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Ray Hunkins

Ray Hunkins: Mountain West Conference Punts On Football Season — Who Called The Play?

in Column/Ray Hunkins

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By Ray Hunkins, guest columnist

In early August, the Mountain West Conference (“MWC”) announced an adjusted football schedule for the fall of 2020.

Just five days later the conference’s board of directors, citing concerns over health and uncertainties created by the coronavirus, overrode the decision and informed the public there would be no fall sports and no football season, a season that held much promise for our Cowboys.

The repercussions from the MWC decision were immediate and severe.

It is estimated the decision will cost the University of Wyoming $10 million to $15 million in lost revenue; this at a time when Wyoming state government generally — and the university specifically — are reeling from the combined effects of the coronavirus and the collapse of Wyoming’s energy economy.

The announcement dealt a blow to the morale of all concerned.

Sally Ann Schurmur, in her Aug. 16, 2020, column in the Casper Star-Tribune put it this way: “This is not something we will ‘get over.’ We are not being ‘ridiculous,’ ‘small minded’ or ‘selfish.’ This is a tragedy.” Indeed it is a tragedy. Sally’s eloquent eulogy for a lost football season reflects the feeling of many.

This was more than a decision about athletic competition. It was a public policy decision made by unelected higher education administrators, all but one from states other than Wyoming. 

The MWC’s board of directors, comprised of the presidents of the 12 member institutions, made the decision. If it turns out the presidents made the wrong decision, they will not be held accountable to most of the people and many of the institutions they have harmed.

“Where there is a will, there is a way” is an adage for the ages. Six of the 10 Division I Football Bowl Subdivision conferences had the will and found a way to play football. 

The service academies are playing. BYU is playing. Even our Wyoming high schools are playing.  The PAC 12 however, under the firm influence of California, Oregon and Washington and the politicians who run those states, opted not to play.

Are we to believe the schools that are playing football this fall were negligent or uncaring in choosing their courses of action? These schools say they can provide a safe environment. The Mountain West – at least the presidents who made the decision not to play– did not have the will, and therefore didn’t find a way.

There isn’t much transparency as to how or why the presidents’ decision was reached. Many questions are raised by the curious way in which the decision came about. 

For instance, why did the MWC Board cancel all fall sports such a short time after the conference office announced an adjusted football schedule? 

Who moved that the season be canceled? Who seconded the motion? What reports and written materials were given to the presidents? Who were the medical experts consulted and what advice did they give? Were there differences of opinion among the medical experts or among the presidents? 

Were the medical experts from the conferences that are playing consulted or even questioned? Did the presidents consult with the athletic directors, coaches, and governing boards of the institutions before voting on the motion to cancel the entire season?

What was their advice, or in the case of the governing boards, what direction was given? Can the transcript of the MWC board meetings dealing with this subject (and minutes of those meetings) be released and if not, why not? 

The president of San Jose State University, Mary Papazian, is currently the chair of the MWC board of directors.

She answers to a “chancellor” of the California State University system. So do the presidents of the other California universities that are members of the MWC — Fresno State and San Diego State. The Chancellor answers to a board that includes Governor Gavin Newsom and three other California politicians.

Those politicians are also members of the board of regents of the University of California system. Several of the schools in that system are members of the PAC 12 Athletic Conference which opted out of a fall football season. 

It could be argued that President Seidel of the University of Wyoming deserves some slack.

On the job for a month before being called on to cast such a consequential vote, he might not have had all the background and knowledge needed.

Nevertheless, in an interview he gave a lengthy defense of the MWC board’s decision and seemed to place himself in the deliberations from the beginning.

Reporter Davis Potter of the CST, in a room that appeared to be devoid of anyone else, interviewed Wyoming’s new president, dapper in suit and matching COVID-19 mask.

The interview was posted on YouTube. Unfortunately, the President’s words were muffled and garbled by reason of mumbling through the mask.  

From what could be discerned, President Seidel asserted the board’s decision was unanimous and based on the unanimous recommendation of medical experts advising members’ athletic departments.

According to the president, there were warnings of potential heart problems for athletes who might catch the virus. Although he parroted conclusions, no details were given and no evidence was offered. 

However, in an interview posted on the MWC website, Commissioner Craig Thompson seemingly contradicted Seidel by asserting the rationale for cancelling the season wasn’t anything more than “continued unknowns.” 

The commissioner went on to state the obvious regarding health concerns: “Different studies show different things, and it’s amazing that intelligent people can reach different conclusions.” 

It sounded like there was a smorgasbord of opinions available for the MWC board to choose from.

The MWC chose not to rely on the “different conclusions” of other medical experts. Were the conclusions chosen by the MWC board selected because they fit a desired narrative?

In a statement on its website, the MWC revealed, “numerous external factors and unknowns outside our control made the decision necessary.”

The MWC board embraced conclusions that other conferences and schools chose to reject. Why? What are the “external factors” that influenced the MWC board’s decision?

The action of a group (the MWC board) external to Wyoming is causing significant damage to the state, monetarily and in other ways. The lives and possible careers of student-athletes have been disrupted. What discussion took place at the board meeting about these factors?

