Saturday, August 1, 2015

Working toward equality

Recently I suggested Wyoming’s state motto is misleading. There is little that justifies us telling others we’re “The Equality State.”

My column cited historical evidence showing that we haven’t earned the motto. From the Chinese massacre in the mid-19th century to last year’s refusal of the legislature to protect gays and lesbians from job discrimination simply because of sexual identity, the list was long. Historian Phil White pointed out I’d missed an especially egregious incident.

In 1940 a Rawlins mob viciously hunted down Jehovah’s Witnesses. After forcing them to “kiss the American flag” out of some ignorant sense that the Witnesses were disloyal, the mob beat them severely and burned their property.

Some readers ghost-walked by the evidence, arguing, “But we’ve made progress. We’re not lynching anyone any more. So don’t be so negative.” The issue goes over the heads of pink-skinned, Christian, heterosexual males who celebrate “progress.”

Here’s the issue. Wyoming calls itself “The Equality State.” It doesn’t claim to be “The State Making Progress Toward Equality (Look out, a glacier is coming)”. We can debate whether anyone should take pride in simply “making progress” but if you tell the world that you’re “The Equality State,” you should be.

If Wyoming is satisfied with progress, that’s fine (not really), but we need an honest motto. You and I could suggest a few but what I’d really like to see us do is actually become “The Equality State.”

Instead of suggesting new mottos, let’s suggest ways Wyoming could atone for past transgressions (you all believe in atonement, right?) while really becoming “The Equality State?”

First, ask yourself how it’s possible to live up to our motto if the legislature refuses to protect the LGBTQ community from job discrimination? In our day-to-day lives, few things more important than job security. Wyoming law is unfair enough. Most employers can fire employees without cause. Regardless of how long you’ve worked or how good a job you’ve done, you can lose your livelihood with no reason.

But even “at-will” employees cannot be fired for race or gender. The legislature has refused to extend that protection to gays and lesbians. That’s not equality.

Second, Wyoming should address income inequality. A state touting “equality” as its identity shouldn’t tolerate illegitimate disparities between wages paid to men as opposed to women. Wyoming should begin by eliminating the “tip credit” which allows restaurants to pay food-service employees less than minimum wage.

Second, minimum wages must become livable wages. Anyone working full time should be able to provide basic support for themselves and their families. That’s not the case in Wyoming. The burden falls most heavily on women. More than half of all Wyoming families headed by a single parent female are living below the poverty level.

The law should require employers paying women less than a man for substantially the same work should bear the burden of proving a legitimate reason for the disparity, starting with state and local governments.

Third, it’s time for Wyoming to pass hate-crimes laws. Only five of the fifty states have not done so. One is the state known as “The Equality State.” Opponents ask why should there be a special category for crimes against minorities? The answer is the same as the one given by Wyoming legislators when they created enhanced penalties when certain crimes are committed against the elderly or drugs sold near schools.

The legislature determined the elderly and children are uniquely vulnerable and targeted for some crimes and deserve additional protection. If a 40 year-old woman is scammed, there’s one penalty. If a seventy-year old is scammed, there are additional penalties.

Minorities and the LGBTQ community are also targeted by haters and are uniquely vulnerable, which is why most states have hate-crimes laws.

Some may disagree with these suggestions. They may have their arguments about why these reforms need not be enacted. That’s beside the point. The point isn’t
wage gender gap, or pass hate-crimes legislation.

The question is whether Wyoming is the Equality State.




Saturday, July 25, 2015

Cheyenne Frontier Days

It’s an old faded black and white photograph. That’s me on the right, about a head taller, a year and a half older than brother Bob on the left. Dad gave us the cowboy hats. Toy six-shooters are strapped to our hips, we have small plastic horses in each hand.

It’s 1953. I was five years old, our first Cheyenne Frontier Days.

For especially one-time visitors, CFD is a wondrous experience. You’ll find nothing like it anywhere in the world. For those who’ve lived many years in Cheyenne, the experience is ever changing as it marks the transitions of our lives

Memories are vague of those times when my parents introduced the celebration to us kids. What I do recall is the awesome parade. In those days it was sufficient unto itself to sit on a curb and watch marching bands, horses, buggies, floats, clowns, cowboys, and cowgirls go by. A bit older, my brothers and I walked the parade route and the rodeo stands hawking newspapers. That stack of newspapers got us through the gates at the rodeo grounds. We saw “the show” for the first time.

