Bill Sniffin: Al Simpson May Still Be The Most Interesting Man In Wyoming

Bill Sniffin writes when former Sen. Al Simpson, a Republican who is a harsh critic of current Wyoming GOP leadership, receives his Presidential Medal of Freedom on Thursday, he will say that he is an American who lives in Wyoming and will not be saying that he is a member of the Wyoming Republican Party.

Bill Sniffin

July 06, 20226 min read

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher emeritus

“What I used to call THE BIG TENT is now what I call THE BIG TENTACLE,” former Sen. Al Simpson told me on a sunny Wyoming afternoon last Thursday.

The retired U. S. Senator, 90, has long been critical of how Wyoming Republican politics has become more exclusive compared to the “Big Tent” plan used by himself and promoted nationally by former president Ronald Reagan. It implies that anyone who believed in basic Republican principles is welcome in his version of the party.

He was speaking in reference to the upcoming honor Thursday, July 7, when President Joe Biden will give him the Medal of Freedom, the highest honor available to an American.

Simpson, who lives in Cody, journeyed to my home town of Lander to attend the funeral of a wonderful woman named Eileen Oakley. Eileen recently died of colon cancer at the age of 75. Al’s son Colin is married to one of Eileen’s three daughters, Debbie. Debbie is an outspoken Wyoming political personality, herself, but that is another story.

Big Al (who stands 6-7) continued: “When I go to Washington, I am going to say that simply I am an American who lives in Wyoming. I will not be saying that I am member of the Wyoming Republican Party.”

His dismay, over the hard conservative direction the Wyoming Republican Party has taken this century, has been evident for years.  Being pro-choice, Simpson has found himself isolated from the majority of the members of the state’s current GOP for decades.

He likes to single out current state GOP Chairman Frank Eathorne for criticism. “I would like to discuss family values with him some time,” he said.

He also has nothing good to say about former President Donald Trump, which does not endear him to Republicans in a state that voted more overwhelmingly for Trump than any other in both 2016 and 2020.

Simpson retired in 1996 and has long claimed it might be impossible for him to win election in these days. He won three elections to the U. S. Senate, mostly by wide margins. He was an amazingly influential member of the Senate, serving as both Majority and Minority Whip for ten years.

The only other Wyomingite to receive the Medal of Freedom is his friend Dick Cheney, the former Vice President. Cheney was given it in 1991.

As Al and his wife Ann (married 68 years) exited the church at the funeral, he said maybe “we could call the new Republican philosophy THE BIG TESTI****L? Hmm. No, probably not.”

Some years ago, I ran a statewide contest in my column to identify Wyoming’s most interesting person.

He won both because of his amazing record of service to Wyoming and his country but also for his wit and amazing life outside of politics. The man is unique. A true Wyoming original.

Here is what I wrote when Al was overwhelmingly picked for that singular honor:

Picture this: the most interesting man in Wyoming is surrounded by his beautiful wife, his daughter, his pretty daughters in law, and his pretty granddaughters. He raises a glass in a toast and looks into the camera and says:

“I don’t normally drink, but when I do . . . I drink Wyoming Whiskey.” 

That could be the key line in a TV commercial as a takeoff of the amazing beer campaign that got me thinking about just who is the most interesting man or woman in Wyoming?

After putting it to a vote of my readers, retired U. S. Senator Al Simpson won hands-down.

And coincidentally, he was featured at the time in a promotion for the Wyoming Whiskey distillery where he had his own barrel of bourbon made. Big Al carefully and methodically signed and numbered all 216 bottles in his name.

Here is Al Simpson’s toast at the Wyoming Whiskey party:

“My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey.

“If when you say whiskey you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

“But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman’s step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life’s great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our mute, our pitiful aged, and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

“This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.”

I doubt he will mention whiskey during his acceptance speech this Thursday when he deservedly receives the American Medal of Freedom.  

Congratulations to this amazing man and his family.

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.