The people of Wyoming deserve a full explanation for the MWC board’s decision. We need to know what “external factors” influenced the decision and whether another agenda was at work.

We need to know if President Seidel cast his vote at the direction of the board of trustees. We need the truth and we need transparency. Governor Gordon should see to it.

Tag: Ray Hunkins is a former president of the University of Wyoming Alumni Association, a former member of the University of Wyoming Foundation board of directors and was honored as a “Distinguished Alumnus” by the University in 2005.

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No Need For “Hate Crime” Legislation In Wyoming

in Column/Ray Hunkins

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By Ray Hunkins, Columnist

Last week a column ran in The Hill titled, “Why Are Arkansas, South Carolina And Wyoming Holding Back On Adopting Hate Crime Laws?” by Dov Wilker, regional director of the American Jewish Committee in Atlanta. 

I don’t have an opinion about Arkansas or South Carolina, but I feel comfortable offering an answer to Mr. Wilker for Wyoming. The answer is: Because in the Cowboy State such laws are not needed.

Before explaining, I should confess my bias. I have never been keen about hate crimes and hate crime legislation.

A “hate crime” is a crime based on thought. “Motive” is the reason a criminal act is perpetrated.

It can be proven through evidence of thought. Hate crimes thus place motive as the operative fact to be determined in a trial alleging a “hate crime”.

In my opinion, criminalizing thought is a dangerous road to start down. Doing a criminal act ought to be enough to result in conviction if the act is proven, regardless of motive.

Additionally, “hate crimes” usually carve out special protections for certain classes of people – racial and ethnic minorities usually, and sometimes sexual orientation and gender classifications.

That means, when it comes to “hate crimes”,  all victims are not treated equally and that is also troubling.

But, even if my reservations about hate crimes are overcome or ignored, Wyoming still doesn’t need hate crime legislation. We don’t need such legislation because we already have it’s functional equivalent.

In The Hill column Mr. Wilker states, “in Wyoming, where Matthew Shepard, a gay college student, was beaten, tortured, and left to die, hate crimes are classified as misdemeanors [emphasis and link in original]. Shepard’s murder inspired an expansion of the federal hate crime law to include a victim’s perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.”

Mr. Wilker is wrong on several counts. First, Wyoming has no separate “hate crime” law, misdemeanor or otherwise.

If you click on the link Mr. Wilker provides in the above quoted text, you will find the Wyoming statute he claims is a “hate crime” is no such thing. It is a law prohibiting discrimination, not hate.

It provides for a penalty based on action not thought or motive. The elements of the misdemeanor crime cited by Mr. Wilker do not depend on a mental state but rather on a prohibited action, i.e. denial of a necessity “because of race, color, creed or national origin”.

In Wyoming, discrimination is a crime but not a “hate crime”.

The second reason Mr. Wilker is wrong is because Wyoming already has the functional equivalent of a “hate crime” law.

The Wyoming criminal code provides for indeterminate sentencing in most criminal cases. Criminal laws in Wyoming, for the most part, provide for a range of sentence between minimum and maximum periods of incarceration and fines up to a maximum amount.

The sentencing judge is vested with wide discretion in making sentencing decisions. He (or she) can sentence a felon to any amount of time, providing his sentence is within the maximum and minimum set forth in the statute. .

So what is the “functional equivalent” of a “hate crime” statute and how does it work in Wyoming? In Daniel v. State, (482 P.2d 172, 1982 Wyo), the Wyoming Supreme Court held that Wyoming’s system of indeterminate sentencing necessitates granting of broad discretion to the sentencing judge.

And, in exercising that discretion the judge should give consideration to all circumstances of the crime, aggravating as well as mitigating. That means that motive can be a factor to be considered by the judge in imposing sentence.

“Hate” may very well be an aggravating factor that results in additional punishment. A perpetrator whose motive is “hate” because of the victim’s status may find he is sentenced to additional time in the state penitentiary because of his motive.

Because Wyoming has an indeterminate sentencing system, which requires that all circumstances, including motive and the mental state of the defendant, be taken into consideration when sentencing, Wyoming has the functional equivalent of “hate crime” legislation.

It is not the law cited by Mr. Wilker in his opinion column in The Hill, but it serves our state well and without the necessity of incurring additional expense and time for a separate trial on the issue of what the perpetrator was thinking when he committed the crime.

The next time you write about Wyoming, do your research Mr. Wilker!

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Ray Hunkins: 100 Years Ago This Month, Wyoming Became The Equality State. Here Is How That Happened

in Column/Ray Hunkins

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By Ray Hunkins

One hundred years ago, on August 26, 1920, the United States Secretary of State issued a proclamation declaring that thirty-eight states had ratified the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, granting women the right to vote. The Amendment, entitled, “Woman Suffrage”, was short:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by a State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Many people believe that the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment was the beginning of equal political rights for women in the United States and around the World. Many people would be wrong.

