Columnist’s note: What you are about to read is made up, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. — Drake

Dear Gov. Matt Mead:

You can imagine my surprise when I opened my mailbox and discovered you had written to me. I left Wyoming 20 years ago, and here is the governor contacting me. At first I wondered if I had forgotten to pay a speeding ticket or take a book back to the library, and they finally went to the top in a last-ditch effort to collect.

Of course, the real reason you wrote was to invite me back to my home state — not just for a visit, which I do twice a year anyway — but to live and work.

I’m flattered. If you do this with everyone who’s ever left Wyoming, your hand must be cramped from signing your name so many times. You’re a busy man, being the governor of a state as big and wonderful as Wyoming.

I wish you a lot of success and hope your new “Wyoming Grown” program brings a lot of expatriates back, but I respectfully must say no thanks. It’s not that I don’t love Wyoming, because I do. I spent the first two decades of my life there, and to me it will always be home.

But like a lot of others, I left because there weren’t any jobs available in my chosen profession, and as far as I can tell, there still aren’t many. Of course that’s not the only reason I left, governor. It may be a cliche, but it’s true: The grass really does always seem greener on the other side. It was time to see more of the world.

I have friends who did return because they could make a ton of money working in the oil fields. Good for them, but that’s not the life all of us want to live. It’s dangerous work. For many years Wyoming has had one of the highest rates of worker fatalities in the whole country, but the state doesn’t seem interested in making employees any safer.

Is there anything wrong with making unsafe companies responsible for on-the-job deaths pay higher fines, so they quit treating workers as if they are expendable? Are we afraid Wyoming will no longer be seen as “business friendly” enough? What’s more important — company profits, or seeing to it employees who leave for work feel they have a better chance to return safely home?

It isn’t easy being away from Wyoming, because many members of our families still call it home. That’s why most of us try to keep up to date about what’s happening there through the news and social media, and perhaps a dash of friendly gossip.

I know Wyoming Grown encourages family members to “recommend” their loved ones to give Wyoming a second chance, but if that’s your main strategy — asking parents and grandparents to guilt us into coming back — you need to try something more effective and a lot less desperate-sounding.

Maybe if conditions were better, some of us might take you up on your offer to help us connect with companies offering good jobs. I’m not talking about the harsh weather; we all know that isn’t going to improve. In fact, with climate change, it’s likely to get worse. But that’s a good segue to my next point.

Many in Wyoming can’t accept that climate change is primarily caused by man burning fossil fuels, no matter what evidence the vast majority of top scientists offer. You have described yourself as a skeptic, but at least you know Wyoming has to join most of the developed world and rely less on fossil fuels and more on renewable resources.

Many of your legislators think climate change is a hoax; a liberal plot to stick it to the minerals industry. Two years ago they wouldn’t even let the State Board of Education talk about science standards that mentioned climate change. No offense, governor, but that story really made all of us from Wyoming look like complete fools.

While I’m on the subject of the Legislature, I have to say as a whole they’re definitely not part of the solution; they are usually the problem.

Take health care. I know you’ve changed your mind about this, but the Legislature turned down $120 million a year in federal funds just to keep the working poor in Wyoming from having health insurance through Medicaid expansion. It actually costs the state millions of dollars more to NOT provide health services to the poor, while at the same time hospitals are put at risk of closing because they’re spending too much money treating the neediest of the needy.

That’s simply insane. You know that, don’t you? You expect people to come back to a broken healthcare system with the highest private insurance costs in the nation because of legislative actions aimed at making the president look bad. How is that working out for you?

I’ve heard a lot about how businesses in Wyoming need more highly skilled workers. Business leaders throughout the state pointed out one way to improve the work force is to treat everyone equally, just as our state motto proclaims, so everyone feels welcome.

Usually lawmakers jump when businesses unite behind an idea. Why not this time?

Some legislators insist on treating gay, lesbian and transgendered people like third-class citizens. They can’t get over the courts finally lifting the ban on same-sex marriage, so this year they rejected a bill to simply add LGBT workers to the state’s protected classes, so it would be illegal to discriminate against them.

Instead, the bill was killed because a majority in the House decided people should have the religious right to discriminate against people they don’t want to tolerate. Once again, an insane decision that does nothing to make anyone want to return, or go there in the first place.

I know there are plenty of good people in Wyoming, because I went to school with them and I’m still friends with many people who stayed. They don’t hate others just because they have a different color of skin or their sexual orientation is different than the majority of citizens. They welcome diversity and are not afraid of it.

But for some reason the people who are elected leaders — and I’m not accusing you of this — think that multiculturalism is a dirty word, and something they have to keep out. They don’t consider the cultural richness that having people from many diverse ethnic, national and religious backgrounds can bring to a state. Sadly, they feel threatened.

I won’t argue that Wyoming isn’t a conservative state, but not everyone is universally conservative about every issue, and being able to “cowboy up” isn’t the answer to every problem. Liberals are not the boogeyman; they love their state just as much as anyone else. They just have different opinions about where we are culturally and politically, and where we should be headed. Their voices deserve to be heard, too.

I hope you don’t think I’m just a cranky progressive who wants everything my way. Believe me, I’m used to being on the losing end of most issues. But until you can assure expatriates like myself that the state at least tries to treat everyone fairly, genuinely works to help the poor and wants to protect the environment, no website or letter will get us to come home again.

— 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 WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at dustin@wyofile.com.

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. Kerry, most people don’t make decisions on where they live based on liberal vs conservative litmus tests.

    This article is clownish.

    James Morrison

    1. The column makes it very clear: People don’t want to return to a state where job choices are limited and many are unsafe or low-paid; where health care is jeopardized; where people can be discriminated against; and where children may not learn real science just so extractive industries can continue to ruin the land, air and water, not just here but around the globe. And these all happen to be the real-world consequences of Republican rule.

      Those of us who can’t just pick up and leave need to have better choices on the ballot. Until we do, we’re stuck with these consequences.

      Corryne Drake

  2. Wow, someone had the courage to say, “The Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes…”

    Jay Moore

  3. I hear what you’re saying, dear letter writer. But I left Wyoming and after 25 years in Denver, Los Angeles and West Africa, I came back. I returned for a lot of reasons, including the fact that I have family here.

    In politics I’m a bad match for current Wyoming politics. But I don’t choose my home based on politics. And a part of me feels that by being a good neighbor and community member, I can be in a position to make my pro-choice, pro-gay rights voice heard.

    I also feel that only hanging out with like-minded people could make me lazy. As it stands, my beliefs are tested every day. But I listen as well as talk, and I’m still learning and refining my understanding of the complex issues facing our state.

    I fundamentally resist the whole red state–blue state thing, but I guess you could say I’m okay with being purple in Wyoming.

    Lynn Carlson

  4. While the political issues certainly discourage young people from returning, I know (from my own two grown children) that monetary and living preferences are important as well. Wyoming will never offer the opportunities found in New York City or the Bay area. Having the Gregory Nickerson article in the same issue of Wyofile is helpful in presenting a fuller pciture. Thanks for both viewpoints.

    Chuck Seniawski