Thursday, November 07, 2002


Like the TV pundits were saying over and over and over again Tuesday night, Election Night 2002 was historic.

Certainly it was a night of firsts for me, I who did a number of things I’ve never before associated with Election Day before AND will never again be able to avoid thinking about these things on so special an occasion.

I mean, among other things, I sat in the back row for choir practice, in my imaginary propeller beanie, singing my heart out with a King (of Sewers) and an Annointed One (even then breathing his last free air; as the last notes left his throat, election judges just blocks away were certifiying him my future colleague on the Saratoga Town Council)... and we were singing...

We were singing...

We were singing the “Hallelujah Chorus!”

Of course, the delightful appropriateness of what we were singing did not dawn on me until about seven hours later, when I sat up bolt upright in bed and had to laugh aloud because we really, truly, had reason to be singing Hallelu, Hallelujah!

This is the first time in my entire life that I’ve ever backed a winner, you see. More than one, actually!

I still have to pinch myself. I can’t bring myself to take down my Dave Freudenthal OR my Kurt Bucholz yard signs (this even though Bucholz had it in the bag when he secured the nomination for House District 47 on Primary Election Day in August!) just yet. I keep thinking that if I do, someone will immediately come up to me with incontrovertible proof that, in fact, Eli Bebout will be our next governor.

But he won’t, he won’t...

Now, of course, is where it gets really interesting, watching an administration gel and watching how those around me react to it, feeling my way as an elected official, a chamber chick and, oh yeah, a taxpayer around this new Wyoming that is just now being born.

I think it’s the Indonesians who have a concept they call djam karet, the hour that stretches, a time that comes now and then to everyone in which one feels that all opposition has been temporarily thwarted or at least held at bay and one has the opportunity while the forces of evil are in stasis to make huge leaps of progress or simply to take quiet, peaceful breaths and regroup.

Me and mine are in such a time now, but already I can feel the subtle tug that will bring this hour snapping backward.

Perhaps the first tug back came when my Mountain Mentor, he who drags me up hill and down dale while imparting priceless pearls of intelligence, business sense and oracular observation, called me up early Wednesday morning and began the conversation with “Well hello, Dr. Sherrod,” and a subtly ominous yet cheerful laugh, followed by “Now we’ll get to see whether you’re an internist or a neurosurgeon.”

I was as bewildered as you are, at first. When this guy starts talking, I sort of have to fling my arms around one of his legs and hold on for dear life as he strides along tirelessly. Conversation with him is as close to true vertigo as I’ve ever felt, I sometimes think. So it took me a few beats to figure out what he meant.

It scared me to death when I did. As he wound up explaining, with this change of administration, he believes a lot of what has thwarted our efforts is going to evaporate and we’ll finally be able to operate, to save the lives of the patients in our care. It’s all going to be different now.

Heavy stuff. Kind of made me scream.

So I wonder now how Dave Freudenthal feels. I got a pantload of hope and expectation dropped into my lap Wednesday morning, but how many freaking railroad cars full has he gotten since Bebout made his concession speech?

I have always admired people who have cultivated within themselves the ability to deal with such a pressure of good will, hope, belief – much harder to bear, I think, than cynicism, ill wishes or suspicion. I am only just beginning, myself, to see glimmers of how this is done – I’ve spent a lot of time staggering on my way – and so my admiration for Freudenthal and his ilk has only grown.

I got almost everything I wanted out of Election Day, and so face the next two years of my public life with relative equanimity, now. I’m doing all I can to make the most out of djam karet while it lasts.

I hope Dave is, too.

Tuesday, November 05, 2002


A friend who occasionally shares his brain with me when he isn't using it finished reading my copy of Pushed Off the Mountain, Sold Down the River: Wyoming's Search for its Soul, complete with Kate annotations scribbled in the margin, and made some of his own with little yellow post-it notes which I am going to leave in for subsequent loanings of the book. I think he and I have accidentally stumbled on a process by which the editing of this tract should have been done in the first place, and have also started a conversation which could well continue throughout my little town as this pamphlet gets handed from person to person, which I'm sure Mr. Western would find delightful.

Most provocative among the little yellow post-it notes is one fixed to the cover which asks "Can we get where we need to go without hating the cowboy image?"

See why I borrow his brain from time to time?

I suppose we'll all have different answers to the question, depending on our own prejudices and the degree to which we have been persuaded by reviewers' and letter writers' preliminary takes on Mr. Western's book.

I should perhaps not even try to posit Mr. Western's own answer, but I do feel the need to clarify my own take on Western regarding this question, which is: he's not necessarily calling for an end to the cowboy myth, he just thinks we need to pay equal attention to other possibilities, other myths that we have long suppressed.

Now, I'm an enthusiastic student of mythology and archetypal psychology, as everyone knows, and what I think Western is concerned about is that Wyoming has committed that most Jungian of sins, identification with the archetype, that inflation of just one minor part of the ego that matches an externally generated image (like a god, in the Greek canon, or a Cowboy, in Wyoming's) to the detriment of the rest of the ego (or the other gods, to the Greeks, or the entrepreneurs, inventors, female governors, etc. of Wyoming's). The damage done to the rest of the personality is obvious, as are the consequences.