Wyoming was among the 38 states that initially ratified the Amendment. But Wyoming was not a newcomer to women’s suffrage. As a Territory, it had granted women the right to vote in local and Territorial elections. But it had done more. From 1869 forward the women of Wyoming Territory not only had the right to vote, they also had full and equal political rights with men, including the right to run for, and hold, elected political office in the Territory. Wyoming’s radical experiment occurred fifty-one years before the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified

 This is the story of how the political decision was made to grant the few women who were residents of Wyoming Territory in 1869, equal political rights with men. It is the story of why that decision was made in the rough, violent, mostly lawless, women-starved, newly minted territory on the western frontier, called Wyoming. It is the story of Louisa Swain, who at the age of seventy, became the first woman voter in the World to cast a ballot under democratically enacted laws granting women equal political rights with men. It is the story of how Wyoming became the “Equality State”.

 Early on the morning of September 6, 1870, Louisa Swain cast a ballot in rough and tumble Laramie, Wyoming. Although she was the first woman voter, she would be followed that crisp and sunny morning by many others; women who not only exercised their right to vote, but who also exercised their newly granted political right to run for office and hold elected and appointive positions in territorial, state and local government. The result was a cascade of “firsts”: First woman juror, first female bailiff, first woman governor, first female judge, and the list goes on.

Why did this happen on the western frontier instead of in the more refined and cosmopolitan east? What were the conditions that made equal rights for women possible in a frontier territory fifty years before it occurred elsewhere? The answers constitute a story worth the telling.

Civilization in Wyoming followed the progress of construction of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad, the Union Pacific. The UP brought a dozen towns to Wyoming where there had been none before, including Cheyenne and Laramie City, as it was then known. The construction crews reached Cheyenne in the summer of 1867 and Laramie early the following year.  The railroad also brought the Army for protection, along with surveyors, tie hacks, graders, bridge builders, tracklayers, ballasting crews and finally, train crews.  According to the papers of General Granville Dodge, the Chief Engineer of the Union Pacific, the construction crews, totaling some 1,000 men, were made up of ex-Confederate and Union Civil War veterans, mule-skinners, Mexicans, Irish, bush whackers, and ex-convicts. It was a rough crowd.

The Army established posts at both Cheyenne (Ft. D.A. Russell- 1867) and Laramie (Ft. Sanders-1866) to protect railroad construction crews from Indian raids.  These military posts were not mobile.  They did not follow the “end of track”. As a result, they were a stabilizing force for both Cheyenne and Laramie after the railroad construction crews had moved west.

Those involved with the construction of the railroad needed goods and services. Purveyors of hard spirits, bawdy- house owners, bartenders, gamblers and pimps arrived almost simultaneously with the track crews. Shopkeepers, liverymen, and settlers followed closely. One such settler was Louisa Swain who arrived with her husband, a cabinet-maker, in Laramie City shortly after the railroad construction crews had moved northwest toward Rawlins. Mrs. Swain would become the World’s first woman voter.

As was typical, the towns that grew up in the wake of the Union Pacific construction, at first swelled and then, when the tracklayers and tie hacks moved on (along with some of the worst elements), the communities either survived as communities, or they became ghost towns. Wyoming had some of both.

Cheyenne, a few weeks after the railroad construction crews came through and headed west to Sherman Hill, had an estimated population of 6,000. Only about 400 of that number were women. In the special census taken in the summer of 1869, after the end of track had climbed Sherman Hill and descended into the Laramie Valley, Cheyenne’s population had shrunk to 2,305. In the special census, all of the large county named Albany, where Laramie City was located, could only count 2,027 people. Only one year later, in the 1870 census, after the track crews had moved into Utah, the whole of Wyoming Territory retained only 8,104 hardy souls, of which 1,000 were women.

In 1864 Wyoming had become a part of Dakota Territory. But the capitol of Dakota, Territory, Yankton, was a long way from Cheyenne, and an even longer way from South Pass City.  There were no direct lines of communication between those two parts of Dakota Territory and the two parts were separated by Indian lands, some of which were occupied by hostiles.

 Responding to the cries for law and order and the urging of those in Wyoming for a government closer to the people, Wyoming was removed from Dakota and became a separate Territory. President Johnson signed the act creating Wyoming Territory on July 25, 1868. On that day the Union Pacific tracklayers were approaching Rawlins.

Wyoming became a separate territory, at least in part, because Congress’ attention was focused on the construction of the transcontinental railroad and the expectation that settlement would occur along its route. .

The desire for “law and order” in Wyoming, and especially in Laramie City, was well founded.  On June 12, 1868, Laramie City residents went to the polls and elected a provisional Mayor. Three weeks later he resigned. In a letter to a local newspaper, he explained the town was “ungovernable”. The rest of the elected officials promptly followed suit. The Journal of American History described the conditions that led Laramie City to be nicknamed, “Hell on Wheels”:

Asa Moore, proprietor of the Diana and the Belle of the West, with the support of

the other saloon, brothel and gambling establishment owners formed a rump

government with himself as mayor and justice of the peace. Sam Duggen, one of

Moore’s henchmen, was appointed town marshall. Duggan did have some familiarity with

the law, having been acquitted of murder in Cheyenne just prior to his arrival in Laramie.

