It’s no secret many life-long Wyoming residents don’t welcome change, and absolutely abhor new neighbors who may have a few fresh ideas about how things should be run.
By “new” I mean anyone who wasn’t born here. That includes me, because I’ve only spent 48 of my 59 years here, and I’ve got a birth certificate from the state of New York. I spent my first six months there in my crib, which apparently qualifies me as one of those pointy-headed liberals who garner so much distrust from Wyoming natives.
Which is a ridiculous notion — my head is pretty Charlie Brown round, not pointy. As for being liberal, I’d say I’m guilty, except that in a majority of states it’s not a crime.
A common, knee-jerk reaction from people who disagree with the opinions I express here is that since I hate Wyoming, I should go back to where I came from. No thanks. New York is one of the last places I would want to live. And far from hating Wyoming, I love it here. I just would like to see a few things change, and I know there are even some natives of the state who agree with me on certain issues.
There seems little chance much will occur to keep Wyoming from being depicted as anything but solid red on political maps, because the people elected to the Legislature have the backs of those who would rather have us turn people away at our state line.
I’m not suggesting the state should fully change its conservative philosophy. I like the “Equality State” and independent live-and-let-live attitudes expressed by many here, but highly question whether those beliefs are actually represented by the people who keep getting sent back to the Legislature year after year.
Wyoming should be proud that it was the first government to allow women to vote, even if it was partly a ploy to get more women to move here so our population would increase to the level needed to have our statehood request taken seriously. But since that historic decision, what has Wyoming done for women that remotely qualifies us to brag that they are treated equally?
The state has one of the largest gender wage gaps in the country, second only to Louisiana. But except for the 13 Democrats and a handful of moderate Republicans, no lawmakers will touch the issue, which many deny even exists despite irrefutable statistical evidence the huge gap between men and women’s pay is indeed real.
As for the notion lawmakers follow a “live-and-let-live” philosophy and insist on equal rights for everyone, it’s a joke. Lawmakers here consistently vote against people who need any help from state government and are beaten back because they don’t have the power wealthy special interests possess.
If you’re a worker in a hazardous industry, like oil and gas, the Legislature has consistently singled you out for treatment that jeopardizes your life. For many years Wyoming has ranked as the state with the highest worker fatality rate in the nation. The Wyoming Senate has killed every bill that would raise OSHA penalties for employers whose serious violations of safety regulations were responsible for workers’ deaths.
These measures wouldn’t bankrupt employers, just fine them at a level where it’s a deterrent against companies ignoring safety rules at the expense of their workers. Republican leaders are so fearful of the idea they have never even allowed these bills to be debated by the full Senate.
Meanwhile, our workers compensation system has become institutionalized to deny legitimate worker claims while the state doesn’t even make a serious effort to collect premiums owed by employers. In February, WyoFile reported companies are delinquent in this area by a total of $3.2 million.
The impoverished in Wyoming not only get the short end of the stick, they’re usually not even allowed to touch the stick without getting their hands slapped. For the past three years legislators have refused to expand Medicaid to the working poor.
Nearly 18,000 people lack health insurance because a majority of GOP lawmakers have rejected Medicaid expansion solely to deny the Obama administration a health care victory. They don’t care that their decision costs the state $120 million a year in federal funds, or that hospitals are losing $200 million a year in uncompensated costs from providing health care to the poor and uninsured.
But the middle class also pays for the Legislature’s stupidity in the form of some of the highest health insurance premiums in the nation, the result of the state’s refusal to create its own health insurance exchange. Legislators have also failed to come up with a plan to address the lack of quality health care in the state.
Do you think Wyoming actually practices what it claims about equal rights for all? Then you weren’t paying attention in February when the House killed a bill that would have protected gays, lesbians and the transgendered from job discrimination. Businesses heavily lobbied for the bill, which would end the obscene practice of LGBT workers being legally fired solely because of their sexual orientation.
But it was too much for the crazy right-wing coalition in the House that — in support of another bill — argued the religious right can discriminate against lesbians and gays because their very existence offends them. It’s what I expect from these legislators, but it’s shameful the rest of the House went along with a patently unfair, unconstitutional bill.
No matter what the Tea Party believes, equal rights in America are not just granted to white conservative Christians — but lawmakers see blatant discrimination against others as no problem. They said that’s what their constituents wanted.
If a federal court hadn’t rejected the state’s same-sex marriage ban, you could bet your bottom dollar that issue would have wasted at least a few hours of legislative floor time this year.
Wyoming voters overwhelmingly favor medical marijuana that would provide relief from pain for thousands of ill residents. That bill can’t even be voted out of committee because too many lawmakers view pot as an inherently evil “gateway” drug. They don’t think it’s worthwhile to make something available that could improve the quality of life for people who are dying of cancer.
The Legislature won’t do anything to curb the use of fossil fuels that are killing the planet, because A) energy pays for almost everything in Wyoming, and B) they don’t believe climate change is real.
What issues do get the attention of many legislators? Here’s one that continually comes up: Wyoming has to get guns in the hands of teachers and visitors at schools so everyone will be safe. Yes, if you pay your $74 to the state for a permit and attend a hunter safety class, this contingent wants to make it legal for you to pack heat at any public school or college, which is now forbidden.
Supporters of the proposal are still seething because for once the Senate had the common sense to kill a dangerous idea. But don’t worry, they’ve vowed to keep coming back until it passes.
State residents who resist all change have nothing to fear: Wyoming politicians are determined to cling to policies that are anti-poor, anti-worker, anti-gay and anti-women, while following the NRA like lemmings and refusing to acknowledge basic scientific principles. Things aren’t going to change as long as they are in charge.
I believe many people think there’s a lot wrong with the current state of Wyoming politics. If you do, now is the time to speak up.
— Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at [email protected]