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1649 - The very, very last word on 2016 politics

Welcome to the Cowboy State – home of the most powerful voters in America.

         And these voters care a lot about voting too, as record numbers turned out on Nov. 8.  Some counties like Laramie, Fremont and Johnson recorded 100 percent turnouts of registered voters. This is amazing in a country where barely half of the eligible voters turned out.

         Because we have the smallest population of any state in America, it takes just 187,923 voters in Wyoming to cast a single electoral vote. In California it takes 677,355 voters to generate a single electoral vote.

         Some 22 of Wyoming’s 23 counties voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. The only exception was Teton County.  It has been estimated that 84 percent of the counties in the country voted for Trump. This includes a lot of empty space. Heavily populated counties in the big cities and on the coasts voted big for Hillary but under laws established by our constitution, the winner is declared by getting to 270 electoral votes first.  Trump did that easily. It was a runaway.

Trump got over two-thirds of the votes cast in Wyoming, the highest percent of any of the 50 states,

         So why did Trump win the national election?

         Just days after the national election, two smart journalists gave a keynote speech to Gov. Matt Mead’s Wyoming Business Forum on what they thought was the primary reason for why Hillary lost.

         James Fallows and his wife described the Trump voters they had met across the country.  They had been working for three years traveling the country talking to folks in America’s small cities and towns.

         It was a not just a bunch of gun-toting, beer belly white guys coming out of the woodwork to vote for Trump, they explained. What they found was that small town people were all satisfied with their local and state governments but were leery and distrustful of the national government.

         The Fallows felt this Trump vote reflected a pent-up anger against the national establishment that caused millions of people to cast votes for Trump. Hillary represented what was wrong back in Washington, D. C. and these citizens were ready for something different, even if it was as crazy as the Trump candidacy.

         Two issues that did not get much press seemed to me to cause discomfort for people who were considering voting for Hillary Clinton.

         The first was the emphasis on Hillary’s support of third-term abortions, where pretty much a live baby is killed by the procedure. This came out in the last debate and Hillary was steadfast in her support for such actions.  Trump was not. To a great number of people, abortion is still a dominating issue and that discussion spelled doom for thousands of potential Clinton voters.

         The second issue came from another speaker at the Business Forum, writer Mike Allen from the web site Politico.

         He said that a tremendous number of people were turned off by President Obama’s emphasis on forcing schools and institutions to create transgender bathrooms. “Some people just felt this was being stuffed down their throats,” he said.

         He said the election was so close it was some of these seemingly not so major issues that piled up votes for Trump against Hillary, which spelled her defeat in rural areas. As stated earlier, although not as many people live in these places, their votes still count big, especially in small states like Wyoming.

         My last words on the election concern whether journalists can make good political candidates. 

         I have a little experience here, running in a statewide contest back in 2002 and not faring so well.

         In the early part of the 21st Century, the two most powerful editors in Wyoming were Dan Neal of the Casper Star Tribune and D. Reed Eckhardt of the Cheyenne Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

         Both are amazing men, great writers and champions of good government. And both lost on Nov. 8 in their first tries at public office.

         Neal lost a race for State Representative after running a vigorous campaign in Natrona County. Alas, he ran as a Democrat and in most places in Wyoming that spells doom.

         In Cheyenne, Eckhardt ran for City Council. It was a spirited race and I thought for sure he would win. Not so. He lost.

         Not sure what the lesson here is, if indeed there really is one.

         I know for sure that I am never running again. But I hope that these two do.

1648 - Here are my favorite Wyoming movies

With our nights getting longer and colder, this gives me an excuse to watch my favorite movies that take place in our state, feature our state or include themes about Wyoming.

         Here is my list of favorites:

         Most recently, the best movie of the year according to the Academy Awards was The Revenant, which has over-riding Wyoming themes with much of it filmed as if it were here.  A very cold, wintry Wyoming was depicted.

         Other western movies dominate these selections.  In Hollywood jargon, cowboy movies were often called “oaters.” Most of these on this list are much better than run-of-the-mill cowboy flicks.

         The two best of this genre are Unforgiven and Shane, filmed decades apart but both portraying Wyoming as the often-tough place that it can be. Clint Eastwood directed and starred in Unforgiven, which was named Best Picture of the Year in 1992.  Shane was made back in the 1953 in Jackson Hole with Alan Ladd playing the good guy. The American Film Institute ranks the two movies 4th and 3rd on the all-time list of greatest westerns.