His deputy, Edward Franklin, had his law enforcement career curtailed when he was shot

and wounded while stealing mules from the Army and was incarcerated in the Fort Sanders

guard house. Throughout the summer of 1868 the town ran wide open day and night.

Shootings and murders occurred daily and after dark respectable citizens stayed off the

Streets. Laramie City was truly, ‘Hell on Wheels’.

In frustration with the lawlessness in Laramie City, a growing number of law-abiding residents supported the formation of the largest vigilante group in the West, some 500 strong. They hung, shot, rousted and ran out of town, the worst elements of Laramie City’s criminal class.

Meanwhile in Cheyenne, the first territorial legislature convened on October 12th, 1869.  William H Bright from the western Wyoming mining town of South Pass City, known as, “ Colonel Bright”, was elected President of the first territorial legislature’s upper chamber, known as, “The Council”.  Colonel Bright was a southern gentleman and reported to be a veteran of the Confederate Army. He was also a Democrat. Colonel Bright had made the long trek from South Pass City in far western Wyoming, to Cheyenne with his mind made up that enfranchisement of women should commence in the Territory and that it should be a priority of the first legislative session.

 Esther Hobart Morris, destined soon to become the first woman ever to hold judicial office, was also from South Pass City. South Pass City was not a large community and it is almost certain that Col Bright and Ms. Morris were acquainted, and probably well acquainted. Although there is no record of it, it is probable that the two discussed Colonel Bright’s intention to introduce legislation enfranchising women when he got to Cheyenne for the commencement of the first Territorial legislative session.

On the morning of November 9th, 1869, Col Bright took to the floor of the Council and announced that on the following Monday, “or some subsequent day”, he would introduce, “a bill for women’s rights”. Good to his word, the bill was introduced on November 27th as Council Bill Number 70 and was entitled, “An Act To Grant To The Women Of Wyoming Territory The Right Of Suffrage And To Hold Office”. Council Bill Number70 came up for final passage on December 6th, 1869. On final reading the votes were Yeas 6, Nays 2, with one absence. The lower chamber concurred and Territorial Governor Campbell, a Republican appointed by President Grant, signed the bill. It became law on December 10th, 1869. In relevant part, it provided:

     Sec.1. That every woman of the age of twenty-one years, residing in this territory, may

                  at every election to be holden under the laws thereof, cast her vote. And her

                   rights to the elective franchise and to hold office shall be the same under the

                  election laws of the territory, as those of electors.

     Sec.2.  This act shall take effect and be in force from and after its passage.

The 1869 territorial legislature also passed bills to protect the right of married women to hold property and earn income and an equal pay requirement for school teachers of different genders, “when the persons are equally qualified”. The lower house even adopted a resolution setting aside a seating area for, “ladies who may desire to attend the deliberations….” It can readily be seen that the Territory’s legislators had an interest in women’s rights that were not shared in other parts of the Country. In that respect, Wyoming was fifty years ahead of its time.

After the bill to grant women equal political rights became law, the first subsequent election was on September 6th 1870. The first woman to cast her ballot at that election was Louisa Swain.

Louisa Swain was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1800 or 1801. Her father was a seafaring captain, lost at sea when Louisa was a youngster.  When she cast her ballot, Louisa was 70 years old and a grandmother. She was also highly regarded by the law-abiding element of Laramie City. Some evidence suggests Louisa Swain was selected to cast the first ballot by the ladies of Laramie at a meeting held the night before the election was to take place. On the morning of the election, Mrs. Swain put on a fresh, clean apron over her housedress. She walked to the polls early in the morning unaided and unattended, carrying a little bucket for yeast to be bought at the bakeshop on her return home. Bystanders stood and watched as she approached the polling place when it opened. A witness reported that Mrs. Swain made a determined effort to be the first voter at the polls. The Journal of American History recites, “it is interesting to note that the domestic instinct was not consumed by the new political opportunity and that the judge of elections recorded the vote of this gentile, determined, white haired woman with more than an ordinary degree of reverence.” After casting her ballot, Mrs. Swain went to the bakeshop, picked up her yeast, and went home to bake bread. Meanwhile, ninety-two other women cast their ballots that day in Laramie City.

The day after her historic vote, the Laramie Daily Sentinel ran an editorial, which read in part,

“Mrs. Swain is an old lady of the highest social standing in our community,

universally beloved and respected, and the scene was in the highest degree

Interesting and impressive. There was too much good sense in our community

                    for any jests or sneers to be seen on such an occasion”.

The Republican Boomerang reported the event as a, “shot heard round the world”. Dispatches and cables heralded the news of universal suffrage for Wyoming Territory. The “big little Territory” was on the map.

Colonel Bright, ever gallant, was reported to have offered this toast at a gathering on election night: “Here’s to the lovely ladies….once our superiors, now our equals”.  

In the East, outside of the suffragette community, there was only passing interest, and that mostly evidenced by snide remarks and snobbery. For instance, The Nation, in its March 5, 1870 edition, slandered Wyoming women with this:

The experiment [women’s suffrage] is also being made in Wyoming Territory; but

The women there are but a handful, and, it is said, leave much to be desired, to use

a very safe and convenient Gallicism on the score of character, so that their use

of the franchise will hardly shed much light on the general question.

