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1610 - Everyone should read Carol Mead`s book of Firsts

A small book full of firsts about Wyoming was written two years ago by First Lady Carol Mead, and it is an excellent compilation of unique events that happened first here in Wyoming.

         It would seem to make sense to me that every school child in the state should have access to it. I have written news stories, books and columns about Wyoming for 45 years and learned a lot from her book.

          Most everyone in Wyoming and across the nation knows about the two biggest “firsts” that occurred here – Yellowstone being the first national park in the world in 1872, and the granting of women the right to vote in 1869 in Wyoming territory.

         I included a story about firsts in my recent book and tapped the First Lady’s book for a great many of them.  I also had some help from other folks.  For example:

First national forest was the Shoshone, and the first national monument was Devils Tower.

The first Mountain Man-Indian trade fair occurred here. Rocky Mountain Fur trade Rendezvous was held on the banks of the Henrys Fork of the Green River near present-day McKinnon.  It continued annually through 1840 in that location and at other locations around Wyoming including Lander and Riverton.

The first meeting of Pony Express riders going east and going west occurred near Farson.  That community is also known as the site where the infamous Donner Party was formed at the Big Sandy crossing, according to Dave Hanks of Farson.

Cheyenne was the first city to have electric lights west of the Mississippi River. Buffalo was the first town, and it was powered by hydroelectric power.

The first all-woman jury that determined the result of a trial occurred in Laramie in 1870.  The trial was held in the legendary Belle of the West saloon, according to author Ron Franscell.

The first JC Penney store was started in Kemmerer.  The first Taco John’s started in that chain’s hometown of Cheyenne.  Perhaps the first bentonite mine ever was on the Taylor ranch near Rock River in 1888.

First woman Justice of the Peace in the world was Esther Hobart Morris of South Pass City. She got the job because the previous office-holder, a man, quit in protest of the legislature passing women’s suffrage.

Interstate 25 starts at Buffalo, Wyoming, Schmidt and Randy Wagner both remind me that the highest point of the Interstate 80 is in Wyoming and has a statue of Lincoln there. It was originally built in 1959 and placed at the highest point of Highway 30.

Pat Henderson of Sheridan says Wyoming was the state that had a national championship basketball team that featured the world’s first jump shooter in Kenny Sailors of the University of Wyoming.

Dave Miller of Riverton, points out the Branson Field Camp in Sinks Canyon outside of Lander is the oldest, longest-continually-run geology field camp in the country.

Phil Roberts has a bunch of firsts. The first licensed engineer in America was Charles Bellamy, who named Lake Marie for his wife, who was also the first woman elected to the Wyoming Legislature.  The first shot fired by an American in WWI was by Michel Chockie of Rock Springs. The first hotel in the world with electric lights in each room was the InterOcean Hotel in Cheyenne. The first health care cooperative was Fetterman Hospital Association in Converse County in 1885.

Leslie Blythe of Casper points to Nellie Tayloe Ross as not only the first woman governor in the country, but also first woman director of the U. S. Mint. The first wilderness areas in USA were conceived in a cabin in Jackson Hole by pioneer conservationist Mardie Murie.

The first woman to vote in an election in the country, reminds Ray Hunkins, was Louisa Swain, Laramie.

W. Edward Deming, who was born in Powell and graduated from University of Wyoming, invented a system of quality control in manufacturing that turned the Japanese economy around after WWII and has been honored the world-over for his discoveries.

First town governed entirely by women from 1920 to 1921 was Jackson.

Fort William was first business west of the Mississippi River in 1834 at the confluence of the Laramie and North Platte rivers.

Wyoming was the first state to have a state dinosaur and the first state to have a Code of the West. First county library system was organized in Laramie County in 1886.


1609 - Congratulations to the great Mike Sullivan

It was September 1990, and then-Wyoming Gov. Mike Sullivan’s Irish temper was hot.

         It was at the Lander One Shot Antelope Hunt and I was driving then-U. S Sen. Al Simpson back to the hotel headquarters. Sullivan spotted us and came charging out.

         Simpson took one look and said: “Oh darn (well, words sort of like that), this is not going to be pretty.”

         As he rolled down the window, Sullivan let Simpson have his full fury about some project Sullivan had been working on for years and that he felt Simpson had not helped him enough with that project back in DC.

         My recollection is that Simpson suggested to Sullivan that he calm down. He wanted to tell him what was happening.  The Republican Senator slowly explained to the red-faced Democrat Governor that the project was still on course but it had taken a difficult turn and with patience it would come to fruition.

         Although I do not remember the project they were talking about, it did get resolved.  I was just a bystander watching in amazement as our state’s two most distinguished leaders settled into a long discussion of how to get the best result for a project important to our state.

