You know what would be a real baller move? Wyoming declaring itself a sanctuary state.
Of course the “Equality State” should welcome refugees and immigrants. We pride ourselves as neighborly and eager to offer a “hand up” rather than a “hand out,” as the saying goes. Besides, declaring Wyoming a sanctuary state is in perfect keeping with our politicos’ repetitive gesture of extending a middle finger to “the feds.” Nothing is held in higher regard in Wyoming politics than defying the feds, so why not align with new allies while staying true to tradition?
The state can also make a serious play for tech workers fleeing Silicon Valley, whether they are foreign-born and looking toward Canada due to the chaos of President’s Trump’s travel ban, or if they are among the tens of thousands who cannot afford SV’s insane cost of living. Forget Vancouver. Have you seen the Tetons? Menlo Park and Palo Alto are nice, but dollars go much further, and the views are much finer, in Pinedale and Jackson. Heck, even Gillette and Casper have their charm.
Take it from Wyoming expats; for decades the state’s main export has been its young people. Now formally baptized in hipsterism, many of them are eager to return with their young families and launch their own businesses or telecommute for metropolitan-based employers. Understanding this, Gov. Matt Mead launched Wyoming Grown a couple of years ago, trying to lure its skilled youth back home. (Sure, I privately referred to the program as Wyoming Groan, but I also admit the intention is a good one.)
It’s time tech workers learn the secret that many investment fund managers already know; Wyoming is a sweet tax haven. There’s also no state income tax, and Wyoming communities are hungry to offer tax breaks and other incentives for new-blood businesses. Living and working digitally is second nature in remote Wyoming, where there’s also plenty of sunshine and wind to power server farms.
Wyoming should be especially motivated to take advantage of the politically and economically induced brain drain from America’s coasts today. Its economy is over-leveraged in the business of extracting fossil fuels. Wyoming faces a $400 million school funding crisis while the Legislature still guts the state budget in response to the downturn in energy. All the while, tucked inside its boot is a $7 billion “Permanent Mineral Trust Fund” — among the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world. Earnings from the fund were supposed to help Wyoming weather between-boom-times, but it’s never been enough to avoid deep budget cuts. Programs to help the most vulnerable among us are the first to go.
The dirty secret about sitting atop mountains of cheap coal, oil and natural gas is that it doesn’t give Wyoming command over the carbon-consuming world. Instead, it can strip the state of self-determination and make it subservient to the chaotic whims of world markets and politics. Unless the state can diversify its economy it will continue to erode the very social structures needed to bring in new businesses and the people to fulfill them.
Wyoming needs new ideas and outside perspectives. As recently noted in The New York Times, “Another reason immigrants do so well in tech is that people from outside bring new perspectives that lead to new ideas.”
Rather than bemoan the fact that its fossil-fuel and mineral-extraction-based economy is rapidly shifting, it might be viewed as an opportunity. The future is less carbon and more silicon. Wyoming can still be a leader in energy, even if it’s more renewable than finite. The state’s most precious resources are its wildlife and its wide-open spaces with plenty of room to explore — not its subterranean riches of oil and coal.
If Wyoming were to declare itself a sanctuary state, nobody would see it coming. I said it would be a baller move instead of a humanitarian one, because the state’s motivation is much more likely to be economic. Sadly, Wyoming’s once-independent brand of conservatism has become saturated by national-brand partisanship. If Wyoming culture and politics were true to the narrative I was taught while growing up there in the 1970s-80s, declaring itself a sanctuary state today wouldn’t necessarily be baller, but a no-brainer.
— Dustin Bleizeffer is on leave from WyoFile while serving as a John S. Knight fellow at Stanford University. He is a WyoFile reporter and former editor-in-chief of the organization.