Scrivner’s Monthly, opined in February, 1875,  “it seems far more likely to us that within ten years Wyoming will ‘go back’ on her woman suffrage record, than that any State of the Union will follow her present example”. Scrivner’s came close to being prophetic.

The euphoria in Wyoming caused by the unique experiment in granting women full and equal political rights with men, did not last long. The Democrats (assisted by a Republican Governor), having achieved fame and approbation by passing the first legislation granting women equal political rights with men, soon began to backslide and lend credence to Scrivner’s.

In 1871 the Second Territorial Legislature convened. The First Territorial Legislature had become famous and took pride in its place in history at being the first legislative body ever to have passed laws granting women equal political rights with men. Two short years later, the Second Territorial Legislature convened and became the only territorial or state legislature ever to attempt to deprive women of political rights.

On November 16, 1871, Democratic Representative Castle introduced a bill to repeal women’s suffrage as House Bill Number Four. In contrast to the First Territorial Legislature, which was solidly Democratic, in both the upper and lower chambers of the Second Territorial Legislature, there was a scattering of Republicans. The Journal of American History explained: “it was evident from the moment it was introduced, nine days after the legislature convened, that there was a determined effort on the part of the Democrats to repeal the law which had given women the right to vote”.

Why did the Democrats in the Second Territorial Legislature do an about face and attempt to abolish equal political rights for women? The most likely answer is that in an era before the secret ballot, the women of the Territory were known to have voted Republican. Indeed, the election of the Territorial delegate to Congress, a Republican, was attributed to the female vote in the 1870 election. The Democrats had had enough of the experiment. Women suffrage was not serving the Democrats’ political interest.

The day after the bill to repeal women’s equal political rights was introduced, it passed the House by a vote of nine to three, with one absent. The three votes against repeal were all Republicans; the nine for repeal were all Democrats. The bill to repeal was then sent to the upper chamber. Here also, the bill to repeal the landmark law granting women equal political rights met opposition only from the Republican members.  The repeal bill passed the Council, five Democrats voting for it and four Republicans voting against it. The repeal bill, having passed both houses of the Territorial Legislature, was sent to Territorial Governor John A. Campbell, a Republican.

Governor Campbell, without hesitation, promptly vetoed the repeal bill. In his message Governor Campbell explained his veto: 

            It is simple justice to say that the women entering for the first time in the

            history of the country, upon these new and untried duties, have conducted

            themselves in every respect with as much tact, shrewd judgment, and good

            sense as men.

In order to pass the repeal bill over the Governor’s veto, a two-thirds vote of each chamber was required. In the House the vote to override, “the Governor’s veto to the contrary not withstanding”, was nine Democrats, in favor, two Republicans against and two absences. Thus on December 9, 1871, the bill to override passed the lower chamber by the required two-thirds majority, with no votes to spare.

The fate of the Territory’s experiment with equal political rights for women was now in the hands of the Territory’s upper chamber, the same chamber that had given birth to equal political rights for women two years earlier. If the Governor’s veto was to be overridden, the Council was also required to pass the legislation by a two-thirds majority. Here also, the veto override failed on a strict party line vote. All five Democrats voted aye, and all four Republicans voted nay.  The Council’s Journal reported the results: “There not being a two-thirds vote the bill was lost”.

Thus by the slimmest of margins, the Republicans assured that Wyoming would not become the only political subdivision in the Nation to ever abolish equal political rights for women. Had one Republican faltered in his conviction, in either chamber, Governor Campbell’s veto would have been overridden and women’s political equality would have been lost for many years.

It is ironic that history would allow both political parties to claim they were the true champions of women’s equal rights. The Democrats could claim they fostered the experiment and the Republicans could claim they preserved it. Both would be right.

The citizens of Wyoming Territory became comfortable with the idea of women suffrage. Ten years after the bill granting women equal political rights was passed and signed into law, the Speaker of the Wyoming House observed: “My conclusions are that the household or family is more interested in good government than a single man is, or indeed can be, and if good government be the ultimate sought by a civilized people, I see no safer, wiser or better way of securing that object than by a ballot in the hand of a woman.”

The year before Wyoming became a state, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Wyoming Territory remarked:

It [women suffrage] has been weighed and not found wanting. It has made our elections quiet and orderly. No rudeness, brawling or disorder appears or would be tolerated at the polling booths. There is no more difficulty or indelicacy in depositing a ballot in the urn than in dropping a letter in the post office.”

In anticipation of statehood, Wyoming elected delegates to a constitutional convention that convened in September of 1889. Forty-nine delegates attended the convention, all of them men. On the fourteenth day of the convention, a delegate from Cheyenne proposed that women’s suffrage be put to a separate vote of the people before being incorporated into the new state constitution. The proposal was hotly debated by those in favor of and opposed to the idea of equal political rights for women. Those in favor of submitting the issue to a vote of the people argued that some of their constituents were opposed to woman suffrage but in favor of statehood and would vote against the proposed constitution if it contained a section allowing for woman suffrage.  The sponsor of the proposal, who said he was in favor of equal political rights for women, argued that such a provision was a departure from the norm and therefor should be subject to a separate vote of the people who had never had a chance to vote on the subject.

