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1619 - Trump, Liz Cheney offer political theatre

When it comes to national and state elections, 2016 will be remembered as a real doozy.

         Most folks I talk with cannot remember a national election campaign like the one that we are witnessing. For two things, there has never been a campaign this long and there has never been one with so many candidates.

         The media is covering it like a sporting event. 

         But it is not.  It has become a Reality Show. Nationally, the Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders campaigns are providing most of the entertainment value. 

Locally, it is Liz Cheney as she tries to prove to Wyoming voters that she is “native enough” to represent the state as she seeks her dad’s old Congressional position.

         She met with our coffee group recently and spoke of the difficulty of running a statewide campaign when she is the mother of five.  She had to miss two of her kids’ prom preparations over in Jackson Hole, for example, as she was on the campaign trail visiting with us.

         She defended her choice of living in Jackson. “When we moved back to Wyoming, I think my mom’s head would have exploded if we had not moved near them,” she exclaimed.

         Her dad, former Vice-President Dick Cheney, has traveled all over Wyoming with one of her daughters so she can compete in  rodeo events.

         Her biggest point, though, was why not send someone to DC with the most policy experience?

         And that is a good argument.  It is the same one used by her dad in his 1978 initial campaign.  Most Wyoming folks instinctively knew that he would stand out from the other incoming freshmen, which he certainly did.

         Liz Cheney, 49, has put together an impressive group of Wyoming folks numbering over 250 across the state who are helping her out. Here in Lander, that included in the formidable Judy Legerski and Darlene Vaughn.

         Getting back to the national front, I must admit that watching the political show is irresistible theatre for me.

         Here is my take of Trump.  He is a tough negotiator and can be a bully.  He belittles his competition and is prone to say amazing insults that leave his competitors gasping. Even tough political types have usually not been through a business negotiation with a bully

         I have.  In my 50 years of business, I have dealt with several Trump-types and they drive you crazy.  These egomaniacs literally ruin your quality of life.

         In both trying to sell a business to someone like this or competing with one in buying a business, well, you know you have been through the wringer.  During the process, you go home and yell at your wife, spank the kids and kick the dog.  Well not quite, but your life is totally controlled by this royal pain in the butt. Yes, I have dealt with Trump-types, and it is just about as unpleasant experience that you can find, outside of war, perhaps

         Folks like Cruz, Rubio, Jeb, Carly, Ben and can all attest to what this experience was like.  There is nothing like it.  And rarely has been there a politician who would do these things publicly like Trump. Privately, sure. But not as public as Trump.

         Folks will long remember “little Marco,” or “low energy Jeb” or John Kasich’s eating style or Carly’s “look at that face,” and on and on.

         Trump’s style is disgusting and hopefully is not an example of campaigns in the future by others.

         On the Democrat side, my friends all are waiting for Hillary Clinton to be indicted.  I doubt it will ever happen and I still rather unenthusiastically believe she will win the presidential election.

         Bernie Sanders has possibly started a movement. He is right that the Middle Class has been badly burned by trade agreements and tax policies that have enriched the top one percent of our country’s population.

         But Bernie’s socialistic plans just fail the smell test. He wants to Europeanize the USA and outside of providing a better system of health care, most of his plans go too far to the left for me.

         But there really is a “feel the Bern” movement going on in America and it could end up biting Hillary where it hurts – the loss of young Democratic voters.

         Biggest question for me is that if we really do have a Hillary-Trump election, will The Donald be able to snatch enough of those angry folks over to his side to sway the election?

         Not likely.


1618 - Does each Wyoming town has its 9 old men?

Back in the 1930s and 1940s, our little town of Lander had a group of crusty old fellows known as “the 9 old men” who pretty much ran things.

         Now keep in mind, in those days Lander was a big town in Wyoming. It was bigger than Gillette, Douglas, Cody, Riverton, Green River, Evanston, Rawlins, Worland, Jackson, Powell and Buffalo.  Today, most of those towns are bigger than Lander or about the same size.

         Our nine old men included Pharmacist George Case,  Hotelier Harold Del Monte, Banker Harold Parks, Publisher Ernest Newton. Dentist Lester Hunt and others.

         This morning and just about every day for the last 45 years, I have been part of a Lander coffee group that meets six days a week. These days, it is affectionately known as “the Fox News All-Stars,” which tells you a little bit about their political persuasion.

         We were reflecting on what those “9 old men” meant to our town recently and we cheerfully (and with our tongues in our cheeks) decided we were the heirs of that old-time august group of city leaders.

         In our dreams.

         Today like most Wyoming cities and towns, Lander is such a mish-mash of different personalities and civic directions, it would be impossible to put the town’s destiny in the hands of any one group.