         It would be interesting to watch these two movies, back-to-back.  The style of acting, directing and photography changed dramatically over that 40-year period. The over-acting in Shane is distracting.  And typically the plot is much simpler.  But I love that call at the end of Shane: “Come back, Shane. come back.”

         My personal favorite movie that features the Cowboy State as locale is Once Upon A Time In The West. It features Charles Bronson and Henry Fonda. A lengthy visual treat.  Its musical score is, by far, the best of any movie ever made about Wyoming.   It is also the best spaghetti western of all time, filmed in fictional Sweetwater, Wyoming.

         The Hateful Eight by director Quentin Tarantino was in theatres earlier this year and included scenes purportedly in the Cowboy State. Tarantino’s earlier movie Django Unchained had very chilly winter scenes that were filmed in Jackson Hole.

Moviegoers saw some amazing Wyoming footage in the movie 2012, which featured some of the best special effects ever.  If you ever worried about Yellowstone blowing up, well, there it is – right there on the big screen.

         Brokeback Mountain was a huge hit in 2005. Although filmed in Canada instead of Wyoming, it portrays our state in a beautiful way.  Wyoming’s Annie Proulx wrote it. It featured the second best musical score for movies on this list.

         One of our favorite movies of this genre is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which stars Robert Redford and Paul Newman.  Wyoming places are mentioned throughout.

         The most famous science fiction movie filmed here was Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a huge success by director Stephen Spielberg. Much of the action features Devils Tower.  Rated one of the best sci-fi movies of all time.

Starship Troopers was a huge hit and featured scenes from Hell’s Half Acre near Casper.

         If you like Coen Brothers movies, then watch Red Rock West, a very entertaining movie with lots of odd twists. It was actually made by the Dahl brothers and uses Wyoming as a locale.  Another terrific movie is An Unfinished Life written by a Cody author Mark Spragg.

         Flicka and The Horse Whisperer have strong Wyoming connections and are high-quality oaters for horse lovers and more.

         A funny movie called Did You Hear About The Morgans takes place in Wyoming when a mobster couple is hiding out in the Cowboy State.

         If you want a real treat, watch Heartland.  Be sure to get the 1979 version starring Rip Torn and Conchata Ferrell. Based on a book written about homesteading in southwest Wyoming years ago, it is amazing. And yes, this is the same Conchata who plays the loud-mouthed housekeeper in the TV series Two and a Half Men. A gritty movie that is long on amazing scenes and short of dialogue.

         A fantastic and sobering movie is Taking Chance, which is about Marines returning the body of Chance Phelps, a young Dubois man killed in Iraq.

         Broken Trail starring Robert Duvall takes place at the Lander Cutoff just south of the Wind River Mountain Range.  Monte Walsh starring Tom Selleck is set in fictional Antelope, Wyoming.

         Other movies nominated by friends included Spencer’s Mountain, Cat Ballou, Jubal, Hellfighters, Cheyenne Autumn, The Man From Laramie, The Mountain Men, Hallelujah Trail, Tom Horn, A Day on Teton Marsh, Heavens Gate and The Johnson County War.

         These are my favorite Wyoming-themed movies. What are yours?

1647 - How about those Pokes!

During University of Wyoming home football games, War Memorial Stadium in Laramie becomes the fifth largest city in the state.

         And just about every one of those fans on Saturday, Nov. 19, was jumping for joy after a big cliffhanger victory. It has been a long, long time since Wyoming sports fans could enjoy their UW Cowboys sporting an 8-3 record. 

         I am writing this on Nov. 19. We have a lot to cheer about.

         The Cowboys are pretty much guaranteed to play in a bowl game, and as of this moment, have a legitimate chance to win their division of the Mountain West conference.

         Coach Craig Bohl has put together a team of superstars named Brian Hill, Josh Allen, Carl Granderson and Tanner Gentry plus a host of others who seem to be playing over their heads. These are strong-minded young men who never quit and who have a knack for winning close games. They have played six overtime periods so far this year- - probably more than any other team in the country. They won one three-overtime game against Northern Illinois and lost one three-overtime game against UNLV.

         Over the last decade there has been some talk around Wyoming about how maybe our team should no longer be Division I. We are the smallest populated state in the country, and with the economy tightening, perhaps all that money being spent on our football team just does not meet the reality check.

         Bohl’s team this year has changed that. You rarely hear downsizing ideas from anyone.

