Welcome to Wyoming. Now Shut Up.

March 19, 2013

Comedian Chris Rock reportedly once said that, “arguing politics is like trying to convince someone that their baby isn’t cute.”

Funny, and true. But there are ways that people can discuss controversial issues in politics without insulting one another or their offspring. If one actually has a point to make, showing respect for the other person and his or her point of view is the best way to ensure the other party is listening.

Such an ideal communication model was completely shattered last month after a Cheyenne pastor wrote to every state lawmaker with concerns about a proposed bill to allow the concealed carrying of guns in school.

Kerry Drake

“Ample evidence has shown that schools and guns do not mix, and in particular, guns in the hands of amateurs/non-professionals is extremely dangerous, especially in any highly charged situation,” wrote Rev. Audette Fulbright of Cheyenne’s Unitarian Universalist Church. “To expose our children to greater risk in their schools by encouraging more guns on campuses is something that we cannot allow.”

That’s certainly not an opinion considered out of touch with Americans. In fact, several polls have shown support for several types of gun control — requiring background checks for all gun transactions, for example, including at gun shows.

But Fulbright’s questioning of this pro-gun-rights bill backed by most Wyoming House members, as well as her letter’s focus on “the profoundly serious dangers of fracking,” unleashed a barrage of criticism from Rep. Hans Hunt (R-Newcastle), and other conservatives in the state.

“I’ll be blunt. If you don’t like the political atmosphere of Wyoming, then by all means, leave,” Hunt replied in his response to Fulbright’s email. “We, who have been here a very long time (I am proudly 4th generation) are quite proud of our independent heritage. I don’t expect a ‘mass exodus’ from our state just because we’re standing up for our rights.”

This “Wyoming — Love It Or Leave It” sentiment isn’t particularly original, and it’s definitely not good for the state. It’s essentially a cop-out, and a cheap one at that: It’s like saying anyone who disagrees with a “native” about anything isn’t a real Wyomingite, no matter how long he or she has lived here.

Hunt wants Fulbright to accept that having kin whose ancestors were either born here or arrived generations ago automatically puts him in the right about Wyoming issues.

So after voting the good minister off Cowboy Island, Hunt bore in on what he apparently considers Fulbright’s inherent inability to match him as a true citizen of Wyoming: “It offends me to no end when liberal out-of-staters such as yourself move into Wyoming, trying to get away from where they came from, and then pompously demand that Wyoming conform to their way of thinking.

“We are, and will continue to be, a state which stands a head above the rest in terms of economic security,” Hunt continued. “Our ability to do that is, in large part, [due] to our ‘live and let live’ mentality when it comes to allowing economic development, and limiting government oversight.”

His parting shot repeated the core of his political point. “If you’re so worried about what our Legislature is working on, then go back home,” Hunt concluded.

Hunt made it clear that this lawmaker wasn’t going to be influenced by an out-of-state liberal. The only out-of-staters who seem to be entirely welcome here are energy developers who want to use Wyoming’s intentional lack of regulatory oversight to take as much in fossil fuels as they can, spending as little as they can, and not letting minor factors such as the health of humans and wildlife get in the way of the transactions.

Fortunately, that’s not the view held by many Wyoming officials in both parties who recognize that there are indeed places in the state so special that they deserve government protection. But to please the Tea Party set and others on the right fringe of the Republican Party, politicians like Hunt like to throw their base a little raw meat now and then. There’s no better way, apparently, than taking a recent transplant, like Fulbright, and bullying her with his know-it-all approach branded as the Wyoming way.

If we’re not open-minded enough to listen to intelligent people with different views, Wyoming loses. If children who are born here are raised to believe that they are better than others who move here later in life, Wyoming loses.

And if someone can’t bring a few concerns to a state legislator without being berated and then told to get the hell out of here if they don’t like it, Wyoming loses. Big time.

Hunt’s actions in this incident, including his unwillingness to apologize to the pastor when given the chance by the media, were both ignorant and arrogant.

