The Drake's Take

How much does it cost Wyoming to hate Obama?

— May 21, 2013

Many Wyoming politicians sharply disagree with the president’s policies and preach to their constituents that he’s hurting the state. That’s not a productive use of time for anyone, but at least it’s not really costing us any money.

But showing voters that hating Barack Obama means so much to them that they would rather turn down federal funds than use the money to help a segment of the population that desperately needs it — that takes partisanship and stupidity to entirely new lows.

Kerry Drake

Kerry Drake

How much does it cost Wyoming to hate the president so much that the extreme right-wing of the Republican Party is actually willing to sacrifice the quality of residents’ lives just to send the White House a message? It’s not difficult to quantify at least some of the state’s losses.

My analysis includes three categories to consider: stimulus money, the extension of federal unemployment funds, and health care reform.

Criticism of the stimulus package that Obama and the Democrats pushed through in the early days of his administration is an example of the type of reaction that may be wrong-headed, but not actually very harmful. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act brought $664 million to Wyoming and, according to Recovery.gov, a federal website that tracked stimulus funds, 1,017 new jobs between April 1 and June 30, 2009. The majority of the money went to construction projects and helped municipal and county governments fix critical infrastructure at a time when their economies were imploding.

Of course, there was much carping about the stimulus from our all-GOP delegation in Congress and the Republican-controlled state Legislature. Sen. Mike Enzi called it “bailout baloney,” but that certainly didn’t keep him from writing six letters seeking funding for a carbon capture and smart grid projects in Wyoming funded as part of the stimulus by Obama’s clean energy program.

But Wyoming received its fair share of stimulus money, it was used for good projects, and no one suggested we give any of the funds back. All Republican House members voted against Obama’s stimulus bill, but they were only testing the waters for when the president launched other initiatives they would find even more offensive.

By February 2011, the Wyoming Legislature was ramped up enough to tell the feds to give other states the $38 million we were offered to extend unemployment benefits for those who had been jobless for a long time and needed retraining.

Some state lawmakers argued that in addition to their desire not to add to the national debt, they did not believe that unemployed people were looking hard enough for jobs — otherwise they would have had them, right? — and the House voted 34-25 to tell the feds to keep their dirty money. It certainly wasn’t needed here.

Except, of course, it could have greatly benefited residents already down on their luck because they lost their job and couldn’t find another one. After this outrageous decision, Wyoming State AFL-CIO executive secretary Kim Floyd noted there were more workers than jobs in many sectors, including construction, which had an unemployment rate of 22 percent.

The extra funds could have helped about 5,600 Wyomingites remain on unemployment for another 13 weeks, and do those little things people like to do for their families, like feed and clothe and shelter them. It must be a difficult concept to grasp for the extreme right, whose cluelessness matches its lack of compassion. In March 2011, WyoFile reported that many of the state lawmakers who voted to turn down the federal unemployment benefit extension were unabashedly collecting tens of thousands of dollars in federal agriculture subsidies.

The travesty over unemployment benefits was merely a training ground for even more foolish actions that many state lawmakers had been gearing up for since the passage of “Obamacare.”

Even though Wyoming was given ample time to develop a state-run health exchange that would enable residents to obtain affordable health insurance once such coverage is mandated next year, the Legislature’s leadership and Gov. Matt Mead balked at the idea, though it would mean that the federal government could come into Wyoming and run our exchange however it sees fit. The governor and lawmakers were counting on either Obama being defeated in his re-election bid or losing the landmark case over the constitutionality of federal health care reform — but neither scenario transpired.

While the GOP kept up its prattle about needing to find a “Wyoming solution” to reduce the high cost of health care and insurance premiums, the states that did opt to follow the new law gained a distinct advantage in their ability to ensure their residents would be insured.

It’s difficult to say what the exact cost of this folly will be to Wyoming in monetary terms, but the state will definitely pay for its mistake. It’s still possible for Wyoming to develop and administer is own health exchange at some point, unless the officials who were too stubborn to do so in the first place stay in power.

Could it get worse? It did. Despite the testimony of physicians and the support of most hospitals in the state, the Senate rejected a bill that would have expanded Medicaid to nearly 18,000 low-income adults, and decreased the state’s uninsured population by 50 percent by 2016.

A Wyoming Department of Health report estimated that by expanding Medicaid to include these adults, the state would actually save $47.4 million in its general fund budget between fiscal years 2014-2020 through program offsets.

Then there are the societal costs: Legislators who voted against Medicaid expansion actually increased the costs of everyone’s health care. Without Medicaid, poor people will have to use hospital emergency rooms to get treated, thus pushing up the cost for hospitals that won’t be reimbursed for charity care. Since somebody has to pay for the services, it will naturally drive up the cost of health insurance premiums for everybody else.

