Happy New Year from 307 Politics! The time between Christmas and New Year's is pretty slow as news weeks go, so I'll spare you a lengthy introduction and get straight to the news(letter). As always, if you haven't subscribed you can do so at trib.com/email and you can follow me on Twitter @arnorosenfeld.
Washington Post please
I was at a Bar Nunn drinking establishment last week talking to patrons about how Wyoming’s small towns differ from those in the rest of the country. I never know how folks will react when I introduce myself as a reporter with a Star-Tribune but one man, who was playing pool, had a good attitude when I asked if he wanted to talk.
“Well, you guys are pretty conservative I guess,” he said. “Not like the ones out in Baltimore.”
He demurred about what was going on in Baltimore, but it’s true that I’m not an East Coast reporter. But also last week, an East Coast reporter decided to weigh in on why Wyoming was losing population.
The Washington Post’s Andrew Van Dam offered readers over 700 words on why Wyoming is shedding residents while neighboring Idaho has the highest population growth rate in the country.
While the two states being adjacent makes for an interesting geographic coincidence, the answer is pretty dang simple: Wyoming’s economy is mostly driven by natural resources and the energy industry has tanked. Idaho has a diverse economy built around Boise, a compelling and increasingly popular city of over 500,000 people at a time when people want to live in larger cities.
Van Dam, who used to work at the Idaho Press-Tribune in Nampa, meanders on his way to offering a similar explanation and an attempt at identifying the cause. He argues that because Idaho’s mines ran dry decades ago, the state was forced to diversify in a way Wyoming hasn’t.
“It’s the tired old parable of two siblings, separated at birth,” Van Dam concludes. “One began with natural gifts and found little incentive to grow beyond them, and another was forced to play a weaker hand but became stronger and more resilient in the process. There’s probably a moral in there somewhere, but I’m guessing it’s just “you should probably move to Idaho.”
Which, yes and no. Van Dam cites Idaho’s agriculture and forestry industries as success, ignoring that Wyoming has tried its hand at both of those to less avail. He also tacked on that pivoting to manufacturing and technology companies had worked well for the Gem State, as if our Cowboy State has been batting away factories and start-ups.
It’s possible that Idaho has invested in a foundation for these industries, allowing the move away from a natural resources economy. Certainly the concentration of a state capitol and public university is a boon to Boise as is its relative proximity to Portland and Seattle, making it more a part of the thriving pacific-northwest than Wyoming will ever be.
There’s also critical mass: millennials especially are looking to move to metropolitan areas. With Boise already established, it is likely to draw more young workers and families. Wyoming doesn’t have a single large city by national standards and without one it’s hard to either attract more people looking for a big metro or to stop native-born Wyomingites from leaving for greener pastures in Denver or elsewhere.
The question of why Wyoming’s economy lags behind the far more dynamic ones in neighboring states like Idaho, Utah and Colorado is one worth asking. It’s too bad the Washington Post couldn’t provide a more meaningful answer.
Bitcoin mania skips Wyoming
While the rest of the world goes through a Bitcoin boom -- and bust -- Wyoming is sitting blissfully, or tragically, out of the frantic rush. Bitcoin is a so-called “cryptocurrency” traded primarily on the internet. There are different types of cryptocurrencies but they all work by essentially placing a value on snippets of a long and unique string of computer code. The idea is that each unit is unique and can be tied back to the full chain in order to assure the snippet is authentic.
Cryptos, as they’re sometimes known, have potential uses for everything from international bank transfers to anonymous online payments. But the current Bitcoin boom -- the currency’s value soared from $900 this time last year to a high of $19,000 two weeks ago -- is largely based on speculation as opposed to any tangible value.
In any case, it’s a big deal and one that Wyoming residents have been forced to sit on the sidelines of. The Wyoming Blockchain Coalition is seeking to change that, arguing that the state is missing out due to outdated banking regulations drawn from the 2003 Wyoming Money Transmitters Act, which fails to include cryptocurrency as a "permissible investment."
The coalition counts several prominent residents as supporters, including former governor Jim Geringer, Cheyenne mayor Marian Orr and University of Wyoming Foundation CEO Ben Blalock, who struggled to accept a sizeable donation of Bitcoin from an alum earlier this year. Whether the Legislature will find the time to address a seemingly obscure issue like cryptocurrency during its February budget session remains to be seen.
House Bill 26, which would have amended the banking law, failed to pass the Legislature two years ago.
Rex Rammell to run?
Perennial Republican candidate Rex Rammell called me last week to say he may enter the Wyoming's governor's race. A controversial figure, Rammell has unsuccessfully run for governor and U.S. Senate in Idaho and was a candidate for the U.S. House seat in Wyoming in 2016.
Rammell said his attention was piqued when he recently read an article I wrote in September following Cynthia Lummis' announcement that she would not run for governor.
He seized on this quote by GOP political consultant Bill Novotny: “The electorate of Wyoming has a type of candidate that they like to elect. That is typically very pro-business, reasonable ... conservative ... not the fire-throwing individuals.”
"We'll see about that," Rammell said with a laugh.
COUNT THEM DOWN -- I put together a list of the Star-Tribune's top political stories of the year. Check it out!
MAGIC SNOWMAN -- In better coverage of Wyoming-related news, Washington Post reporter Rick Maese has the story of Tom Johnston, "a soft-spoken Wyoming cowboy," who "will leave his sprawling ranch, saying goodbye to his wife, his cows and his quiet, solitary life. He will make the 20-hour trek to South Korea, where he will spend the next two months caring for a mountain, tending to its curves and its bumps."
-- Johnston, of Pinedale, is a "snow guru" in charge of fixing up the ski hills for the upcoming Winter Olympics.
BIZ COUNCIL BLUES -- The Wyoming Business Council is worried that Endow, Gov. Matt Mead's economic diversification initiative, is going to convince lawmakers that the WBC is obsolete, according to a Joel Funk report in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.
CHENEY BREAKS PRECEDENT -- U.S. House Rep. Liz Cheney failed to consult local officials before drafting a bill that would amend the Wyoming Wildness Act to allow a longer window for heli-skiing in the Snake River Range.
-- Mike Koshmrl reports for the Jackson Hole News & Guide that Cheney's "attempt to legislate Teton County wilderness issues from Washington, D.C., in the absence of county government input breaks from the long history of consultation and deference to local voices..."