         Earlier this year, their win over number-13 ranked Boise State 30-28 propelled the Cowboys into the limelight.  Then on Nov. 19, they knocked off number-24 ranked San Diego State, 34-33.  Wow, what a game. I was one of the 19,112 people there and the electricity was palpable.

         After trailing most of the game, the Cowboys pulled off the upset.  They outplayed the Aztecs but gave up two big kickoff return touchdowns that just about spelled their doom.

         It had been a while since I had attended a football game in person and it is always surprising to see the “TV timeouts,” which always makes you look around wondering what is going on? At home in front the tube, of course, you are not aware of these unusual delays.

         On Nov. 28, the Cowboys play a critical game against New Mexico, the result of which we believe will be a win, but this column is written before that game.

         But perhaps their 69-66 loss to UNLV might have been the most exciting game in the country this year.  It missed by just one point of being the highest scoring football game in recent Division I history. That game included two of the best catches in Wyoming history by Gentry. They were highlighted as top plays of the week of ESPN’s Sports Center show.

         The game on Nov. 19 in Laramie against San Diego State provided a watershed moment for a team trying to prove to everybody that they are the real deal. SDSU came into the game with a sparkling 9-1 record and had outscored its conference opponents by a margin of 226-42. Yet they had been pretty much ignored all across the country by the sports writers.

         It was Wyoming’s hope that the warm-blooded Aztecs arriving in Laramie from sea level to an elevation of 7,220 feet would give the Cowboys the extra power they needed to pull off an incredible upset.

         What was most surprising about the game was that the weather was almost San Diego-like. With these sea level-dwelling, warm weather characters invading our turf, the least we could have done was throw them 40 mph winds and -20 wind chill.  At game time, it was 55 degrees and the American Flag flying in the south end zone was limp.  Limp! Dedicated Wyoming fans came dressed in the familiar parkas while I saw a few dressed in shorts.  Wow.

         It appears to me that Craig Bohl will soon be seeing his last name spelled “bowl” by Wyoming fans.

         Under the discussion topic of trivia, was this the first time in history that the football team played SDSU (San Diego State U.) in the afternoon and then the basketball team played another SDSU (South Dakota State U.) that evening. Quite a coincidence to folks who keep track of such trivia.

         The 2016 Cowboys are possibly playing the most amazing and interesting football in the school’s history
1646 - Welcome to Donald Trump Country

Wyoming got good economic news early Wednesday morning with the national election of Donald Trump as president and Liz Cheney as our new U. S. Representative.

         Sometimes when you live out here on the frontier, you could assume that what happens in a presidential election probably would not have much impact on your small-populated rural state.

         Not so.

         For example, the two candidates for President in the Nov. 8 election had strikingly different plans concerning some big ideas for a state like Wyoming.

         For Wyoming’s economic benefit, the winner was Trump, who has claimed to favor existing energy forms such as coal and has been a vocal opponent of the concept of global warming.

         The loser, Hillary Clinton, was constantly quoted as saying she was going to put coal mines out of business. As the country’s biggest exporter of coal, her words were not welcome in the Cowboy State.

         I recently joined 500 other Wyomingites from all ends of the state at the annual Governor’s Business Forum, held in Cheyenne. Most of us expected this to be a solemn funeral-like event in the wake of the expected election of Clinton.  The conference, like the state, is dominated by the energy industry. Instead, it was a very upbeat event with smiles all around. Happy days may be here again.

         Sure, our energy industry is still in the pits but with a Trump Presidency and, more importantly, the demise of an Obama-Clinton attack on fossil fuels, the future looks brighter than it did on Nov. 7.

         Before going much farther, I often get criticism when I sometimes seem to blindly support Wyoming’s energy industries and also seem to ignore the obvious fact that something is happening when it comes to climate change.  My mind is much more open than columns like this might indicate, but the thrust here is the need to salvage energy jobs and looking out for the best for the state’s immediate financial future.

         Two folks in Wyoming who appear to be on President-elect Trump’s radar are Foster Friess and Robert Grady both of Jackson. Foster was an early and consistent backer of the new President and the billionaire will have something to stay about policy in the new administration.

         Grady is already being discussed as a possible Secretary of Interior. Retiring U. S. Representative Cynthia Lummis is also being mentioned for the post.

         A third Wyomingite who will be important to the Trump administration is Liz Cheney, who as a new representative will have influence that far outweighs those of any other newly elected Congressperson.

         Our two U. S Senators will have tremendous influence. Trump had earlier reached out to Mike Enzi. Our senior senator helped provide the Trump organization with a number of key budget staffers as the transition team prepares for life after the Jan. 20 inauguration.