The DOH report also noted that people without health insurance are likely to die sooner than those who are insured, because their health problems are diagnosed later in life or not at all. The report estimated that within five years Wyoming would have 111 fewer deaths per year by expanding Medicaid.

Sure, I realize that spending less money, lowering health care costs and saving lives sounds good, but how could our legislators live with themselves if they actually allowed Obamacare to work?

Why did our state turn down the extension of unemployment benefits, the opportunity to run its own health exchange, and to expand a program that helps sick, poor people? The ones who made those decisions trotted out these explanations, in order:

  • People without jobs are lazy and don’t want to work, and if given a chance will just stay on unemployment.
  • They were so certain Obamacare would be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court and that Mitt Romney would be elected president, they didn’t even pretend that they wanted or needed a state health exchange.
  • Yes, the feds would pick up 100 percent of the Medicaid tab for the first three years, and at least 90 percent after 2020, but we just can’t trust them to keep their word. (The federal government, however, said Wyoming could opt out at any time.)

I think a fourth option — that they hate President Obama so much, they are willing to throw their most vulnerable constituents under the bus to keep him from winning any battle — is the root reason behind this madness.

Consider that every session, there are brand new attempts to pass bills and meaningless resolutions by the lunatic fringe that essentially claim the state can just ignore federal laws and do what it wants on nearly every issue, from gun control and health care to abortion and the basic safety of its citizens. If we lose federal funds, fine.

Wyoming’s congressional delegation used bipartisanship to secure federal mineral funding in the 1970s, but today’s all-GOP members have bought wholeheartedly into their party leaders’ strategy to fight Obama on every issue at every turn. It’s not a smart move. Congress has taken away a huge chunk of Wyoming’s Abandoned Mineral Land funds — $700 million — as well as dropped its share of federal mineral royalty payments by about $53 million. Our extremely partisan delegation’s only answer is to cry foul, effectively arguing, “You can’t do that, we need that money to live.”

So did the people on unemployment and those who can’t afford health insurance.

I wondered if Wyoming has ever hated an administration so much before Obama that it gave back federal funds. I posed that question to University of Wyoming history professor Phil Roberts, who is vacationing in Sweden but was kind enough to respond to my email.

“Wyoming officials never were as destructive to the interests of the people as they have been at this point,” he wrote. “But there was one time when we came close.”

In order to get funds for interstate highway construction, Roberts explained, the federal government — in exchange for paying essentially 95 percent of the costs of building the interstates — insisted on uniformity, and that included white stripes on the roadways.

“Some Wyoming legislators balked, asserting that they would rather turn down the federal money than to have to change from yellow to white stripes,” the historian noted. “Cooler and saner heads prevailed, however, and we have interstates through Wyoming!”

In another instance, in 1932, newly elected Gov. Leslie Miller was so at odds with a fellow Democrat, President Franklin Roosevelt,that he planned to refuse federal assistance, cut the state budget and have Wyoming “work itself out of the Depression.”

Progressive Democrats who controlled the Legislature compromised with Miller and paid for a commission to investigate how much had to be cut in order to do what the governor wanted. The recommendations made by the Griffenhagen company from Chicago included these gems:

  • Eliminate all school districts and make one big district statewide.
  • Merge all law enforcement functions from the county sheriffs to the game wardens and city police into a statewide police.
  • Have just a one-house Legislature consisting of nine members elected statewide.
  • Get rid of the governor and have the Legislature hire a public administrator to run the state’s affairs.

Those changes made FDR’s New Deal programs like the Work Projects Administration  and Civilian Conservation Corps look much better to Miller, who decided to accept the federal funds after all.

“Other than those times, we’ve never been so stupid as we’ve been now,” Roberts concluded. “As one Stockholm friend put it when I was trying to explain why Americans don’t want universal health care, etc., ‘You Americans would do anything to keep from being called socialists!’ I think he had that right and then some for Wyomingites.”

— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is the editor-in-chief of The Casper Citizen, a nonprofit, online community newspaper. It can be viewed at www.caspercitizen.com.

— Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact Guy Padgett at guy@wyofile.com or Dustin Bleizeffer at dustin@wyofile.com.

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Published on May 21, 2013

{ 22 comments }

Edith Cook May 31, 2013 at 6:35 am

Well done, Kerry! I applaud your courage to tell it as it is. Love your connection with the UW historian and his references!

WTE published it (in Sunday’s paper) under the heading “Wyoming GOP’s hatred for Obama costing us millions,” hitting the nail on its head.

Mark Junge May 28, 2013 at 7:57 am

Way to go, Kerry. It’s always nice to read a column by someone who either knows the state’s history or is willing to research it. We don’t live in just one moment of time. We only think we do. We are part of a time continuum whether we like it or not. Thus, our past is part of us and affects our thinking. Wyoming has been in a privileged condition for years when it comes to federal assistance. We couldn’t live without it. Oh, you think maybe you can? Read T.A. Larson’s book, History of Wyoming.