Everything changed when we became teenagers. There wasn’t much interest in either the parade or the rodeo. All that mattered were the girls at the carnival. We spent hours walking round and round the midway, boys looking for girls, girls for boys. We learned our lesson about “the house odds” trying to win one of those huge teddy bears for our girlfriend.

At 17, I was a disc jockey for KRAE Radio. We covered Frontier Days day and night. A press badge opened the doors of many events, parties, and happenings. I met all of the big name acts coming through Cheyenne for the celebration. I have a photo taken with Doc and Chester from Gunsmoke as I interviewed them in the control room of the radio station.

The next Frontier Days transition came when we reached drinking age. Once we turned twenty-one, CFD meant fewer rodeos or parades and more night shows and partying in local saloons, an annual reunion with old friends from everywhere.

Then came parenthood. Gone, for the most part, were those long afternoons and evenings at bars. In the BC (before children) years, Cheyenne Day and the weekends meant great times and long hours at the Mayflower, the Blue Bird, or the Cheyenne Club partying with friends. That mostly ended with a new CFD era, the one with our own children in tow.

If we went out at all, we drank much less beer and came home earlier. We circled back to those days when the parade was the highlight. Just as our parents had once introduced us to CFD, it was our turn to introduce our children to the marching bands, old cars and buggies, floats, and cowboys and cowgirls. They were thrilled to spend time at the Indian Village, watch the Thunderbirds, and ride the smaller rides at the carnival. And we were excited to watch their faces as they took it all in.

Admittedly, when they left home, we spent a few years trying to avoid it all. We complained about the traffic and higher prices in our favorite restaurants.

Then we became grandparents and the real fun of Cheyenne Frontier Days returned. The smile on the face of grandkids is what CFD is now all about. Like us when we were little and our children when they were, they love their cowboy hats and the parade, are thrilled with the Thunderbirds, watch the dancing Indians in awe, and shriek when a bull rider explodes out of the chute. Cheyenne Frontier Days was never more fun.


Like the old photos, our memories fade. One transition yet remains. The years are coming round when, once again, someone else will drive me to the parade route and it will be sufficient unto itself to sit on a curb and watch the marching bands, horses, buggies, floats, clowns, cowboys, and cowgirls go by.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Scalia and Shakespeare

The scene: A dark cave. In the middle a cauldron boils. Thunder. Justice Scalia dissents.

“The Court predicts that making tax credits unavailable in States that do not set up their own Exchanges would cause disastrous economic consequences there. If that is so,” writes Justice Scalia, “wouldn’t one expect States to react by setting up their own Exchanges?
That is, using Scalia’s hyperbole, a “bit of interpretive jiggery-pokery” meaning, “The more authority given to states, the more legislatures like Wyoming’s will find ways to assure Obamacare doesn’t work. Look at the mischief we caused allowing states to choose whether to expand Medicaid. That was some kind of witches’ brew.”

The President says the Affordable Care Act is here to stay. The witches say, “Double, double toil and trouble; repeal and replace, fire burn, and cauldron bubble.”

They gathered round the cauldron. Eyes are red, throats are dry, long fingernails extend from bony fingers. Fire and smoke fume from nostrils. Partisans focus on their Obamacare talking points.

“Double, double toil and trouble; train wreck, socialism, repeal and replace, fire burn, and cauldron bubble.”

Fifty times they voted to repeal it, a presidential election was a referendum on the law, its opponents lost, dozens of candidates spent millions promising to “repeal and replace” Obamacare and not one offered a plan to do so, two failed trips to the Supreme Court, an entire television network dedicated to misleading the public about the law, and yet it remains.

“Eye of newt, and toe of frog, wool of bat, and tongue of dog, adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting, lizard's leg, and owlet's wing; for a charm of powerful trouble, like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”

The timid witch in the corner says, “Why work so hard to harm vulnerable people? Is this Kool-Aid any different than Wyoming legislators guzzled when they denied healthcare to 17,000 low income working people?”

The witches screech, “In the poison'd entrails throw. Toad, that under cold stone, days and nights has thirty-one; Swelter'd venom sleeping got, Boil thou first in ' the charmed pot!”

The timid one inquires, “You stir the brew you hope will kill the law but it will also kill people. The country would be better off you brewed your own plan to help fix the country’s broken healthcare system?”

