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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Wyo. lawmakers' heart fails to honor state's treasures

State's leaders are more interested in exploiting the things that make the Cowboy State great than in honoring and taking care of them.

By Rodger McDaniel
The Gospel says, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

So, if we find what Wyoming treasures, shouldn’t we also find her heart?

What is “heart”? The Hebrew prophet Samuel said heart
The Red Desert is one of Wyoming's geological treasures.
 has little to do with outward appearance and more to do with what God can see. Jesus said the heart’s secrets are exposed by what we say and do and how we live. The heart, more than the face, tells others who we really are. But Jesus said to find the heart, you must know first where one’s treasure lies.

So where is Wyoming’s treasure? You have to know where to look, and you have to conduct an honest search.

If you walk the trails across our mountains, wilderness areas, forests or the Red Desert, you’d tell those who’ve never done so that Wyoming’s treasures are to be found there. Head for the Wyoming state tourism websites and find treasure in our national and state parks, monuments, scenic waterways, landscapes and historic sites.

Strolling through a Wyoming art gallery, you will conclude the state’s treasures are its mountains and plains, its wide-open skies and open spaces, the wildlife, rivers and rural values.

Visit South Pass City, Carbon or Winton, or any other of the many Wyoming ghost towns and feel the treasure of the lives of the people and families, mostly first-generation immigrants, who once lived there. They raised children, mined coal and other wealth and watched their fellow miners live and die to help build a state that cared more for what was brought out of the holes than those who went into them.

Note the miner’s and farmer’s image at the center of the state seal or the sculpture of the oil field worker as you drive into Casper from Douglas, and you’d think the heart of Wyoming is the working men and women whose blood, sweat and tears built the state. Visit Heart Mountain, where treasure is found in teaching one generation about the failures of another.

Any number of people will tell you Wyoming’s treasure is young people. They’ll say they are Wyoming’s future.

Walk through the state museum or any of the other wonderful places that collect memories of Wyoming. Wyoming’s treasure, they would say, is its storied past, taught to school kids every day. Heroic pioneers, trappers, Native Americans, explorers, working men and women. Each of those museums touts the great history of women’s suffrage and times we wish had been different, such as Heart Mountain.

If you relied on the state’s motto, you’d be led to believe Wyoming treasured equal rights for all citizens. That matters because when you are intentional about getting to know the real people of the state, you find surprising treasure in their diversity, treasure worthy of protection.

Much of their diversity can be found in their places of worship or choices not to worship. Yes, a lot of them are Christians, but even they are a diverse lot. Genuine treasure is found in learning more about the Jewish communities, the Quakers, Unitarians, Buddhists, the Bahá’ís, Muslims, and others, as well as the atheists, skeptics and agnostics.

So then, why are these values not reflected in Wyoming’s politics? Why do Wyoming’s public officials defy Jesus’ claim that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”?

Most politicians are willing to sacrifice Wyoming’s environmental treasures to mining and drilling. Some want protected federal lands conveyed to the state so they may be developed. Statues proclaiming the contributions of working people have diminished meaning when compared to statutes that allow for their exploitation. The state’s budget reflects little concern for the poor, elderly, and struggling middle-class families and their children.

Claims made by the state motto are mocked by the gender wage gap and the failure of the Legislature to protect diverse communities from job-based prejudice.

Imagine what Wyoming could be if where her treasure is, there her heart would also be.

Rodger McDaniel is the pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne. He resides in Laramie.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

No "profiles in courage" in Wyoming politics

There have been many past leaders in the Cowboy State who chose to stand by their principles rather than bow to outside pressures. Such intestinal fortitude is in short supply today.

By Rodger McDaniel 

The refusal of Wyoming’s congressional delegation to meet constituents in town hall meetings exhibits a fundamental lack of courage. Yeah, it might be a tough couple of hours, but some folks are concerned, angry or frightened. Instead of stepping up, they send staffers to face the crowd.

