The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in Green Bank West Virginia — the largest fully steerable radio telescope in the world — was named in honor of the former senator who helped secure the federal funding for it's construction. (Penn State/FlickrCC)

Former U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the most tenured senator of all time and the long-standing chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was nicknamed “The King of Pork.” He fought so hard for his state, and sprinkled so much federal money around West Virginia that people came to call those grants and appropriations “Byrd Droppings.”

Whether you agreed with his tactics or not, he delivered for his state.

Today, there is $2 trillion of federal infrastructure money up for grabs, but instead of negotiating for some Byrd Droppings, Wyoming gave the folks in power the bird.

Wyoming currently has 99 dams rated “high hazard,” and 10% of our bridges have been deemed structurally deficient and will need repair or rebuilding. In order to avoid becoming the next Flint, Michigan, the state will need an estimated $500 million in infrastructure investments over the next 20 years to maintain a safe drinking water supply. 

Plus, I’m sure there are plenty of out-of-work miners and rail workers who wouldn’t mind the jobs required to rebuild all that broken infrastructure.

On top of this, the state is going broke.

We need as much of that $2 trillion as possible, but I’m afraid we’re likely to see far less than our fair share. 

Sen. Byrd served beside 11 presidents, beginning with Dwight Eisenhower and ending with Barack Obama. Some of those years his own Democratic party was in power, but plenty of years it was the other folks’. He no doubt preferred to have his team in the majority, but to Sen. Byrd, the party in power was always second fiddle to the task of taking care of the folks of West Virginia. Being a senator, and delivering for his state, was more important than which party was in control.

No doubt President Joe Biden and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) would love some support from the Republican side of Congress. And it doesn’t take much imagination to believe that they’d happily trade a few billion dollars of Byrd Droppings for that support. But instead of elbowing our way to the front of the line, as I’m sure Sen. Byrd would have done, Sen. Barrasso called it an “out of control socialist spending bill,” while Rep. Cheney hit the airwaves incorrectly saying that only 6% of the bill addresses infrastructure — having amazingly excluding items such as dams, internet, pipelines, ports and schools from the definition of infrastructure.

If Wyoming’s explicit goal was to get as little of the money as possible from the legislation, I’m not sure how we could have gotten off to a better start.

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Unlike during the Reagan or Clinton eras, members of Congress today have only one goal: To be in power. It explains why not a single Republican voted for the Affordable Care Act and not a single Democrat voted for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The job of being in Congress has ceased to be about enacting legislation and fighting for constituents — but about positioning oneself for the next election.

Of course, the infrastructure bill needs work, and likely there is a lot of stuff in there America does not need. But our state is on its ear financially, our infrastructure is in jeopardy and we need to start taking care of ourselves before we take care of political parties.

Wyoming residents should make clear to our delegation that we want as many of those dollars as possible, and in the next election voters will judge them not by whether they killed the bill, but by how much they delivered for our state. 

There are roughly $2 trillion dollars being allocated across 50 states and one has to ask: If Byrd were our senator, how might he react.

David Dodson is a resident of Wyoming and an entrepreneur who has helped create over 20,000 private sector jobs. He is on the faculty of the Stanford Graduate School of Business where he teaches courses...

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  1. Woming may need and want some federal handouts but what it really needs are citizens ready to pay their own way through increased taxes. Rich people move here to benefit from the taxes others pay. Get rid of the welfare queens in Jackson, and elsewhere.

  2. “ The job of being in Congress has ceased to be about enacting legislation and fighting for constituents — but about positioning oneself for the next election.”

    Never have truer words been spoken.

  3. Does Wyoming truly deserve more Federal largesse ? The Cowboy State for all its outspoken disdain for All Things Fedrull Gubbamint is already the beneficiary of the federal dole per capita than nearly all other states. We get way more money back in federal goods, services, and yes, infrastructure than we pay for , even including mineral royalties sent to the Treasury. Never mind that the Feds provide about 1/3rd of employed jobs across Wyoming ( especially so if you include school funding). Depending on whose survey you quote and the methodology , Wyoming residents get anywhere from $ 1.85 to more than $ 3.00 for every dollar paid into the national tax base. So while out peerless fearless leaders stand there and rage about the Fedrull Gubbamint and the evils of ‘ socialism’ , they stand there with their hands out or a bucket. Talk of imposing new state taxes or fees on our own state residents is promptly shot down, no matter how dire the options.

    Without the existing federal subsidies and direct or secondary support across the socioeconomic board, Wyoming would implode if it were solely reliant on its own state government taxes, fees, and assessments. Total collapse inside of 90 days if the Feds turn off the spigot.

    So on the one hand, Wyoming desperately needs a boost in outside infrastructure spending . Start with an I-80 maintenance slush fund .

    But does Wyoming -at-large deserve it ? Perhaps a little atonement by the state Republican cabal on that ” radical extremist leftist socialism” rhetoric needs to come first . Who can blame the Biden admin if they tell Wyoming to go to the back of the line , or sit in the corner with the dunce cap on about how Gubbamint really functions and what fuels it.

    What is the cure for Red State brain fever ? Going cold turkey on Trumpism might be the Rx or at least a good first step back to reality .

  4. Thanks for encouraging our Wyoming populace to consider the impact our “party before country” congress persons are having on our state progress. But, as usual in our state, I’m afraid your suggestions will fall on deaf ears while the majority march to the “R” tune at the polls once again. I’m concerned that my native state won’t become more progressive until it’s too late, or far too expensive, to recover. I will write as you suggest, but the response I receive will likely be the usual diatribe about how dangerous it is that our president is a democrat.

  5. I began to realize during Clinton’s administration that the political parties were so deeply divided that compromise had become a dirty word. Since then, political parties are not interested so much in serving their states as they were in wresting power from the ruling party, but I never thought I would see the day that there would be “red” money and “blue” money. When our elected representatives are not trying everything in their power to help their home state to recover from financial collapse, it’s time for new representatives.

  6. Robert Byrd also used the Senate filibuster to great effect while opposing the 1964 Civil Rights Bill. The man who now occupies Byrd’s old seat, Joe Manchin, is stubbornly proud of Byrd’s legacy as he holds out against scrapping the filibuster. Nostalgia is a toxic condition.