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1635 - Keeping up with Mike and Diana Enzi

Not sure how to weave Donald Trump, Kim Kardashian and the First Lady serving duck at a Native American event into a column, but here goes:

         It had been a while since my wife Nancy and I spent any time with U. S. Sen. Mike Enzi and his wife Diana, but we shared a quick breakfast during their visit to Lander on primary election day Aug. 16.

         As usual, Mike was full of news.  Most interesting is the fact that GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump has been reaching out to members of the Senate for key staff members to assist his campaign team. Mike loaned him a budget expert and others had made similar loans in other specialties.

         As much as we enjoy talking with Mike, learning Diana’s take on things can often be a hoot. 

         First, she told us that she was getting ready to pick up some new glasses and then noticed a name on the inside of the frames. “What brand is this?” she asked the clerk. “It is a Kardashian brand, ma’am,” the clerk replied. “I refuse to support those people being slutty,” she recalls saying.

         First Lady Michelle Obama was being honored at an event honoring Native Americans, which the Enzis attended. The luncheon is one the Senate spouses sponsor in honor of the First Lady. She does not participate in the planning. She just attends.  The chair chose the venue, which was the National Museum of the American Indian. Diana was on the tasting committee. Foods to be served would be foods Native Americans would have eaten.

“The catering company prepared dishes that were very fancy and nicely presented. The main entree was duck cooked like you would have it at the French restaurant. I questioned that and asked why we were not serving bison or beef. I was told beef was becoming obsolete because there is not enough land to support them a result of global warming!” 

         The Enzis travel the state more than just about anyone I know. They have their home back in Washington, D.C., but love their home in Gillette, where they have lived for over 40 years.

         They were able to spend 22 sporadic days in that house this past year, which was an all-time record since Mike became a U. S. Senator.

         It is fun to recall Enzi’s first election to the Senate back in 1996. He told me a little-known anecdote about that election campaign, in which he was running neck-to-neck with John Barrasso, who later became a U. S. Senator, too.

         The race was close but the national GOP folks thought Barrasso would win. So they showed up at Barrasso’s campaign party with a huge check showing the money they were going to contribute to his general election campaign.  When it became obvious that Barrasso was going to lose, they scratched out Barrasso’s name on the check, bolted out of Casper and headed to Gillette to give it to Enzi. Enzi won that primary with 27,056  votes compared to Barrasso’s 24,918 votes, a tiny 2,138 vote margin. 

         To show you just how congenial Wyoming folks are, back in 1996, Barrasso immediately signed up to help run Enzi’s general election campaign.  The rest was history.

         During his 20 years in the senate, Enzi says he and his staff have solved 13,000 problems that have come to his office as requests from Wyoming citizens.  He encouraged people with any kind of problem, ranging from a lost military medal to serious government issues, to contact one of his offices or his staff. He sees about a dozen groups or individuals from Wyoming on any typical day in Washington.

         He is proud of his work to create the Sacajawea Dollar coin. He says coins like this can save the government a billion dollars as the cost to replace dollar bills is painfully expensive.

         As head of the budget committee in the U. S. Senate, he feels he needs to show accountability. His office gets a nice allowance. He turns 20 percent of it back to the U. S. Treasury each year.  

         During Enzi’s talk later that day, he said that an OPEC guru had talked to the senators about how they determine the price of oil worldwide.  Based on that conversation, he thinks that when the USA drops to just 400 rigs drilling, the prices will start to climb.

         A few years ago during the heyday of the boom, there were more than 4,000 rigs drilling.


1634 - Reflections on elections, primary 2016

The biggest political mystery to me over recent years is who in the world convinced Liz Cheney to go after incumbent Mike Enzi in the 2014 U. S. Senate race?

         Ranking as probably the single worst political decision in Wyoming history, it resulted in embarrassment for Ms. Cheney, as the immensely popular Enzi appeared to be on his way to crushing her by a gigantic margin.

         Then, a family health crisis intervened and Liz dropped out to the relief of just about everybody in Wyoming.

         Last fall, she decided to try running for a Wyoming national office again. This time she ran for the open seat being vacated by U. S. Representative Cynthia Lummis, which made a lot more sense. 

Cheney won overwhelmingly in the Aug. 16 primary and should easily win the general election against Ryan Greene of Rock Springs. If so, she will head to Congress as an immensely popular national figure.  She will proudly occupy the seat held by her dad, former Vice-President Dick Cheney who held the office from 1979 to 1990.

         Perhaps that was the seat Liz should have sought in 2014?  Although Cynthia Lummis is popular, she had nowhere near the stature of Enzi.  Cheney could have given Lummis a good run.