Delegate Hoyt summarized the sentiment against the proposal:

No man has ever dared to say in the territory of Wyoming that woman suffrage is a failure. We stand today proud, proud of this great experiment….Why then this extraordinary proposition?

The proposition failed on a vote of twenty against and eight for.  The constitution, with provisions mandating equal political rights for women, was passed unanimously by the convention and on November 5, 1889; the citizens of what would soon be the State of Wyoming adopted it. Two separate constitutional provisions touched upon equal political rights for women.  Article 1, Section 3 provided:

Equal political rights.

Since equality in the enjoyment of natural and civil rights is only made sure through political equality, the laws of this state affecting the political rights and privileges of its citizens shall be without distinction of race, color, sex, or any circumstance or condition whatsoever other than individual incompetency, or unworthiness duly ascertained by a court of competent jurisdiction.

That provision by itself was apparently too obtuse for the assembled delegates and they addressed the subject of woman suffrage and equal political rights again, and more directly, in Article 6, Section one, which provided:

Male and female citizens to enjoy equal rights.

The rights of citizens of the state of Wyoming to vote and hold office shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex. Both male and female citizens of this state shall equally enjoy all civil, political and religious rights and privileges.

Wyoming citizens had spoken on the subject of women’s political rights, both through their elected delegates to the constitutional convention, and directly in adopting the constitution. But, opponents of the Wyoming experiment had one more opportunity to express themselves.

Only months after the constitution was approved by the citizens of Wyoming territory, Congress took up Wyoming’s petition to be admitted as a state in the “Union of States” There was opposition from the Democrats, especially in the House of Representatives. Though the Democrats were not keen on the admission of another Republican leaning state, one of the main articulated objections had to do with the evils of Wyoming’s experiment with woman suffrage. Nevertheless, the House of Representatives passed the act by an uncomfortably close vote of 139 to 127. The Senate followed suite and Wyoming became a state on July 10, 1890.

In 1893, the Wyoming state legislature provided for a “great seal of the state of Wyoming”. The bill stated in part:

Standing upon the pedestal shall be a draped figure of a woman, modeled after the statute of the ‘Victory of the Louvre,” from whose wrists shall hang links of a broken chain and holding in her right hand a staff from the top of which shall float a banner with the words “Equal Rights” thereon, all suggesting the political position of women in this state.

That language was passed by the legislature and signed into law by Wyoming’s governor twenty-seven years before ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. It remains law today.

Now you now know the story of how Wyoming became the, “Equality State”. But the question remains, why Wyoming and not some other state or territory? Why did this happen in a frontier territory, at the very edge of civilization? What was it about the culture of the frontier, of Wyoming, that made such an event possible?

We have seen how women vastly outnumbered by men as construction of the Union Pacific moved west through Wyoming. Women were precious few and because that was so, they were precious. Decent women were respected and put on a pedestal. Their honor was defended and their detractors attacked, sometimes with a vengeance. State and local laws and ordinances were passed which sought to punish men, sometimes severely, for insulting women. Cowboys were sometimes even afraid to talk with respectable women for fear of getting into trouble. One social scientist reported that Wyoming ranch hands about the turn of the century would shout out a warning to their friends, “Church time” when a married woman approached and then would lapse into respectful silence until she had passed.

Side by side with this respect for “decent women” was a proclivity toward violence, alcohol, rowdiness and a preoccupation with women of the night. . Over and over again contemporary reviews of the success of suffrage in Wyoming focus on improvement in decorum at the poling places. The absence of drunkenness and rowdiness at the polling places was attributed to the presence of women.

There is no doubt that those who began to settle the West, looked forward to civilizing it. Mostly, they yearned for peace and tranquility. Men conquered the territory but women made it habitable. There was also the belief that if women could vote the effort to civilize the territory would b easier. As one Wyoming stockman from long ago put it,  “I always said that I wanted a woman to walk beside me, not behind me”. That is why Wyoming became the Equality State.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This is courtesy of the Louisa Swain Foundation, publisher of “The View From Thunderhead” by Ray Hunkins. This piece is the first chapter of that book which is a project of the Foundation in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the world’s first woman voter. The Foundation will commemorate Louisa Swain’s vote 150 years ago, and passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States 100 years ago, at the Foundation’s History House in Laramie, 317 S. 2nd Street, on September 6th, 2020, “Louisa Swain Day”.

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Ray Hunkins: Ludicrous, Wyoming Follows Same Orders As New York City

in Column/Ray Hunkins

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By Ray Hunkins, columnist

On March 22 I wrote a column entitled “And Then, What?” which was published on this site.

The point of the piece was to remind us that policy makers charting a course for battling the Wuhan corona virus in Wyoming and the Nation, needed input and recommendations from those familiar with economic issues, in addition to those familiar with the medical issues involved.

Before choosing a course of action, it was suggested, the decision makers pondering the extension of the economic shutdown, should ask, “if we extend the economic shutdown, then what?”.