Pretending not to hear a word, they kept stirring as they chanted, “Fillet of a fenny snake, in the cauldron boil and bake. Repeal, repeal, repeal.”

The other says, “If this brew is successful the budget deficit will increase by tens-of-billions of dollars. Millions of people will lose their insurance. Some of them and their children may even die.”

The gathered witches snarled wryly and sang. “Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.”

But, says the timid one, “People who couldn’t afford health insurance are now insured. The uninsured rate has declined by nearly 10 million under Obamacare. Isn’t that a good thing? We used to think so, didn’t we?”

The witches ignore the siren and continue stirring the brew, mixing ingredients. “Scale of dragon; tooth of wolf; witches' mummy; maw and gulf of the ravin'd salt-sea shark.”

“Bu-bu-but…for the first time in history, healthcare costs have declined.”

The other witches cared not and continued brewing a concoction to kill the law. “This will be the one,” they say. “Thrice and once, the hedge-pig whin'd. Harpier cries, 'tis time! 'tis time!”

Growing less timid, the voice cries, “If the Congress drinks your awful brew, people with pre-existing conditions can’t be insured, sick people’s policies will be canceled, young people won’t be covered under their parents’ policies, insurance companies will not be restrained in how much they spend on lawyers to fight claims and advertising to misrepresent their policies.”

The plotting witches chant. The cauldron boils. The timid witch asks, “Just what will you replace Obamacare with?” They bellowed, “Gall of goat, and slips of yew sliver'd in the moon's eclipse; Nose of Turk, and Tartar's lips; repeal, repeal, repeal.”

With thanks to William Shakespeare.









    

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Living the good life

If you’ve lived in Cheyenne any time at all, you’ll enjoy standing in the mayor’s office and remembering why you decided to live here as you look upon the photos of past office-holders. It is a decades-long gallery of visionary leaders. I’ve lived here since 1951 but my memories of mayors begin in 1962 with Bill Nation. Then there was Herb Kingham, George Cox, Floyd Holland, Jim Van Velzor, Don Erickson, Leo Pando, Jack Spiker, and now Rick Kaysen. Exceptional leaders.

Look on their faces and drive or walk around town and remember what made this community such a great place to live. Each of those people gave their time and considerable talents not just to the times they served but also to the future of this city. They didn’t just take care of the problems on “today’s” list but they thought about what Cheyenne could become in the future.

A few are gone and a few have left us. But each left Cheyenne better off than it was when they began their public service.

Of course, mayors don’t it alone. City council members, local and state community leaders joined these men. Together they combine to create one of the most livable communities in the country.

Cheyenne has been blessed with visionary leadership. We take for granted that Cheyenne has sufficient water to continue to support long-term economic development. Like the Stage II water development, which began half-a-century ago and assures our long-term water needs are met, or the greenway, which now spans 37 miles, the exceptional park and recreational infrastructure, and Depot Plaza, so much of what makes this city special began as a vision in the minds of thoughtful people who often weren’t around to see it come to fruition.

Consider the planning required to create a community safety structure of police, fire, and ambulance services making our community one of the safest. Exceptional baseball, softball, and soccer fields as well as the Ice and Events Center and Civic Center grew from the work of those who cared not only for their families but also for future generations.

Integral to Cheyenne is F.E. Warren AFB, the State Capitol Building and other amenities like the Museum and Archives, the Visitor’s center south of Cheyenne, and the attractive Game and Fish facility among many others.

Youth Alternatives’ innovative approach to juvenile justice has impacted thousands of families, saving countless young lives. The Boys and Girls Club is thriving and youngsters stand in line to experience the new aquatic center and the Paul Smith Children’s Village. Our library is nationally recognized, our school system among the best.

Festivals and community celebrations go beyond the iconic Cheyenne Frontier Days to include everything from the Brewers’ Festival to farmer’s markets and Super Day.

Cheyenne thoughtfully and compassionately created a social service safety net to include COMEA, Needs, St. Joseph’s food bank, Meals on Wheels, Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, and Peak Wellness among dozens of other critical efforts of civic and faith organizations. The most impressive Animal Shelter on the Front Range serves our four-legged citizens.