         Today when I think back to that exchange, it is astonishing to imagine any project anywhere in the country getting bipartisan support given the toxic political climate that has overpowered everything political in the USA in 2016.

         After that exchange I drove the two men over to the dedication of a monument that had been established for the legendary Stub Farlow of Lander, the man shown riding Steamboat on the Wyoming license plate.

         That event was set up by then-Mayor Joyce Jansa and the three of us were surprised when we got there because, well, it was just Joyce.  Both men said a few words about Farlow, which I quoted, and then I took a photo of Joyce and the men. Then we drove away with both chuckling that they had never before attended such an event where the audience consisted of one person – a journalist, which happened to be me.

         Small town political stories in a small state like Wyoming like this are commonplace.  But that was a rare one that I happened to witness first-hand.

         The reason for telling this story is to share the amazing long history of good fellowship Simpson and Sullivan have enjoyed, although coming from different sides of the political aisle.

         What makes this even more remarkable is that when Sullivan won his first term as governor, he defeated Al’s brother Pete in a notable upset.

         After that bitter and difficult campaign, Mike and Al put aside their differences to work for the future of the Cowboy State.

          Sullivan will go down in history as the right governor for the right time when he served the state during a time of terrible economic strife. A great many of us believe that the bust of the 1980s and early 1990s was a worse depression for Wyoming than the 1930s.

         Sullivan is one of Wyoming’s most famous citizens, having played a key role in the peace process in Ireland where President Bill Clinton had appointed him as ambassador.  Sullivan recently retired from the active practice of law in Casper. He is still involved in arbitration cases where his honesty and work ethic make him one of the best, if not the best in the state in this niche of important legal work.

         Sullivan’s stature in the Rocky Mountain Region was recently celebrated when he was named “Citizen of the West” at the Denver Stock Show.

         Who got the privilege of introducing Gov Suv at that event? None other than the afore-mentioned Al Simpson.  I talked Al into sending me that introduction and here is some of what he said:

         “In Wyoming, Democrats alone do not elect our Democrat governors. It takes a lot of Republicans to help out. Plenty of them were always there for Mike because to him compromise was not a four-letter word. He believed in working with the other side. A sick idea, I know, but it made Wyoming work. He brought us through the toughest economic times.

         “Furthermore, he is a statesman more than a politician. There is a difference. He doesn’t have enemies; he has adversaries. He makes things work and he does that because of his personality and who he is – with kindness, caring, brilliance, wisdom as well his wit and his patriotism.

         “To sum up Mike is the word loyalty. To his country, his state, his profession, his family and to his friends.”

         To make this circle even more complete, it was also interesting that current Gov. Matt Mead was there in Denver that night to also introduce and honor Sullivan.  Matt’s mother, the late Mary Mead, ran against Sullivan during his second campaign for governor. Sullivan won and the rest was history.

         I join with the rest of Wyoming in congratulating Mike and Jane Sullivan for this incredible honor.  Well deserved. We are very proud of you.

1608 - A look at national politics from Wyoming

The political fates of our nation and of Wyoming are being decided right now across the country through a series of presidential primaries, debates and caucuses.

         Here in Wyoming, we are merely observers. Or are we?

         I was recently in Nevada, one of the battleground states, and got to follow some of the national candidates and make some observations on the national scene.

         On the Democratic side, I always assumed Hillary Clinton would be our next president.  She is not my choice but with all the strife on the Republican side, if she can get through the primaries and her convention, she could easily win the general election.

         This is not good news for Wyoming.  Although not as shrill as President Barack Obama, she would continue the legacy of her husband Bill (and his Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt) to wreak havoc on the Wyoming energy industry.

         Gov. Matt Mead, former Gov. Dave Freudenthal, the Wyoming Business Council and legislative leaders have been aggressive in the last 12 years trying to diversify the state’s economy away from fossil fuels. It has worked well in certain places around the state.  In other places, more work needs to be done. Hopefully, the current legislature will expand on those diversification efforts.

         With Hillary in there for a potential eight years after Obama’s eight years, the national war over fossil fuels could be over – and Wyoming will have lost.

         While in Nevada, we saw folks swooning over that Don Quixote character Bernie Sanders.  He is right that the middle class has been slaughtered over the past 20 years. But common sense would indicate Sanders is unelectable in the general election against any of the Republicans.

         Ah, the Republicans.  This is where the craziness is located.

         Back in August of 2015, I heard Jeb Bush speak at the Iowa State Fair and he was impressive.  I always liked the concept of former governors running for president, as they know what it is like to hire lots of good staff and make lots of important decisions.

         First-term Senators like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz just do not have that kind of experience. Those two, plus Dr. Ben Carson, could all be ineffective if elected president.  After eight years of an ex-senator being president, I do not think the country can endure another bout with a president going through on-the-job training.

