Freshman lawmaker Rep. Jim Allen (R-Lander) recounted his family’s history in Fremont County while backing up the truck and trailer with one hand, and talking on the phone to WyoFile with the other.
“Our family came here in 1868, the same year that Chief Washakie signed the 1868 Treaty,” Allen said, as he picked up haybales on his Boulder Flats ranch on the Wind River Indian Reservation near Lander.
Allen’s great-great uncle John D. Fosher served in the upper chamber of territorial assembly before Wyoming’s statehood, and later was superintendent of the Indian Agency for the Shoshone from 1889-1893. Over the years, other members of Allen’s family served on the county commission, sometimes riding horseback through the Wind River Mountains to attend meetings in Pinedale or Big Piney, which were once part of Fremont County.
Allen has a deep knowledge of the southern Wind River Range, having worked in his family’s outfitting business in Dickinson Park since 1973. He spends part of each summer there guiding pack trips into the high country with the help of his family, including his daughter Jessie, Miss Wyoming 2014. Now that he’s a lawmaker, he comes out of the mountains as needed to check emails, answer messages, and attend legislative hearings.
“I just come home and take a shower, get dressed up, and go to the meeting,” he said.
The Legislature’s winter session meshes well with Allen’s work, since ranching and outfitting slows down that time of year. Still, “It is hard on my wife because she stays home on the ranch and feeds the livestock, so that’s a big sacrifice on her part,” he said.
Allen previously served as president of the Wyoming Dude Ranchers Association and the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association. He won election to the Wyoming House last November after the retirement of incumbent and Northern Arapaho tribal member Rep. Patrick Goggles (D-Ethete).
Allen’s district spans the Wind Rivers from South Pass City nearly to Dubois, taking in parts of Lander and Riverton, and a large swath of the Wind River Indian Reservation. His family has long associations with the Shoshone and Arapaho, both through family ties and personal friendships.
“It’s the most diverse district in the state,” he said. “Two-thirds are Native, and one-third are not, and you have to draw that in when you are voting.”
Allen represents Tribal members’ interests on the Select Tribal Committee. He also serves on the Agriculture, State and Public Lands, and Water Resources Committee and the Transportation, Highways, and Military Affairs committees.
In the 2015 session Allen worked with fellow Fremont County lawmakers to support the Tribes’ application for a Medicaid 1115 waiver to increase health care funding on the Wind River Reservation.
To complete the application, the Tribes needed agreement from the state to act as a passthrough for $17 million in federal funds, an action that the Legislature and the governor endorsed at no cost to the state.
Allen supported the measure because the Indian Health Service is only funded at 41 percent of the need. For Allen, that means the federal government, which promised to provide certain services to the Tribes in exchange for land, is not meeting its treaty obligations.
“The federal government made a deal with the Tribes and they said, ‘We’ll provide you this,’ and they haven’t, and a contract is worthless if you don’t enforce it,” Allen said.
“It disappoints me that the federal government doesn’t hold up its end of the deal sometimes. I’m one of those guys that thinks if you make a deal, you better stick to it.”