Harsh words from inside the Beltway

 

Note: in the print edition of this issue, this article appears as a sidebar to another article, "Keeping 'em down on the High Plains."

On Oct. 6, 1999, Wyoming got another scolding from the outside. After attending a University of Wyoming-sponsored conference titled "Leadership and the Future of Wyoming," Washington Post columnist David Broder chided Wyoming for its paucity of jobs, continuing dependence on oil and gas revenue, and lack of leadership.

Wyoming officials responded by calling the column shallow and inaccurate, but Broder touched a raw nerve when he commented that Wyoming "has a governor and congressional delegation notable only for their anonymity."

It's understandable that Wyoming resents outside "experts" disparaging their elected officials. But now, even insiders can no longer keep quiet. At the University of Wyoming conference, which was part of the Milward Simpson Distinguished Lecture Series, Al Simpson, who was a national figure when he represented Wyoming in the United States Senate, stood up in the audience and said, "The only real leader in Wyoming today is Philip Dubois."

Dubois has been the president of the University of Wyoming since April of 1997. Thus far, he's been noted for his handling of the grisly Matthew Shepard murder, his attentiveness to legislative affairs and his grassroots effort to improve academic rigor at Laramie.

Even James Watt, whose pro-commodity policies as President Reagan's secretary of the Interior put conservationists in a panic, told the conference audience that he "sees hard times ahead for Wyoming."

It remains a mystery that a state so enthralled with independence and egalitarianism so patently advocates public policy that favors neither.

The millions the state spends each year in low-interest agricultural loans have not led to successful small-time ranching. At an average of 3,791 acres, Wyoming's ranches are eight times the national average in size. The industry pays less than 2 percent of the state's property taxes, contributes 5 percent of gross state product and provides only 6 percent of the employment.

The multinational oil companies that haven't left Wyoming are also getting bigger. So severe is the regional contraction that the Rocky Mountain Oil and Gas Association folded up shop last May. Wyoming leads the nation in coal production, an industry rife with consolidation. In the past year, Arch Minerals merged with Ashland Coal and ARCO coal; Kennecott Energy now belongs to the London-based Rio Tinto; Peabody Coal was bought by Lehman Merchant Banking Partners; and Cyprus/Amax Coal sold its interests to the German mining conglomerate RAG International Mining.

All companies have operations in Wyoming, but such amalgamation rarely means new jobs.

Wyoming already suffers from a brain-drain and horrendous job turnover, although not in mining. In 1997, it had 242,000 job hires and 231,000 exits. Why?

Right now, Wyoming manages seven community colleges and one under-funded university, and its economic policy gives millions each year in tax breaks to energy companies and a marginal agricultural economy.

But it is voices like Watt and Simpson, both of whom are insiders looking in, that may spur change. Economic historian David Landes once wrote that, when it comes to fighting poverty, "what counts is work, thrift, honesty, patience, tenacity." Wyoming has those in spades; what the state needs is leaders.

High Country News Classifieds
  • NEW AGRARIAN APPRENTICESHIP
    Quivira Coalition's 2020 New Agrarian Apprenticeships in Regenerative Ranching and Farming -Apprenticeships run 4/20 - 11/20 Applications accepted 10/15/19 - 12/1/19 NAP partners with skilled...
  • PHILANTHROPY DIRECTOR
    Wilderness Workshop seeks a full time Philanthropy Director to raise funds for our team. Learn more: www.wildernessworkshop.org
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT WITH WESTERN RESOURCE ADVOCATES
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks an enthusiastic and organized problem solver to join our growing team as an Executive Assistant. The Executive Assistant is instrumental...
  • WYOMING OUTDOOR COUNCIL
    Two positions: Development Director OR Development Writer, Communications Director. Full job descriptions at https://wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org/careers.
  • CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER
    Great Land Trust seeks to hire a Conservation Project Manager. Position is full-time, based in Anchorage, Alaska. First review of applications will be on October...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eagle Valley Land Trust Executive Director Position Description Summary of Position: The Executive Director, working with and reporting to the Board of Directors, has overall...
  • FINANCE & LOGISTICS COORDINATOR
    The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, founded in 1928 as an independent nonprofit organization, is a biological field station located near Crested Butte, Colorado. Our primary...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    See Full Job Description
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Position: Development Coordinator Responsible to: Executive Director Time Commitment: 15-20 hours per week, or as otherwise agreed upon General Description: The Development Coordinator assists the...
  • EDUCATION CENTER MANAGER
    Friends of Cedar Mesa seeks a full-time Education Manager for the Bears Ears Education Center to provide day to day operational and administrative oversight. See...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED SCP SOUTHWEST REGIONAL DIRECTOR
    Seeking to hire an experienced advocate/manager to oversee the organization's sportsmen/women-driven advocacy in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Open until filled
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    for northern AZ collaborative conservation ranchlands group
  • AMAZING PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    If you're an amazing Program or Education Manager looking for an exciting and fulfilling position with an organization that makes a difference in the community,...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Partners are seeking an experienced and energetic Executive Director who is excited about the opportunity to lead our growing organization! A full description of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    High Country News Seeks an Executive Director to advance its mission, grow its audience and influence, and strategically and sustainably guide the organization through a...
  • 2 PROPERTIES ON THE WESTERN EDGE OF THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Organic farm, hot springs, San Francisco River runs through both. [email protected]
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • SOCIETY FOR WILDERNESS STEWARDSHIP BOARD MEMBER
    Join the SWS board and help us broaden, diversify, and engage the wilderness community.
  • NEW MEXICO BIRDER'S PARADISE.
    Fully furnished 2B/2B home near Bosque del Apache NWR, great for nature lovers.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.