Editor’s note: WyoFile is pleased to present the first moderator’s comments in our special project: “The Pete Simpson Forum.” Pete Simpson, a lifelong Wyoming resident who has been active in civic matters, has teamed up with WyoFile to initiate a conversation about what it means to live, work and play in Wyoming and how people from a wide spectrum can engage in respectful discussions about how our state can best deal with a host of challenges and opportunities. People with different backgrounds are invited to write about a particular topic. WyoFile publishes a pair of columns each month.
Pete Simpson Forum: Time to jump in the pool, WyomingitesBy Pete Simpson —September 24, 2013
In answer to the question of where I’ve been, let me say just I’m glad to be back – from the haze, heat and traffic of New York to the celestial clarity and rural appeal of Wyoming – “our” land of “high altitude and low multitude” as dad, and many others after him, have said.
The Pete Simpson Forum has sought divergent comments and opinions and we’re pleased to see it has found them, particularly from the first forum. Thank you! It has sought also indications of common ground and I think the possessive “our” above best describes the attitude of the Forum column authors and commentators – newcomers and old timers alike – toward Wyoming. By implication, synonym or direct observation, it’s “ours!” We’ve staked a claim and we’re damned if anyone is going to “jump” it, or put us down, or shut us up. We have the right to defend, criticize, support or change Wyoming and that’s a good start by any measure. Thanks for all your comments as well!
In reading the responses to “Introducing the Pete Simpson Forum,” I was struck in Barb Parson’s and Paul Robison’s comments referring to the history of unionism along the Union Pacific railroad. The question of how and why union strength has declined since the 1970’s and how fundamentally that has related to the decline of the Wyoming Democratic party is a question we need to address. Look for a column on that soon.
Related to that is the issue of a long history of corporate influence in Wyoming’s economy and politics. From the early cattle industry with its large “corporatized” ownership to the Union Pacific in the south to the oil and coal interests in southern and central Wyoming, large corporate interests have played a strong hand. But, as my friend, Fred Parady, commented, they “pay the bills.” But, do they really believe in or encourage growth or economic diversity in our state? P.H. Shroeder suggested greedy, power-mongering corporate and family interests early on account for the state’s small population today. We’ll address that. (By the way, P.H., the family never ran cattle; mostly, coal and the law – perhaps not much of a step up after all.)
I was intrigued by Robert Hoskins’ observation that Wyoming’s political identity began with the Johnson County War and the implication that our strong libertarian streak might be traced from the repulsion Wyomingites’s felt when they discovered some of the state’s most influential political leaders collaborated with law breakers. Does our suspicion of the motives of the federal government extend to state and local government as well? We’re libertarian when it comes to Washington; but, Cheyenne and our local county seats? Maybe we ought to talk about that. What do you think?
Mary Humstone asked a question I do think needs discussion. She recounted where once there was a strong and identifiable Wyoming “conservation ethic.” Ranchers joined with conservationists to form the Powder River Basin Resource Council, for example. And, I remember the Sierra Club coming out for Malcolm Wallop during his first run for the U.S. Senate – and he succeeded. She wonders if anyone has noted a slow marginalization of that alliance and questions Wyoming’s future in light of that. In this case, we have a history of common ground. If that ethic has eroded, how did that happen? What’s happening now?
Gloria, thanks for your pithy and eloquent response. Your paper got an “A.”
And, thanks to the thoughtful, readable and provocative columns from Bob Johnston and Julia Stuble published on September 10th. They both address the state of Equality in the Equality State — an issue that resonates at the national level as well. Note Tim Noah’s “The Great Divergence,” Joseph Stiglitz, “The Price of Inequality” and Robert Reich’s “Inequality for All,” which is now a movie documentary. The fact that the United States ranks below every modern industrial country and only ahead of Turkey and Mexico in distribution of wealth has important implications not only for the economy but for the democracy and it behooves us to talk about how we stand here in Wyoming.Look now for two more columns coming up for October and join the conversation.
As my young grandson who’s just learning to swim said to me this summer, “jump in, grandad, the water’s fine.” See you at the Pool.
— Dr. Peter Kooi Simpson is a University of Wyoming professor emeritus who taught political science for more than 12 years. A University of Wyoming basketball player and veteran of the Navy, Pete earned his doctorate in history from the University of Oregon. He later worked in administration at Casper College and Sheridan College and chaired the University of Wyoming Foundation. The son of Governor Milward Simpson and the older brother of Senator Alan Simpson, Pete served as a state representative from 1981-1984, and ran for governor against Democrat Mike Sullivan in 1986. Pete and his wife Lynne are active supporters of the arts, having collaborated on numerous theatrical productions throughout their lives. He lives in Cody.Editor’s note: Please comment on these columns: let Pete know what you think, and whether you would like to be invited to contribute to The Pete Simpson Forum (send a note to Simpson via [email protected]). Thank you in advance for your participation! 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.
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