We witness the innovative thinking of community leadership in ways ranging from the acquisition of the Belvoir Ranch to the purchase of Flo the goose-harassing Border collie, and the renovation of the Botanic Gardens. Especially visionary are the city’s plans for a “Universally Acceptable Playground” providing integrated accessibility for all children regardless of their abilities or disabilities.

One of the best examples of long-term thinking is the West Edge Project. Not only will the project mitigate flood threats, it will one day be a community showpiece. A creek will run through a park amidst a revived and beautiful part of Cheyenne providing an incentive for new economic growth.

The day will come when our grandchildren make their choices about where to work and raise families. Visionary, future-oriented projects like the West Edge and other work now occupying the thoughts of Cheyenne’s many innovative leaders will guarantee Cheyenne will continue to be an attractive alternative.



Saturday, July 4, 2015

Truth in advertising?

While South Carolina and other Southern states reassess the Confederate Flag as a symbol of their states, perhaps we should take another look at our state’s motto. We need to talk about just why anyone thinks the term “The Equality State” applies to Wyoming anymore, if it ever did.

Why do states have mottos? They’re intended to convey something important about the citizens of that state. For example, Colorado’s motto is “Nil sine numine” or “Nothing without Providence.” Indiana is “The crossroads of America,” South Dakotans believe that “Under God the people rule.” Rhode Island’s motto is simply “Hope.”

Wyoming’s motto is “Equal Rights.” Its sole justification is a 146 year-old decision giving women the vote. It was 1869. Wyoming had become a territory and didn’t have sufficient population to seek statehood. The politicians felt that by allowing women to vote, the state could attract more women. In 1890, Wyoming became the 44th state to join the union and the first to grant women the right to vote, an important victory for women’s suffrage. But what has Wyoming done since?

After that the “equal rights” well ran dry. Actually the well started drying up even before statehood. In 1885, whites massacred Chinese workers in Rock Springs in an effort to force foreign workers to leave the state. Historian Tom Rea documented the tragedy on wyo.org. “In all, 28 Chinese were killed, 15 wounded and all 79 of the shacks and houses in Rock Springs’ Chinatown looted and burned.”

In the early part of the 20th century Wyoming racists joined Southerners in lynching blacks. Historian Todd Guenther chronicled the terrorism faced by blacks in those days. An article written for the Wyoming Historical Society in 2009 documents the extraordinary number of lynchings perpetrated against black men in Wyoming in the early years of the 20th century. “Some people expected a different reality in Wyoming, which boasted the nickname the Equality State.” Guenther asserted, “A black man’s life wasn’t worth much in the Equality State.”

Between 1910 and 1920, five Wyoming blacks were lynched. Unless you were one of them, it’s a small number. But it’s a per capita lynching rate 62 times higher than the national average, and 123 times Mississippi’s rate. Of surrounding states none lynched people of color except Nebraska, where one was hanged. In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan organized several Wyoming communities, including, according the Guenther, Sheridan, Casper, Torrington, Riverton, Shoshoni, and Lander. Across the Equality State, businesses posted signs saying, “No Indians, No Mexicans, No Negroes.

Then came the sordid reaction to Japanese-Americans interred at Heart Mountain during World War II.

In 1949, Harriet Elizabeth Byrd, an African-American college graduate applied for a teaching job in Cheyenne. According to Guenther, “The State Superintendent of Public Instruction refused Byrd’s application because white’s didn’t want black teachers disciplining their children, and thus, Wyoming did not hire ‘Negro’ teachers.”

Later Mrs. Byrd became a state legislator, sponsoring legislation naming a holiday to remember Martin Luther King. Wyoming was one of the last states refusing to adopt the holiday, finally doing so with great reluctance.

The struggle continues. The Wind River Indian Reservation is a monument to unequal treatment. The Association of University Women says that Wyoming has the largest gender wage gap among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Their studies show a Wyoming woman is paid 64 percent of what a Wyoming man earns. Yet, “Equality State” politicians steadfastly refuse to address the issue.

The LGBT community was unable to find justice in the halls of the state legislature or from the governor. They were forced to go to the federal courts to find “equal rights.” In retribution, the legislature defeats bills protecting gays and lesbians from job-related discrimination.

Honest Southerners know very well what the Confederate Flag means. Honest Wyoming folks know the “Equal Rights” motto has become empty. If anyone accused Wyoming of being “The Equality State,” they’d be hard-pressed to produce any evidence less than 146 years old.