         It’s a moot point now.

Somebody, somewhere, convinced Liz to run against Enzi.  Perhaps she was listening to her Fox News co-stars, who really have no idea of how things work out here in Wyoming.

As former U. S. Sen. Al Simpson says: “In Wyoming, politics is personal.” This time around, Liz ran a very personal campaign with hundreds of friends stumping the state for her.

         Some people might say what I have written here is old news but it really isn’t.  Even in today’s instant gratification, 24-hour news cycle, that decision Cheney made to run against Enzi looks just as stunningly bad today as it did way back then.

         That was then and this is now.

         We correctly picked Cheney to win the recent primary and even tried to guess the number of votes she would get.  We predicted she would win and would get 22,433 votes. She blew everyone away and earned 35,668 votes.

         I must have been assuming a tiny turnout, as we predicted there would be a total of 78,728 votes cast statewide. There were 89,959.

         We did correctly pick the order of the four top candidates.

         Leland Christensen, Alta, came on strong at the end to finish second.  He earned 19,590 votes. We predicted he would get 21,789.

         Casper’s Tim Stubson finished third with 15,608 votes. We thought he would get 20,625.

         Cheyenne’s Darin Smith finished fourth and received 13,687 votes. We had predicted he would get just 5,421.  He called me on election night to rub it in that he had gotten more votes than what we had predicted. This is not the last time we will see the Cheyenne politician in a statewide race.

         Laramie UW Historian Phil Roberts is touting Democrat Greene in the general election against Cheney. He calls him “a Herschler Democrat.” I give Greene about 1:50 odds of beating Cheney. I should bet a steak dinner on this race with Phil, even though I will need to give him some points. Lots of points.

         There were some interesting results around the state. Lots of excitement in Cheyenne where the headline in the Tribune-Eagle read, “Cheyenne will elect its first woman mayor,” as Marian Orr and Amy Surdam topped the primary to move to the general. Finishing third was long-time legislator Pete Illoway, who was thought to be the front-runner. We like all three of these folks but there was not a lot of love lost among them, as Election Day got closer.

         This statewide column came about because former Cheyenne Editor Reed Eckhardt asked me to start writing it 14 years ago.  This year, he decided to try his hand at politics. He finished third in the Ward 1 Councilman primary race and advances to the general election. He will be fantastic if elected.

         Also in Cheyenne, Larry Wolfe waged a vigorous campaign to unseat Bob Nicholas but lost in the primary.

         Up in Sheridan, long-time legislator Rosie Berger was beaten pretty soundly.  No sure why. I always admired Rosie.

         In Jackson, Sara Flitner and Pete Muldoon will move to the general for the mayor’s seat.  Vote totals were very close, which surprised me, as I think Sara is one of the most effective mayors in the state.

1633 - A reunion of old journalists

Back in 1978, I hired a group of young men in their mid-20s who all grew up to be powerhouse publishers. But back then, they were raw, ambitious and a handful to deal with, for sure.

         My wife Nancy and I recently both enjoyed and endured hearing about some of those earliest Wyoming experiences during a mini-reunion of some of these former colleagues here in Lander.

         Recalling those early Wyoming days of the late 1970s was like going back in a time machine and experiencing them all over again.  Yet, here I was talking about these events to a bunch of gray-haired, grizzled fellows instead of those youthful strapping young men of yore.

         That group at the old Wyoming State Journal in Lander (now known as the Lander Journal) won a boatload of state and national awards and all went on to sterling careers.

         Attending were Bruce McCormack, recently retired publisher from the Cody Enterprise and Stephen Woody and his wife Susan, he is the publisher of the Sheridan Press.  Mark Raymond and his wife Paulette drove over from Carson City, NV, where he lives, after retiring as publisher of that capital city daily newspaper.

         Dropping by was 62-year old Walter Cumming, who recently retired as cartoonist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where he has been working for the past 28 years. It was an amazing coincidence that he was in town –it was the only time we ever had a staff artist.

         Bart Smith, publisher of the Greeley Tribune, could not make it because of back surgery. Staff photographer Jeff Moscow, who is now an acclaimed oncologist in Washington, D. C. was busy saving lives and could not make it nor could Bill Kunerth, former publisher in Fairbanks, AK and Bob Krumm, a former publisher in Ohio.

         These folks are among the 21 men and women who worked on our old Journal staffs who went on to become publishers all over the nation. 

         Back in 1978, we covered stories like the historical 36-inch autumn blizzard that fell on Nov. 3.  It totally paralyzed the town and the area.