I’ve spent only 46 of my 57 years living in Wyoming, so I can’t pass Hunt’s purity test to have an opinion worth listening to about Wyoming issues. But I know many natives of the state who are upset about Hunt’s treatment of Fulbright and his assertion that born-in-Wyoming folks have some innate sense of right and wrong that can’t possibly be absorbed anywhere outside our borders. Newcomers need to know that there are a lot of Wyomingites who do not even remotely agree with Hunt’s ridiculous views.

But the really scary part of the controversy was the quick rush to defend Hunt’s words by fellow conservatives. Fans of right-wing websites like The Blaze have made the Newcastle legislator almost a folk hero; a rare politician who is willing to tell anyone off if they disagree about gun control and the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment.

One anonymous poster to the website noted, “No need to apologize for the truth. This country is still free to the chagrin of liberals, so stay out of the real West if you can’t handle the truth, the freedom, and the U.S. Constitution.”

“I am proud of this young man,” another commenter wrote. “He sent the message that she, and the pompous liberals like her, needed to hear.”

A third one added, “Airhead women like the one who sent that email make my skin crawl, they move to  another state and want to make it as bad as where they came from. Apparently she wants to spread the misery to normal people.”

Disagreements are often healthy. Sometimes, minds can be changed through civil discourse. I hold out the hope that Hunt’s rude, misguided response to Fulbright can be used for a good purpose if it helps people in Wyoming recognize that on occasion, our new residents really do know how to do something better, and if we listen instead of scorn them, we just might learn a thing or two.

— Kerry Drake is the editor of the Casper Citizen, a new nonprofit online newspaper that will launch on April 1.

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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. I have to say that I was more bothered by Rev. Fulbright’s letter than Mr. Hunt’s. She seemed pleasant enough until she made the comment about “an exodus of educated, childbearing adults.” Um, excuse me? My husband and I are politically conservative and we are both quite educated. So are many of our friends and family members. His response was a bit sharp, but she basically seemed to be implying that those who disagree with her point of view are uneducated! I understand his irritation! There is something to be said for “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” If I were to move to another state, I wouldn’t immediately start looking down my nose at the views of its core population!

  2. Dear Kerry,
    I’m 74 years old and have lived in Wyoming all my life. I am a hunter and a recreational target shooter. But, my husband and I dropped our NRA membership years ago when the organization started being irrational, chest thumpers looking for a gun fight. I loved Phil Roberts comments documenting the fact that some of Wyoming’s first laws were about the proper use and place for guns. That was the way it really was. Early Wyoming towns didn’t want those “gunslingers” shooting up their towns.
    It is time to address the issues that are really threatening Wyoming. Why aren’t Wyoming gun advocates and legislators protectors of Wyoming’s quality of life instead of throwing out the welcome mat to industries that pollute our land, air and water. Many of these industries have systematically trashed both human and wildlife habitat. Who would have ever thought we’d have ozone pollution in the Green River Basin that is sometimes more life threatening than any city in the USA. Why do our Wyoming gun rights advocates ignore the big guns of those bullies?

  3. Polly O

    ‘Guns laws are far more liberal now than at any time in the history of this country speaking of liberal. Hell, you couldn’t even buy a military weapon years ago.’

    After WW2 you could by military rifles through the mail for almost nothing. Guess you didn’t know that. Glad I could help.

  4. Wow, lots of mis-directed anger here huh? What are we arguing about folks…keeping our kids safe needs some sort of posturing? I have hunted all my life, lived a long life by now too, and I did not do it with a gun in my school, my super market or my business. Guns laws are far more liberal now than at any time in the history of this country speaking of liberal. Hell, you couldn’t even buy a military weapon years ago.
    So, we are arguing about good ol’ boys in the good ol’ days compared to newcomers… the American Natives should have told all of us to get out because we are too narrow minded to turn around in a round room. The idea that the Minister is totally wrong is pure d hogwash and about as liberal as you can get frankly, fore no conservative I was taught by would ever allow such a lack of respect much less toward someone who represented the Lord.
    I agree with Drake…I think it is easier to look through a window with both eyes than a keyhole. Then again, some minds allow for it the keyhole approach.

  5. By any definition, Mr. Hunt was rude in his response. Our leaders should be held to a higher standard of civility in the public discourse, whether they agree with what a citizen says or not. A multi-generational presence in Wyoming doesn’t excuse rudeness toward anyone, whether they have been here a week or a lifetime. And everyone who lives here is guaranteed the same rights; the tenure of your residency does not change that. And, I have lived here for . . . .

