Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cranky Old White People Magazine says: Come to Wyoming!

The National Conference of State Legislatures has compiled a Legislator Demographic Map for each state. I looked up the Wyoming map and found it very interesting. Not horribly depressing but pretty darn close. I also found some inaccuracies.

As far as ethnicity, the NCSL site lists our legislature as 97 percent Caucasian and 2 percent Latino. O.K., I know the 2 percent of Latinos: brothers Floyd and Ken Esquibel of Cheyenne.It's kind of funny that I know the only ethnic legislators in the state. Often I am at the same meeting with them, as they are both Democrats (no surprise).

Therein lies the problem. What happened to our lone African-American Legislator, Jim Byrd of Cheyenne? Since there are 90 legislators, Jim's African-Americanness makes up one-ninetieth of this august body. That makes the legislature at least 1 percent black. Now here's another problem: Patrick Goggles is Native American and a a rep from Fremont County. That makes the legislature at least 1 percent Native American.

Both Jim and Patrick are Democrats, of course. So let's add this up. Latino: 2 percent. African-American-American: 1 percent. Native American: 1 percent. That makes 4 percent ethnic and 96 percent Caucasian. Hey NCSL -- time to hire some real researchers!

Four of 14 Democratic legislators represent minorities in this very white state. That's 29 percent. Not bad in a state that is 91 percent white (U.S. Census stats show that 86 percent of the population is white non-Hispanic). In case you're keeping score, the Republican Party representation in the legislature is all white. 100 percent.

But that's just the beginning of the problem.

The NCSL lists Wyoming's gender make-up as 94 percent and 16 percent female. That's 110 percent, as in "My team gave 110 percent today." Even my own math-challenged self can see that this doesn't add up. I am beginning to lose faith in the NCSL.

Here are the real numbers: There are now 13 non-men in the legislature. There were 14 but one (Lisa Shepperson) just resigned. So you could say that the legislature is (was) 16 percent non-men and 84 percent men. Three of the 13 remaining are Democrats. That makes 21 percent of the legislature's Democratic Party representation as female. That's still better than the 13 percent female percentage in the Republican camp.

You can now see why Wyoming legislative sessions have become so bat shit crazy.

That's just the beginning. If the NCSL numbers can be trusted (do you have any doubt at this point?), fully 34 percent of our legislators are 65 and older. There has been some speculation that at least some of these senior Republican members are living part of the year (winter?) in Arizona retirement communities. If this is true throughout the West, you can begin to see why Arizona is so bat shit crazy.

The Wyoming Legislature does have some younger members. Fifty-one percent of its members are 50-64 years old. This is roughly the age of the Baby Boomer generational cohort, the ones who have brought such balance and civility to politics. Within it you find such moderating influences as Rick Perry ("Secede!"), Michelle Bachmann, Rand Paul, David Duke, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, etc. Democrats don't have the same track record on extremists, unless you want to go back to the sixties. Even Al Sharpton has mellowed out. Safe to say that there are wackos in this age group all over the political spectrum but mostly on the Right.

However, there is one statement that can be made about this age group: it is not on the cutting edge of anything. Once you hit 60, you are looking toward retirement. Most of your prejudices and priorities are set in stone. Often you are stone-like in your approach to politics. And not like a rolling stone.

So, 85 percent of our legislators are 50 or over. Most of them are white. Most of them are men. Most of them are very conservative.

A pattern is emerging. Stats in our neighboring states aren't much better. National totals are a bit better but not by much.

No wonder we're in trouble.

Our legislative bodies do not reflect the population.

How can we change it? I would say go out and vote. But many of our state legislators come from very conservative districts and usually there is nobody running on the Dem side. So if I tell people in Big Horn County to get out there and vote, the lone Repub on the ballot will just get more votes.

More bad news: a legislative committee is finishing up redistricting as we speak. Repubs have a veto-proof majority in the legislature now. They outnumber Dems 76-14. Are they after a bigger majority?

You could say that Democrats could do a better job in recruiting and funding candidates. Go ahead, say it. I have, many times. But I ain't running. I've worked for many fine Democratic candidates who were superior in every way to their Republican opposition. They were all trounced. The exception is Dave Freudenthal who was often accused of being a DINO (Democrat in Name Only). But at least he was that. Imagine the conversation that this Thermopolis boy had with himself: I yearn for a career in politics. I want to stay in my home state. Democrats are as popular as prairie dogs but not nearly as plentiful. I'll run for Gov as a Democrat. Brilliant! Gov Dave and one of his predecessors, Mike Sullivan, were exceptions to the rule.

In the 2010 election, almost all of the good Democratic candidates fell to the Tea Party onslaught.

Demographics spell doom for Wyoming. Our children have departed in droves. They leave to attend college and find jobs in Austin and Chicago and L.A. But it's not only jobs. They also seek the amenities of big cities and better educations for their children. They also seek cultural diversity which speaks to a more cosmopolitan environment.

Wyoming has many fine things to offer. The arts scene is booming, especially in Cheyenne, Casper and Jackson. If you love the outdoors, there is no finer place than Wyoming. Our unemployment rates is one of the lowest in the U.S., although most of those jobs are in the oil and gas fields and service industries. Cranky Old White People Magazine always lists Wyoming as one of the best places to retire if you're a cranky old white person. Taxes are low. You can carry guns in public. Tea Party rallies galore. And you have lots of people just like you in the state legislature.

Young people, even if you're white and cranky, don't really want to be around a bunch of cranky old white people.

When it's time to retire, my wife and I will seek warmer climes. We may go to Florida or Arizona, but not  just so we can live in a gated community with a lot of conservative knuckleheads. We will go for adventure. We will go for the arts. We will go so we can be around our kids (one in Arizona, one in Florida) and other family members in the southeast and southwest.

Take a look at this legislator demographic map. Despite the errors, it does offer a snapshot on what the populace has elected to allegedly represent our interests. Is this what you want our august elected body to look like for your kids and grandkids?

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