spend time in lodging. 

       In Buffalo, Jim Hicks quotes a local columnist named Sagebrush Sven with the following:

       “One very cold morning Nancy Schiffer of Kaycee had agreed to drive to Buffalo for an early breakfast event.  She was on the program and is the kind of person who never fails to do her part.

“A suicidal antelope had crashed into the front of her car, so Nancy’s only transportation was a four-wheel drive ranch pickup she does not usually drive.

“She got it started in the 16-degree weather and was pushing buttons to get the defrosters and heater going when the sun roof suddenly opened. ‘I don’t know why they would put a sunroof in a pickup!’ says Nancy.  ‘Nobody ever uses it.’

“Try as she might, the roof would not close.  Nancy drove to Buffalo with the roof open. 

“Who says Wyoming ranch gals can’t handle a little adversity.”

       Hicks, the long-time former publisher of the Buffalo Bulletin, was honored during a big soiree at the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Big Horns recently in Buffalo. More than 300 people showed up at 6:30 a.m. to celebrate all he has done for that part of Wyoming and for helping the clubs.

       Governors Mead, Freudenthal, and Sullivan showed up along with Sen. John Barrasso.

       As a publisher, Hicks had always supported the clubs and when financing was threatened, he stepped up in his role as a County Commissioner to fight for continued funding.

While Hicks had long supported the efforts of Boys & Girls Club, he gained a new appreciation for the work of the club in October 2009.

Hicks recalls: “At that time, the local club was still starting out. They were doing a fundraising and Gov. Freudenthal was the keynote speaker. I was so impressed that he would take the time to support the Buffalo club. He obviously thought it was important, and that motivated me to come and learn more.

       “Freudenthal was talking about one young man in particular who had every reason to be in trouble,” Hicks said. “But now here he was going to college. That night, it became clear to me that this was a program making a difference in the community, and it was catching some kids that might go through the cracks otherwise. From then on, the Boys & Girls Club was added to the list of organizations that I support.”

Youth organizations are a big deal in Wyoming. Great things are happening all over the state with them.

In Dubois, though, the Boy Scouts of America have taken away their association with one of the most famous scoutmasters in Wyoming.

Silver Beaver honoree Joe Brandl is a pioneer and a tremendous outdoorsman. He made all of Wyoming proud last year when he competed on the Discovery Channel’s Naked and Afraid and was superb, surviving all 21 days and keeping his partner alive and safe.

Brandl’s prowess in the outdoors is unsurpassed.

But he apparently has his own ideas of how Scouts should learn to behave in the outdoors and thus got crossways with authorities. 

He plans to continue to work with youth but doing it without being under his long-time banner of the Boy Scouts.

Meanwhile, switching subjects to tourism, the international travel outfit AirBnB announced that Wyoming generated $1.1 million in lodging tax revenues from the 1,600 host sites in the Cowboy State in the last year.

For a while AirBnb did not collect lodging taxes, which gave it an advantage over conventional hotels and motels. There were 56,000 visits to Wyoming AirBnB sites last year, which was a 130 percent increase over the previous year.

When I was on the Lander Planning Commission, we occasionally would get some kind of request for a homeowner to become an AirBnb site.

Neighbors would get upset over noise and unusual traffic when a house zoned in the best residential area in town suddenly became a bustling locale, much like a bed and breakfast, humming and buzzing all day and all night long.

There are more than 50 places in the Lander area, alone, that are on the AirBnB web site seeking visitors. These are ordinary homeowners and citizens competing against traditional lodging properties to rent space to travelers.

It was an eye-opener and typical of the some of new trends popping up across America.

1848 - A big look at the 2018 general election

Like most Wyomingites, I wish our general elections were more exciting than our primary elections.

         To figure out how we can make it more interesting we just need to look west – way west to California.

         I know, I know, most Wyoming folks think that is the land of crazies and nuts but when it comes to general elections they have a really good idea.

         The two California candidates who get the most votes in the primary move on to the general. This does not mean the two members of different parties.  If the two highest vote getters are from the same party, then they move on to the general for a run-off.

         This year our Wyoming primary was a horse race. Our general election was a blowout.

         The two top GOP voter getters, Mark Gordon and Foster Friess, would have put on one heck of a general election campaign had Wyoming been using a system like that in California.

Other states use a similar system although Louisiana has a system where if a candidate gets more than 50 percent of all the votes in the primary, there is no need for a general election.

         Not sure in Wyoming if such a change requires an amendment to the constitution but it sure would make our general election races more interesting and it would make the process more democratic. 

