Rod Miller: Searching For The Center Of The Big Empty

Columnist Rod Miller writes, "Ask anyone where the political center of Wyoming is located and all you’ll get is confused glances. The political center of Wyoming does not seem to be where it used to be. But that’s not true. The center hasn’t moved. Only people’s ideas of the center have moved."

Rod Miller

June 14, 20244 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

42.9957°N 107.5512°W. That’s the coordinates for the geographic center of Wyoming. Its somewhere northeast of Lander, and I’ve never been there but I think I’ve been close.

I imagine its a rough, uncomfortable piece of country. Its probably tough to reach on marginal roads, if there are roads at all.

But there it sits, where it always was. It hasn’t moved an inch.

Now, ask anyone where the political center of Wyoming is located and, these days, all you’ll get is confused glances. Damn few Wyomingites remember those coordinates.

The political center of Wyoming does not seem to be where it used to be. 

Listen to the rhetoric of the Wyoming Freedom Caucus and one might conclude that the center has shifted way out to the starboard edge, almost to Utah.

They’ll tell you that you can find it out on some rocky, bare hilltop just across the border from a theocracy.

But that’s not true. The center hasn’t moved. Only people’s ideas of the center have moved.

I consider myself a proud resident of the political center of Wyoming, and I get a lot of heat from both extremes for that. Proselytes from the political margins tell me I’m out of touch. That I need to take a stand.

Its a little lonelier these days, in the middle, since most of my neighbors have wandered off toward the edges.

I touched on this theme about a year ago and not much has changed.

The political center is difficult terrain to defend, since the attacks come from all sides, and you have to be on your toes. The extreme margins, however, are easier to defend since attacks come only from one direction.

It doesn’t take much brainpower to crawl into a corner and think in only one direction. That’s the lazy man’s way to deal with the world, and I think we’ve become politically lazy.

I’ve been challenged more than once to define the political center. I answer with the tried-and-true pendulum analogy, that the arm of a pendulum touches the center twice each time it touches one of the extremes.

But, the center is hard to pinpoint since its less of a place than a state of mind. Pendulums don’t always work. Sometimes it takes people to get it done.

Here’s an example from Dick Cheney’s book “Kings of the Hill” which profiles several congressional Speakers of the House.

Before World War II, Nick Longworth was Speaker, and a Republican. He was Teddy Roosevelt’s son-in-law, with impeccable GOP credentials. His opposite number, the House Minority Leader, was Cactus Jack Garner, a Texas Democrat.

Cactus Jack later became FDR’s vice-president and famously described the office as “about as exciting as a pitcher of warm spit.”

Every morning, Longworth would pick up Garner and they’d carpool to work. They took the long way around DC to give them time to talk about the business of the House.

During the drive, the two political rivals would hammer out what needed to be done, which bills introduced, which killed, what rules to invoke and, by the time they pulled up to the capital, the day’s work would be laid out and effectively done.

That, my friends, is political leadership par excellence and about as good a definition of “the center” as I can come up with.

That dedication to the people’s business is impossible in the Washington of today. In the Cheyenne of today as well, for that matter.

How do we in Wyoming return to that place where the public’s business is more than a childish bloodsport? How do we reclaim the political center of the Cowboy State?

We do it the same way that we got to this dysfunctional place in our history. We go back to the center the same way we left it.

One step at a time. One election at a time. One vote at a time.

Shall we begin?

Rod Miller can be reached at:

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Rod Miller

Political Columnist