         U. S. Sen. John Barrasso is already moving up in the leadership in the Senate and will hold key committee positions going forward.

         Had Clinton won, our folks would have been in a frustrating place. With Trump as President, our state’s influence will be way out of proportion to our small population.  This is very good news.

         Now this is my post-election reflections column so here are some more comments:

         • My wife Nancy and I recently returned from a 10-state, 4,100-mile, six-week road trip in our motorhome.  We did not see a single Hillary sign along the way.  We saw probably 100 Trump signs.  I found that foretelling.

         • Two of the most interesting mayor races in Wyoming were at opposite ends of the state.  In Jackson, incumbent Sara Flitner lost by 38 votes.  Too bad. She was terrific.  In Cheyenne, that community could not lose as two great young gals in Marian Orr and Amy Surdam ran for the top city office. Orr won with 55 percent of the vote.

         • Two losers in the election cycle were longtime Democrat Mary Throne of Cheyenne and longtime Republican Gerald Gay of Casper. Throne was terrific and is a huge loss. Gay made some horrible comments about women earlier this year and paid the price.

         • I was right in my predictions about Trump trouncing Hillary here in Wyoming as he beat her by more than 3:1.  No state favored Trump in the entire country more than Wyoming.

         • Phil Roberts will collect a steak dinner from me as I thought Liz Cheney would top Ryan Greene by 3:1.  It was just 2:1.  Super hard for a Democrat to win in Wyoming.

1645 - A modern story about Don Quixote`s windmills

Just about any sunny afternoon of the year, the famous (and infamous) Wyoming wind blows its hardest across the high prairie. While it has been cursed millions of times for its velocity and consistency this is, in fact, an economic blessing for the people of the state.

         And it is during mid-afternoon when the demand is highest for electricity in hot places like southern California, Arizona and Nevada.

         State legislatures in states like those have been turning to renewable energy sources like solar and wind in recent years as a way to cut down on pollution, which they think is caused partially by power plants using fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. Wyoming is the country’s leading producer of coal and one of the largest producers of natural gas.

         Meanwhile, some of the biggest wind-powered projects on the planet are also being developed here in Wyoming and have been in the news lately. But before going into that, let me tell you about an experience that we had on our motorhome trip through California last month.

         On a very hot, sunny afternoon in October we drove our motorhome across an amazing bridge over Lake Herman east of San Francisco. The 275 wind turbines at the Shiloh Wind Farm to our east were not turning when I was watching them while crossing a massive bridge on Interstate 680, and that is the problem with renewable energy in California.

         In the famous 1605 book, Man of La Mancha, the protagonist is a knight-errant named Don Quixote, helped along by his faithful squire, Sancho. 

         In southern Wyoming, Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz is today’s Quixote.  And a Greybull native named Bill Miller serves as his Sancho, as they have worked for years to create what might very well be the largest wind farm in the history of America.

         In that old book, Quixote thought huge windmills were invading giants and it was his job to deal with them. And today, out here in the windy west, Anschutz and Miller are certainly tilting at everything that has to do with windmills.

Awhile back, a media outfit called Pacific Standard sent reporter Gabriel Kahn to find out about this windy project. His story focused on Wyomingite Miller who has worked at the 500-square mile property in Carbon County called the Overland Trail Ranch. It was Miller who first took notice of the ever-present monstrous winds that blew every afternoon. 

         That article pointed out how Wyoming’s afternoon winds are of high value to California power brokers because power is generated here at the same time that it is needed the farther west.

When it comes to the future of renewable energy in America, Wyoming’s abundant, cool afternoon winds are viewed as a gold mine. And one of the biggest prospectors in this modern day gold rush is that incredibly patient Denver billionaire with some Wyoming history.

         Anschutz has been trying to get the country’s biggest wind turbine project built for the past decade and it is still stalled by proposed state taxes, state and federal regulations and environmental studies. All these hurdles might guarantee that this most-environmental friendly project may never come to fruition.      Anschutz might as well be building a coal-fired power plant or even a nuclear plant.

         His plan calls for a 500-windmill project in phase one that would transport electricity along a proposed power line from Wyoming to California. 

         Some years ago, a map of Wyoming was distributed which showed the highest wind rates across the state.  The highest areas were in the Laramie Peak area, also along an area paralleling Interstate 80.

         It seems that not just Union Pacific trains and huge semi trailer trucks follow that Interstate 80 route – but brisk winds do, as well. Of course, we all know that.  Most anyone who has driven that Interstate has horror stories to recall.