         Yes, the two top voter getters advancing is a great idea.

         It would seem to me that Republicans in Wyoming would favor this idea.  General election voters avoided Democrat Mary Throne in droves this year, even though she was one of the best candidates we have seen in years.  She lost soundly.

         Final tally showed 205,255 votes in the general election. Of this total, Mark Gordon got 136,399 or 66.5 percent.

         Throne got just 55,961 votes or 27.2 percent.

         It was never even close. The New York Times called the election for Gordon about noon on Election Day before a single vote was counted.

         Compare that result to a possible Gordon-Friess race.  Wow, what an exciting contest that would have been.

         Wyoming is supposed to be a conservative state and it seems to be getting even more conservative.  If so, you would think these conservatives could get the momentum for such a new approach.

         In the GOP primary, Gordon was the only moderate plus he had thousands of Democrats and Independents crossing over on Election Day to give him the win.

         Look at the conservative candidates who lost in that primary race – Friess, Harriet Hageman, Sam Galeotos, Taylor Haynes and Bill Dahlin. Add all their votes up and they soundly trounced any one else.

         Parker Jackson is an astute political watcher from Lyman with sterling conservative credentials.  He calls our GOP primary the “traditional Wyoming conservative firing squad.  The candidates all stand in a circle facing each other and shoot each other.”

         Since this is my traditional post-election column, I always try to thank all the candidates for running.  It is something they will never forget.  Although it hurts to lose, those defeated candidates will look back on their campaigns as some of the most exciting times of their lives.

         There are no losers here.  Just winners all around.

         I know it is disappointing to the non-victors, as they have spent a lot of money, devoted a tremendous amount of time, worked really hard, spent time away from jobs and family, and sincerely tried to present a winning view in their campaigns.

         I have been there, so I know how frustrating this can be.

         Back in 2002 fellow Republicans Ray Hunkins of Wheatland, Steve Watt of Rock Springs, and John Self of Sheridan joined me along with Democrats Ken Casner of Elk Mountain, Toby Simpson of Greybull, and Paul Hickey of Cheyenne in retiring to the sidelines after the primary and watching Eli Bebout and Dave Freudenthal have all the fun in the general. This year a whole new crowd of candidates joined us.

         Back to the 2018 elections:

         For our national races, U. S. Sen. John Barrasso and U. S. Rep. Liz Cheney breezed to easy wins. Republicans won all around with Kristi Racines winning State Auditor and Ed Buchanan winning Secretary of State.  Jillian Balow was unopposed for State Supt. of Public Instruction.

         But with the U. S. House turning Democratic it is easy to predict a new period of total gridlock in Congress.  I am afraid not much is going to get done in the next two years.

1847 - Wyoming is home to richest man in the world

We have all seen this Wyoming guy.

         He doesn’t look rich.

         But if you examine his life and measure his level of happiness, there is a compelling argument he could very well be the richest man in the world.

         This is a man who loves the outdoors.  He loves to hunt and fish. He loves to explore.  He just happens to have a few gadgets around (his wife calls them “toys”), which are not necessarily new, but he keeps them in good repair.  He loves tinkering on them.

         This rich man lives in Worland or Cheyenne or Laramie or Rock Springs or Evanston or Riverton or any other Wyoming city or town.  He gets up early each morning to greet the day with a big smile because he is in total control of his universe.

         The day starts off with coffee with his buddies.  They meet every  morning,  rain or shine, and spend an hour telling tall tales to each other and occasional off-color jokes.

         Let’s call this guy Joe.  With all due respect to the University, we might even call him Cowboy Joe because he is a big fan of UW and is rarely seen without some kind of brown or gold apparel that reads WYOMING or COWBOYS.

         Joe does odd jobs and controls his schedule.  His wife has a good steady job with good benefits and good retirement. They are pretty frugal and have saved up a little money. They enjoy Wyoming’s outdoor experiences together.

         It is well-known that Joe married “up,” which means he found himself a very good wife. People say his wife should not put up with all of Joe’s hobbies, but she accepts them with a smile, because she likes them, too.  They are active in their church and people count on them to help out during times of need. They are always there for others at such times.

         These folks like Joe are among the richest people in history.

         Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, or Warren Buffett or some Arab sheik may think his life is better than Joe’s, but do not try to convince Joe about this.  He would not trade his place on the planet with any of them.

         He and his wife encouraged their kids to study hard and qualify for scholarships because extra money was hard to find. The kids qualified and they also worked during their years at UW. They graduated almost debt-free. They taught their kids to be thrifty and to appreciate the resl finer things in life, such as the joys available in Wyoming’s great outdoors.

