Driving through Buffalo, WY yesterday, I had to laugh at all of the Liz Cheney yard signs. What a stunning indictment on the sophistication of the Wyoming electorate, that they would just jump on board and push her to the House of Representatives based solely on her last name. Alternately, is this a commentary on the state of American politics as a business, that an employee can swoop in and “represent” a group of people for a few hundred grand per year with an expense account and a never-ending stream of lobbyist dollars?
How could any other thing explain it? She graduated high school in Virginia. She went to Colorado College for undergrad and then U of Chicago Law School for her JD. She’s lived on the east coast for the majority of her adult years. I think the answer may be that she’s lived on the East Coast for her entire adulthood, and the vast majority of her life, really. The Internet has been virtually scrubbed of her places of residence, but her team was unsuccessful at removing her high school, undergrad and graduate alma maters, as well as her work history, which does not include any Wyoming companies and only includes the names, and not bases of operations for the companies she has worked for.
A 49-year-old who has lived in Wyoming for almost none of her entire life, and any time she did spend in the state was far enough in the rearview to not qualify for a resident fishing license (this was a funny story), announces her US House bid for the State of Wyoming, from her residence in Virginia (many sources have cited a geotag on the initial announcement from Virginia that was quickly removed). How laughable. If somebody named Tom Jones ran for the same seat, without being able to casually mention his father and his father’s service to the state, he’d be crushed as a carpetbagger and nothing he said, no matter how substantive, would be heard nor listened to.
But the sophisticated Wyoming electorate hears and reads Cheney, and gets to be nonchalantly reminded about her father, just jumps on board, to the detriment of other qualified candidates who actually love Wyoming enough to live there. It amazes me.
Currently, the bottom is falling out from under the Wyoming mineral industry. Coal is rapidly withering up and dying. The largest coal mines in North America (the world?) have declared bankruptcy, cut staff with massive layoffs and declined to renew leases on future mining sites, knowing no competitors are awaiting a chance to open operations in the increasingly worthless Wyoming countryside. These future production sites were once so valuable that leases would be held for many years at the prospect of their future production potential. No longer. Oil has been in decline, the market currently flooded and societal pressure mounting to move away from fossil fuels altogether.
Gillette, WY is dying. The death will continue until there is nothing left but a trailer park and a nearly empty mega high school across the street from the meth lab. Nothing will replace it. The town will die, almost completely, and will revert to the surrounding dry-land ranchers, even as that land grows ever more arid and inhospitable to man and beast alike.
There will come a day, in the not so distant future, when the citizens of Wyoming will look back on the bill of goods they were sold about harvesting and abusing their state, turning a blind eye to conservation and agriculture, and become furious. The state has marched and preached staunch conservatism, though of the political, not ecological variety, and culling government watchdogs like the EPA have been pitched as a good thing. Cheney is selling the EPA as Satan incarnate this very election cycle. A state that thrives off the land and what it is able to produce, not just what they are able to pull from beneath it, should embrace the EPA as their friend and ally.
If the game had been to sustainably extract minerals, while building an infrastructure that might survive in its absence, Wyoming would keep plugging along after the decline rather than going down with the ship. But the citizens have been sold this bill of goods, and bought it hook, line and sinker. They’ve stacked the deck for the mineral industry with low tax rates and favorable legislation. Carpetbagger politicians, unelectable in their states of residence, saunter in to collect an easy prize with the same pitch that dug the current hole.
As if the mineral industry would go somewhere else? A thing I’ve never been able to rectify is why on earth you wouldn’t tax the living hell out of mineral-producing businesses. It’s not like they are going somewhere else. Either you have coal in your backyard, or you don’t. Either you have oil under the pasture, or you don’t. Minerals are extracted where minerals are found. If you are lucky enough for that to be under your land, then you’ve hit the literal goldmine. But tax the hell out to them. Build infrastructure and a socioeconomic structure to survive after its departure.
Call me a purist. Is a representative in a representative democracy simply that? Are they a hired hand or should they be a true citizen representative of the region? With as corrupt as American democracy has become, I would propose this model may only exacerbate the problem. I would propose that, if our elected officials are going to move to Washington D.C. to represent themselves, while lying to us, I’d at least want my neighbor to be the guy representing me, not a hired gun from far away.
Matt Mead has been raiding the Wyoming emergency fund. The rainy day fund, filled primarily through mineral monies, though not nearly full enough, is shrinking — and won’t be replaced. But conservative, anti-EPA carpetbaggers dive into the state, selling the same things they’ve always sold, and the electorate obviously continues to buy it.
This is going to hurt. It isn’t going to get better. The state is going to die.