Wednesday, March 21, 2018

WYO Legislature: Twisted arms and twisted rules

“Those who respect the law and love sausage should watch neither being made.” Turns out Mark Twain’s oft-quoted admonition is a poor analogy. In order to protect the public, there are ethical guidelines that must be followed when sausage is being made. Not so, when laws are being processed.

Take for example, SF74, titled “Crimes Against Critical Infrastructure.” It wasn’t drafted by Wyoming legislators, but by international energy corporations like Exxon and Peabody Coal, members of the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC invites state lawmakers to pricey resorts. They are wined and dined on ALEC’s tab. That kind of luxury is not dispensed without expectations. ALEC hands these lawmakers so-called “model bills.” They take them home and toss them in the hopper as if they had dreamed up the idea.

This ALEC bill renders demonstrations like that at Standing Rock felonious. Multi-national corporations don’t go to the public arena for debates over whether their proposals advance or harm the public good. They go to pandering state legislators.

While Matt Meade vetoed the bill, how it made its way through the legislative process is a twisted tale.

It started when Laramie County Republican Representative Bill Henderson’s arm was twisted. Then the operating rules of the House were twisted.

The opening act was a tie vote in the House Minerals Committee, seemingly killing the bill.

As legislators left the committee hearing, they were set upon by predatory lobbyists. Henderson proved the easiest prey. Rep. Henderson had voted no. When those lobbyists got through with him, Henderson went from “no” to “yes, sir.”

There were barriers to the scheme. Once taken, a vote is presumed final. But these lobbyists know people who know people. They got to Committee Chair Mike Greear who agreed not to sign the committee report so that Representative Henderson could bob and weave.

There were two other problems. The Legislature’s calendar decreed that Monday, March 5, was the last day for a standing committee to vote on bills. Reconsideration could not take place until March 6. Resurrecting the corpse required a committee hearing, which, by virtue of House rules could not be held in time to pass the bill.

That pesky rule reads, “No standing committee shall meet to consider any bill referred to it unless notice of the date, time and place of the meeting and the bills to be considered has been posted in the State Capitol at the place designated for posting of meeting notices by 3:00 p.m. on the day before the meeting is to be held.”

When the energy lobby wants something, they don’t concern themselves with small things like the rules of a democratic institution. The House Rules Committee convened in secret on the House floor. It was safer there. The public couldn’t eavesdrop on their plotting. The meeting, which took place after the 3:00 PM deadline, resulted in a decision to ignore the rules and give the big boys what they wanted.

The Rules Committee has 13 members. Chaired by Speaker Steve Harshman, the committee is comprised of 11 Republicans and two Democrats. Those two were joined by GOP Representative Sue Wilson in taking a stand for the integrity of the legislative process. The other 10, including Laramie County Representative Bob Nicholas, voted to discard the rules. The lobbyists went home with what they came for.

Why was this bill so critical to the special interests that they would cast all ethics to the Wyoming wind? Could it be the proposal pending before federal agencies to authorize 1500 oil and gas wells in Western Wyoming, some of which will, if approved, impact sacred burial grounds of Native Americans and negatively impact air and water quality?

In the end, a majority of your legislators did what they do best, give priority to energy interests over your rights and aspirations as a citizen. As Rep. Jared Olsen, an energy company apologist said, “They (energy companies) are critical to Wyoming.” Well, that certainly puts the rest of us in our place.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

enough to set off a piranha-like feeding frenzy

Memo to Cheyenne high-school students: If you say the word “guns” you will drive some folks over the edge. That’s okay.

Discussions about ending the slaughter of school children and other human beings brings out the worst in some so-called adults. Florida students speaking out received deaths threats. Conspiracy theorists called them “actors.”

Delta Airlines is headquartered in Georgia. The company provides that state with thousands of high-paying jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues. Yet, when Delta decided to be neutral on the gun issue and withdrew from a contract giving NRA members a discount on air travel, the Republicans in the state legislature threw a fit. They risked the economic benefit provided by Delta by avenging the company’s slight of the NRA by denying Delta a 50 million-dollar tax break.

Remember when the gun culture looked upon the 20 tiny bodies of bullet-ridden children at Sandy Hook and said it never happened, that it had been made up by gun control advocates?  

What Cheyenne school administrators, board members, and students are experiencing is no great surprise. Not-so-subtle death threats, adults organizing pro-gun counter demonstrations, denigrating young activists, and threatening social media posts are the modus operandi. The gun-culture adherents’ hair caught on fire before they knew whether there would even be a demonstration or what message the students wanted to send.

Simply mentioning “guns” was enough to set off a piranha-like feeding frenzy.

Cheyenne students are learning important civics lessons. First, the people who want to silence you don’t stop to think that it can happen here. You know it can. You are right. They are not. Consider this:

1. The term “gun culture” encompasses more than simply “gun ownership.” Many gun owners are rational people who understand the need for reasonable gun safety laws. Impressive majorities of voters own guns without becoming part of the “gun culture.”

2. When you speak out, you scare them. As you have learned, when people are scared, they sometimes become bullies.

3. Be confident that at this stage of your education, you know more about the history of this nation and the meaning of the U.S. Constitution than a frighteningly high percentage of those who are trying to muzzle you.