  6. Drake concludes his essay –

    ‘our new residents really do know how to do something better, and if we listen instead of scorn them, we just might learn a thing or two.’

    Like what? I am totally sincere when I ask this. Drake’s elitist navel gazing aside Mrs. Fulbright received what amounts to great advice, it is Drake’s loss that he is such a poor student of the situation. Fulbright isn’t a persecuted victim, she is a mewling whiny busybody.

    She moved to Wyoming from Virginia because Virginia no longer provides an environment where she and her husband feel comfortable raising their kids.

    How rich.

    Fulbright wants to impose the sanctimonious liberalism that wrecked Virginia on Wyoming but, horror of horrors, the savages of Wyoming won’t fall in line!

    There’s a lesson there but some people are too busy navel gazing to grasp it.

  7. Thank you Mr. Drake for writing this. Unfortunately, too many people turn the other cheek when they are bullied by the likes of Rep. Hans Hunt and his ilk. Let me suggest an alternative. The next time a bully tells you to leave the town, county, state, or country because you do not happen to agree with his particular prejudices, deal with it by asking him this: Are you telling me to cut and run? Then add: that’s the advice of a coward. As the bully gets all beady-eyed and slack-jawed, be prepared for what happens next.

  8. Wyoming will make real progress when it realizes that the above ground assets are at least as valuable as those below.

  9. I have read all the comments. But I did not see any about what is actually wrong with Wyoming.
    Like the highest suicide rates and high alcohol and substance abuse.High teen pregnancy and even higher abuse against women. Why companies don’t want to move here. How the energy companies own the state lock ,stock and barrel including the US and State legislators. And yes they now own the University. There is a high rate of white supremacists that live here.
    WYoming where the 1st amendment to the Constitution is trashed if you don’t agree with the bully politics . Where the environment and wildlife are now being destroyed at an alarming rate. Where the casinos have brought in more crime than can be handled in a small county.
    And why we are the least populated state in the country.People don’t want to move here because of the bully tactics that are written about here and posted on this forum.
    That is how the state was formed by Cattle Baron Bullies who killed anyone who got in their way or drove them off. It later graduated to Oil /Coal/Gas as the bullies.
    Because the politicians in this state are in their pockets nothing will ever be done to correct all the wrongs. It will all end up looking like West Texas. Barren and devoid of anything except oil and gas wells.
    What use to be a beautiful place with clean air and water has now become polluted. If you don’t believe that try living in Wind River country when the winds blow the pollution in from the west where the oild fields are located.
    Funny how no one mentions that this state recieves one of the highest amount of subsidies from the Federal Government and a majority of those who live here work for the Federal Government .
    And even funnier that without all this welfare the state would fold. It has lived so long with these subsidies that it does not know how to function as a state any longer. Wyoming is part of 49 other states who pay into these subsidies so Wyoming can live high off the hog..
    And while screaming about the Constitutional rights of gun owners, how about the rights of those of us who want to speak out against it.It’s our Constitution too. And by the way I am not a liberal nor a minority nor and of the things you associate with being liberal.. I am a Republican who is sick and tired of the old party lines. I have been in the state 50 years. My ancestors founded this country in 1607. I have as much right as anyone here to say what I want.

  10. Love it or leave it, It’s your choice I’m a 100th generation Wyomingite, YES I am native and If your sensibilities have been attacked, by all means go home. We have lived a hard life here in Wyoming, and have done so with the knowledge that someone here has a gun and knows how to use it so we keep our words clean and don’t raise too much of a stink unless there is something to raise a stink about.
    People speak of this being a great place to raise kids and then want to bring all the baggage (they are attempting to leave) to a pristine place that doesn’t need nor want the crap you have in your bags. You left your home to come to mine! I didn’t move to where you are from because I don’t want to live there, you didn’t either obviously! Enjoy what we have here, if you don’t like the way we live and have done so for a long time by all means please go home and make your home state a place where you and if you do a good job possibly I would like to live.
    We all know one another in the great state of Wyoming, there aren’t that many of us so that happens more here than in anywhere else in the the country. With that knowledge we all have a respect for other people from Wyoming because we know that we all share a common belief and respect for life.

