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We spotted one another before the starting gun fired. It was not hard to recognize each other scattered throughout the field of 8,000 racers, our brethren wearing the telltale 307 sign, the bucking Steamboat. It was the thread which bound us all.

We’d travelled south to the purple state in late August for the pleasure of forging large streams of water, four-point scrambling and running until we ralphed. As we nervously bobbed back and forth before the race, we introduced ourselves by city. A group from Wheatland, another from Cheyenne, a few strapping Gillette bucks -- who’d clearly trained for the race by baling hay and bulldogging -- willingly joined our cabal. When the gun fired, we sprinted off with our new friends. These pokes had our back. We were riding for the brand.

Yet our easy kinship, that which we hold most dear, is becoming more tenuous with each election cycle. Our race was held just days after Wyoming’s Big Race, the primary election, one in which several characters with zero working knowledge of our state but bearing fistfuls of dollars and out-of-state interests whispering in their ear came way closer than they should have to gaining the title of Wyoming public servant.

We have no one to blame but ourselves. In the gubernatorial race, one candidate had never even been to Casper, the second largest city in Wyoming, until he landed his private plane on the tarmac. Identified as “Wyoming-based” by the national media, he came within points of winning the Republican primary. That he won almost a quarter of the counties in Wyoming should be a collective gut check for us all.

I’m troubled we are so easily dazzled by squatter candidates’ glossy campaigns which are nothing more than a smoke and mirrors montage of all things Wyoming designed to convince us they are one of us. They are not.

I’m not “based” in Wyoming. I live here. Every day of every year. It is beside the point that most of these interlopers’ platforms and agendas align with mine. There are plenty of like-minded, hard-working, engaged, whip-smart folks in this state that are more than capable of representing us. Their only flaw is they are not independently wealthy and capable of self-financing a campaign. It’s a shame those of us like that are being squeezed out of the game.

As insulting it may be, it seems to be working. That’s not the political squatter’s problem. That’s ours. With each vote for a carpetbagger, we slowly close the door on the possibility of allowing working or middle class folks to lead our state. As much as we reverently pay lip service to our Code of the West rules -- “some things are not for sale” -- if the last two election cycles are any indicator, we kind of are.

Perhaps it’s time to remind ourselves and revisit the things we allege to hold dear. True Wyomingites earn our stripes bare-knuckling it through ground blizzards, freezing our asses off waiting for the elk to crest a hillside or knowing which car door not to open when the wind really gets kickin’. That identity is bound by living, working here and raising kids, not owning a second home during good weather or by a willingness to drop a pot of gold on the rainbow prize called “Wyoming.”

There is no shortcut to place. Wyomingites need to dig their heels in with our voices and most importantly, with our vote and remind political intruders we cannot be fooled nor can we be bought.

When we started our trail race last month, there were five on the team. When we finished, there were more than forty. As we rounded the final corner, someone instinctively began singing Cowboy Joe. Makes sense. It’s what we do when we collect together. We grabbed hands and belted it at the top of our lungs. We didn’t know each other hours earlier. By the end, we were simply pokes bound together by sweat, blood, a lot of grime, but mostly by our fidelity to our beloved Cowboy State. Can’t buy that.

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Susan Stubson is a pianist, a writer and an attorney. She lives in Casper with her husband Tim who is the proud grandson of a roughneck from Niobrara County, their cowdog Lillie who hails from the side of a road in Goshen County, and their sons Huck and Finn, who are seventh generation Wyomingites.

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