4. At this moment, you may be the only adults left in the room. Carpe diem.

5. In the book of Jeremiah, the Lord said, ‘Do not say ‘I am too young.” You’re not. Your voice is powerful. Use it.

6. Your parents and grandparents won’t solve the gun issue. They lack the commitment to truth necessary to listen to and hear one another and to discuss the issue honestly. It’s up to you.

7. The world to which your teachers have introduced you is a world where facts matter. The people trying to stop you from speaking out don’t live in that world. Likewise, your teachers have taught you a skill that many Americans lack; the ability to think critically, to analyze facts, and arrive at a rational opinion.

8. They don’t believe you will vote when you turn 18. In fact, they are betting on it and the statistics would make that a safe wager. Prove them wrong. Vote as if your future depends on it because it does.

9. They listen to people like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Dana Loesch, and Alex Jones. Listen to yourself. Trust what you hear.

10. Your parents and grandparents settled for a political system unduly influenced by big money and a dysfunctional government unable to understand or solve problems. We allowed our political system to decay through our laziness. We watched as it morphed comfortably into blind partisanship. Don’t settle for that. The clock is ticking on your watch. Nothing less than our democracy is at stake.

One last word to students. You don’t need the blessing of the authorities to engage in civil disobedience. That’s why they call it “civil disobedience.” Do what you have to do, say what matters, and proudly accept the consequences.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Parody legislators & Wyoming's legacy of hate

In the movie “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” a bigoted cop bullies a young man, telling him he should move to Cuba because “they kill gays down there.” His target replies, “No, you’re thinking of Wyoming.”

Wyoming’s reputation was thus tarnished with Matthew Shepard’s 1998 murder and is tarnished anew annually by the introduction of shameful anti-gay legislation. The more outrageous the bill, the more national ridicule it attracts.

This year’s entry is “The Marriage and Constitutional Restoration Act,” sponsored by Laramie County Representative Lars Lone and Campbell County’s Roy Edwards. The bill died but the stench lingers. It won’t be the last time these two Republican lawmakers use their positions to bully others. They have long competed for recognition as the most hate-filled members of the legislature. With HB167, the prize is theirs.

The proposal is a broad attack on the LGBTQ community, combining bigotry with silliness. As one website said, “The bill, in one fell swoop, says Wyoming shouldn’t recognize same-sex marriages, uphold anti-discrimination measures protecting LGBTQ people, or back legislation allowing people to pee in the correct bathrooms in public places.” 

The Lone-Edwards bill attempted to circumvent the Supreme Court’s decision recognizing same-sex marriages demonstrating these politicians neither understand nor respect the Constitution.

It’s no surprise that they would sponsor such legislation. An unhealthy amount of their time is spent worrying about how people have sex and in which bathroom they do their business.

Their current effort to legislate bigotry defines marriages between men and women as “secular in nature.” Secular refers to something with no religious or spiritual basis. Think about it. They are willing to abandon the religious nature of marriage in order to make their point. In contrast, marriages between people of the same sex are, they say, “part of the religion of secular humanism.”

Thus, goes their argument, “the state of Wyoming is prohibited from endorsing or favoring religion over non-religion,” under the 1st Amendment. If you have difficulty following the logic, that speaks well of you. With a Kindergartener’s understanding of civics, Lone and Edwards believe a bill passed by the Wyoming legislature overrides decisions of the highest court in the land. (Spoiler’s Alert: It doesn’t.)

With malice aforethought, they use the term “parody,” defined as “a feeble or ridiculous imitation” equivalent to “intentional mockery or a travesty.” Their bill attempts to redefine marriages between people of the same sex as “parody marriages.” Actually, parody marriages describe the one the President entered while continuing to have sexual relationships with a porn star. The Lone-Edwards bill failed to discuss that sort of parody.

Demonstrating disdain for both facts and the LGBTQ community, their bill claims there’s been “a land rush” by those who support same-sex marriage “to infiltrate and indoctrinate minors in public schools to their religious worldview.”

In the final analysis, Lone and Edwards seek to have the law include requirements that the State of Wyoming and its political subdivisions recognize marriages devoid of religious or spiritual meaning while prohibiting it from recognizing loving marriages between people of the same sex. They think they outsmarted the Supreme Court. They only outsmarted themselves.

It is noteworthy that HB167 is about religious beliefs. Representative Edwards claims to be an Independent Baptist. Lone self-identifies as a “Christian,” code for “I haven’t committed to any church.” This bill proves neither has ever read the Gospels. Now, that is not a requirement to serve in the legislature unless you seek to impose your less-than-well-thought-out religious views on the rest of this. 

If my words sound angry, it’s because I am. I’ve witnessed marriages between people of the same sex, including that between my brother and his husband, a most loving 20-year relationship ending with “death do us part” as my brother died. As a pastor, I have officiated at weddings between people of the same sex, blessing the joyful beginnings long-term commitments.  

They were not “parody” marriages. However, what we have in Roy Edwards and Lars Lone are a couple of “parody legislators.”