At what age do we expect children to outgrow “Let’s Pretend?”  Three?  Six?  Twelve?

In Wyoming politics, the answer apparently is “Never.”  It is socially acceptable to pretend your way through life until you reach senility.

There’s a blurry concept:  what is the difference between pretending (ignoring reality) and senility (not perceiving reality)?

This blurriness dominated the June 9 gubernatorial debate at the annual Energy Fair in Gillette, a forum designed to indulge energy industry appetites for technology and policy initiatives.  I like to go there too, but I was too busy that week.

Let’s lay out the scenario before we pretend.  The federal government bought Wyoming from the French as part of the Louisiana Purchase.  The federal government owned the entire [state] when it created the Territory of Wyoming, and later, the State of Wyoming.  The federal government (meaning you and I now and our great-grandparents then) gave a bunch of land to the new state government for support of schools and the university and other state institutions, and kept the rest.  Over the years the federal government let homesteaders acquire limited property rights in the surface estate and kept most of the minerals.  The federal government owns the national forests, national parks and national monuments, together with about 60 percent of the mineral estate in Wyoming.

I am skipping some nuances here, but this is basically what happened.

Long before Wyoming became a state, the founders adopted the United States Constitution.  Congress is permitted to retain complete authority over public lands and other public assets under the Constitution.  [Surprise announcement to Tea Party Dudes:  This is in the Original Constitution!]  This power was implemented (not for the first time) in 1976 when Congress adopted the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act, which put an end to homesteading, among other things.  Congress announced a policy of retaining the remaining federal lands and thereafter managing them for public purposes.

Shortly thereafter the first of several iterations of the Sagebrush Rebellion followed, as candidates for state and federal offices in western states found traction in a simple-minded strategy of demonizing the feds and screaming “local control.”  Calling for local control of public land is about as useful as yelling “hello” in an echoing canyon.  Cheap validation.  Waste of energy.

Fast forward to June 9 2010:

Rita Meyer on the issue of whether the Greater Sage-grouse is endangered:  “I would like to shoot one.”  Is bloodlust to be confused with insight?  Too much time on that rifle range, Rita.  All that gunfire can make you tone deaf.

Ron Micheli views the Endangered Species Act as a property rights grab.  Let’s generously give him the benefit of the doubt and agree, but so what?  What is a state governor going to do to change that?  A Republican governor of the nation’s least populous state is probably not going to carry a repeal of the ESA through Congress.  But shucks, let’s dial up Rahm Emanuel; maybe it could happen.

Matt Mead correctly states that the ESA is slowing down approval of drilling permits in the Powder River Basin.  Again, even though that is true, what will he do about it if he is elected Governor?  Whining is unbecoming.

When it comes to federal policy, a state governor has no power.  The governor can file lawsuits, posture, and try to modify mineral development to avoid ESA designations, but the federal government owns most of Wyoming.

Let’s Pretend It Does Not:  Rita Meyer said she would call out the National Guard to stop the federal government, only to later retract that ill-advised statement in embarrassment.   Oooops.

Ron Micheli is almost as radical.  Hey, Wyoming:  Hello!  Agriculture contributes a tiny amount of our employment, income, tax base, sales tax; it is exempt from nearly all taxes.  Why should agriculture dominate the legislature and the capitol?  A state dominated by agriculture watches its children move away.  Energy jobs keep kids at home. Jim Geringer, a farmer, demonstrated that tending cows and sowing wheat does not qualify a person to understand education, administration, governance and figuring out how to deal with the federal government.

Colin Simpson, not a rancher, takes pride in giving away rights to regulate carbon sequestration to ranchers; there’s a strategy to enrich greedy landowners at the expense of efficient resource management.  (Colin bought into the Tom Lubnau strategy of surrendering the rights to store carbon dioxide underground to private landowners, including ranchers and subdividers.)  Why shouldn’t the state, owner of our precious water, and navigable waters and other public resources, not own the “pore space”?  What happened to states’ rights here, Colin?

Matt Mead is adroitly vague, but at least not desperately plunging to the least common denominator of tea-party non-values.

I’ve had plenty of arguments with Gov. Dave, but I must admit that he had a sense of the big picture, even though it was not always my big picture. The Governor of an unpopulated state which is largely owned by the federal government needs to develop a nuanced strategy of exploiting opportunities where there is strength and exploiting diplomacy where there is not. Democratic candidate Leslie Petersen’s campaign is so new that it is unclear she will follow Dave’s lead, although she calls herself a “Freudenthal Democrat.”

Returning to the opening theme, the “Let’s Pretend” gang of Meyer, Micheli and Simpson should try to elevate their discourse to policy instead of pandering.  Like the empty canyon, no one outside Wyoming is listening when they yell.

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  1. Thank you, Grouse. I am ever so tired of the hostile, aggressive, ahistorical and anti-American posturing of all the Republican gubernatorial candidates.

  2. Thank you, Grouse. I am ever so tired of the hostile, aggressive, ahistorical and anti-American posturing of all the Republican gubernatorial candidates.

  3. The whole editorial is boring and certainly “let’s pretend.” Let’s pretend the author has something constructive to offer, instead of criticism for all candidates. Talk is cheap.

  4. To imply Ron Micheli’s only experience is in cows and wheat is a “let’s pretend” game. Ron Micheli served Wyoming for 16 years in the WY House and 8 years as Director of the WY Department of Agriculture. He has legislative, executive and private sector experience.

    Private land owners, many in the agriculture community, protect lands used by sage-grouse. Members of the agriculture community allow access to hunters and anglers on their lands, contribute to wildlife habitat both voluntarily and as forced by the federal government, raise the goods we need to live here and are an unmistakable piece of Wyoming’s precious heritage. Employment, income, tax base and sales tax are not the only measures to consider.

    Ron Micheli’s campaign consists of broad coalitions of individuals who appreciate his leadership, experience and commitment to Wyoming.

    You can learn more at

  5. R.T.

    Let’s pretend! That Wyoming politicians will understand your comments.

    Great article.