The ghosts and/or spirits of Clarene Law, Leland Christensen, Hank Coe, and Jim Angell seem omnipresent when I think of the Wyoming Legislature.
All four of these wonderful folks died in 2021 or 2022 and, well, the place is not the same without them.
Hank Coe was a staple of the Wyoming State Senate for a third of a century. Hank was elected to the Wyoming State Legislature, where he served for 32 years and held positions as Majority Floor Leader, Senate Vice President, and President of the Senate.
He was a great friend of the late Sen. Frank Dusl of Lander, which is where I first met him. What a gentleman. Toward the end of his legislative career, he became a force for education. He deserves credit for much of the good education bills that occurred during this time.
Hank was the force that made sure the Division of Tourism’s new statewide funding system was passed. It succeeded by one vote.
The state’s aggressive approach to providing air service to smaller towns like Gillette, Laramie, Riverton, Sheridan, and Rock Springs may not have occurred without Coe’s leadership. Everyone flying in or out of these airports owes Hank a debt of gratitude.
Clarene was a long-time hotel owner from Jackson who was also one of our state’s great leaders in tourism, our second largest industry.
She died at the age of 89 on Sept. 21, 2022. Her calming presence and hard-working demeanor brought about a host of good things for the Cowboy State. She somehow managed to get so much done without making people mad. She was unique.
She was in the Wyoming Legislature from 1991 to 2004.
One of her children, Steve Meadows, said his mother “meant a lot to the community (and the state) over the decades because she gave so much. We were honored to have had her as our mother, grandmother, friend.”
Cale Case, R-Lander, said Law’s kind demeanor and ability to make friends on both sides of the aisle is what he’ll remember most of her time in the Legislature.
“Everyone loved her,” Case said. “There was nobody that would call her an enemy. She bridged the gap in a huge way.”
Former State Sen. Leland Christensen, 62, of Alpine was one of the true characters of the Legislature during his time (2011-2019). He died Feb. 4, 2022.
Current Senate President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, was his best friend and called him a brother from a different mother.
Leland, who died on February 4 of last year, was another one of those people who was liked by everybody. His background in law enforcement made him an indispensable authority while in Cheyenne. And yet his good humor and friendly demeanor charmed just about everyone.
His statewide primary campaign against Liz Cheney in 2016 was a classic case of David versus Goliath. According to Jimmy Orr, who worked on Leland’s campaign, they did some stunts with social media that were low budget but high risk and created some unforgettable Wyoming political set pieces that will live long in the state’s campaign lore.
One of the last times I saw Leland was in Pinedale and he looked like he had been in a car wreck. “You look like you got kicked by a mule,” I said. He replied that yes, he had had a bad scrape when one of his sons challenged him to ride a mule. “It did not go well,” he said.
Orr recalled working with Leland on his primary campaign. “Leland brought that aura with him. You saw him. You smiled. You saw him. You laughed. Most of all, if you saw him, you went up to him. You had to say hi. He was a magnet.”
I had the good fortune of working with Jim Angell for almost three years at Cowboy State Daily. We had a great relationship when he was at the Associated Press decades ago and when he ran the Wyoming Press Association for 20 years before retiring.
To me, he was “Jimbo” because we also had Jimmy Orr at the helm. He was considered the “conscience” of the Cowboy State Daily.
He died Aug. 17 of last year from liver cancer.
Jim was a constant presence during legislative matters during his career and he fought for transparency in government and openness. He endured some classic battles with members of the legislature who did not favor openness as much as he did. He called them “a waste of skin.” He was ferocious.
In his final years, his best role was playing Santa Claus. He was a professional in that role and was the best I ever seen. He loved doing it.
Jim Angell is being inducted into the Wyoming Press Association Hall of Fame on Jan. 20 in recognition of his hard work and skill. A very well- deserved honor.
There are others who are missed, too, but these four come to mind as folks who seemed to stand above the rest in that august body during the times that I covered it.