The President, acting on the recommendation of his medical advisors, utilizing what was soon to be shown as grossly inaccurate models, extended the voluntary shutdown, by a month, until the end of April.  The strategy in extending the shutdown was “to bend the curve.”

We were told that, “bending the curve,” meant to eliminate the possibility of overwhelming the medical infrastructure by having too many patients hospitalized at the same time. Various governors, including Wyoming’s, announced compatible measures, some voluntary, some mandatory.

We now have had roughly a month of economic inactivity, or at least sharply diminished economic activity. It is now possible to observe both the progress of the “war” on the virus and the “war’s” impact on our economy. Neither are pretty, but a question yet to be answered is this: is the economic shutdown necessary beyond the end of April?

The “war” on the virus, in some form, will continue until the virus is no longer a significant threat to our population. Tactics (as opposed to strategy) will continue to be debated. The medical people have explained that the pause in economic activity is not designed to eliminate contagion of the disease, only to delay contagion until the apex has passed so as not to overwhelm the hospitals.

Once the shutdown is lifted, transmission of the disease will resume unless there is immunity. Immunity can be achieved with a vaccine or by what is known as, “herd immunity”.

So far, the “war” has produced the following relevant medical statistics: As of this writing (April 5), our government reports 330,00 cases of corona virus, out of a population of 331 million, with 9,528 deaths. About half the cases and more than half of the deaths are located in just three states: New York, New Jersey and Michigan.

In Wyoming, 207 cases have been reported out of a population of 567,000. Five Wyoming counties have had no reported cases. Three counties report only one case. Only five counties report more than 10 cases.

The greatest number of cases is in Laramie County with 44. No deaths have been reported anywhere in Wyoming. Despite these statistics, the medical advisors in Washington, and some people in Wyoming, clamor for the imposition of statewide “stay at home” orders where none have yet been issued. Wyoming does not have such an order. The idea that Wyoming must, in the interest of public health, institute the same measures as the state of New York is preposterous.

The idea that residents of Platte County, where no cases have been reported, must obey the same orders as the residents of the five boroughs of New York City, where 68,000 cases have been reported, is ludicrous.

Yet the authoritarians among us, seeking uniformity of process, blithely advocate the imposition of draconian measures everywhere, urban and rural states alike, ignoring the facts, our federal system and the separation of powers mandated by our Constitution.

On April 4th, the Casper Star Tribune reported that 12% of the reported cases in Wyoming were known to have required hospitalization, though in 24% of the reported cases it was not known if hospitalization occurred. There are 1261 staffed hospital beds in Wyoming, according to the American Hospital Directory.

Hypothetically, in the unlikely event 36% of the reported cases required hospitalization, the patients would have taken up 71 beds across the state, assuming they were all in hospitals at the same time. Because of these facts, “bending the curve” of the disease in Wyoming would seem to be unnecessary, perhaps even unhelpful.

 The “war” has also produced the following relevant economic statistics: Since March 1st, over 10 million Americans have filed for unemployment. The past two weeks have erased nearly all the jobs created in the past five years. But that is just the beginning. Financial advisor Stifel Nicolaus’ chief economist predicts peak unemployment of 30% in the U.S., saying in an April 3, 2020 report, “As we continue to keep the economy closed, more than 45 million Americans are expected to lose their jobs.” The St. Louis Fed agrees, predicting unemployment could rise to over 30%, surpassing the peak of the Great Depression.

In Wyoming, no current unemployment statistics are available, but on March 21, the Casper Star Tribune reported the Department of Work Force Services, which handles unemployment claims, was “inundated” with calls resulting from an order issued by the governor shutting down certain Wyoming businesses.

By order, all restaurants and bars were closed except for “take out”. The Department reported 37 people were assigned to take calls on that day and there still was an hour’s wait for callers on the Department’s multiple lines. About 10% of the state’s work force is involved in the food service and restaurant industry. In 2019, that amounted to 28,700 jobs.

With the widespread closing of eating establishments nationwide, not surprisingly the meat complex and cattle markets collapsed.

On April 5th, the Casper Star Tribune reported the biggest one-day loss in choice grade beef prices – $0.798 a pound and observed, “As public precautions regarding the novel coronavirus extend further into the spring, farmers and ranchers drift closer towards financial doomsday.”

This is a clear prediction that the “public precaution” mentioned might be synonymous with financial ruin for Wyoming agriculture. My friend Del Tinsley, former publisher of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and a cattleman himself, verifies that the feeder market tanked last week and Wyoming ranchers are more than a little concerned.

It’s impossible to predict the extent of the economic carnage that is being imposed on our nation and on Wyoming. When the dust settles, I believe we will see that for Wyoming, the cure has indeed been worse than the disease. That is simultaneously, both a blessing and a curse.

But, one thing is certain. The longer this shutdown goes on, the worse the carnage will be. All the government checks and loans, all the red tape and bureaucracy, all the billions and trillions of government largesse that will have to be repaid by someone – none of it will be the magic remedy that makes us economically well again- never mind “great.”

With appropriate precautions and best practices, we need to get back to work and we need to do it at the conclusion of the current shut down – at the end of this month – by May 1st. No more economic shutdown extensions.