Wyoming politicians haven’t always lacked “profiles in courage.” I
U.S. Rep. Teno Roncalio (right) campaigns with Teddy Kennedy in 1972
read John F. Kennedy’s book by that title in junior high. It gave me a vision for public service. Kennedy wrote of, in his words, “pressures experienced by eight U.S. senators and the grace with which they endured them – the risks to their careers, the unpopularity of their courses.” Alas, there’s no such grace or risk-taking among current members of Congress.

It’s useful to revisit times when Wyoming had courageous public servants.

One early hero was Asa Mercer. He had the wherewithal to speak the truth about the Johnson County War. Initially a supporter of the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association, Mercer came to believe the cattle barons weren’t protecting their interests from “rustlers.” They were trying to drive small ranchers off land they wanted for themselves. Mercer exposed them, publishing a controversial book. The barons endeavored to suppress “Banditti of the Plains.” Mercer was beaten, an arsonist destroyed his publishing office, and he lost his job. But his 1894 book still stands.

Stan Hathaway, a Republican governor from 1967-75, boldly fought the powerful mining industry and members of his own party to enact Wyoming’s first tax on minerals. He battled the same power base for a constitutional amendment creating the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund. A Casper Star-Tribune headline at the time said, “Stan drops bomb, backs mineral tax.” It took audacity for a Republican to “drop” that bomb on an industry that exercised such control over Wyoming politics.

Teno Roncalio was Wyoming’s congressman in 1972 when El Paso Natural Gas proposed a crazy fracking project. They planned to detonate underground nuclear explosions in Sublette County to free deep deposits of natural gas. Even the Atomic Energy Commission supported “Project Wagon Wheel.” There were many heroes in this struggle, but even though Teno had lost Sublette County by a significant margin, he valiantly fought their battle. After persuading the speaker to appoint him to the House Atomic Energy Committee, Teno maneuvered to kill Wagon Wheel’s funding.

Gov. Milward Simpson opposed the death penalty as a matter of principle. He knew it would cost him the governorship. It did. Milward’s son, Al, fearlessly supported gay rights and the right of a woman to choose, costing him the 1988 GOP vice presidential nomination.

When Congress authorized LBJ to escalate the Vietnam War, Sen. Gale McGee was one of 56 Democrats voting for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. As the war became increasingly unpopular, nearly every other Democrat abandoned the president. Undaunted, though abandoned, McGee maintained support for the war with an unflinching belief that it was in America’s interest.

In state-federal relationships, political pandering almost always overcomes principle. Not so for former Gov. Leslie Miller. When FDR proposed expanding Teton National Park in 1943, every Wyoming politician was opposed. Miller, a Democrat, believed the highest use of that region was tourism and recreation. Looking to the future, Miller was alone in testifying for the park’s expansion. He said of the opponents, including a Democratic governor, “Seldom, if ever, in the history of Wyoming has a project which should be entitled to sympathetic consideration been so grossly misrepresented.”

If only Leslie Miller or other intrepid souls were around to offer similar words to Gov. Matt Mead, who fearfully insists Wyoming remain the only state unwilling to permit refugee resettlement. Miller’s words also would be a welcome retort to the congressional delegation’s blindly partisan willingness to toss thousands of their constituents overboard to fulfill a campaign promise to “repeal and replace” Obamacare and to state legislators who voted party, rather than conscience, to deny expansion of Medicaid to thousands of low-income working people.

Time passes and, sadly, one need look further and further back in history for any “profiles in courage.”

Rodger McDaniel lives is the pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne. He resides in Laramie.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Come out of the bushes, Wyoming delegation

Mike Enzi, John Barrasso and Liz Cheney all have the power to speak out against the firing of FBI director James Comey. Their silence is an embarrassing testament to putting party over their public.

"What did the president know, and when did he know it?” -- U.S. Sen. Howard Baker, R-Tenn., in June 1973 as a U.S. Senate committee probed the Watergate break-in.

It should come as not surprise to anyone living in Wyoming
U.S. Sen. Howard Baker, R-Tenn., helped the the Watergate probe in 1973.
that all three members of the state's congressional delegation have chosen party over the good of the nation in the wake of President Donald's Trump's firing last week of FBI Director James Comey. This has been their modus operandi for far too long: Follow the party, not the people.

