From the focus on a south Cheyenne trailer park to legislative actions that cut programs and steal away health care, those who are needy in the Capital City find themselves always on the short end of the stick.
By Rodger McDaniel
Frank Annunzio was a member of Congress from the mid-1960s until 1973. He was a colleague of Wyoming U.S. Rep. Teno Roncalio. Like Roncalio, he was a plainspoken Italian American.
I was on Roncalio’s congressional staff at the time and have a vivid memory of this incident. The House passed legislation reducing subsidies on wheat production. The bill primarily hurt the poor by raising prices of foodstuffs like bread and pasta. Annunzio stormed out of the House chambers and cornered the first member of the press he saw. It was a reporter from the Chicago Tribune.
“The people just got screwed,” Annunzio cried out.
“Congressman,” the reporter recoiled, “I can’t print that. We are a family newspaper.”
Annunizio didn’t miss a beat. “Well, then, you can print this. ‘The family just got screwed.’”
Well, since the Wyoming Tribune Eagle is a family newspaper, I need to say that the “family just got screwed.”
When? Every time they turn around. Where? Everywhere they look. From the Cheyenne trailer park controversy to the tax bill winding its way through Congress. From choices made by Wyoming legislators to avoid new taxes while cutting everything from health care to low-income energy assistance to education. From the predatory lenders who thrive in Wyoming to the landlords who rent unsafe, overpriced housing to people who have no other choices.
The trailer park issue in south Cheyenne is a teachable moment for those in the middle and upper economic classes in our community. The focus from those who say they want “to end the blight” is on getting rid of the substandard mobile homes. Instead, they ought to be asking why some of our neighbors have been forced to live in those conditions. Families are “getting screwed” because politicians refuse to address the underlying injustices of our local economy.
Start with wages. Ask why people working full time in multiple jobs can’t afford a decent place to live or nutritious food for their children. Move to a dialogue about access to health care. Open a conversation about slumlords. While you’re there, visit about the wage gap between men and women in a state with a high divorce rate that often leaves women to raise children in poverty.
Do a little research on the extent of the relationship between the poverty affecting too many Wyoming school students and low test scores in the state’s public schools.
How about demanding members of our congressional delegation demonstrate with facts just how it is that the Trump tax plan they support will trickle even a nickel down to the people who are forced to live in the trailer park the city wants to tear down?
The problem may be merely one of limited vocabulary. Think about it. Wyoming’s politicians have a vocabulary that proves useful when talking about oil and gas, public lands, state’s rights, cutting budgets, eliminating regulations and reducing taxes. They can wag freely as they deny the science of climate change and complain ad infinitum about wolves, welfare and “Obamacare.”
Ask about the causes of poverty. All they can come up with are simplistic, single-syllable words about drug testing welfare clients and disproven talking points suggesting that increased minimum wages will somehow hurt the poor.
With few exceptions, they have not the eyes to see, the ears to hear or the stomachs to consider the manner in which some in our community have a stake in the poor being with us always. From slumlording to payday lending, there’s money to be made from the poverty of others. There is no political downside in blaming the poor. The risk comes from asking why they are poor. The answers begin to look like meddling in the lives of those who profit from poverty.
Nonetheless, until the community engages in a compassionate debate about how to address the causes of the blight, we won’t be able to end it.
Rodger McDaniel is the pastor of Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne. He resides in Laramie.