         That leaves Bush who is the former governor of Florida (but, who has suspended his campaign) and John Kasich, the governor of Ohio.  Both impress me.

         Oh yeah, I left out the 600-pound gorilla named Donald J. Trump.

         I am a huge fan of Trump . . . but just on the TV show The Apprentice. As a candidate, I am not so impressed by the way he is running.  Smarmy, snarky and petty for someone running for the highest office in the country.

         But, and this is a big but . . . some of what he says makes sense. I always loved the concept of a businessman going into a political situation and applying business principles.  Trump is right in that it has been amateur night at the White House for the last seven years.  That nuclear deal with Iran stinks and other dealings with Europe, China and Russia have not been handled well.  

         The Republican primary campaign has really been hijacked by Trump and turned into a reality TV show.  It really has.

         Does he really want to be president?  Even if he loses, his Trump brand has gained billions of dollars of exposure.

         Some fear he would be a crazy person to have his finger on the nuclear trigger. That is the least of my worries.  He is a cautious and strategic thinker.  Our country would be in safe hands with him as president but again that lack of governmental experience could be a disaster.

         Hillary tried to turn her national campaign around in Nevada.  Sanders comes from a long line of philosophical candidates like Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern.  Democrats are expected to come to their senses and turn down the lure of Sanders and make Hillary their candidate.

         The Republicans will hopefully turn to Kasich, my personal favorite.  If Trump wins, that will be a great show to watch.

         When it is all over in early November, it is easy to predict that Hillary Clinton very well could be elected our next president. 

         If so, that is really not good news for Wyoming’s fossil fuel economy.


1607 - Good job Broncos and Wyoming tourism, too

Soon, members of the tourism industry in Wyoming will be gathering in Cheyenne to celebrate a banner year, which saw about ten million people visiting the state in 2015, including over 4 million visiting Yellowstone National Park.

         These numbers are spectacular and deserve to be celebrated.

         And while we celebrate our number-two industry we also have to be vigilant that members of the Legislature do not attempt to gut bills that call for Wyoming to spend money promoting tourism.

         While our number-one job producer, the energy sector is struggling, tourism is breaking all-time records.  Tourism not only supports over 30,000 jobs but it brings in millions in sales taxes, lodging taxes, property taxes and other taxes and fees that all add to the state’s economy. Billions of dollars come to Wyoming from outside the state through tourism.

         As I write this, my home state is snow covered and many major highways are closed. We have ice on our driveway in Lander that has been there since Thanksgiving.

         But all that has been in my rear view mirror recently.

         It is 75 degrees here in Las Vegas as I write this.  When I look out the window of my motorhome and see nary one speck of snow and ice, wow, this feels pretty good.

         Soon we will be back home in the snow but for now, I am going to put on some shorts, a tee shirt and some sandals.

         Reason for this trip was to experience the Super Bowl in the one place in America that actually has more visitors during Super Bowl week than the host city.  More than 300,000 people showed up this year.

         Sure, the Super Bowl is old news for now, but for us die-hard Denver Bronco fans, well, let’s live it up!

         Lots of Wyoming folks made it to the actual game.  I saw on Facebook that Dave Bonner and his clan from Powell attended as did retired U. S. Sen. Al Simpson and his male grandchildren from Cody.

         Here in Vegas, the Super Bowl was a marvel. The local newspaper here reported the four largest bets placed on the game were two that were over $1 million, both of which were for the Carolina Panthers.  Two other bets, one for $600,000 and one for $500,000 were for the Broncos.

         I bet a paltry $100 on the Broncos, which should have paid me $175. But I changed my mind and took the point-spread, which thus paid me a reduced $90.90.  This was the only money I won connected with gambling on this trip.

         We watched the game in a sports bar at Circus Circus, which offered a pretty chintzy buffet for $45 each. That was a lot cheaper than other events, which were charging up to $300 per person.

         To me, the game was not much fun. I was still smarting from that debacle two years ago. I watched this game in anxious anticipation of the wheels coming off.

         Once it was over, was it really true?  My favorite team had won the Super Bowl for the first time this century.

         As much fun as it is to watch the Super Bowl in your own home in Wyoming, I might suggest Vegas as an alternative to the real locale of the real game.

         Las Vegas has more than 150,000 hotel rooms and occupancy was over 80 percent during Super Bowl weekend. It was estimated that visitors spent $150 million while here, which I think did not count the gambling.

         Three of my brothers, including Ron from Cheyenne, came out to Vegas while I was there. We were shuttling folks to and from the airport and it was like a speedway making that trip.