         We also covered an infamous trial where a young man was accused (but found not guilty) of killing Beverly Bright at the institution then known as the Wyoming State Training School. Gerry Spence defended Albert Hancock here in Lander in the longest criminal trial in the state’s history up to that time. It was seven weeks long.

         Publishing newspapers back then 30-plus years ago was much different than the media is today.

         Because the media then had such a grip on controlling the news flow, there truly was a high ethical tradition that came with that responsibility.  Today, the publishers I know still maintain those high ethics but I worry that a cynical public is just not so sure anymore.  That is what happens when the Internet intrudes, Social Media evolves and cable TV news channels show little regard for such trivialities as doing the right thing.

         Now here we all were, talking about our grandkids, our RVs and our aches and pains. McCormack is probably the fittest of the group. He still skis, surfs and drives his Harley all over the country. Woody is a cancer survivor, but doing well. Raymond has a hearing aid, which reminded Nancy that she thinks I am due for one.

         We sat on our deck talking about those old stories, old colleagues and once in awhile launching into some philosophical topic.  Mark even recalled sneaking off during lunch and going fly-fishing in the Popo Agie outside of Lander.

         The conversation naturally gravitated to the national political races and it was pretty unanimous that these veteran reporters, to a man, had never seen anything in their lives like the current presidential race.

         That evening, it was just the Raymonds and Sniffins still here so we went to the famous Svilar’s Steakhouse in Hudson for a wonderful meal.

Mark reminded me that it was almost exactly 38 years ago that we had picked them up at the Riverton airport. On our way back to Lander we stopped in Hudson and had the biggest steak he had ever seen there at Svilar’s. Who would have thought back then that here we would be today, in the same place, probably having a similar steak and maybe even sitting in the same booth?

         A lot of water has gone under the bridge since those youthful days. Makes a person get a bit wistful.



1632 - Funny ad might hurt Cheney, other Wyo news

While I had earlier predicted Liz Cheney, Wilson, will win the Wyoming GOP nomination for U. S. House, now she is enduring being on the butt end of a funny commercial by her competitor State Sen. Leland Christensen, Alta.

         Christensen has a long social media post about what he considers to be the three biggest mysteries he is aware of. He equates Liz with the Lochness Monster and Bigfoot as “rarely seen” imaginary legendary creatures. He contends she is not “indigenous” to Wyoming and can only be seen here every two years. Then he explains how she has raised $1.2 million in places like New York City and Chicago, one, which required a $5,000 entry fee. He compares that to a bake sale his mother staged for him for free.

         You can probably find it on his web site, YouTube or Facebook.

         This ad reminds me of a legendary ad produced by Malcolm Wallop when he ran defeated incumbent U. S. Senator Gale McGee. That ad showed a cowboy riding the high prairie with a packhorse bearing a portable toilet, as an example of federal government over-reach.

         Christensen’s ad has spawned some severe criticism from Cheney backers, who felt he should not have used humor but, in fact, should have spent his money talking about ideas and policies.

         But then again, the ad is pretty funny . . .

         But enough about politics.  Over in Pinedale, this could have ended up being a B-A-A-A-D situation.

         UPS driver Landon Wigginton returned to his big brown truck following a delivery and found it filled with curious sheep. Only in Wyoming.

         Did you see that movie The Hateful Eight by Quentin Tarantino?  It was planned to be photographed in Wyoming and is purported to have occurred here.

         It took place in a very cold place on a very cold day. Those warm and fuzzy buffalo coats being worn in the movie came from Merlin’s Hide Out in Thermopolis. 

Kurt Russell plays a mean bounty hunter in the movie and his big buffalo coat was designed to make him look as big and menacing as possible.

I stopped in and visited with Merlin and Barb Heinze awhile back. She said she looked at more than 300 hides before picking out the 16 hides needed for the movie.

 Barb showed me a coat that was special ordered by the actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Later he was pictured in Thermop  trying it on.

         Anyway, quite a little business Merlin’s has going there. They ship 400 buffalo hides a year in various designs. Wonderful coats. At $3,000 each, wish I could afford one!

         Some years ago, hang gliding was a big sport around the country and especially in Wyoming with our high mountains and consistent winds.

         In 1989, Casper native Kevin Christopherson set the world record for longest hang gliding trip.  The record still stands.       

         He launched from 9,225-foot high Whiskey Peak some 40 miles north of Rawlins and landed 287 miles later in North Dakota. This is the world record for longest foot launched hang gliding ride.

         He later was chairman of the Natrona County School board.