BUT... It is just as great a misdeed to the self to eliminate that archetype that has blotted out the others. It was there in the psyche for a reason, and the psyche's need for it never ends.

So with our Cowboy. Like him, hate him, be indifferent entirely to him, we need him. Whether or not he is a worthy Person upon which to have projected so much of Wyoming's soul, he has been there with us from the beginning, has pulled his weight (even economically; the cattle industry has saved Wyoming from ruin more than once), and his romance is still ours, to a degree.

We will especially need him through our transition to Western's vision for us, too. While we restructure our economy and begin to look to new dreams, we will need tourism more than ever, and our attraction for tourists lies in two things: our open spaces (a legacy of ranching and federal government ownership) and our Cowboy mythos.

For the nation as a whole, maybe even the world (when I think of all of the Germans flocking to rodeos and dude ranches the region over, I say definitely the world), needs this myth, too. It's not just ours to preserve or destroy, just as the national forests that surround my town are not just the property of those of us who live near them; they belong to Wall Street brokers and Maine potato farmers and San Francisco bit miners and Wal Mart serfs in all 50 states, who exercise a collective will that desires more and more for their preservation at all costs that it is pure foolishness for a handful of us living on the mountain to oppose.

Rather, if we want to stay on the mountain, it is time to take the good qualities we've admired in the Cowboy – stewardship, hard work, self-reliance, etc. – and employ them in the service of safeguarding our society's cherished myth of a free and open life under a big, clear, blue sky, drinking clean water, watching actual living wildlife in its real habitat, and yes, eating beef raised the old fashioned way by our neighbors. Agriculture may be a ceremonial occupation in Wyoming, but what are we as a species without our ceremonies, our rituals, our myths?

So yeah, though the Cowboy and all that has gone with him in Wyoming still makes me roll my eyes as my first reaction, I still defend our need for him, and hope that, when asked, Mr. Western will do the same. The important thing is not to get rid of the Cowboy; the important thing is never again to identify so monolithically with him.

Monday, November 04, 2002


Two years ago, I was a pathetic, jittery mess as I realized that within 24 hours I would either be an elected official or an off-the-hook, also-ran, dud. I clung to the latter possibility up to the last possible moment, still burned by stupid memories of, e.g., high school student council elections in which I always lost out to the airhead, but then as more and more people approached me, telling me they planned to vote for me and believed in me, the truth began to sink in.

The truth wasn’t the only thing that sank, two years ago, of course. My stomach did, too, as I realized that part of me actually did want this. And then the jitters set in.

Those jitters were nothing compared to those besetting me now, though. It’s funny – I still have two years in office no matter what, but the anxiety I feel on Election Eve ‘02 dwarfs that of 2000, even though 2000 was a presidential election (I still remember sitting in the Hotel Wolf on election night, giggling with the Hotel Wolf family over the way each network had a different opinion of who had won in Florida... until I stopped giggling when one of my lackeys brought over the returns fresh off the newspaper’s fax machine declaring that my ass was headed for the hot seat).

The governor’s race, as I’ve already established, is giving me fits. The county commissioners’ race is a crushing disappointment, being a mess of mediocre choices at a time when we can ill afford them, coupled with a minor sense of guilt over my own unpreparedness to step forward and say “Hey, I can do better” and my own inability to persuade anyone else to do likewise. Fighting off the guilt of relative powerlessness is a tough chore, made all the worse by seeing a nearly identical situation right here in my own hometown. Folks keep asking me who to vote for for mayor (my pat answer: if you can’t make up your own mind about this, don’t vote, you knuckleheads!) and I really don’t see much difference at all and only, ultimately, plump for the guy who seems least likely to give me a headache (though I know that either one will).

The two taxes that are on the ballot in Carbon County will directly affect my ability to do my jobs, and I’ve put forth much energy in campaigning to support them, and now it’s out of my hands. Come tomorrow, I’m only one vote in favor of each, and the rest of Carbon County can all stand up as a body against me, for all I can do now.

I have expended zero energy fighting the constitutional amendments on tomorrow’s ballot, letting myself be persuaded by my own lassitude, naivete, faith, and belief in my more politically experienced companions’ certainty that our voters in Wyoming are inherently loath to mess with our state constitution in general, and in particular don’t really trust the legislature as a body enough to vote it the ability to call itself into special session without the governor’s assent. I cling even more tightly to this hope now as I look back on my season of inaction vis a vis these amendments.

So much of the color and character of the next two years of my life will be more or less decided in one day, and that day is tomorrow. Will I have money to spend on infrastructure and essential services as a town councilmember (and just possibly the senior town councilmember, though I don’t really think my council colleague who is running for county office has much of a chance against the Rawlins machine)? With whom will I have to wrangle as to how that money will be used if we do indeed have it? Will I have lodging tax grant money to spend to promote my valley as your chamber director, or will I have to resort to our organization’s own coffers and fundraising capacity (defined basically as my capacity to come up with dumb new ways to raise money... but how many popcorn pop-offs can this town stand, really?) to do the job I’ve been doing in that capacity? What larger changes do or do not loom on the state horizon?

