Welcome to Wyoming. Now Shut Up.
March 19, 2013
Comedian Chris Rock reportedly once said that, “arguing politics is like trying to convince someone that their baby isn’t cute.”
Funny, and true. But there are ways that people can discuss controversial issues in politics without insulting one another or their offspring. If one actually has a point to make, showing respect for the other person and his or her point of view is the best way to ensure the other party is listening.
Such an ideal communication model was completely shattered last month after a Cheyenne pastor wrote to every state lawmaker with concerns about a proposed bill to allow the concealed carrying of guns in school.
“Ample evidence has shown that schools and guns do not mix, and in particular, guns in the hands of amateurs/non-professionals is extremely dangerous, especially in any highly charged situation,” wrote Rev. Audette Fulbright of Cheyenne’s Unitarian Universalist Church. “To expose our children to greater risk in their schools by encouraging more guns on campuses is something that we cannot allow.”
That’s certainly not an opinion considered out of touch with Americans. In fact, several polls have shown support for several types of gun control — requiring background checks for all gun transactions, for example, including at gun shows.
But Fulbright’s questioning of this pro-gun-rights bill backed by most Wyoming House members, as well as her letter’s focus on “the profoundly serious dangers of fracking,” unleashed a barrage of criticism from Rep. Hans Hunt (R-Newcastle), and other conservatives in the state.
“I’ll be blunt. If you don’t like the political atmosphere of Wyoming, then by all means, leave,” Hunt replied in his response to Fulbright’s email. “We, who have been here a very long time (I am proudly 4th generation) are quite proud of our independent heritage. I don’t expect a ‘mass exodus’ from our state just because we’re standing up for our rights.”
This “Wyoming — Love It Or Leave It” sentiment isn’t particularly original, and it’s definitely not good for the state. It’s essentially a cop-out, and a cheap one at that: It’s like saying anyone who disagrees with a “native” about anything isn’t a real Wyomingite, no matter how long he or she has lived here.
Hunt wants Fulbright to accept that having kin whose ancestors were either born here or arrived generations ago automatically puts him in the right about Wyoming issues.
So after voting the good minister off Cowboy Island, Hunt bore in on what he apparently considers Fulbright’s inherent inability to match him as a true citizen of Wyoming: “It offends me to no end when liberal out-of-staters such as yourself move into Wyoming, trying to get away from where they came from, and then pompously demand that Wyoming conform to their way of thinking.
“We are, and will continue to be, a state which stands a head above the rest in terms of economic security,” Hunt continued. “Our ability to do that is, in large part, [due] to our ‘live and let live’ mentality when it comes to allowing economic development, and limiting government oversight.”
His parting shot repeated the core of his political point. “If you’re so worried about what our Legislature is working on, then go back home,” Hunt concluded.
Hunt made it clear that this lawmaker wasn’t going to be influenced by an out-of-state liberal. The only out-of-staters who seem to be entirely welcome here are energy developers who want to use Wyoming’s intentional lack of regulatory oversight to take as much in fossil fuels as they can, spending as little as they can, and not letting minor factors such as the health of humans and wildlife get in the way of the transactions.
Fortunately, that’s not the view held by many Wyoming officials in both parties who recognize that there are indeed places in the state so special that they deserve government protection. But to please the Tea Party set and others on the right fringe of the Republican Party, politicians like Hunt like to throw their base a little raw meat now and then. There’s no better way, apparently, than taking a recent transplant, like Fulbright, and bullying her with his know-it-all approach branded as the Wyoming way.
If we’re not open-minded enough to listen to intelligent people with different views, Wyoming loses. If children who are born here are raised to believe that they are better than others who move here later in life, Wyoming loses.
And if someone can’t bring a few concerns to a state legislator without being berated and then told to get the hell out of here if they don’t like it, Wyoming loses. Big time.
Hunt’s actions in this incident, including his unwillingness to apologize to the pastor when given the chance by the media, were both ignorant and arrogant.
I’ve spent only 46 of my 57 years living in Wyoming, so I can’t pass Hunt’s purity test to have an opinion worth listening to about Wyoming issues. But I know many natives of the state who are upset about Hunt’s treatment of Fulbright and his assertion that born-in-Wyoming folks have some innate sense of right and wrong that can’t possibly be absorbed anywhere outside our borders. Newcomers need to know that there are a lot of Wyomingites who do not even remotely agree with Hunt’s ridiculous views.
But the really scary part of the controversy was the quick rush to defend Hunt’s words by fellow conservatives. Fans of right-wing websites like The Blaze have made the Newcastle legislator almost a folk hero; a rare politician who is willing to tell anyone off if they disagree about gun control and the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment.
One anonymous poster to the website noted, “No need to apologize for the truth. This country is still free to the chagrin of liberals, so stay out of the real West if you can’t handle the truth, the freedom, and the U.S. Constitution.”
“I am proud of this young man,” another commenter wrote. “He sent the message that she, and the pompous liberals like her, needed to hear.”
A third one added, “Airhead women like the one who sent that email make my skin crawl, they move to another state and want to make it as bad as where they came from. Apparently she wants to spread the misery to normal people.”
Disagreements are often healthy. Sometimes, minds can be changed through civil discourse. I hold out the hope that Hunt’s rude, misguided response to Fulbright can be used for a good purpose if it helps people in Wyoming recognize that on occasion, our new residents really do know how to do something better, and if we listen instead of scorn them, we just might learn a thing or two.
— Kerry Drake is the editor of the Casper Citizen, a new nonprofit online newspaper that will launch on April 1.
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