A couple of years ago I asked a person why she did not think that Obama was a good example of the “Bootstrap Theory” that we laud and magnify here in Wyoming and why he couldn’t be a good president. She relied that he didn’t have enough experience to be a good president. I told her that Obama had more experience in Congress before becoming president than did President Abraham Lincoln, who we usually point to as a perfect example of the Bootstrap Theory. She said, “That’s different. He was a great man.” Her opinion epitomizes what Kerry Drake was lamenting. We are ignorant of the facts and we hate so much that we are unwilling to really study what ails us, preferring to bend the facts––or even tailoring facts––to fit our own opinions. It’s simply a lot easier to hold a belief rather than spend time studying the issues. Well, folks, I hate to preach but just because a person believes something to be true, no matter how hard that person believes it, tain’t necessarily so. State Senator Charley Scott and others in the Wyoming Legislature rejected Obamacare because they just didn’t trust the federal government. That attitude hurts those who cannot afford to buy or inherit a ranch. It’s that “I got mine, sucker, you get yours” attitude that prevails throughout the nation and is codified in the American West.

John Garrett May 27, 2013 at 9:21 pm

Excellent real world perspective B. Johns. Unfortunately the left is all about pitchforks and torches and anyone who disagrees with them is obviously pro-monster and must also be destroyed. There’s a new boiler in the capital building, we borrowed money from the grand-kids to pay for it. A forwarding we will go, we’d even get more forward if it weren’t for these darned people from Wyoming and their pesky understanding of math vs. feelings. It’s easier to just call people you can’t argue with intellectually haters, it’s really all the Democrats have left since they’ve spent all the money and the hope’n'change turned out to be lie’n'spin.

Scott Woodruff May 27, 2013 at 3:49 am

The real question is, how much longer will Wyomingites perpetuate this hatred and extreme hypocrisy, by re-electing the same old boys (and a couple of girls)? I find their hatred and hypocrisy repugnant. It’s a vicious cycle passed on to the children, that seem to refuse to think on their own.

Susan Simpson May 25, 2013 at 12:26 pm

A point about the stimulus money: It wasn’t just for labor; it paid for materials and supplies to retrofit government buildings. A new energy efficient boiler isn’t cheap. Lower energy costs also benefit Wyoming taxpayers.

Sandra G May 25, 2013 at 9:12 am

While residents of Sublette County were being told to stay indoors due to high levels of ozone our good Dr. Senator was in DC trying to gut the Clean Air Act. Seems that not caring about all the citizens here is a tradition.

B. Johns May 24, 2013 at 8:08 pm

A basic understanding of economics would show that the Federal Government does not have the money to spend on these programs; it has to create fiat money out of thin air. The race to the bottom, with state and local governments trying to secure more money than they already extract from their residents, only demonstrates greed not wisdom. And where does the Federal Government receive its money to redistribute through grants and programs? The same taxpayers who fund the states and local governments. The ultimate objective: Receive more Federal money per capita than other states, and Wyoming does quite well in this regard already. So let’s stop pretending that this money is “free” and spend it responsibly, rather than blowing a trillion dollars on Homeland Security, trillions in Iraq/Afghanistan, subsidies to bankrupt banks and automakers, and green energy projects that produce few benefits while spiking energy costs for the average consumer. Do I hear Solyndra anyone? Forty Federal programs to fight poverty and it is higher than ever does not suggest wise Federal spending. As for Obamacare, my premiums have risen some 50% even before full implementation, and the already discovered cost overruns are nothing short of scandalous. Someone has to put a stop to the gratuitous public spending or there is truly no viable future for our country.

gwarnock May 23, 2013 at 5:45 pm

Spot on Mr. Drake, the GOtP still live in the 19th century, and their concern is about me, me, me, not people in the down and outs, “screw them, Obama must pay” except he doesn’t, We do,,

Real I May 23, 2013 at 10:24 am

… and the definition of genius is expanded.

Ruby May 22, 2013 at 11:50 pm

Thanks for another excellent article.

John Garrett May 22, 2013 at 7:29 pm

The irony is after you read the comments it becomes apparent who really hates Wyoming, but that kind of makes you a Drake fan by default doesn’t it?

Brent Slensker May 22, 2013 at 8:07 am

“disaster of Obama”!
LOL! I can diagram a sentence and use a dictionary and I know who is spewing propaganda…Party of Stupid.

Barry Reiswig May 21, 2013 at 7:42 pm

Bumper sticker needed” I’M FROM WYOMING – I DON’T KNOW MUCH

John Garrett May 21, 2013 at 5:32 pm

He doesn’t even understand what he writes. ‘The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act brought $664 million to Wyoming and, according to Recovery.gov, a federal website that tracked stimulus funds, 1,017 new jobs’

Kids, that’s $653,000 per job (temporary) that was wasted.

