Rod Miller:  Strange Dance Partners - Or - Friendship, Politics and Free Speech in the Cowboy State

Columnist Rod Miller writes, "In the midst of this shitstorm, Karlee Provenza found support from a very unexpected quarter. Sen. Anthony Bouchard publicly stated that he honors her First Amendment right to free speech. That took some serious huevos."

Rod Miller

April 12, 20234 min read

Collage Maker 12 Apr 2023 04 23 PM 676
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

I have never chosen my friends based upon political comparability. That factor is waaaay down the list, below passion for life, love for humanity, intelligence, allegiance to our national and state constitutions, and an ability to drink beer, if so inclined. Those are my litmus tests.

I don’t want to go through life with a bunch of friends who think politically exactly like I do. That would be boring as hell.

Karlee Provenza and her husband, Nate Martin, won my friendship while I watched them play game of Sicilian Mumbletypeg, with splayed fingers and a switchblade on a bar top during the original Midwinter Meltdown in Medicine Bow years ago. Blood was shed, and I recognized kinship when I saw it. 

Karlee Provenza is my friend. You choose friends your way, I’ll choose mine my way.

Even though Karlee and I often come down on opposite sides in politics, that means less to me than her passion, love for people and political commitment. And, she holds the seat in the Wyoming House of Representatives previously held by Charles Pelkey, another friend of many, many years for the same reasons.

I campaigned for Karlee when she won her seat representing the district that includes the U.W. campus, a seething cauldron of progressive thought, but one that deserves a voice in the Wyoming Legislature. I was tickled to support her campaign, because she is my friend.

A few days ago, Karlee dropped a bag of angry rattlesnakes on her own head when she posted a very ill-advised political meme. She couldn’t have received more blowback if she had posted a selfie while drinking Bud Light. 

Karlee’s was a boneheaded move that stands out in a legislative body often known for boneheaded moves. She did nothing to advance the interests of her constituency, and gave her opponents a wagonload of ammunition to use against her. Her zeal overrode her good sense.

I think she would agree, because the offending post has been removed and she has issued a public apology. Nevertheless, her political opponents keep spewing hair-on-fire venom her way, and she was called to task by legislative leadership.

In the midst of this shitstorm, Karlee found support from a very unexpected quarter. Sen. Anthony Bouchard publicly stated that he honors her First Amendment right to free speech. That took some serious huevos. 

Bouchard’s gracious gesture, which will cost him dearly with his own constituency, deserves a tip of every Stetson in the Big Empty. He likely disagrees with most of what Karlee says, but publicly defends her right to say it. Zealots on both extremes of the political spectrum in Wyoming should sit up and take notice.

Absent that brand of gracious citizenship, we are left with the bleak, combative Manichaean politics of “us vs. them” that we see prevailing in the political conversation today. It takes some honest courage to fight that current and to respect everyone’s Constitutional right to free speech. Particularly when that speech is the polar opposite of your own.

The dismal tide of today’s politics can be stemmed if more people had that kind of courage.

I contrast this vitriolic attitude today with what I saw during the gubernatorial campaign of 1990. Gov. Mike Sullivan, the incumbent Democrat was caught on camera swing dancing at a political function with Mary Mead, his challenger, who was also the daughter of a former Republican governor and mother to a future one. 

Imagine! A Republican and a Democrat dancing together! The photo of the two fierce political rivals boogieing to a Bob Wills tune made national news without a hateful reaction from anyone.

So I respect Karlee’s right to free expression, and I hope that this instance provides her with some political wisdom. For those calling for her head, that is totally up to the voters in her district, so save your breath. 

And I respect Sen. Bouchard’s stepping up to the plate and hitting a curveball out of the infield for the First Amendment team. Anyone who scorches him for his display of statesmanship should hang their head in shame.

Like I said, Karlee is my friend, and I’d be happy to help on her next campaign because, in my book, friendship trumps politics. If that offends anyone, they can kiss my Outlaw ass.

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Rod Miller

Political Columnist