The sooner Wyoming goes back to work, the sooner our restaurants and small businesses are opened for business, the sooner we can begin to climb out of this economic, cultural and social purgatory in which we have been placed. Placed there for 71 hospital beds that were available when needed.

Wyoming isn’t New York, New Jersey or Michigan.  Chugwater isn’t Brooklyn. One size doesn’t fit all. It never has.

Ray Hunkins, author of the book, “The View From Thunderhead”, was the Republican nominee for Governor of Wyoming in 2006. He is now retired and lives in Cheyenne, west of Wheatland in the Laramie Mountains and in Tubac, Arizona. He is an Emeritus Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and the International Society of Barristers.

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Ray Hunkins: After Coronavirus, Economic Disaster . . . And Then What?

in Column/Ray Hunkins

By Ray Hunkins, contributor

In last Sunday’s Casper Star Tribune, a columnist wrote from France describing the loss of personal freedoms as a result of that country’s quarantine order. 

She noted: “Governments are taking drastic measures with little logical explanation of why the measures are different for the Chinese virus than they have been for the flue which has affected and killed more people”. She then posed this question: “Knowing that ‘zero risk’ doesn’t exist, is the price of zero freedoms worth paying – in any instance”?

She was writing about the loss of personal freedom in France as the result of the virus crises, but the same point could be made about economic freedom in the United States.

To date, the loss of our economic freedom, indeed of our economy, has been the result of mostly “recommendations” and “suggestions” by our federal government, not directives with the force of law as in France. But, recommendations vs. directives, is a distinction without a difference when it comes to economic impact.

By the “recommendation” of our federal government the U.S. economy has largely been shut down resulting not only in the loss of huge sums of money, but also of economic freedom.

As I write this (March 22) we have completed the first half of what amounts to economic purgatory, with one week to go until the situation is “reassessed.”

What situation? Public health officials have pledged to reassess the public health situation brought about by the virus. But the doctors will only be assessing health risks. That’s their job. I would be surprised if the folks in white coats don’t recommend a continuation of the economic shutdown. When one is good with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail

The economists and other financial types are also, presumably, going to reassess the impact of the total economic shutdown. There is a tension between what is perceived to be serious risk to the health of segments of our population and our economy. This tension is set to play out when the reassessment is made.

There are those whose work requires an assessment of possible reactions to a proposed action. Their job is to ask the proponents of a proposed action, “and then what?” Military planners who “game out” various battle scenarios come to mind. Trial lawyers who build “decision trees” to catalogue various outcomes to a possible motion, or a witness who may or may not be called at a trial, are also examples. Those exercises help with determining the risks associated with a particular action and the benefits to be derived therefrom. They answer the question, “and then what?”

No doubt, with the partial information then at hand, a risk – benefit analysis was performed before we embarked on our present course of action in response to the Chinese corona virus.

We have more information now, on both sides of the equation – severity and spread of the virus, and the impact of the shutdown on the nation’s economy. According to most knowledgeable people, it is likely we can survive the fifteen-day shutdown with serious but modest short-term negative economic impacts, some of which are already surfacing; beyond that, the impacts are likely negative over an expanding number of sectors and at an increasing rate. That would have national security implications.

Logic tells us, the longer the shutdown lingers, whether voluntary or involuntary, the bigger the negative impact to the economy. Recession seems a certainty now. Depression is the next stop on this economic journey and it is one no American should want to experience.

Coupled with the trillions of dollars that are being spent to “stimulate” the economy, we could witness the collapse of not only the economy, but of society itself. Venezuela, with its central planning, shortage of goods, hyperinflation, loss of freedom, authoritarian rule and violence comes to mind.

As we approach the end of the current “pause” in economic activity and the “reassessment” takes place, let us hope for a realistic cost-benefit re-analysis that takes into account what comes next, not only with the spread and severity of the virus, but also with the economic destruction that has taken place and that will surely be increasing with every day the shutdown continues.

The question that needs to be asked and answered in Washington, as a part of the reassessment is this: If we extend the shutdown significantly, then what? It may be that the decision on whether to resume activity is left to the governors based on the status and condition of each state or region. If that is the case, Governor Gordon will be faced with a difficult but necessary decision.

We are told those most at risk are the elderly, especially those with preexisting medical conditions. They should be protected and there is no visible reason why people, the elderly and others, can’t be protected when economic activity resumes. We can walk and chew gum at the same time.

My own view is that protecting the elderly specifically, and the population generally, can be accomplished without sacrificing the nation’s (or Wyoming’s) economy beyond the present economic pause. Of course, common sense and best health practices should be followed when activity resumes.

But, speaking only for myself, and as one who celebrated his eighty-first birthday this month, I would rather take the risk of contracting the virus than see my children and grandchildren experience a depression or worse.

When the planners meet to reassess the situation and decide whether to keep our economy on hold, I hope one of them asks, “and then what?”

Ray Hunkins, author of the book, “The View From Thunderhead”, was twice a candidate for Governor of Wyoming. He is now retired following 50 years as a member of the Wyoming State Bar.

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