Alan Simpson served three terms in the U.S. Senate as a Republican from Wyoming from 1979-1997. Before his 1978 election to the Senate, he served six terms in the Wyoming House of Representatives, representing Park County from 1965-1977. The former senator draws on his long years of public service to offer the following advice to Wyoming’s 64th Legislature, which convenes today — Ed.
Remember that first presidential primary nearly a year ago? — filled with contentious debates, reckless accusations, misinformation and issue “spinning,” which sometimes might be called “lying?”
It consistently generated more heat than light — except for the television lights that bleached the clothing of the “talking heads” and Congresspersons using the disruptive fiasco for self-aggrandizement. It made our already neutered national legislature seem even more out to lunch and out of touch than ever. This giant diversion caused issues and problems in states like Wyoming to go largely unnoticed and unaddressed. It is now time to shift our focus.
Our state Legislature is soon to begin its 40-day session. That limited period must be used wisely. Significant hammering down of our energy prices — and related fiscal, physical and social challenges — have put some Wyoming companies out of business and thousands of Wyomingites out of work. Now our legislators must do everything they possibly can to protect our unique character, culture and way of life in this, the ninth largest state.
Highly emotional issues like gay rights, bathroom designations, abortion, guns in classrooms, climate change, and the obviously related and contentious matters are certainly worthy of discussion. It would not be smart or responsible for the Wyoming Legislature to engage those issues in any long debates, however, if such debates were to come at the expense of dealing with the core issues affecting the daily life of all of our citizens.
I’ve often said I don’t know anyone displaying a sign reading, “Have an Abortion: They are good.” Abortion is a deeply intimate, personal and often tragic thing. If the credo of many legislators is the right to be left alone and to get government out of our lives and to protect our precious right of privacy, then let’s leave that terrible and troubling decision to those most intensely involved.
Gay marriage is the law of the land. When we have so many serious problems confronting our state, we must not become enmeshed in issues such as bathroom designations. If the issue is consuming too much time, then simply vote to place an appropriate sign on the old outhouse reading “Single Occupancy Only” and move on.
The nation is riveted on our new president’s every utterance as he takes office. That’s fine. It is a pivotal time in our nation and what he will do is critically important. But that must not be our sole focus.
There is so much work to be done right here at home, vital work. We must insist that our Wyoming legislators deal first with our mounting budget challenges, our still-too-high unemployment, education financing and how to lessen our dependence on coal, oil and gas for major state revenue. We must strengthen our industries of tourism and agriculture, and encourage new industries and services to come here if we are to address the crippling impact of our “boom and bust” cycles.
In taking on these challenges, the Legislature must explain its votes and decisions to the Wyoming public in the clearest manner possible. As I once told my staff, don’t use words that continually send people running off to the dictionary or out on a coffee break. Do not assume everyone knows exactly what you are talking about — or in some cases, that you do!
In explaining your actions, “At this point in time” should be “now” — “heretofore” should be “before” — “effectuate reductions” should be “reduce” — “a query relative to the status of” should read “a question about” — “aforesaid” or “aforementioned” should be written as “previous,” or better yet, “before.”
During this fleeting 40 days of our legislators’ work let them, and all of us, remember that compromise is not a four-letter word. It’s the backbone and essence of our form of government. Let’s not scrap and grumble over the battles of previous campaigns or sink into petty extremism. Let’s banish any forms of racial, gender or class warfare. Let’s not divide ourselves based on religion. If someone demands to know your church preference just tell ‘em, “red brick!”
It’s time to take a laser-like and responsible focus on the state of our own state. It’s time to shun and discard divisiveness and pull together like Wyoming folks always do, and do so without falling for a solely national agenda. Time is of the essence.