Saturday, March 05, 2011

Last day at the Wyoming Legislature -- artful words and song overwhelm hatred and fear

I visited the lobby of the Wyoming House chambers on Thursday morning. The combative legislative session was winding down and House members were taking their final coffee break. I ran into local Democratic legislators I know and have campaigned for -- Mary Throne, Ken Esquibel, Floyd Esquibel. They appeared suitably relieved on the last day of official business. I also saw some Republican legislators who have championed some good bills and some that were terribly regressive and anti-human. HB 74, for example.

I thought it was telling that many of the Republicans were waylaid on their way into the chambers by Becky Vandeberghe of WyWatch Family Action. This ultra-conservative org was pushing hard to demonize the LGBT community. Big fail! WyWatch only succeeded in embarrassing The Equality State in the eyes of the nation and in rallying a disparate group of Dems and Repubs to oppose the bills. Some were conservative legislators Phil Nicholas and Cale Case. Take a look at this March 4 clip from MSNBC's Rachel Maddow show.

I really liked Sen. Case's amendment. He is, after all, a conservative economist who knows all about unforeseen consequences of dumb legislation.

There were regressive lobbyists and regressive politicians passing therough the lobby on Thursday. Mrs. Vandeberghe of WyWatch was handing out conservative Christian prayer books and clasping the hands of ultra-conservative lawmakers she had won over. "God Bless You," she said, staring deep into their eyes as if attempting to hypnotize them into submission for next year's session.

On the other side of the wood-paneled room, sitting in a comfy chair, was Wyoming's poet laureate, David Romtvedt. He was awaiting the summons to come in and read poems to House members. This is an annual tradition at the Legislature. On Wednesday, David read his poetry to members of the Senate but the House was overburdened with last-minute stuff and didn't have time for David. But he was back.

The House was called to order and began business with a hymn. You can look at a hymn as another form of poetry or as song or even as propaganda. Singing of the hymn fell to Rep. Bob Brechtel (R-Casper), who supported anti-gay legislation all the way. He sang every single verse of "How Great Thou Art." It was piped into the lobby via loudspeakers. Rep. Brechtel has a nice voice and might even have a music background. Wonder if he knows how many gays and lesbians make of the state's music community, or the arts community in general? As the hymn went on, I ran into House doorman Keith Rounds, an accomplished cowboy poet. I asked him if Rep. Brechtel was a preacher or a minister or just liked to sing. He's very religious, he said. Catholic I think. I responded: "What is a nice Catholic boy doing singing a Protestant hymn?" Growing up Catholic, we always sang Catholic hymns -- badly, and in Latin. Keith didn't know the answer to my question.

Meanwhile, as a right-wing Catholic sang God's praises and a right-wing activist handed out God's words, The Bettys showed up. They are a group of about a dozen young women who make up the University of Wyoming acapella singing group. They were getting a guided tour of the Capitol before they sang to the House. They wore black-and-white outfits with 40s-style poufy hats and pink high-heeled shoes. We invited them into the lobby and we all had a great time talking about singing and dancing and the arts. I'm surprised an alarm didn't go off in the lobby. "Warning, warning, lobby dangerously overloaded with arts types. Warning, warning!" David almost broke out his accordion to accompany The Bettys on "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie." But the music had to wait as the tour guide intervened and whisked the young women away to see the rest of the Capitol.

I had a meting to attend so couldn't stick around. I missed hearing David's poetry and music mixing with the strains of hymns and acapella boogie. But I bet if I wander into the empty House chambers on Monday, I'll be able to hear the lingering tones of the arts drowning out the razor-edged words of hatred and fear.

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