         I think old J. C. Penney would be spinning in his grave if he knew about what has happened to his famous chain of stores in recent years.

         As most folks know, James Cash Penney started his first Golden Rule store in Kemmerer, Wyoming.  It really took off from there and became one of the great retail chains of all time known as the J. C. Penney Co.

         In recent years, the company hired an idiot to turn it around and he almost destroyed it. He was fired and now it is weakly trying to regain some traction.  The JCP store in Rock Springs was recently closed but I noticed the one in downtown Sheridan is still going.

         I went through a prolonged struggle with them over service charges they piled on about a bill for a “free” magazine subscription. What a clueless company.  We finally got it resolved but I kept thinking about old J. C. and how he might have handled the situation, especially following his famous “golden rule.”

         Re-runs are appearing on the popular cable show Naked and Afraid, which include a well-known Dubois man Joe Brandl.

         He performed very well in that crazy show which features a man and woman naked for 21 days in the wilderness someplace armed with just one tool apiece.

         Brandl made Wyoming proud.

1631 - We predict it will be Cheney by a nose

If this were a horse race, the announcer might say that front-runner Liz Cheney of Wilson is holding off challenger Leland Christensen of Alta on the last turn while early leader Tim Stubson of Casper is still running hard but might be starting to fade.

         But it is not a horse race.

         This is the race for Wyoming’s lone Congressional seat and there are eight men and one woman working very hard to convince voters that each is the best person for the job.

         This is the most interesting statewide race in the 2016 primary election. With the backdrop of the declining Wyoming economy, the emphasis on this election has not been as sharp as in previous years.

         After a bit of deliberation and a lot of imagination, here is what I foresee as vote totals for the predicted 78,728 votes in this Aug. 16 Republican primary for our lone seat in the U. S. House of Representatives:

         Liz Cheney – 22,433

         Leland Christensen – 21,789

         Tim Stubson – 20, 625

         Darin Smith – 5,421

         Mike Konsmo – 2,363

         Jason Senteney – 2,267

         Heath Beaudry – 1,543

         Paul Paad – 1,275

         Rex Rammell – 1,012

         By now, three conclusions have become abundantly clear to these candidates in the last weeks of the campaign:

         First, Wyoming is so doggone big. I ran a statewide campaign in 2002 and even had my own airplane. We also put on 50,000 miles on our cars and still could not come close to blanketing the state. We started out an underdog and finished up on election night an underdog.

         Second, the Republican primary election is a much different beast than the general election. Most candidates succumb to the lure of running a statewide campaign in the primary, which can cost you a lot of money and valuable momentum. There are fewer voters going to the polls in the primary but these voters are the key members of the party. It takes years of dedicated service by yourself or your family to attain access to these folks. Liz Cheney’s credentials as a member of one of the most important political families in Wyoming history has given her a huge advantage in this race when it comes to primary campaigning.

         Third, you lose control of your schedule.  Way back in December and January you can set your own program and yet it seems like no one is listening.  When you finally get your message organized, then parades, county fairs and events like Frontier Days in Cheyenne fill up your schedule. Instead of the crowd finding you, you go where the crowds are.

         With Wyoming being the most Republican of all 50 states, this race is going to be decided during the primary.  Whoever wins the primary will also win in the general election in November.

         We have enjoyed meeting these candidates over the past eight months as they have crisscrossed the state. With Lander being in the west-central part of the state, we get to see them often. 

         Liz Cheney is always professional when she drops by the Fox News All-Stars coffee group.  When she came by during her unfortunate campaign against U. S. Sen. Mike Enzi a few years ago, she had hired hands with her.  This time, she brought in a couple of local gal powerhouses. She learned from the last run that she needs her local team when she is stumping locally, an effective strategy.

         Leland Christensen is a smart and effective state senator with a ton of experience. He also brings along enough “good old boy” attitude to be very disarming.  Who could possibly dislike Leland? If there was no candidate in the race named Cheney, it is easy to predict him as the winner.

         Tim Stubson looks like a lawyer, talks like a lawyer and campaigns like a lawyer.  In a Wyoming primary, not sure why, but that might hurt his chances to win here.  We see him finishing third.

         Darin Smith of Cheyenne is a late hard-charger that had he gotten some early momentum, might have moved into one of the top three spots but too little, too late.

         Rex Rammell of Gillette had run a confusing campaign and has dropped out. He loved to talk about when he ran a domestic elk farm in Idaho.  Not sure that is a good tack to get votes here in Wyoming.

         The rest of the pack are nice folks and we sure appreciate them running for office in Wyoming.  Tell them all thanks when you see them.