         I owned and ran the newspaper here for 30 years and always thought it was the most fun media job in the state because of the town’s diversity.  We had tree huggers and tree cutters and everything in-between.  After all, this is the home of the state’s foremost environmentalist Tom Bell and a home of the founder of Wyoming Liberty Group, Susan Gore.  Pretty amazing.

         For years, Fremont County was home to the biggest mining companies in the state like U. S. Steel, U. S. Energy and Western Nuclear and also was home to the largest local for the United Mine Workers of America.  Try getting yourself between those two groups if you want to hear differing opinions.

We can add lots of other examples to show our diversity.  We are home to the notably liberal National Outdoor Leadership School and ultra-conservative Wyoming Catholic College.

         We always had our share of unique individuals with vivid imaginations about what was secretly happening in our mountains and canyons and remote desert locations.

         When former U. S. Sen. Al Simpson would visit Lander he would always leave scratching his head. “Where do all these crazies come from?”  One of the most persistent questions he would get was people’s concern about black helicopters buzzing the mountain valleys.

         Maybe it is in the water.

         So, getting back to the idea of 9 Old Men running our towns, here is a list of some other notable coffee groups around the state:

         Up in Buffalo you have a group that newspaper columnist Sagebrush Sven calls “the bench sitters.”  In Thermopolis, Pat Schmidt refers to the old timers.

         In Casper, Dallas Laird tells me you go to the Cheese Barrel and you can find out what is going on.  I have eavesdropped on some informative discussions at the Wind City Books, where former Gov. Mike Sullivan holds court occasionally. Other groups meet at the Metro Coffee Shop.

         In Cheyenne for years, you could find out what was happening during a cigar smoking session at the Airport Cafe led by Steve Freudenthal.

         The president of Wyoming’s unique “One and Done Club,” Gus Fleischli, also hold forth at a coffee group at a downtown Mexican Restaurant in Cheyenne, I have been told. 

The One and Done Club, by the way, is full of people who have run for statewide office just once and then never again.  Gus is president and I am secretary of that group. We do not meet often enough to qualify as a coffee klatch, though.

In Rock Springs, County Commissioner Wally Johnson is the ringleader of one of the longest-serving coffee groups of 9 Old Men, according to former Wyoming House Speaker Fred Parady, who has been in Alaska for some years now.

In Wheatland, their 9 Old Men reportedly meet at the Tasty Treats Donut Shop.  I personally love that town of Wheatland. Whatever they are doing, they are doing it right.

In my travels, I am always looking for these coffee groups. They can be a true fountain of information and misinformation. They provide better news leads than the local beauty shops. But enough on all that. I need to hurry and finish this column.  It is early in the morning and I sure do not want to miss my coffee group.


1617 - How Lander survived devastation

(Part 2)


         (Note: Last week, we wrote how Lander lost 550 high paying iron ore mining jobs and Fremont County lost 2,000 high-paying uranium-mining jobs in the 1980s. This is how local leaders turned the town around.)


Impartial observers like the late Gov. Ed Herschler would point at Lander as the “worst hit” town in Wyoming during the 1980s depression.  To those of us who lived through it, we certainly agreed with him, although that distinction brought us no solace.

There was work to do. Our progressive Mayor Del McOmie appointed an Economic Development Commission (EDC) in the early 1980s.

         That involved some interesting work, but it was also frustrating. The FDIC had closed one of our most aggressive banks and its president was sent to prison.  It never reopened. Other banks were running tight and didn’t have money to lend to start-up businesses. 

         Our local EDC talked to lots of entrepreneurs but without money few of these folks could get started.

         I went to the mayor and suggested we form a for-profit corporation to provide money for new businesses.

         We called it LEADER Corporation. We recruited 100 people who invested $1,000 apiece.  With this $100,000 nest egg, we launched an effort that over the past 32 years accomplished a lot.

 Our treasurer, Rick Fagnant, estimated LEADER leveraged $4.5 million over the past 32 years, created or saved 200 jobs and helped more than 35 businesses, besides working on every other type of economic development activity imaginable.

         There were many wonderful people who worked to create the Lander Renaissance, such as chamber manager, the late Linda Hewitt. She had heard Bill Schilling talk about Main Street beautification in Cody and decided to duplicate it.     

The Denver Rocky Mountain News sent reporters to Lander to cover how our business district had been decimated.  There were even broken windows in stores on our 300 block, formerly the most expensive real estate in town.  Now, most of those stores were closed.

         It was ghostly, like in “ghost town.” In fact their headline read “Modern Ghost Town” for their news story about Lander’s decline.

         We weren’t ready to give up yet.

