By Jimmy Orr, Editor-in-Chief
On the same day that Wyoming Republican Chair Frank Eathorne told FOX News that “in Wyoming, we don’t necessarily embrace the idea of a big tent,” the state GOP became a big tent.
In fact, that tent was even larger. Republicans of all stripes and Democrats came together.
It took the death of one man. One remarkable Wyoming man to open up that Wyoming tent.
Not everyone knew Leland Christensen, the 62-year-old former state senator, county commissioner, deputy sheriff, veteran, father of six, and grandfather of 13 who died on Friday.
Arch foes Rod Miller and Joey Correnti were teammates.
Wyoming Equality Director Sara Burlingame and Rep. Dan Laursen (R-Powell) stood together.
Leland Christensen brought everyone together. That’s what he did.
I saw it firsthand.
I went on the road with Leland and his sons Hunter and Wyatt during his 2016 congressional campaign.
Leland liked everyone. And everyone liked Leland right back.
Line Up With Leland
Our slogan was “Line Up With Leland.” It could have been “Line Up With Laughter.” Because laughter was our constant companion as Leland visited all 99 incorporated communities (and many non-incorporated ones) with friends in each town.
No hyperbole. I saw it happen.
He wanted to go door-to-door in every community. He loved being out on the road.
One evening, we were knocking on doors in Bairoil when Leland ran into a friend of his that he hadn’t seen in more than 30 years when the two went to law enforcement academy together. We stayed there until 9:30 p.m. as the two former cops had us all in stitches talking about the old days.
The only place where Leland didn’t run into someone he knew was in Chugwater. But that could be excused. It was 2 a.m.
Leland and I had been on the road for weeks and decided to cut a video. The lights went out in the middle of the shoot and that was enough to put us on the ground.
I dropped the video camera and the two of us were howling in the middle of Chugwater, in the middle of the night, for no real reason. Leland saw the humor in everything.
Being with him was like being a little kid with your best buddy in church. You aren’t supposed to laugh. But you can’t help it. And that’s what made it funnier.
Our consultant said we had to draw a distinction against his primary opponent and now U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, and polling showed that the residency angle was the best route.
So instead of a mean-spirited ad, Leland insisted on a softer touch. He couldn’t be mean. Let’s make ‘em laugh, Leland said.
So he compared Liz to Sasquatch — an elusive being that was rarely spotted in Wyoming.
It should have been a simple video. But it took us a full day to shoot because every time he would act like he was on a safari searching for Liz — Leland, Wyatt, Hunter, and I would burst out laughing.
When news of Leland’s ill-health became public recently, Liz Cheney was among the first to wish him well.
That’s the kind of guy he was. Everyone loved Leland.
Town to Town
In Greybull, Wyoming, the owner of a restaurant couldn’t get Leland’s name right. She was an immigrant and in broken English, she kept saying “Lyeland” or “Luland” or “Layland.”
She had a great sense of humor in her own right.
Cameras were rolling. The restaurant was full. Everyone — every single person — was laughing. Even she fell over laughing, smashing a chair in the process.
A train horn blasting in the middle of a video shoot typically isn’t a big deal. But when it happened to Leland and his buddy, Stan Blake, the former legislator from Green River, the two laughed uncontrollably. That led to Wyatt, Hunter, his wife Anita, and me all laughing uncontrollably.
Our second trip to Wamsutter was one of my favorites. Burnt out from the road, Leland drew a blank on what to say about the community.
“Hello Wamsutter,” Leland began. “Second time through Wamsutter. What a …. uhhhh, what am I supposed to say?”
After a couple laughs, Leland bounced back with a solid energy message. You can tell from the video just how fun Leland was and how he brought joy to everything.
We were all dominos with Leland. If he thought something was humorous, you couldn’t resist it.
Leland brought that aura with him. You saw him. You smiled. You saw him. You laughed. Most of all, if you saw him, you went up to him. You had to say hi. He was a magnet.
I hope Gov. Mark Gordon calls out Leland during his upcoming State of the State address because Wyoming will be able to see that, in fact, we all can stand together.
Just maybe, Leland’s influence will take us a bit further than just that.
It’s worth a try, anyway.
U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis, his longtime friend, brought Leland onboard the minute she was elected because, as she put it, “I knew I needed Leland on my team because he loved Wyoming people.”
What a gift Wyoming had. What a gift Heaven has.
We all love you, buddy. And we’ll all laugh again.