Sycophants like the ‘Drake’ love Obama without reason – that doesn’t give him the moral authority to charge those who understand Obama’s economic policies are wrong with ‘hate’. Nothing Obama has done has worked, unless you consider burdening our kids with Trillions of dollars of debt a success.

4realman made the point.

The truth is it is the left can win with the facts, so they go with emotion. Take your ideological blinders off and do a little math there Drake and stop spewing propaganda for a change.

But those of us who care about facts aren’t going anywhere, and after the disaster of Obama the future is looking so bright I need to wear shades.

Loren Nelson May 21, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Very well stated. With Enzi, Barrasso, and Lummis in Washington, I wonder who represents anyone not subscribing lock, stock, and barrel to right-wing ideology. I am especially disappointed in Barrasso, as a physician he should know better and work to solve our health care issues rather than obstruct the Affordable Care Act.

You are not a lone voice in the wilderness. Keep up the good reporting.

shawn May 21, 2013 at 12:09 pm

I guess the Mr. Mead and the rest of the GOP here can always charge the good people of Wyoming a .10 tax on a gallon of gas than support the President…..in anything. That will make up for their incompetence.

Todd Pittman May 21, 2013 at 11:13 am

Well said, Mr. Drake. Which “policy” of Obama’s would you be referring to in your comment, 4realman?

Wyoming Progressive May 21, 2013 at 11:07 am

Kelly does it again! By pointing out the Republicans true love, ” Themselves” he hit the nail on the head. These greedy once again prove their Independence by relying on Federal funds which they love to hate. What a bunch of hypocrits!

4realman May 21, 2013 at 10:21 am

Why or where does say “hate”. By not in agreement with POTUS we “hate”. We dont agree with his policy. Report the news stop fear mongering and playing the race card. Please.

lousewort rogers May 21, 2013 at 9:04 am

the extreme and vocally arrogant wings of both parties are to blame.

Jack Tors May 21, 2013 at 8:32 am

Kerry nailed it! This is the republican viewpoint, whether in Wyoming, Texas, Utah, or Mississippi. The extremist republican encampment has hunkered down hating Obama and every initiative he supports, regardless of the cause.

One maneuver Kerry missed in his article has to do with the plea (read that as “groveling”) Gov Mead, and other state officials, sent to the president urging him to repeal the $53mil the federal gov’t decided to withhold (rightfully so) from the state. (See the story here: http://www.wyomingnews.com/articles/2013/03/27/news/01top_03-27-13.txt) This story appearing in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle explains, just as Gov Mead and other state officials argue, that the federal gov’t “owes” the mineral royalties to the state. The trouble is that Mead and others time and time again have always argued that the federal gov’t owes us nothing. We are an independent entity able to care for ourselves. Why the change of heart in this instance?

The answer must be that the federal gov’t wrongfully withheld the money from the state of Wyoming. The companies pay the state the royalties, and the feds swooped in and stole the royalties from our governor’s hands. That’s just downright mistaken. The companies pay the federal gov’t, and the feds, if they so choose, turn the money over to the state. They’ve done so in the past, but this year is different. The feds just didn’t send us the money. Does the federal gov’t owe us anything?

If we’re going to appeal to independence from the federal gov’t, then we must do so consistently. Let’s get our facts straight before we argue that the federal gov’t has treated our state unfairly. The mineral royalties are paid by the companies to the federal gov’t, and the feds can do what they want with the money. That the feds voluntarily relinquished it to the state in the past does not mean that they are by law supposed to return it to the state. They’ve been generous, but they need not be so charitable. So, this year they decided to hold onto the monies for the benefit of all citizens, not just citizens of Wyoming.

Given that the gov and the state act like schoolchildren when they don’t get their way, the feds should keep the mineral royalties and forego any other opportunity to give money to a state filled with ungrateful and adversarial citizens. We should learn from this $53mil withholding that just as we owe nothing to the federal gov’t, the federal gov’t owes us nothing.

Obama’s not the problem. It’s us that is the problem. The sooner we realize how reaching our goals have been frustrated by our own action or inaction, as the case may be, the sooner we move the economy forward out of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Inky May 21, 2013 at 8:15 am

Socialist is one of those buzzwords that radical conservatives like to throw around, but few could enunciate a definition that would be coherent or understandable to anyone in Europe. Our Republican politicians uniformly decry European socialism (often conflating it with communism and fascism) and point to the southern tier of countries in economic and political trouble. Yet they never acknowledge the northern tier of European counties that have solid economies, low unemployment, strong unions, higher standards of living, cheaper and better health care and a mix of capitalism and socialism that works for the majority of people, rather than our unregulated capitalism that works for the .0001 percent and is killing our middle class. The question has to be asked: whose side are the Republicans on?

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