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
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    HawkWatch International seeks an experienced fundraiser to join our awesome team! This position will provide support in all aspects of the department. We are looking...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING IN TAOS, NEW MEXICO www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details:
  • HAND CRAFTED LOG HOME IN TETON VALLEY
    on ten acres. Full view of the Grand Teton. 35 miles to Yellowstone and 20 minutes to Grand Targhee Ski Area.
  • ACREAGE WITH HOME, SHOP, BARN FOR SALE!
    Must see for sng/extd fam or corp retreat in pines! $1,030,000
  • WESTERN REGIONAL MANAGER
    The American Forest Foundation seeks a smart and highly motivated candidate to join our Western conservation team. The Regional Manager supports the Regional Director to...
  • TRANSPORTATION PLANNER
    Exciting opportunity to lead the charge on meeting the future transportation demands of our community! This position will develop, coordinate, and implement the Integrated Transportation...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL WRITING INSTITUTE (EWI)
    with Robert Michael Pyle September 26-30, 2018, in Missoula MT.
  • REPORTING FELLOW - BOISE, ID
    Boise State Public Radio is hiring a Reporting Fellow as part of a new nationwide collaborative, Guns & America. Based in the state capitol, Boise...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Middle Colorado Watershed Council. Rifle, CO.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF RIVERSEDGE WEST (FORMERLY TAMARISK COALITION)
    RiversEdge West is seeking an entrepreneurial leader with solid nonprofit management skills to lead our high functioning team and help us make an impact on...
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR WITH WRA
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking a talented, organized person with great people skills, who is passionate about protection of the natural environment to work...
  • DIRECTOR OF REGIONAL COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGY
    The Wilderness Society is recruiting for an experienced Communicator for our Northwest Region. This position is located in Seattle, WA. For more information please visit...
  • SALMON RIVER IDAHO WILDERNESS RETREAT HOME
    Here is an opportunity to have a piece of self-sufficient paradise on Idaho's Main Salmon River adjacent to the largest Forest Service wilderness area in...
  • RAMMED EARTH SOLAR COTTAGE
    in 5-home conservation community & botanical sanctuary on 20 acres.
  • MEMBERSHIP AND ENGAGEMENT COORDINATOR
    The Montana Wildlife Federation is looking for an enthusiastic and innovative Membership and Engagement Coordinator to help grow and maintain our grassroots voice for wildife,...
  • SR ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNER
    The City of Fort Collins is excited to announce a Sr Environmental Planner position within the Natural Areas Department. This position will be housed within...
  • HISTORICAL VACATION CABIN
    on beautiful Snow Angel Ranch located within San Juan National Forest near Pagosa Springs, CO. Lakes, fly-fishing, swimming, hiking, mountain biking, horse trails, horse accommodations...
  • FIVE-ACRE VIEW LOT WITH WELL
    5 acres, well. Abuts Carson NF; hike fish ski; deer turkey elk.