Sunday, February 13, 2011

Is this the most rigid and close-minded Legislature in Wyoming's 121-year history?

I'm not the only one who's noticed that the Wyoming Legislature has gone crazy this year.

Lander journalist and one-time Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Sniffin decried legislative craziness in a column in today's Wyoming Tribune-Eagle. He notes that
In my 41 years of covering Wyoming lawmakers, I have never seen a group this conservative.... There are fewer women and fewer Democrats in the Legislature than almost any time since territorial days.
That's a 121-year span! Nice to see that we've progressed so far in The Equality State that there is less legislative representation now than there was in 1890. Let's see, 1890 predates the entire 20th century. Wyoming women had voting rights but women in the rest of the nation would have to wait until 1920. Full voting rights for African-Americans were 64 years away. Automobiles were a rarity, and the first flight at Kitty Hawk was 13 years away. Ronald Reagan, savior of the universe, wasn't even born yet. And the source codes for Facebook were locked up in the DNA of Mark Zuckerberg's great-great-great-grandparents.

The world keeps moving ahead. Wyoming gets less equal and more rigid. Various factors have diminished the number of Democrats. One of those is decline in union membership. Another is Wyoming Democratic Party disorganization. Wyoming has a graying population, coupled with the fact that smart young people flee their rural roots for life in the West's cities, all of which, with the possible exception of Colorado Springs, are more progressive places. More Westerners now live in cities than in rural areas.

Wyoming has a part-time legislature. Many of its members come from counties of low population and run unopposed on the Republican ticket. There is a mind meld that goes on with these legislators. Everyone I know in County X thinks this way, so everyone must think this way. And we can't forget the undue influence of Fox "News" and talk radio.

So we get bills that discriminate against gays and lesbians, anti-brown-people-from-south-of-the-border bills, We Hate Obama and His Socialist Policies laws, anti-women's-choice acts, union-busting proposals and mandatory Pledge of Allegiance legislation (see my previous post).

Not all of these are generated in the windblown hinterlands. Most, notably the anti-teacher laws, are crafted in D.C. by right-wing think tanks and brought to Flyover Country by folksy predators wearing spit-shined cowboy boots. Often our legislators are brought to D.C. to be fed this pablum and they can bring it back to Wyoming their own selves.

Bill Sniffin lays out some of the reasons that our Republican-dominated Legislature is a sitting duck for bad advice. Corporate and right-wing interests select good ol' boy lobbyists that often become the legislator's best pal. Legislators are overworked and "it is almost impossible for them to obtain impartial information with coverage of both sides of certain issues." Since big money hires big lobbyists, they are the ones who get heard.
Top advisers to the lawmakers on important issues (like severance tax, for example) are the same lobbyists whose job it is to prevent such laws from passing.
Only when there is a hue and cry from the people are these lobbyist-crafted bills defeated. Sometimes it is the minority who speaks out, as we saw with women legislators (D & R) speaking against anti-choice legislation. That sometimes is not enough. As Mr. Sniffin pointed out in this column, there are fewer women than ever in the legislature.

Maybe this session is an aberration. Wyoming, for the most part, has been known for the moderate strain among its conservatives. If that disappears from the scene along with Democrats and women and Hispanics and Native Americans and African-Americans, youngsters, gays/lesbians and other dissenting voices, Wyoming is in for its own Dark Ages.

When the coal and oil and gas and trona run out, what's left will be the creativity of its citizens. If open-minded creative voices are not heard, we are in big trouble.

1 comment:

Randy said...

way are you so right on all the time. Thanks Randy