Joan Barron: A Timely Tribute to a Beleaguered Politician

Columnist Joan Barron writes, "Wyoming’s Lester Hunt, who died 70 years ago June 19, is getting a lot of attention this year. Presentations and panels in Lander, where Hunt lived, with more to come in Cheyenne."

Joan Barron

June 09, 20244 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

CHEYENNE —Wyoming’s Lester Hunt, who died 70 years ago June 19, is getting a lot of attention this year.

Presentations and panels in Lander, where Hunt lived, with more to come in Cheyenne.

Sen. Cale Case, a Lander Republican whose father was an honorary pallbearer at Hunt’s funeral, has been supporting the programs and other events in memory of the Democratic former governor and U.S. Senator.

He said the similarities of the current state of politics today and in Hunt’s era are “huge,”

Moreover, Hunt died as a suicide, which remains a huge problem in Wyoming.

Although there have been historical programs about Hunt’s suicide in the past, a former Democratic legislator and onetime U.S. senate candidate, Rodger McDaniel, now a retired lawyer and minister, instigated the renewed interest in Hunt through his book, “Dying for Joe McCarthy's Sins: The Suicide of Wyoming Senator Lester Hunt.”

A number of memorials for Hunt can be found at the website

The major one it appears will be in Cheyenne June 19th at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 1908 Central Ave.

Case said four governors, including Gov. Mark Golden, are planning to attend.

Wyoming Public Radio has a program scheduled next Thursday.

The Governor’s office, however, denied Case’s request to stage the portrait of Hunt in a more public place for viewing.

He still is hopeful they will move it to the rotunda for the memorial ceremony.

It is fully appropriate to remember and honor this good governor and U.S. senator from Lander who was destroyed by Washington, D.C. dirty politics.

His story has parallels in today’s political climate in this presidential election year.

Hunt, a Democrat, killed himself in his D.C. office as the result of intense pressure from Republican leaders who pushed him to resign so he could be replaced by a Republican.

The pressure came from the arrest of Hunt’s son Buddy for soliciting a male prostitute.

The Republicans threatened to send leaflets to all Wyoming voters exposing Buddy unless Hunt resigned. This is pretty rotten stuff; it’s called blackmail.

Hunt announced he would not run again, but he did not resign.

At that time, homosexuals were in the shadows.

Having a gay son was a political liability. Hunt worried the publicity would hurt his wife’s health.

This all was taking place during a period of fear —the Red Scare; American citizens feared communism and possible war with the Soviet union.

Seizing on that mood, Sen. Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin, a Republican, wove a complicated conspiracy theory; he claimed hundreds of communists had infiltrated federal government agencies and Hollywood.

His program begat the black-listing of many Hollywood actors and directors Hunt openly opposed McCarthy.; they clashed.

McCarthy’s reign died when the McCarthy hearings were televised and revealed the man for what he was — an ambitious dangerous bully.

As a young mother with a toddler at home I listened faithfully to the radio broadcast of those hearings. And was delighted at the result.

But his downfall also was fueled by Hunt’s suicide which was not much publicized at the time but the U.S. Senate knew all about it..

McCarthy was dead meat. He was censured by the Senate and defeated by Wisconsin voters. He died three years later of chronic alcoholism.

The McCarthy era was the result of fear. And I think fear is what is driving many people today, particularly the MAGA crowd.

They fear the culture is changing, changing too fast and they are being left behind.

The Hunt story and memorial is important; it reminds us what can happen when a demagogue gains power.

Contact Joan Barron at 307-632-2534 or

Correction: The venue was misidentified in the column. It has been corrected.

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Joan Barron

Political Columnist