         Joe and his wife are the best grandparents in the world. They take them fishing, hunting, and camping. They have lots of time to spend with them and are  never in a hurry.  They listen to the kids’ problems because often the kids’parents are too busy trying to make a living.

         At some point, one of Joe’s kids will lecture the old man about how if he had worked an extra job or invested in the stock market, he probably would have ended up rich. And when he is 70 he would have time to do all the fishing and hunting he might want to do. 

         Joe looks at him and shrugs.  You can almost tell that he is thinking “It’s time to go  fishing.”

         The Cowboy Joe described here is a stereotype of a lot of people I know in Wyoming. I wish that I could have been more like him.  In business, my wife Nancy and I have tried to get it all done but I missed out on a lot because of pressures associated with running a number of companies. Sure would have liked to spend more time hunting, fishing, and camping.

         Perhaps the closest I ever came to the perfect life was when I aspired to be a newspaper publisher at a young age.  I made it at age 24 here in Lander, which was sort of incredible.

         A friend back in those days invited Nancy and me to dinner where a third man showed up and gave us a pitch about how we could make all this money with some kind of multi-level marketing sales scheme. I think it was Amway.

         “Just think, Bill,” the man exclaimed. “If you make all this extra money, you can be whatever you ever wanted to be!”

         My answer to him was: “Sorry, but I am what I always wanted to be.”

         Now that is what Joe would have said had he been asked that question. 


1846 - Local lodging taxes good for all

Times sure change.

         Forty years ago, the main tourism destinations in Wyoming were Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks with a smattering of interest in Devils Tower, the country’s first national monument.

         Also large crowds would come from all over the world to special events like Cheyenne Frontier Days plus a few others.

         But all that has changed. Today, every nook and cranny of Wyoming enjoys the benefits of tourism.

         Main reasons for this change has been a desire on the part of the people of USA to come West and see for themselves what all the fuss is about.  A few million radio, TV and printed images of Buffalo Bill, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Yogi Bear, Clint Eastwood, and others have also boosted this movement.

         The rise of the American middle class after World War II also saw the newly mobile families wanting to load up the station wagon, pack the tent, and head towards the setting sun.

         Growing up in the Midwest, my siblings and I all yearned to head west and see mountains, Cowboys and Indians, national parks, and feed the bears.

         With this in mind, it is notable to report that there are 27 local lodging taxes in place in the state. 

         Using the tagline “it’s the tax you do not have to pay,” many of these lodging tax issues will be on ballots in November.  I enthusiastically encourage you to vote YES on any in your area.

         Local lodging taxes have provided money that is used to promote areas as out of the way and diverse as Cokeville, Diamondville, Pine Bluffs, and Hulett.

         And all these places have seen a surge in visitors over the last few decades.

         Interestingly, a true gold mine for Wyoming state tourism has been international tourism. Millions of people now come to Wyoming from every corner of the world.

         For decades, the biggest group of visitors were Europeans, who often get six weeks of paid vacation and would spend three or four weeks touring the USA.

         These folks would still focus on the big attractions but some of their favorite experiences would be heading over to Kemmerer or Newcastle or Worland or Rawlins.  Once there, they would dress like Americans and talk and act like us.  Their biggest thrills were making locals think they were just fellow Yankees passing through.

         Most recently, we see thousands of Asian tourists coming to America and spending lots of money.  Plus all these foreign tourists pay lodging taxes.

         Voters will go to the polls on Nov. 6 to approve lodging taxes in Afton, Albany County, Carbon County, Cokeville, Converse County, Diamondville, Evanston, Fremont County, Greybull, Hot Springs County, Johnson County, Kemmerer, Laramie County, Lovell, Natrona County, Park County, Sweetwater County, Teton County, Washakie County, and Weston County.

         As I travel around Wyoming it appears that lodging taxes are favored by an overwhelming majority of voters from Weston County to Uinta County and Laramie County to Afton.

         Only place where there is pushback is Teton County.  There are some nasty newspaper ads being published in the local papers raising cane about all the traffic jams and gridlock. We passed through Jackson on a beautiful October day recently and the volume of cars was surprising.  This is off-season?  There appears to be a true rage there among some locals who feel Jackson Hole has enough tourists.

         With that said, though, the lodging tax in Jackson is used to promote shoulder seasons. Plus they probably spend way more money on helpful programs like mass transit and walking paths.

         Back in 1989-1993, I was a member of the Jackson Hole Visitor Council board and even then, there were complaints about too many tourists.

