Cat Urbigkit: Finding Beauty in Wyoming’s Capitol

Columnist Cat Urbigkit writes, "Good people will disagree. That’s not a failure but a fact of society. We can disagree and still put our best selves forward, giving the benefit of the doubt to others and realizing our political opponents are not our enemies but our neighbors."

Cat Urbigkit

February 28, 20246 min read

Cat urbigkit cropped scaled
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

I spent most of last week in Cheyenne, spending a lot of time at the Wyoming Legislature and events surrounding the legislative session, from receptions and the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast to tours and conferences. I saw plenty of good work taking place, as well as a few of what I consider to be antics to make a political point. 

Thankfully, even more visible to me than the warring factions of the Republic party were the many people coming together over specific issues to advance the work of the people, regardless of political party, background, or position on other issues. While divided over particular issues, these were citizens working to bridge the gaps rather than widening the wedges. For those folks, I’m so thankful.

Decades ago when I started dipping my toe into government policy issues, I had role models who provided encouragement and influence: Cliff Hansen of Jackson, Dan Budd of Big Piney, and Ralph Urbigkeit of Crowheart, to name a few. They counseled on the importance of the principles, functions and institutions of our form of government, and I still look at governance from that same prism.

Above all, I am so proud of every Wyoming citizen I saw in the hallways and lobbies of the state capitol building who were there to talk to state lawmakers, to explain the ramifications of proposals, to ensure the state abides by principles of good governance, and to remind us that we can find common ground, even within the halls of politics.

Good people will disagree. That’s not a failure but a fact of society. We can disagree and still put our best selves forward, giving the benefit of the doubt to others and realizing our political opponents are not our enemies but our neighbors.

Lawmaking during this budget session has required a brutal schedule. I watched legislators working late into the night on the chamber floor, and then showing up for early morning committee meetings – or attending the prayer breakfast that started at 6:30 a.m. before heading into the committee meetings. In between the official sessions, they were reading emails, returning phone calls and preparing for the next issue they must consider, all the while operating with too little sleep. I walked the heel off one of my boots trying to keep up.

But I also found some respite from the busyness. I spend most days on the ranch surrounded by animals, so I take walks to seek out animals while visiting a city. The species doesn’t matter; I visit with domestic cats I find near parking lots, ask if I can pet the dogs I meet on sidewalks, and watch birds in the ornamental bushes and trees outside hotels and buildings, pigeons on rooftops, ducks in drainage ditches, and squirrels in city parks. Somehow, all these small encounters help make the time spent inside meeting rooms easier to bear.

While adjusting to the frenzied pace of last week’s legislative session, I found myself frustrated and tired a few times and needed to step outside for a breather. At one point, I walked around outside listening to a bit of obnoxious music on my phone, and briefly fantasizing about repeating the lyrics to an opponent, only to go back inside and behave myself.

The State Capitol building, if you are paying attention to it, demands a certain respect.

It’s a powerful institution of government, but the recent massive building restoration effort resulted in restoring its honored history while inviting in more natural light, giving this grand building a feeling of warmth and welcome, a feeling of home. It helps, of course, that I know I’m under the watchful eye of those role models I mentioned before. Their photos can be found on the walls, along with countless other friends and leaders I've admired and respected.

Sometimes when I’m far from home, I’ll reach into a jacket pocket and find a sprig of sagebrush my husband has placed there. I’ll take a deep breath of that scent and will immediately feel grounded. Last week I was missing the sagebrush, so I sought out works of art in its place. In addition to the permanent installation in the Capitol, the Governor’s Capitol Art Exhibit is on display downstairs, so enjoying contemporary works requires just a short walk from the legislative chambers.

As I drove home in a howling wind on I-80 on Friday, I reflected on the tough work that I’d witnessed during the week, and the people undertaking that work – legislators, citizens, agency heads, and lobbyists – and hoped that they all found time to find the beauty that surrounds them as they labor to serve the people of Wyoming. 

I hoped they all find some time for music, and art. 

And sagebrush and dogs.


As I close out my column this week, my heart is filled with sorrow for all the family and friends of Pat O’Toole of Savery. He was a good friend and mentor to many, one who worked to bridge gaps while promoting understanding and respect for the interconnectedness of nature and agriculture in the West. A man who understood that Wyoming’s future depends on its water.

A man who served us well, and shared his love for the land, its wild and domestic animals, and its people, with people from all walks of life. 

I’ll miss Pat, but he’ll remain in my memories with a big grin lighting up his face as he told me a funny story, or marveling at some recent encounter.

And the silliness of Pat and Sharon putting themselves on speakerphone to talk as they drove around on another adventure, often combining ag meetings with cowboy poetry gatherings. I’ll miss those calls. 

Pat, my friend, you’ve left a legacy. 

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

Share this article



Cat Urbigkit

Public Lands and Wildlife Columnist