         LEADER met every week.  I was the president for the first three years.  It became a support group for the folks who hadn’t left.  I called those weekly meetings “Workaholics Anonymous,” because everyone there was so desperate.

         More than 600 homes were empty, Main Street was almost devoid of operating businesses, our main industries had been shut down for years by then and the future didn’t look much better than the present.

         A targeted industry study determined there were four bright economic opportunities:

         • Government.  Because of Lander’s location, large federal offices like Bureau of Land Management, U. S. Forest Service. U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs and state offices like Game and Fish, not only would be staying, but might even expand.  All did.

         • Outdoor education. Lander is home to the National Outdoor Leadership School.  It was turning into a terrific employer.  Today, it employs 300 people. A few years ago, they finished construction of a $9 million international headquarters under the guidance of their progressive CEO John Gans.

         Medicine.   Despite the economic depression, there were over 85 medical doctors on the staff of the new 107-bed hospital. Medicine continued to be a huge money-generator to the local economy and many doctors invested in other businesses.

         Art. The most interesting loan made in its early days of LEADER was to Monte and Bev Paddleford who founded Eagle Bronze.  Today it’s the largest art foundry in the country.

         The bottom of Lander’s depression probably hit in 1987, when we launched a “Vigorous Retiree Recruitment Program” as a way to find people to buy all those 600 homes. It worked well. The Welcome Wagon said at the end of the first year, more than 99 new people had bought homes.

         The hard-working people of Lander pitched in and made a dream become a reality.  By 1992, author Norman Crampton selected Lander as the number-five best small town in the nation out of the 100 he listed.

         His book was published the following year and Lander was on its way.  The Chamber had over 400 inquiries from outsiders wanting to know about Lander. Soon, most of the houses were sold and Main Street filled up with thriving new businesses.

         The mines had, indeed, closed.  But good people in key positions were able to visualize a bright future that could be created without having to rely on mining. That goal has been accomplished.

         Meanwhile, LEADER continues to meet. You can find me there.



1616 - What to do when all those good jobs vanish

(Part 1 of 2 parts)


         It is a recession when you lose your job. It is a depression when I lose mine. – Old saying.


         With the loss of over 5,000 energy jobs, it should be interesting to readers to read about what happened during the last Wyoming bust at the most mining-oriented town in the state. Here is that story:

         In February 1993, a book was widely quoted around the country, which rated the 100 best small towns in America.

Lander ranked number 5 and was prominently mentioned by the author during a visit to the NBC Today Show and the ABC Good Morning America.

         What was remarkable about this was that just ten years earlier, Lander was mired in possibly the worst depression suffered by any county seat town in Wyoming’s history.

         What civic leaders accomplished in Lander could be used as a model for other cities and towns as they work toward developing communities that aren’t totally reliant on mineral companies for jobs and tax base.

         How Lander coped with these massive job losses and the steps its civic leaders took might be a guide for energy-based cities and towns around Wyoming struggling right now with the loss of 5,500 energy based jobs in the last six months.

         Today, it is hard to imagine that back in the 1980s, Lander had the biggest mining presence of any town in the state.

         Let’s set the scene.

         The big player was a U. S. Steel iron ore mine south of Lander.  More than 550 miners worked there and most were members of the United Steelworkers Union.  A few years earlier, those union members participated in what was hailed as the most generous labor contract ever written.  Those families enjoyed incredibly high wages, courtesy of the union contract, while enjoying the low-cost, outdoorsy Wyoming lifestyle of Fremont County.

         Not long afterward, the contract was viewed as a fiasco at U. S. Steel headquarters in Pittsburgh.  Their company and other American steel companies were getting clobbered in the marketplace by cheap, high-quality steel imported from Japan and Great Britain.

         In the face of this, the company wanted out of that labor contract.  To do this, they had to start getting the union to agree to big concessions.  Where could they start with such a plan?

         Why not little Lander, Wyoming, where a statewide union presence was a minority position and the workers could be persuaded to give in?  Industry leaders thought they could start a domino effect with other union employees around the country.

         As editor-publisher of the local Lander newspaper, I knew the iron mine wouldn’t last forever.  Everyone knew more than ten years of high quality taconite ore were still available when the company started making noises about shutting down. 

         Despite tremendous efforts by state and local officials to convince them to make concessions, the union members wouldn’t budge.  Soon the mine cut back to half its employees. Still, the union wouldn’t budge. Finally, the company announced the mine was closing and immediately sold off all materials to a salvage company.

         It happened so quickly.  The mine was closed. The workers were out of their jobs.

         Then the other shoe dropped.

In the early 1980s, Fremont County enjoyed a tremendous boom when processed uranium ore called yellowcake soared to record prices of $50 per pound.  Mines were created overnight in the Jeffrey City area east of Lander and the Gas Hills area east of Riverton. More than 2,000 men and women were working in those mines and hundreds of other people were working for support companies.