  11. I’m 5th generation, my family has been in Wyoming since 1879, and I think Rev. Fulbright’s letter makes perfect sense.

  12. I, too, am tired of the dreary litany of “I’m a Wyoming native, so my opinion counts more than yours.” It’s ironic that you don’t hear this from the the only real Wyoming first born, the Native Americans! Rev. Fulbright did sound a bit condescending when speaking about an “exodus of educated.” And her comment about “profoundly serious dangers of fracking” was all too typical of the uninformed eastern liberal, who facing the prospect of lacking something to complain about, anointed the practice as “controversial” despite the fact the industry has been fracking wells for 60 years without serious incident.

  13. Most liberals miss the point when we Wyoming conservatives say “If you don’t like it, leave.”

    Its not a old vs. new issue, the young guns vs. the good ol’ boys. The point is simply this:

    There are plenty of states where liberal ideology is not only taking hold, but is “alive and well.” The problem is that those very ideologies are the direct cause of the undesirability of being a resident of those states. I moved from Michigan a few years ago, because Michigan is dying, because of liberal economic policies. Were I a liberal, wouldn’t it be wiser to reassess my worldview, rather than try to take yet another state down in flames by bringing my tried and failed policies elsewhere? Texas is a prime example. Liberalism causes California (among other states) to fail, resulting in mass exodus to successful conservative states like Texas, where they will try to vote liberalism into power there also, causing failure.

    Wyoming is fairly safe, and it is so in part because of the gun laws (or lack thereof) that we have. You never know who’s packin’. So don’t come here from your anti-gun states which have been proven to be less safe as a direct result of firearms crackdowns, and try to enforce those crackdowns here. Just go back to the dump you seem to desire that we become.

  14. In-group vs. out-group is a very old story. People like the security of belonging to an in-group, while casting the out-group as lazy, mean, criminal, untrustworthy, etc.
    Most people outgrow these fixations, so perhaps Hans will mature into some measure of wisdom and understand that out-groups eventually become members of the in-group — witness any group of immigrants to these fair shores, like the Irish, Italians, east Europeans, etc.

  15. Kerry, The whole conversation is preposterous. For one thing, name the guy who never put his foot in his mouth or pushed that “send” button before thinking things through. So labeling Hans Hunt as the representative of all dumb ideas and ill-thought-out public comments seems ridiculous. I found him to be a good listener, fair,smart and honest in his evaluation of the issue about which I contacted him at the Legislature. I don’t live in his district.
    Wyoming has been a state of “come-lately” people since its beginning. In today’s world, we’d bore ourselves to death if Wyoming were only those “native”, if indeed there are any. My own family was here before Wyoming’s statehood but indeed, came from somewhere else in the 1870’s. The argument of “left out, nobody likes me because I’m a newcomer” is moronic.
    My hope is for tolerance, civility and open-minded discussions and I think having these differences of opinion sensationalized is destructive.

  16. Congratulations on the new endeavor! It is sorely needed in this state

    And, as to the Hans Hunt issue: I guess I am a bit confused about the idea of Wyoming being a “live and let live” state? This is not a “live and let live” state. It is a “live and let live” as long as you only believe what “we” believe And who gets to decide who that “we” is? Apparently the folks who believe in Liberty and the Constitution and the right wing, who will vote for anyone with an R after their name, regardless of qualifications, and who define Liberty as doing what THEY say. As for the Constitution, I would guess they have never read it or understood anything about it beyond what the NRA says the Second Amendment says. And the First Amendment? That means free speech for those who believe as they do…no one else. Rev. Fulbright said it would be a shame to see an exodus of educated, child rearing adults from this state due to poor lawmaking. I fear it is already too late and this exodus, especially of educated young adults with or without kids, has been happening for a long time.