The recent vote of U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., in support of what has become known as Trumpcare, as well as similar support for that abomination by U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, both R-Wyo., make it clear that they are willing to kowtow to party leadership in just about any action rather than to stand up for the people who put them into office.

Never mind that 27 percent of Wyoming residents have preexisting conditions that could disqualify them from affordable health insurance under Trumpcare. Or that hundreds of the state's elderly will be priced out of insurance under the proposal. Or that others who will find themselves tossed off the state's Medicaid rolls. No, all three members choose to pretend instead that Trumpcare is the right solution to "repeal and replace" Obamacare, speaking such nonsense as it will lower premiums.

If these three can't bring themselves to speak the truth about how GOP leadership is about to harm the health of the people of the Cowboy State, they certainly will not find the intestinal fortitude to stand up against Trump's bald move to block the investigation into his campaign's and his administration's -- and perhaps his own -- ties to Russia.

Surely the Wyoming delegation understands the concern among the people of the Cowboy State about possible Russian interference in last year's election as well as possible collusion by Trump's people in that shocking effort. How could they not? National polls show that 78 percent of the public wants a special prosecutor appointed to look into these concerns. Wyomingites are no different. Yet the delegation speaks rubbish, arguing instead that Comey deserved to be fired and that it just is not time yet (when will it be?) to appoint a prosecutor. That's the company line, and they would rather spout it than to speak the truth.

It is shocking that too few in the nation's Republican leadership -- including Barrasso, who holds the position of Republican policy committee chairman, the fourth-highest leadership spot in the Senate -- have spoken out, instead providing Trump with political cover. Where are the Howard Bakers and others in the GOP who stood up to the bullying from the Nixon administration and eventually brought an end to that corruption? It would be great to see someone from Wyoming step up, but Barrasso apparently is more interested in rising in rank and protecting his position than in doing the right thing.

Perhaps the Wyoming delegation needs to review the Cowboy Code of Ethics that it so often touts. Among the points:
-- Live each day with courage.
-- Do what has to be done.
-- Remember that some things aren’t for sale.
-- Know where to draw the line.

Courage? Little of that is being shown from the state's delegation. Do what has to be done? Ha! Some things aren't for sale? Well, obviously truth, courage and integrity all can be traded for status, power and party loyalty.

Messrs. Barrasso and Enzi, Ms. Cheney, your constituents are waiting and watching. Will you continue to cower in the political bushes or step out and speak truth to power?

D. Reed Eckhardt is the former executive editor of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

State senator unwisely assaults academic freedom

Anthony Bouchard needs to take some time to learn what the First Amendment is all about rather than just obsessing over the Second Amendment.

By Rodger McDaniel
Having witnessed a handful of letters to the editor supporting state Sen. Anthony Bouchard’s conduct at the University of Wyoming, it seemed a contrary point of view was appropriate.

Who elected Bouchard to oversee UW? No one except Bouchard.
Anthony Bouchard on the campaign trail in 2015.
The single-issue gun rights candidate took it upon himself to threaten at least one faculty member as he flaunted his faux power recently on the UW campus. The leadership of the Wyoming Legislature needs to rein him in, assuming they want to, and that is a major assumption.

UW has experienced numerous attempts to deny academic freedom. There was a McCarthy-era witch hunt to censor textbooks at UW. Powerful legislators once attempted to close the law school when they didn’t like a book by a law professor proposing removing cattle from public lands. The then-president of the state Senate felt UW should screen faculty to assure they would teach only “Wyoming values.”

Then there was “Carbon Sink,” a sculpture created to make a statement about climate change. The Wyoming Mining Association and their legislators felt it unfairly criticized the mining industry. They persuaded the then-UW president to destroy the sculpture.

Censorship is nothing new at UW. But this incident is different. Coming onto the campus to berate students and threaten faculty is a step too far.

Bouchard claims to know all there is to know about the Second Amendment, but he knows nothing about the First. Memo to Anthony: The First Amendment comes just before the Second. It’s the one guaranteeing free speech and academic freedom, even when you don’t like what you hear.

