Cowboy state ethics

2013-07-28T05:00:00Z Cowboy state ethics Casper Star-Tribune Online
July 28, 2013 5:00 am

There are “Cowboy Ethics” and then there are “Cowboy State Ethics.”

One is a near-mythical Code of the West used to illustrate the principles of honesty, dealing with neighbors, hard work and fairness in a place where lawyers aren’t present at every meeting and being as good as your word still counts for something.

Cowboy State Ethics, on the other hand, refers to how business gets done in our state.

Wyoming is a place that often brags about its citizen Legislature — rightfully so. At its best, it means that lawmakers are not professional, full-time politicians. They are close to the people and pride themselves on access.

And yet at its worst, that closeness can create conflicts of interest and be intensely parochial. In a small state, it’s nearly impossible for folks not to have multiple acquaintances and connections to each other, making for some odd bedfellows.

The allegations of Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill about Sen. Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, should give folks pause. It appears that Nicholas may have used his power as a lawmaker to direct funding to a Laramie charter school which his law firm represented.

The problem with the allegations is that they give the appearance of wrongdoing, regardless of the situation or scenario. As with so many questionable practices, the truth of the matter is more gray than black or white. For example, the charter school which Nicholas’ firm represents has indeed needed a home in the real-estate tight Laramie area. And more area lawmakers have been working with the charter school than just Nicholas.

Still, perception becomes reality, and it appears that clients of Nicholas just got sizeable legislative help from him.

Nicholas has defended his actions saying he helped broker a deal that solved a long-term problem in his district. After all, is there a better definition of an effective legislator?

This isn’t the first time recently a lawmaker has been called into question for legislation that looks to be self-serving and a conflict of interest. Not even two years ago, former Casper Sen. Kit Jennings was questioned about his proposed legislation that would benefit a company he worked for.

The challenge then —and now — is that Wyoming has relatively few ethics laws and procedures. It’s not that they are absent, it’s just that most of the power lies within the Legislature and its leadership. That means if there are ethical concerns or violations, lawmakers have to be willing to punish one of their own — a tough, if not unfair position to put them in. In this case, Nicholas, a member of leadership, would actually have to punish himself if he, or the rest of the body, believed he had done anything wrong.

We understand Nicholas’ assertion: He saw a problem in his hometown and worked on a fix.

We also think the other facts, namely that this charter school is a client, which appears too much like a conflict of interest to be above board. The perception is more of a problem than any reality.

The real challenge is there is no recourse in this matter. There is no independent arbiter of ethics. And even public outrage is somewhat limited in a state that’s as heavily Republican as Wyoming.

But Wyoming deserves better, if ittruly is going to live up to its mythic code. We hope that lawmakers understand this issue isn’t just about a Laramie charter school or one particular senator. Instead, it’s about the amount of faith citizens have in the system. If Wyoming residents believe that every deal brokered is simply the result of some political back-scratching, then the entire political process is hurt because faith will erode.

Government — and especially leadership — has to be above board. It’s not good enough that there truly aren’t any conflicts of interest. There can’t even be the appearance.

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(7) Comments

  1. Jackalope
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    Jackalope - July 31, 2013 7:31 pm
    Still more evidence.
  2. pappy
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    pappy - July 29, 2013 9:02 am
    You said it yourself, there were other legislators working to get the school what it needed. Nicholas didn't have to use his power and influence to get this done, but he did. When the fox guards the chicken house the chickens are in trouble. Ethics means you do the right thing when no one is looking. Nicholas can't do the right thing when everyone is looking but Laramie will send him back just like Cody sends Coe and Gillette will send Lubnau back because they get special consideration.
  3. stickalose
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    stickalose - July 29, 2013 9:01 am
    Need to get over the "Cowboy" hype. 2/3 of the population live in towns. Missouri raises more cattle. How about "Just don't be an a**."
  4. side oiler
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    side oiler - July 28, 2013 1:14 pm
    Cowboy State Ethics are incorporated into the good old boys club,which began at the Cheyenne Social Club and continued with fiasco's like the Johnson County war,another example being the Tom Horn witch hunt.Yep...those Cowboy State Ethics are really something.
  5. IrishRaider
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    IrishRaider - July 28, 2013 12:29 pm
    And your point is? Nicholas is no cowboy either. He is a Shyster just like his brother bobby, and his pappy Jack was back in Lander as a district court judge who ran the shadiest court in the state.
  6. jackel
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    jackel - July 28, 2013 8:38 am
    Answer this maybe did not Phil vote for the code in the Wyoming Constitution? Yes he did and he uses his power like a Cowboy uses his rope. He and others can drag an elect official like Cindy Hill through the mud of speculatiions, but when the shoe fits the other foot of the accuser things become quite.
    Phil is like slithering within the Grey areas of Law, for he knows how to swim, yet the average people do know there is a conflict of interest. Therefore if the legislative branches hold one by the rope, then Phil needs the same rope cased upon him. By those same citizen Cowboys that voted into the Wyoming Constitution the Wyoming State Code on March 3, 2010 page 76 of Wyoming Constitution, and do what has to be done. Wyoming people know if you hold Cindy to the fire, then cast Phil into the mix for his interigty smells like road apples of ethics.
  7. mbudenske
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    mbudenske - July 28, 2013 5:38 am
    How fitting -- The real origins of the Cowboy Code of Ethics . . . Zane Grey wrote a cowboy dime novel in the 1930s wherein he devised his version of the Cowboy Code
    It is the Zane Grey code as set out in the novel of the same name that is most often quoted and it is the version that is adopted by the state. -- Zane Grey was never a cowboy. He was born in Ohio and went to college in Pennsylvenia. He was a dentist and took writing as a sideline. James Owen was an investment banker for about 35 years before he decided to become a motivational speaker. He has a glitzy web site and has sold a lot of books but he was never a cowboy -- although he does live in Austin Texas.

    Gene Autry -- Actor and Singing Cowboy developed his version in the 1940s. Gene Autry was born in north Texas and did work on his father's ranch until he left high school in 1925. The was a telegraph operator and also worked on the railroad as an adult. He sang at local dances before he made it big as a singer.

    I am giving some web sites for those of who that may think I am making this up.
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