  17. I am in the hammer and sickle state of Kalifornication but my sympathies lie with the “natives” and “tea party set” in Wyoming. Escort the left wing liberals to the border and bid them adieu. If you do not they will ruin Wyoming as they have California, Oregon, Washington, New Mexico and now Colorado. Liberals are like locusts. Nothing will be left standing and you will be bankrupt to boot.
    My beautiful state has been ruined by liberal Democrats to the point that now they are moving to other western states running from the disaster they created here. However, once in their new homes they continue to vote and act like California Liberal Democrats. Just like locusts destroying everything in their path.
    The reason I say all this is I would like to have some place left on this earth that believes in Liberty and the Constitution. I will bring my guns, and a live and let live attitude.

  18. Well said: “I know many natives of the state who are upset about Hunt’s treatment of Fulbright and his assertion that born-in-Wyoming folks have some innate sense of right and wrong that can’t possibly be absorbed anywhere outside our borders.”

    Also, just an fyi “liberal” ideals and philosophies were founded on the premise that protecting individual rights, including the Bill of Rights’ second amendment and private property, is critical to democracy. After all, liberal has the latin roots of liber, which means “free.” So maybe the two sides aren’t too far apart after all and there is enough room in our big state to welcome all viewpoints and ideas.

  19. I’m a fourth-generation Wyomingite (my great grandfather was among the first railroaders who settled in Evanston), but I’m still embarrassed by the narrow-mindedness of some citizens with the “love it our way or hit the highway” attitude. Who is really the pompous one here?

    Oh, I hunt, too, but in no way should guns be permitted in schools, by anyone. Don’t give me that tired knee-jerk argument that it’s our Second Amendment right to carry guns anywhere we please. No one is coming after you to take your guns away. Common sense, for the safety and well-being of our children, is all that is being asked.

  20. Kerry,

    There’s no defending Hunt’s sanctimonious and ham-fisted response, but you have conveniently left out the part of Fullbright’s letter in which she writes that her family has only just recently moved here and she’s seriously considering leaving. That’s why Hunt takes her up on her offer, not because Hunt is in the habit of attacking people with a love-it-or-leave-it response. Here’s what Fullbright wrote:

    ————–
    My husband and I moved to Wyoming not too long ago. We believed it was a good place to raise children. With the recent and reactive expansion of gun laws and the profoundly serious dangers of fracking, we find we are seriously reconsidering our decision, which is wrenching to all of us. However, the safety of our family must come first. We are waiting to see what the legislature does this session. I know of other new-to-Wyoming families in similar contemplation. Your choices matter. It would be sad to see an exodus of educated, childrearing age adults from Wyoming as a result of poor lawmaking.
    ————–

    She might as well say: “You ignorant frontier hicks need college educated immigrants who can make babies to help smarten up your gene pool, but if you keep voting like idiots, I’m going to take my superior DNA and leave.”

    Keeping in mind too that she wasn’t in Hunt’s district and sent her condescending diatribe to every legislator, I think she deserved something in the way of a dismissive response.

    It would have been responsible of you to include her full letter, Kerry. There are no space constraints online.

  21. Kerry, well said! For 10 years I’ve suffered through introductions of “Wyoming natives,” “xth generation Wyomingites,” ad nauseum at professional and public meetings across the state. Enough! Everyone of these people are offspring of someone who wasn’t a native. I’ve lived in 9 states as a resident, and spent time working in 21 states. So where would these people have me call “home?” I was not even 2 when my parents moved for the first time, and I’ve moved my kids a fair number of times. Are we to be considered stateless for all time? How long do I have to live here to be considered knowledgeable enough to understand the issues? I would argue that it’s the folks like Hunt who need to move to gain a broader perspective of the world around them. As an “immigrant” I bring a wealth of experiences that Mr. Hunt can’t begin to have unless he opens his mind and experiences the broader world around him.

  22. Well spake, Kerry. Wishing you great success in your new venture. When it says nonprofit, does that mean you accept donations or paid subscriptions?

  23. Rev. Fulbright completely misspoke when she characterized legal concealed weapons carriers as “amateurs” and “non-professionals.” All the people I know with carry permits are responsible, trained people. I dispute her “ample evidence” that “schools and guns do not mix.” All the incidents I know of where there was trouble in schools was with irresponsible, under legal carrying age people, none of which were in Wyoming. Remember, the recent “trouble” in Casper did not even involve a gun.