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Sniffin: Wow, what a year! A look back at high points and some low points

Sniffin: Wow, what a year! A look back at high points and some low points

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Obviously the biggest story of this year was the Wyoming governor’s race, but there were lots of other big stories, too. Before we dissect that huge political story, let’s look at some other big stories.

The 54,000-acre fire near Bondurant that destroyed 55 homes was a first for Wyoming. We have had some big fires and seen some homes lost, but nothing like this scale.

We are not California, so a subdivision with 100 homes is more common than 8,000 homes. But that fire showed Wyoming is not immune to nature’s vengeance for folks who love mountains and forests and hence built their homes there. I speak as someone who also owns a house in a forest.

The biggest business story was the continued decline of Wyoming’s coal industry. From our beginning, the Cowboy State has ridden our unlimited supply of coal as a big source of state revenues. Unless President Trump uses a military base on the northwest coast of the U.S. to export coal, this industry will continue to decline.

Plus, it strikes close to home in Kemmerer, when the Westmoreland Company threatens bankruptcy and being unable to pay retirement benefits to the hundreds of miners it employs in the coal business.

In Evanston, the talk is about the huge expansion of the state hospital. Plus the Immigration Service may build a big facility in that town. In my town of Lander, some $75 million is being spent on the Wyoming Life Resource Center expansion.

But the billions supposedly committed to upgrade F. E. Warren Air Force in Cheyenne dwarf these projects. And there is the $350 million being spent on the State Capitol complex. For a state allegedly mired in economic difficulty, this is a lot of new construction.

On the job development front, Weatherby moved its firearms manufacturing and headquarters from California to Sheridan.

This was the year that Wyoming opened a trade office in Taiwan. Rock Springs joined Rawlins in winning the Great American Main Street Award. Evanston is a semifinalist for 2019.

The Women’s Suffrage Pathway was dedicated over South Pass, southwest of Lander.

Outside of coal, the energy economy looks bright, with a huge backlog of applications to drill for oil and gas on federal lands.

Wyoming lost many wonderful people in 2018. The year started off horribly when Leslie Blythe died on Jan. 5 from complications of the flu. A true statewide leader, she has been missed.

In Sheridan, long-time legislator Tom Kinnison died.

In Cody, retired banker Victor Riley passed away. He was a huge benefactor in his town but also was a founding supporter and major donor to Wyoming Catholic College in Lander.

The death of Ray Plank was noted in Johnson County, mainly at Ucross, which he used to generate progressive ideas for the state and promote art.

Just recently, Brent Kunz died. The Cheyenne attorney was a friend of everyone and was one of those people who improved Wyoming immensely during his lifetime by mainly working in the background.

Wyoming citizens were proud of their own retired U.S. Sen. Al Simpson of Cody who was so eloquent in his eulogy for the late George H. W. Bush.

And then there was that election.

The year started with the two presumed gubernatorial front-runners dropping out. Secretary of State Ed Murray dropped out in February amid accusations of misbehavior from decades ago. Former U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis just decided to sit it out.

The word “million” has not been mentioned too many times in history when it comes to Wyoming political campaigns, but this year it happened a lot.

Mark Gordon won the Republican nomination for governor. Congratulations to him and his team. He started out a front-runner and finished strong. Gordon was chased hard by Foster Friess, Harriet Hageman and Sam Galeotos. Among that group, over $7 million was spent in the primary election alone.

Friess was a late entry but was actually leading in the polls with a week to go, after being in the race just 112 days at the time. What ended up being one of the most compelling issues of the campaign was his emphasis on the lack of transparency in Wyoming government when it comes to where all the state money is spent.

The year 2018 will go down in history as a time when perhaps the huge cost to run for a major office in Wyoming could become a big impediment to the ordinary candidate, which is too bad.

Bill Sniffin is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written six books.


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