         Newest Vegas feature that impressed me the most was the giant Ferris Wheel called The High Roller.  This huge round ride is 55 stories high and has all these pods on it that hold 14 people each.

         It was a high point literally and figuratively.  Strongly recommended.

         Earlier I mentioned Wyoming getting 10 million visitors in 2015.  Las Vegas announced they had 42 million in 2015.

         Biggest hotel in Sin City is the MGM with over 6,000 rooms. We were staying at the RV Park at Circus Circus, a modest resort with just 3,700 rooms.

         Quite a contrast to lonely (and lovely) Wyoming. Being away from our state for a while just reinforces what a pleasure it is to live in the least-populated and most beautiful state in America.


1606 - Congressional race could be a horse race

Picture this:  State Sen. Leland Christensen (R-Alta) is walking the neighborhoods of Worland knocking on doors. It is cold and snowy. He encounters “a friend of a friend” and they talk for 20 minutes.

         This is an example of politics in the least populated state in the country on some of the coldest and shortest days of the year.

         Christensen, like ten others, is seeking nomination for the state’s lone Congressional seat and he is working hard.  He shares his story along with a photo of himself standing on a snowy Worland sidewalk on his Facebook page.

         The reason he is in the race is that after four terms, U. S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis announced she is not running again.  This has opened the door to the many aspirants in Wyoming who feel it is now or never for them to achieve their political ambitions.  Lummis’s announcement came somewhat as a surprise to most of these folks so we are seeing some instantaneous “ready, fire, aim” strategies being employed. Back in my own political days, I always called this “building the airplane while you were flying it.”  Not such a good idea.

         To folks on the national scene looking at Wyoming, this race is a no-brainer.  It is Snow White (Liz Cheney) and the Seven Dwarfs (the other 10 candidates).

But not so fast. The Wyoming primary is a strange cat when it comes to elections.  To paraphrase the ever-quotable former U. S. Senator Al Simpson: “Everything in Wyoming is political, except politics.  That is personal.”

         Luckily for Liz’s fellow candidates, her well-heeled campaign may rely on national experts who will recommend spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on TV advertising.  Now, Wyoming has wonderful local TV stations but the best way to get your message out here is through personal appearances, thoughtful articles and ads in local newspapers and a helluva ground game.

         And yet Cheney may very well develop a good ground game based on the past experience of her campaign manager, County Commissioner Bill Novotny of Buffalo.  Novotny was manager of Gov. Matt Mead’s first campaign, and it brilliantly used a statewide network of local folks working hard in every town, city and county.

         Mead narrowly eked out that primary victory over three strong opponents and has never looked back.

         Interestingly, Novotny was originally touted as one of the front-runners to run as a candidate for this race.  Now he is back in his more familiar role.

         Other candidates besides Christensen and Cheney in this race include State Rep. Tim Stubson (R-Natrona) and eight other folks from various parts of the state and various backgrounds.

         Both Christensen and Stubson have busy records in the State Legislature. Both are soon to learn that being well-known in that august body is a lot different from being well-known across the state.

         Stubson’s recent shortsighted efforts to kill a $33 million infusion of federal dollars for the state’s Medicaid funding could come back and haunt him in a state that is going through a financial crisis. Although some hard-liners appreciated his efforts, the more practical among Wyoming’s voters are appalled at someone turning up his nose at the chance to gain that kind of revenue for the state. Plus, as Gov. Mead says, that was money sent to Washington D.C. by Wyoming taxpayers and now it is going to other states.

         To political junkies, the 2016 House race has irony and drama galore.

         When Cheney ran her aborted campaign in 2013 against U. S. Sen. Mike Enzi, her mother got into a public spat with the aforementioned retired Sen. Simpson at the gala Cody Buffalo Bill Center Patrons Ball.  Lynne Cheney even suggested to Simpson that he “shut up.” Simpson was actively supporting his old pal Enzi against the upstart daughter of his great friend, former Vice-President Dick Cheney.

         This was witnessed by Simpson’s daughter-in-law Debbie Oakley Simpson, who then published it on Facebook for the entire world to see.

         Now, here we are, a little over two years later, and Al has come out in favor of Liz in this race. 

         And Debbie?  She is thrashing Liz again on Facebook. Debbie is critical of Liz and even exposed the first gaffe of the campaign.  When Liz announced her run for the Wyoming House seat on Facebook, she did it from Virginia, where Debbie insists Liz is really from.


Debbie, a Lander girl whom I have known her entire life, is a spirited gal and is married to Al’s son Colin. Colin ran for governor against Mead in that aforementioned race six years ago.

         Yes, folks, Wyoming is a small tight-knit state.  And yes again, politics is personal here in the Cowboy State.

         Stay tuned. This is going to be fun for political junkies but it might be a crazy time for the candidates themselves.