Bill Sniffin: Here Are A Few Of My Favorite Wyoming Political Stories

Columnist Bill Sniffin writes: “Dick Cheney told the woman, as he was heading out the door: ‘I am Al Simpson and I am running for U. S. Senate. I sure would appreciate your vote.’”

Bill Sniffin

June 22, 20247 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Hanging out in Wyoming for more than 50 years plus having a keen interest in politics, has resulted in a collection of some of my favorite Cowboy State political stories.

Here are some samples:

Retired Thermopolis publisher Pat Schmidt shared this story:

“Remember State Treasurer Stan Smith being left on the interstate highway in his underwear by his wife Harriet?

“On the campaign trail back in the early 1970s, Stan grew tired and asked her to take over driving on Interstate 80 late at night. She slid across the seat as he got out and opened the back door.

“Rather than wrinkle his suit, he took it off, hung it up and, decided to get in the other side, as he closed the door behind the driver's seat. After hearing the back door slam, she thought Stan was relaxing in the back seat. Instead, Stan was left standing by the road.

“Harriet drove off, leaving Stan there in his underwear. Stan was eventually able to get a trucker to stop and give him a ride to the next truck stop. He called the Wyoming Highway Patrol who finally caught up with Harriet, turned her around, and sent her back to Stan. There, she helped him get back into his suit.” 

Stan and Harriet would always be campaigning by playing the fiddle and piano, rather than talking about issues.

Schmidt said Stan was often under-estimated despite being a graduate of the Naval Academy.

Is This The Radio Station?

For a long time, the Riverton radio station KVOW was located in a small house along the Big Wind River.

Unbeknownst to statewide politicians back in 1984, the radio station moved and the building was turned into a private residence.

U. S. Rep. Dick Cheney was running for reelection and late for his radio interview. He pulled up to the house and barged through the front door. He totally surprised a woman in her bathrobe who was vacuuming the floor. A baby was in a high chair. 

Neither Cheney nor the woman knew quite what to say. Finally, Dick asked, “Isn’t this the radio station? I am late for an interview.”

The gal said,” No, they moved the station a few months ago.”

“Oh,” replied Cheney, “sorry for the interruption.” And he started for the door.”

“Wait,” the woman shouted. “Who are you?”

Cheney replied: “I am Al Simpson and I am running for Senate. Sure, would appreciate your vote.”

I have heard versions of this by both Cheney and Simpson and it is my favorite Wyoming political story.

Women Dominated Wyoming Senate?

Some years ago, during the celebration of the state’s 125th anniversary at an event in Laramie, several wonderful political stories were told.

Milward Simpson was the director of the state’s Arts, Parks, and Cultural Resources Department. He is the namesake of his grandfather, Milward Simpson, who served as governor and U. S. Senator back in the 1950s and 1960s.

Young Milward wanted to share his grandpa’s favorite story.

It might be appropriate to mention that the elder Simpson served in the Senate with another Wyoming senator named Gale McGee, who was a Democrat.

Back to Milward’s story.

Milward comes from the ubiquitous Simpson political family. His dad is legendary UW professor and historian Pete Simpson and his uncle is retired U. S. Sen. Al Simpson.

He said the elder Milward liked to tell about a time when the late Jacques “Jack” Sidi in Casper was a teacher and had asked his students why Wyoming was called the Equality State?

One little girl replied it was because “Wyoming has two female U. S. Senators: Mildred Simpson and Gail McGee!”

Cliff Hansen Was A Talker

Former Gov. Matt Mead told a story about his grandfather, former Governor and U. S. Senator Cliff Hansen.

When Hansen was growing up in Jackson, he had a horrible stutter. As a young tyke, he was even sent home from school with a note pinned to his chest saying he was “uneducable.”

His frustrated parents shipped him by train to Indiana to a woman who had performed miracles with other stuttering children. She taught young Cliff to slow down his speech and wave his arms a certain way with every word he spoke.

Mead then shared with the crowd some additional punch lines to that tale. He told about how Cliff, as a young cowboy, would be near the back of the herd of cows waving his arms and talking up a storm. He drove his fellow cowboys crazy. Seems he never quit talking.

Gov. Mead told the story that Cliff’s fellow cowboys often said: “Now we can’t shut him up. Maybe he’s practicing to be governor?” That reportedly brought a big laugh there in the dusty herd.

But Cliff did have lofty ambitions. He went on to become a county commissioner, a governor, and a U. S. Senator.

A sad ending to Mead’s story is that when Hansen was first elected governor, he invited that long-ago speech teacher to come to his inauguration. She was killed in a car wreck on her way from Indiana to Cheyenne.

How Is Name Pronounced?

Former U. S. Rep and Vice-President Dick Cheney would often tell this story about how his last name is pronounced.

He says he attended a family reunion some years ago and sought out a favorite uncle who was the oldest person there. The old man was sitting in a rocking chair with a gentle dog in his lap.

Dick asked his uncle: “Is our name pronounced CHEENEY or CHANEY?”

The uncle paused for a minute and then said “it is pronounced “CHANEY.”

Dick thanked him and complimented him on his little dog. “What kind is it?” he asked.

His uncle replied “that it was a BAGEL.”

TV Show On Election Night

I recall a situation almost 40 years ago when Pete Williams (who recently retired form a long career on NBC) hosted an election night event for KTWO. His guests were former U. S. Sen. Al Simpson and then-State Rep. Ed McCarthy of Casper. 

McCarthy is a very eloquent man who was an excellent Democrat state representative from Natrona County. In recent years, he has become a deacon for the Catholic Church and works for the Diocese of Cheyenne.

But back on that night, we saw McCarthy in his role as one of Pete’s expert analysts having to describe his own untimely defeat. It was gut-wrenching to watch and yet my recollection is that he handled it with a lot of class.

Sen. Simpson chimed in to relieve some of McCarthy’s discomfort. He gave a folksy commentary on the ups and downs of being in politics, mainly talking about the pain his family felt when his dad was defeated for governor many years before.

Time To Heal Up

A few years ago, the Wyoming Humanities Council, under the leadership of President Dave Reetz of Powell, published a great little book titled “Heal Up and Hair Over.”

It was part of a statewide campaign called “Civility Matters.” The program included workshops and publications.

Heal Up and Hair Over. That originally was about branding cows but it sure makes sense with the heated political scene we are all enduring today. It also refers to a more genteel time when political rhetoric was not so extreme.

I always loved that slogan and Pete Simpson says that it came from the famous philosopher, the late great John Perry Barlow of Sublette County. Barlow was an internet pioneer and even wrote lyrics for songs by the Grateful Dead.

And that is my final political thought at the end of this column. Thanks for reading.

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.