It seems the freshman Laramie County state senator showed up during the recent Shepard Symposium on Social Justice. He saw a notice online, decided he didn’t like what he read and headed for the campus to make a nuisance of himself.

The presentation was the work of a couple of UW students exploring unique threats faced by African-American males by those carrying concealed weapons. Even before he heard the presentation, Bouchard decided it was “race baiting.”

Following the presentation, which Bouchard reportedly interrupted frequently with irrelevant assertions about the Second Amendment, Bouchard became disruptive. He made it known he was a state senator before engaging the students and a faculty member in a bizarre conversation.

Seemingly related to nothing, Bouchard complained about the response time of campus police. According to witnesses, he said he thought about detonating “an explosive device” on the campus to test their response time.

Then he turned his venom on the students and their academic work, telling their instructor, “I vote on funding for this school.” It was his way of threatening her as he asserted that he attended because, “I think I should know what I should vote against.” Bouchard told the media he intends to take a closer look at what is being taught at the university.

“Why are we spending money for a teacher to teach this kind of stuff,” he said.

Well Bouchard, taxpayers spend money on teachers like her for much the same reason we spend money on legislators. We spend that money in the hopes of hiring people with the ability to think critically about the problems that confront our state. In the case of the faculty member you attacked, we are getting our money’s worth.

So, Bouchard, you know whatever it is you think you know about the Second Amendment. Here’s a brief lesson on the First Amendment and how it protects students and faculty from bullies: Fifty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case titled Keyishian v. Board of Regents. Justice William Brennan wrote, “Our nation is deeply committed to safeguarding academic freedom, which is of transcendent value to all of us, not merely to the teachers involved.”

In other words, your election to the state Legislature gave you no authority to threaten students and faculty. Indeed, it gave you the responsibility to protect their rights as vehemently as you seek to protect the rights of gun owners.

Rodger McDaniel is the pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne. He resided in Laramie.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Recreation community drops the ball -- again

Don't blame the voters for the failures of the indoor turf facility and the city gym. They needed to be convinced to support these amenities and, unfortunately, the projects' supporters didn't get the job done. 

"A bigger blame goes to the folks that are so short-sighted and selfish who voted against prop 6 and 7 but are willing to support other propositions like the Botanic Gardens." -- Facebook post from Wally Erickson, head of the Downtown Development Authority board and local soccer booster

Supporters of the two sixth-penny propositions that failed this week -- one would have put up a $6.8 million indoor turf facility, the other a gym ($7.1 million) that could have more adequately handled city programs -- are angrily blaming the voters of Laramie County for their defeat. One example is DDA director Wally Erickson, quoted above.
An indoor turf facility such as this failed in Tuesday's local election.

But that is too easy. Those same voters approved seven other propositions, including one for the Greenway expansion and another for an eastside park, in all totaling some $91 million. It's pretty hard to call them cheap or short-sighted when they step up like that.

No, once again -- as happened twice previously with efforts to build a recreation center here -- the supporters of these projects quite simply didn't get the job done. Did you see any signs around the community in support of these two projects? How about ads in the newspaper or on TV or radio? How about on social media? Heck, I even came across a digital ad for Proposition 4, the planned multi-purpose events center at the Archer Complex, on the weather app on my cellphone.

There was none of this from the boosters of these recreation projects, and they paid the price for their lackadaisical approach. All they had to do was turn about 300 votes from "nay" to "aye to pass the turf facility and less than 125 votes to get the gymnasium approved. If you don't think the big marketing pushes to pass the Christensen Road overpass approved (with 60.4 percent of the ballot) and get the multipurpose facility OK'd (with just 50.6 percent) worked, you are dead wrong. Get your projects at the forefront of the voters' minds, and you will get them approved.

That is particularly the case with recreation projects here. It appears only the Greenway is bulletproof in that regard; anything else is fighting an uphill battle from the get-go. Consider that there was similar momentum against the multipurpose building. After all, it failed just five years ago. But marketing and promotion appear to have made the difference this go-round. It passed by 173 votes. No doubt, marketing and advertising -- so absent in the recreation projects -- made the difference.

