Energy-rich — and resource-dependent — Wyoming suddenly has found itself facing state budget cuts. Predictably, there will soon follow calls to “diversify” the state’s economy. But in the meantime, here’s a modest, quick-to-implement proposal to help the state make ends meet and smooth the temporary hard times: Guantanamo.
Wyoming, the home of cowboys and coal-boys, but … Gitmo?
Yep, it’s time to “cowboy up,” as they say in the state, to take advantage of isolation and even make a buck at it. It’s a perfect time to act by campaigning President Obama, who promised long ago to close the Cuban lockup. He could simply issue an executive order transferring the terrorism bad guys to a state he’s guaranteed to lose anyway in the coming election, and pad it with federal cash to smooth the transition.
How can seemingly booming Wyoming get caught short on revenue? Well, it turns out that the state’s huge natural gas deposits are worth a lot less these days, thanks to unprecedented shale-gas production elsewhere. Meanwhile, demand for coal, the state’s big mainstay, is slipping, and even renewable wind energy faces a rocky road if federal subsidies evaporate.
Get ready to slash state budgets by 8 percent, warns Republican Gov. Matt Mead.
Of course, nobody in Wyoming would advocate such an idea as I’ve suggested, and while you think I’m not serious or just plain sarcastic, shifting Gitmo to Wyo makes an odd sort of sense. It combines Wyoming’s beloved cowboy myth, the hard-core reality of terrorism, and offers an economic boost.
Back in 2002, Wyoming actually went on the offensive against terrorists, in of all places, the state-sponsored, governor-signed highway map. Issued on the heels of the World Trade Center attacks, the map narrative urged “all freedom-loving people to ‘Cowboy Up’ with us and with America … until what needs doin’ is done,” an ominous-sounding threat you might easily assume would involve guns (plenty in Wyoming) and other tough stuff folks might do out West.
In fact, just last year, Wyoming even adopted as state law the “Code of the West,” defined as “courage” and being “tough,” and, in a nod to cowboy-macho-shootout tradition, “Do What Has to Be Done.”
The Wyoming Business Council, the state’s economic development agency, subsequently embraced this refurbished myth and began distributing a video telling prospective companies the “Code” is “alive and well” in Wyoming.
It’s also easy to find remote places in Wyoming to tuck really bad guys. I once pictured Wamsutter in the Red Desert as a last-resort refuge for assorted deposed world dictators. Or maybe somewhere between Shoshoni and Casper for real basic isolation. One winter, and water-boarding won’t be necessary.
Wyomingites also see lockups as a kind of economic development. That’s how the current Wyoming State Penitentiary ended up in the early 1900s in isolated Rawlins — to spread around state institutions. In 1991, I reported on the big legislative battle of the day, when at least five Wyoming towns jockeyed to land a new state prison. In 2010, a $128 million new prison actually opened in Torrington, showcased as a local development coup. Getting Gitmo would mean quick cash upfront, more employment and enhanced state revenues from fees to run the place.
I’m not the only one to see the possibilities of Wyoming as a refuge of some sort. In 1995, Garrison Keillor, on his Prairie Home Companion, suggested a different target group, but same place: “Americans who fill up the emptiness in their lives with hatred and fascination with violence … we ought to find a state for them all to live in together … maybe Wyoming. It’s a big state, not too many people. They could carry guns out there and nobody would bother ‘em … just a modest proposal.”
Just last year Gov. Mead traveled to meet Wyoming Army National Guard personnel, deployed temporarily to … Guantanamo. Mead told a reporter the place resembled Wyoming’s state prisons in Rawlins and Torrington.
“We pride ourselves in our loyal and rugged ‘cowboy individualism,” that 2002 map noted. It’s self-proclaimed “God’s country,” and where a state slogan once proclaimed, “like no place on earth,” the Wyoming version of state star-citizen and Bush Vice-President Dick Cheney’s USA “exceptionalism” — Americans are special, destined to lead the world. Taking on Guantanamo would be unarguably a special task.
It’s also a dandy political bargain this election year, where in these days of D.C. deadlock, cutting a deal with something in it for everyone is a monumental feat. Wyo, meet Gitmo.
Banner photo courtesy of The National Guard.
— Writer Paul Krza taught school and spun records in Cody, worked in Casper and lived in Cheyenne to report on the Wyoming Legislature. His past work includes reporter and state editor at the Casper Star-Tribune and freelance editing and reporting in Denver and Albuquerque. He and his wife Kate live in Socorro and Albuquerque, New Mexico, and travel frequently, most recently to the Balkans and Crete.
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