Its all in the hands of the unknown number of my fellow registered yahoos who will actually turn out at the polls tomorrow.

Damn, I hate not being in control.

And I have another 2000 words to write on the novel tonight, too!

Sunday, November 03, 2002


...Until it's time for us to head for the polls to make one of the most important decisions we as Wyoming voters have made in quite a while. It's a little bit nerve-wracking, as the times, already scary, just got scarier here in Saratoga on Friday morning, when the news that our lumber mill is closing down for at least six months came splashed across the front page of the Rawlins Daily Times.

We have several big decisions to make on Tuesday: the gubernatorial election, two seats on the Carbon County Commission, the fates of the fifth penny sales tax and the 2% lodging tax. I worry that fear, especially fear of change, is going to be the dominating factor in the voting booth. Don't let it, people.

Now, I'm not going to waste pixels on trying to encourage people to get out and vote. It is a hoary piece of received wisdom that high voter turnouts are ipso facto desirable, but I don't buy it, never have. I prefer a small number of highly motivated and informed voters making decisions that affect me, not a large number of numbskulls voting on the basis of someone having the same name as their city (a Massachusetts Secretary of State candidate whose campaign I ran when I was in Boston actually won in the city of Everett, Mass. His last name? Yup. Everett) or marking a straight ticket or just randomly blackening ovals as though this were just a grown-up version of the Iowa tests.

Besides, the fewer people vote, the more likely I am to get my way!

An interesting wrinkle has developed in the Freudenthal campaign in the form of a website dedicated to collecting the endorsements of private individuals in the closing days of the campaign. I've just finished adding my own name to the list of people from all over Wyoming who are making their support of Freudenthal as public as can be, and I'm very pleased overall to see the names of a lot of people I personally know and respect on there, but I know there are a lot more of you out there (currently there are only two Saratoga people on there, myself and Jim States. Come on, kids!) so I urge you to head over to and add yourself to the growing list. If nothing else, we'll have this to point to if the other guy wins and the shit hits the fan. Sort of a cyber version of those 1980s era t-shirts that said "Don't blame me, I voted for Bill and Opus."

I would also urge those of you out there who are still wavering to take a good look at Freudenthal's website, especially at THIS SECTION whereat Freudenthal addresses the whirling allegations made by his opponents regarding an economic development loan made to Energy Brothers in 1987. The documents there pretty much speak for themselves, but I would like to call particular attention to the fact that the loan made to Energy Brothers was the only loan in the entire Clean Coal program that has been repaid. While it is true that the company took a while to repay the loan and the state did haul its principal, Ted Venners, to court over repayments, the loan was paid off to State Treasurer Cyntha Lummis' satisfaction in 1997, and the $11.7 million loan did bring the state a plant in Gillette that has generated something in the neighborhood of $1.5 million to date in sales and use taxes alone.

Also, Freudenthal disclosed his connections to Energy Brothers, starting as legal counsel to them in the early 1980s and ending with minority ownership interests in two companies affiliated with Energy Brothers, up front, and he and his brother relinquished their minority ownership interests in 1987 prior to the vote on the company's loan application.

All in all, it seems like a funny way of trying to bring up the character issue in this election. I never would have looked so closely into the work Freudenthal did as part of the EDSB had this not come up, and what I've learned from examining this issue has cemented, rather than weakened, my resolve to do all I can to see that he's our next governor. Nice job, Constantino!

As for the fifth penny sales tax, I just want to point out one more thing: We're paying it everywhere we go, and so is everyone else. Sometimes more. Every time you leave the county to go visit that giant money-vacuum from Arkansas (I'm talking about Wally World) you're paying for Albany County's roads and bridges and ambulances and fire trucks, and when they come through here to have a beer after sitting in the hot springs or cross country skiing or whatever they return the favor. If we vote it out, that reciprocity, along with the funding itself for all of these services, is gone.

The lodging tax? Well, every time you see an ad in the newspaper with that Justin Carbon logo, whether it's generally promoting the attractions Carbon County has to offer or specifically plugging one of the many events put on by yours truly as your chamber chick (including the Saratoga Ice Fishing Derby, Encampment's Sierra Madre Winter Carnival, the Donald E. Erickson Memorial Chariot Races, the Platte Valley Festival of Birds, the Platte Valley Festival of the Arts, the Steinley Cup/Bullfest/Chili Cook-Off, and at least one street dance per year), it's been paid for out of funds collected by motels, hotels, campgrounds and lodges in Carbon County from people who don't live here, which is why the Carbon County Visitors Council proudly calls it "the tax you don't pay."

Of course, you pay it whenever you visit someplace else, whether it's Laramie or Denver or Chicago or Portland. Seems only fair to have folks from those places return the favor, no?

So, if you agree with me on any of this stuff, be sure and go vote on Tuesday. If you don't, or you don't really care, then I strongly urge you to stay away from the polls. Stay home and watch bowling on TV, or go out and get drunk at noon, or make a few extra 911 calls about your neighbor's barking dogs.

Anything but voting is fine with me.