The thing is, the arguments for both the turf facility and the new gym were easy: These projects would have helped to make Cheyenne more attractive to young singles and young families while adding boosts to the local economy through tournaments and similar events. These certainly were as important tools for economic development as will be the multipurpose facility, which, despite the claims of its supporters, has little chance of being self-supporting; those things never are. But that case for these recreation projects never was made to the public, and both failed.

Erickson is right about one thing in his Facebook post He writes: "I believe it is very much a reality that we will continue to lose our kids, as they grow into adults, to places that are committed to the younger generation. And companies that are considering relocating to Cheyenne will continue to go elsewhere."

The problem is, KNOWING the truth is not enough. You have to FIGHT for it and SELL it. Why the recreation community continues to fail to see that may be the biggest mystery of this recent election. But beating up the voters won't get it done. They are not the real problem. Rather the real issue, unfortunately, stares back at the supporters of these projects every time they look in the bathroom mirror.

D. Reed Eckhardt is the former executive editor of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Enzi promotes a hateful America

Wyoming's senior senator speaks against LGBTQ rights, pushes presidential order allowing discrimination against gays based on religious beliefs.

By Rodger McDaniel
People like Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi are why Wyoming has such a hard time shedding its image as a place where the lives of gays and lesbians are at risk.

Recently Senator Enzi spoke to high school students in Greybull.
U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi recently came under fire for anti-LGBTQ comments.
Asked whether he supported LGBTQ rights, he responded by saying that “if a man walks into a bar wearing a tutu,” he deserves what he gets. That sounded like a United States senator encouraging rednecks to beat the hell out of those they see as different.

After being called out on his statements, Enzi apologized. However, what comes from a person’s mouth before the apology says more than any subsequent statement drafted by a press secretary.

And it gets worse.

Enzi said protections mandated by Washington aren’t “the best solution.” Odd coming from one who secretly encouraged Donald Trump to sign an executive order mandating protection for those who discriminate against gays, lesbians, bisexual, transgender and other human beings.

Enzi forgot to mention it to his constituents. Talking to constituents isn’t a priority for him. We learned what the senator was up to through a news release from the Family Research Council, infamous for its bigotry and extreme anti-LGBTQ crusades.

That’s who told Wyoming voters that our senator sought an executive order legalizing discrimination against the LGBTQ community and others based on religious beliefs. So much for state’s rights. Seems the “feds” can be either a boogeyman or a senator’s best friend, depending on the objective.

In February, a bill designed to accomplish what Enzi implored Trump to do was introduced by Wyoming legislators. It drew such angry reaction that sponsors pulled the bill back. Enzi saw that. Did he employ one of those tired, old conservative slogans about the sacredness of limiting government overreach? Nope. Enzi wants a government big enough to protect bigotry.

So, Enzi turned to the feds. Rather than noticing many of his constituents weren’t in lockstep with right-wingers on this and choosing to take the high moral ground, he tried an end run. Voila, an executive order avoids the ugly political wrangling. To paraphrase what his older brothers said of little Mikey in the old cereal commercial, “Ask Donald to sign it. He’ll sign anything.”

For several weeks, a draft executive order has been batted around the White House. It’s a license to discriminate masked as “religious freedom.” It makes religious-based discrimination lawful “when providing social services, education, or health care; earning a living, seeking a job, or employing others; receiving government grants or contracts; or otherwise participating in the marketplace, the public square, or interfacing with federal, state, or local governments.”

Is this Enzi’s kind of America?

In that America, a man can rent a home but be turned away when he, his husband and young children arrive to move in. In Enzi’s America, two married women, otherwise perfectly capable of providing a home for an abandoned child, can be denied an adoption. A woman wearing a hijab may be denied medical care by providers who receive government grants to hire medical staff and purchase medical equipment. Critical social services, funded by taxpayers, could be denied to those who don’t share the provider’s belief that God is so small as to not include certain kinds of people God created.