         On a side note, construction is nearing completion on a roundabout at the Kelly Road intersection north of Jackson. This road has been a source of gridlock every summer. It will be interesting to see if this new-fangled traffic mover will help or hinder the problem.

         Cheyenne has jumped into the roundabout program for years now and it seems to work although I still hear an occasional whine from an old-timer or two.

         We first encountered them in Great Britain in the 1980s and were baffled.  Seemed we would get on one and never get off.

         Getting back to local lodging taxes – they are wonderful and I encourage voters all over Wyoming (including Jackson) to vote YES when you go to the polls. It really is the tax that you do not pay.



1845 - Candidates reaching finish line

By now, Mark Gordon has managed to do a perfect eye roll, shoulder shrug, wry smile and deliberate head shake when other Wyoming gubernatorial candidates accuse him of all sorts of omissions including being a RINO (Republican in Name Only).    Gordon, a rancher from Buffalo and the current State Treasurer, is the Republican nominee and is a lead pipe cinch to be our next governor.

         Although just about everyone calls Gordon a moderate, he relentlessly calls himself a conservative. And it must be noted that Gordon is a gentleman and has run a first-rate campaign.

         These kinds of accusations against Gordon came out often in the most expensive and craziest primary election in Wyoming history. It ended on Aug. 21, with Gordon topping Foster Friess, Harriet Hageman, Sam Galeotos, Taylor Haynes, and Bill Dahlin.

         A recent disclosure by the Secretary of State’s office showed that more than 10,000 voters in the GOP primary changed their affiliation from Democrat or Independent over to Republican. This confirmed what a lot of conservatives had suspected. They believed there was an organized effort by non-Republicans to cross over and vote for Gordon and against Friess. Gordon was viewed as more moderate on abortion than Friess.  Also Friess was endorsed by President Donald Trump, which brought out Anti-Trumpers.

         In the general election, Gordon is dealing with Democrat Mary Throne of Cheyenne (a former legislator), Rex “T-Rex” Rammell of the Constitution Party, and Libertarian Lawrence Struempf.

         Rammell took one look at the crowded Republican primary and wisely decided to run as an independent for an obscure party.  He has the best or worst nickname for a candidate since Hugh “Bigfoot” Binford ran back in 1978 against U. S Senator Al Simpson.

         As for all those crossover votes in the primary, Rammell got off one of the nastiest jabs of the campaign during a PBS debate filmed in Casper.  He answered a lightning round question on supporting a law preventing election day crossovers when he looked over at Gordon and said: “You should not be here. Foster Friess won the majority of the Republican votes!”  Gordon just rolled his eyes.

         Throne has been aggressive and has support among the liberals and moderates in the state.  She has worked hard and likes to tout her childhood in Gillette as giving her the chops to be a pro-energy governor.

         Her biggest issue is Medicaid expansion, which she says would bring millions of dollars into Wyoming, help rural hospitals and provide health care to thousands of people.  Wyoming conservatives in the legislature have never supported it because they fear federal over-reach.  This means that it might work well at first but pretty soon the feds start cutting their contribution and the state ends up paying a lot more money than they originally bargained.

Medicaid expansion program was supported by just about everybody a couple of years ago, including Gov. Matt Mead, but the vote was not even close in the Legislature.

Meanwhile Wyoming Republican conservatives are still grousing about how that gubernatorial primary turned out.  Rather than vote for Gordon, many may write in the names of their favorite candidates or vote T-Rex. He is a conservative but many of his ideas are off-the-wall.

On Oct. 23, I tuned in to a town hall meeting hosted by Gordon and State Auditor candidate Kristi Racines. Both talked a lot about transparency, which was a big issue during the primary.

Gordon and Racines have appointed a four-member committee to work on transparency, which includes John Masters of Cheyenne, Sen. Cale Case of Lander, State Rep. Tom Walters of Casper, and Gail Symons of Sheridan. Gordon and Racines are serving as co-chairs of the working group.

According to their campaigns, “the working group will identify and develop specific solutions to improve transparency and accessibility to state financial data that can be implemented efficiently and expediently.” That is a mouthful of gobbledygook.  Hope these good folks really take this seriously.

I also hope they also get involved. This outfit has done a magnificent job of opening the books all across the country. Wyoming is one of only three states that has yet to open its books completely.

To their credit, Gordon and Gov. Mead have opened the books in their offices.

Budget shortfalls may still be a big problem for parts of Wyoming state government when the Legislature meets next year.  A healthy dose of transparency would show where all the money that the state is already collecting is being spent.