         Property tax valuations soared. Home values went up one and half percent per month for over two years.

         Life was good.

         It all came crashing down fast. When yellowcake prices soared, the utility companies that owned the nuclear reactors went to Congress and asked for restrictions to be removed on the importation of uranium from other countries.

         America immediately exported all those uranium jobs to Australia and Russia. Soon, yellowcake was a glut on the world market and prices dropped under $10 per pound.

         Towns like Jeffrey City, which had grown to 4,000 people with its own high school plus a chamber of commerce, fire department and even its own Lions Club, started to lose people.  

         I even started a newspaper in Jeffrey City, which lasted from 1978 to 1985. Today, the population of Jeffrey City is measured in the dozens.

         Back here in Lander, business leaders had been pretty smug, including this writer.  I had written that Lander was bulletproof when it came to the boom-bust mineral cycles that had plagued other parts of the state over the decades.

Boy was I wrong.

         (Next week: How Lander turned around in ten years).



1615 - Wyoming versus Russian and Saudi Arabia

As a state that relies on fossil fuels for much of its economic success, it is interesting to equate Wyoming’s energy job recession with nations with a similar destiny such as Russia and Saudi Arabia.

         Here in Wyoming, the recent layoffs in the Powder River Basin coal mines and at railroads that haul our coal, plus steep declines in oil and natural gas prices, have sent shock waves throughout the state’s economy.  Until those coal jobs were lost, the state seemed to be more concerned about losses of tax revenue. But when over a thousand people actually lose their high-paying jobs, well, the dreaded reality strikes with a heavy hand. And more layoffs are coming.

         Former President Bill Clinton told some Cheyenne folks recently that being in Wyoming discussing the new energy reality for America was like talking about “Stage IV cancer.” So true.

         It appears that much of the rest of the United States seems to be doing well. The USA is doing better than Europe, China, Japan and other parts of the world. It is unpalatable here in Wyoming to give Barack Obama any credit for this. But somehow the country, as a whole, has figured out a way to rise out of the ashes of the 2008 worldwide recession to restore economic growth.

         Since the last bust of 1983-1998, Wyoming’s solution to relying so much on fossil fuels has been to diversify its economy. This has worked well in places like Cheyenne, Laramie, Sheridan, Lander, Jackson, Afton, Powell, Buffalo, Evanston, Cody and others.  Not so well in other places.

         After looking closely at Wyoming, let’s also look around the world at countries dealing with similar fossil fuel situations.

         Try to imagine how Russia is coping.

         U. S. Sen. John McCain is no fan of that country and its leader Vladimir Putin when he calls it “a gas station pretending to be a country.”  Putin has personally amassed billions and his country has billions more in reserves, thanks to all the good times they had, selling oil and natural gas to Europe so far in the 21st century.

         But now they are reeling and tumbling backwards.  There appears to be no economic hope for Russia.  They have no Plan B.  An overthrow of Putin could happen because of their economic dependence on selling fossil fuels. It is mighty hard to sell a high-priced product in a low-priced market. Sound familiar?

         It is even more interesting in the Middle East.

The big international villain there is Saudi Arabia. Their leaders are the ones putting so much oil into the world market that prices have crashed and American states like Wyoming, Alaska and North Dakota are hurting terribly. But the Saudi royal family has a different agenda. They want to hurt their rival Iran, which thanks to the recent nuclear treaty and the ending of sanctions now can sell its oil on the world market.

         A closer look at the Saudis tells an amazing story. They want to get out of the oil business.  Their plan is to sell their oil interests for trillions of dollars and use that money to make investments around the world that will sustain their royal richlings far into the distant future.  Even they are sick of the boom-bust cycle of fossil fuels. Perhaps their actions foretell better than any other indicator that some kind of end may be near for fossil fuels, worldwide.

         Such an indicator is not good news for Wyoming folks who want to believe the fossil fuel prices will bounce back.  They always have in the past, right? I sure hope they do.

         We have been proud of the fact that if Wyoming were a country it would be one of the largest energy exporting country in the world sending energy BTUs to the rest of the USA.  We are, and continue to be, the energy breadbasket of America.

         But worldwide fears of climate change caused by CO2 emissions and oppressive government policies by the Obama administration over the last seven years have had a huge effect on the present situation.  Those fears and actions give real cause to worry about the economic future of fossil fuels and our state’s dependence on them to energize (pun, intended) our local economy.

         Perhaps that oft-quoted bumper sticker makes more sense today, both worldwide and locally, than ever: “Please, Lord, give me one more boom. This time I promise not to piddle it away.”