In that America, discrimination is legal when the bigot claims it’s based on conveniently hateful religious beliefs.

Such an executive order wouldn’t survive constitutional scrutiny any more than Trump’s Muslim travel ban. Neither does religion-based hate find expression in the Christian scripture Enzi proclaims. No one, with the exception of the Family Research Council, justifies using religious beliefs to render others “less than” the image of God.

Instead of giving tacit approval to barroom beatings of gays, Enzi could have resorted to his Christian beliefs. He could have been courageous when those students asked him about protecting the civil rights of some of their peers.

He could have said no to the extremists. Instead, the senator has become one of them.

Rodger McDaniel is the pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne. He resides in Laramie. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

LCCC may hold key to downtown Cheyenne

Efforts to revitalize city's central business district could turn on what the local community college decides to do with its planned building projects.

By Rodger McDaniel

How long has Cheyenne struggled to revitalize its downtown? Restaurants come and go. Downtown traffic can’t sustain them. Two more recently closed. “The hole” and long abandoned, decaying buildings have become embarrassing landmarks.

In spite of the commitment of so many, revitalization of downtown
Downtown Cheyenne continues to struggle with revialization.
Cheyenne has become a monument to Sisyphus.

You may recall how the gods condemned Sisyphus to an eternity of hopeless and futile labor. He was required to forever push an enormous rock to the top of the mountain. Every day, Sisyphus put his shoulder to the stone, wedged his feet and pushed with all his might, inching the rock forward. But whenever he made any progress, the stone rolled backward under its own weight. The next day, he would start anew. It certainly wasn’t for lack of effort that the stone never reached the mountaintop.

Nor is it for lack of effort that revitalization of downtown Cheyenne seems as far away today as ever. There is clearly no quick fix, but there is one possible long-range vision. This idea may be half a century late, but if bold action isn’t taken, nothing will change.

Imagine how different Cheyenne could be if Laramie County Community College’s campus was downtown instead of where it is.

At the time, it seemed the best choice. The land was free. The voters had taken a lot of persuasion to even create the college and were not enamored with spending a lot of money on it. And in the late ’60s, there was no mall and no heavily commercialized Dell Range Boulevard. All of that came later, and as it did, downtown Cheyenne suffered.

Decades from now, there will still be a downtown Cheyenne. The question is whether it will be characterized by vitality or not.

Now’s the time. As LCCC trustees consider major new building projects, there is an opportunity to develop a long-range plan to move parts of the college into the heart of Cheyenne. Certainly, some of the college’s facilities, such as agricultural, equine, auto body and perhaps other vocational programs should remain at the current location. Still, there would be significant economic benefits from moving the center of campus activity to downtown.

LCCC recently voted to fund planning for three major projects that could form the vanguard of a gradual relocation. They are a new $28 million residence hall, the renovation of the Fine Arts Building and construction of a $14 million auditorium to seat 450 to 500 people.

Beforehand, the trustees and the community should consider the economic surge that would follow the process of relocating elements of the college from their current site to the downtown Cheyenne area.

Such a move couldn’t be expected to happen overnight. It would take years. But consider what it would do for the local economy. Witness communities that have college campuses in or near their downtown commercial areas. In cities like Boise, Fort Collins and even Laramie, a robust campus life radiates from the campus out across the downtown area. The interactions and commercial intercourse between students, faculty and businesses generate economic diversification and growth. Students have employment opportunities near their classrooms. Businesses experience ongoing and sustained customer traffic.

Though it would be many years before such a relocation could be completed, a decision to move in that direction could result in immediate benefits. The location of student housing and a Fine Arts Building in the downtown area would signal to developers that Cheyenne’s downtown is the place to be.

With students living in the downtown area, current businesses would experience a greater customer base, and new ones would have a reason to make an investment in downtown Cheyenne. Downtown would suddenly become a more attractive place to open new clothing stores, bars and restaurants, among other businesses catering to students and faculty.

The transition would be gradual, but each step would bring new life to the city. Perhaps we could start by filling in that hole with the new $28 million residence hall.

Rodger McDaniel is the pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne. He resides in Laramie.