We’re sure you’ve seen it.
It’s a common bumper sticker in Wyoming, one with dozens of variations.
“Welcome to Wyoming. We don’t care how you did it somewhere else.”
The message is largely tongue in cheek. Such stickers are often displayed by Wyomingites who are well aware their paychecks are cut by companies based elsewhere, who are in the state extracting minerals sold to customers elsewhere.
We like to think we’re independent, as free as the state’s iconic bucking horse very few of us could even begin to ride. But it’s obvious Wyoming doesn’t exist in isolation.
Perhaps someone should tell Hans Hunt.
Recently the Wyoming representative, a Republican from Newcastle, took that bumper sticker sentiment and used it as a club against a Wyoming citizen concerned about several issues in the state.
Keep in mind, it’s not an uncommon for a citizen to write an elected representative. What is uncommon is when that representative writes back with words meant to demean, hurt and repel.
Such was the case a few weeks ago when Rev. Audette Fulbright of Cheyenne wrote to Hunt. She wrote to say she and her husband were concerned about the dangers of the oil and gas industry practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. She said she and her husband worried about laws that would put more guns in schools, near her children.
“My husband and I moved to Wyoming not too long ago,” she wrote Hunt. “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.”
Hunt wrote back, thoughtfully prefacing his worst reaction with the phrase, “I’ll be blunt.”
Hunt wasn’t just blunt in his letter. He was rude. He was patronizing. And in just a few sentences, he embodied the worst of Wyoming.
“If you don’t like the political atmosphere of Wyoming, then by all means, leave,” he wrote. And later: “. . . if you’re so worried about what our legislature is working on, then go back home.”
Given a chance by the Star-Tribune to say something to soften the blow, Hunt refused. In fact, he doubled down.
“Was it blunt? Yes. Would I apologize? No,” Hunt told the Star-Tribune. And later: ““If I had to do it again, would I sit and think about how to phrase my words more carefully? Probably.”
Let’s pretend for a moment that everything posited by Hunt in his response is true: Fracking hasn’t been proven unsafe; Wyoming has a heritage of independence, and working to get more guns in schools is “standing up for our rights,” as Hunt phrased it.
Even then, what Hunt said was the wrong thing, and wrongheaded.
Wyoming daily eyes those who buy our energy in hopes the demand doesn’t flag. Wyoming daily works to welcome out-of-state companies who power the state’s economy – primarily the energy sector. Wyoming daily seeks new businesses in new sectors, hoping they’ll pick to live, grow and provide jobs that will power the state’s economy into the future.
Is “Go Wyoming Or Go Home” the message we want to send those we hope to attract here? Of course not. And if not them, why would we want to say such a thing to anyone who wants to make their home in Wyoming, no matter their political persuasion?
Perhaps some basic lessons in leadership are due. Perhaps Hunt should take note.
Saying the same thing as those around you, or perhaps even a little louder, isn’t leadership. Leadership is when you look to the future and see how things could be better, and then use your talents to shepherd those you lead toward that future.
Hunt’s comments may score him some free beer back in Newcastle, and maybe more than a handful of high-fives from some state legislators. But he shouldn’t confuse what he did for leadership.
And make no mistake, Hunt is a leader. Despite his young age, he’s the elected representative of his constituents. He speaks for them. And by extension, he speaks for the state of Wyoming.
What he says matters -- not just to those who might deign to have a dissenting opinion in the future, but to employers and others looking to move to Wyoming. To those outside the state who look for such voices to indicate what Wyoming is like.
We would like to believe Hunt doesn’t speak for Wyoming. It would be far easier if we could just dismiss his words as one-off, hasty comments by a young man from Newcastle.
But Hunt shouldn’t catch a break because of his age, or the stress of the legislative session amid hothouse of Capitol politics. Others have taken his words seriously. So shall we.
Challenges assault ideas and either prove them false or strengthen their defense. Challenges such as Fulbright’s are meant to be answered, and answered respectfully and thoroughly.
Hunt’s type of response and his obstinate defense of it make us wonder how brittle his ideas really are.
Hunt did the wrong thing and seems still convinced it was the right thing.
That’s not the way to keep Wyoming strong.