         Anschutz’s horror stories include some of environmental regulation issues.  He hired squads of observers because there was fear that the 32-story high windmills with their 200-foot long blades would obliterate eagles.  Some wind farm owners across the country have been fined and treated like criminals because of eagle kills.

The ultimate bad news for Anschutz in all this is that these delays could cause the project to be much smaller than envisioned.  So much green power is now being generated by local California resources, the obvious need for Wyoming wind power of just a few years ago may not be as acute today.


1644 - Liz Cheney race reminds me of 1978

The problem with our times is that the future is not what it used to be, oops then, again, perhaps it is! – A modified famous old quote.


Back to the future.  Same old song. Here we go again. The more things change the more they stay the same . . . well, you get the picture.

Back in 1978, Wyoming voters went to the polls to vote for or against a young candidate named Cheney, who had spent most of his adult career out of the state.  But this candidate had a resume that anticipated that he might make a splash in Washington D. C. in a bigger way than his opponent, an aggressive Democrat who was not nearly so well known outside of Wyoming.

Here in 2016, it is truly a nearly identical situation.

Today the candidate is Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney. Her father Dick was that Republican Congressional candidate back in 1978.

Dick Cheney won that election 28 years ago with 78,855 votes or 58.6 percent. Democrat Bill Bagley with 53,522 votes won 41.4 percent.

As in 1978, the big election news in this race occurred in the primary.  Dick Cheney bested two guys, both of whom had previous statewide experience. Cheney got 28,568 votes in defeating former State Treasure/State Auditor (and state GOP chairman) Ed Witzenburger, who got 20,863 votes and Jack Gage, son of a former governor of the same name who mustered 18,075 votes.

Earlier this year, Liz Cheney knocked out two aggressive guys in State Sen. Leland Christensen (R-Alta) and State Rep. Tim Stubson (R-Casper) and a slew of others. Cheney topped the voting with 35,668 votes compared to Christensen’s 19,590 while Stubson got 15,608.

This year in the Nov. 8 general election, Liz Cheney squares off against a nice guy from Rock Springs named Ryan Greene, who easily won his primary.

We had earlier predicted that Cheney would best Greene by 3:1, which is not so much a knock on Greene but rather dealing with the reality of the huge Republican majority of voters in the state.

And although Cheney has a number of Republican critics who see her a resident of the state of Virginia and a “carpetbagger,” I just cannot see any of them crossing over and voting for Greene. In protest, they just might not vote at all.

It is now time for me to go on a limb and guess how many votes Cheney and Greene will get in their big race.

Drum roll, please:  Cheney will get 171,923 votes.  Greene will get 53,128 votes.   Yes, it will be a 3:1 rout. Liz will apparently best her dad, both in number of votes won and by the size of her margin of victory, percentage-wise.

Two recent races for State Supt. of Public Instruction spoke volumes to me when it comes to how difficult it is for a Democrat to win a statewide race in Wyoming.

In 2010, then-State Sen. Mike Massie ran a magnificent campaign and got clobbered by Republican Cindy Hill, 113,026 to 71,772.  Four years later, Cheyenne businessman Mike Ceballos also ran a wonderful campaign and got smashed by Jillian Balow, 99,244 to 62,208.  In each case, the margin of victory made no sense when you analyzed the quality of the losing candidate, except for one thing – he was not a Republicans. Thus it is easy to predict routs in Wyoming’s general elections in today’s lopsided political environment.

Also back in 2012 during the last presidential election, Wyoming voters favored Republican Mitt Romney by more than 2:1 over national winner Democrat Barack Obama, 170,962 to 69,288. This was an amazing example of how different Wyoming voters are behaving compared to voters across the country. We are the reddest of the red states.

I think Democrat Hillary Clinton will do slightly better this year than Obama did four years ago but will still get trounced by Republican Donald Trump here. My prediction is that Trump will get 144,328 votes compared to Clinton’s 89,891. Ten days ago, it looked like Hillary would win the national election. But with recent FBI email revelations, this race just got tighter.

A year ago, I told everyone who would listen that this was going to be one of the most interesting presidential elections in the country’s history.  My thought, though, was that it would be entertaining.  It would be easy to have had a hunch that it would be nasty but who could have anticipated this? 

For years to come, people will look back at this mess in disgust. 

Will candidates ever be civil to each other again? Perhaps that is the biggest question coming out of this year’s activities.