This is not the Wyoming way


Born in 1871, Johan Sundberg came to America from Sweden when he was a young man, leaving behind his sweetheart, Ida Sandberg. He worked in Chicago and Omaha, yet he never forgot Ida and ultimately saved up enough money to book a return passage and went back to Sweden to find her. To his surprise, during his absence, Ida’s family had also decided to cross the Atlantic and create a life in America. Heartbroken and lovesick, he became determined to find her, saved up enough money to get back to America and tracked down Ida and her family. Reunited with the love of his life, the two married and lived happily ever after, settling in Rawlins, Wyoming.

I don’t know about the happily ever after part, but I do know the two died within a month of one another in 1939, and that from Johan and Ida came Ernest Octavius Sundberg, who married Lenora Horsefield, and then came my grandmother Iris.

Iris married my grandfather, Bill Morrow, the third generation of Morrows living in Uinta County after the first ended up working in the Almy coal mines in the 1880s. I’m told my great-great-grandfather was a bit of a rabble rouser who organized worker strikes to fight for better pay and safer working conditions. According to wyominggenealogy.com, “Another who did much for the cause of labor in the state is Matthew Morrow, a Scotchman, who came to Almy in 1885, and lived out his last years in Evanston.”

Matthew and fellow miners worked with the Wyoming Territorial Legislature prior to statehood to institute labor laws regarding working hours, child labor and more. He was a judge and one of the earliest Uinta County Commissioners. One of Matthew’s sons — Alex — was my great-grandfather.

On my father’s side of the family, my grandmother Mary’s father — Loyma Bish Coggins — was a Wyoming sheepherder and cowboy. Mary, or Nana as I lovingly call her, lost her mother at a young age, and with her father’s work taking him away from home for stretches at a time, she was often left fending for herself to get to and from school and manage the household. She tells me fondly about her high school dances — she graduated from Evanston High School in 1942 and is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, living graduates.

I love these stories passed on through the ages to my ears, and my heart — those of a fifth-generation Uinta County resident — and even now to some of my cousin’s children’s children — those of the seventh generation of our family to call Uinta County and Wyoming home.

My grandparents and parents instilled in me values passed down through generations of tough Wyoming folk. These values include honesty; fairness; courage; doing the principled thing even when it’s difficult; taking care of your neighbor; respecting others; doing your part for your community; good sportsmanship; accepting defeat graciously; leading by example; learning from mistakes; the satisfaction in a job well done; tackling hard challenges rather than avoiding them; a recognition that, though we in Wyoming might think our way is the best way, it is certainly not the only way; respect for the land; love of country and so much more.

As a born-and-bred Wyomingite, I think I have a thing or two to say about Wyoming values. Which may be why I find myself wincing regularly these days as certain members of the Wyoming and Uinta County Republican parties have apparently decided they’re speaking for the entirety of the state when they issue statements based on their so-called “Wyoming values” condemning Rep. Liz Cheney for voting her conscience and relying on truth regarding the results of the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol; condemning Gov. Mark Gordon for taking measures designed to keep the state’s citizens safe throughout the COVID-19 pandemic; demanding complete adherence to their party platform; and condemning and attempting to kill any legislative efforts to secure new revenue, even in light of an extraordinary fiscal crisis.

And now, the chair of the Wyoming GOP, Frank Eathorne, reportedly made statements on a recent podcast claiming western states like Wyoming “have the ability to be self-reliant, and we’re keeping eyes on Texas too and their consideration of possible secession.”

Excuse me? The chair of the dominant political party for the entire state is openly talking about considering secession?

The secession statement is what spurred on this column about Wyoming values. Just for fun, I’ve decided to twist their favorite acronym for hurling insults at anyone they disagree with — RINO (Republican in name only) — into something equally descriptive. I will henceforth refer to these individuals claiming to speak for all of us, with self-righteous indignation, about Wyoming values — as WINOs (Wyomingites in name only).

See, my Wyoming values don’t include attempted meddling in the electoral processes of other states to disenfranchise their voters, particularly after 60-plus lawsuits in those states were thrown out due to lack of evidence, by judges appointed by both Republican and Democratic presidents.

They don’t include attempts to legitimize or excuse an assault on our nation’s Capitol, including calls for executing members of Congress, by spreading baseless debunked conspiracy theories that I refuse to even repeat because they’re so vile and ridiculous.

My Wyoming values don’t include promoting my own interests at the expense of the interests and health of others, in the midst of a global pandemic that has now claimed the lives of more than 400,000 of our fellow countrymen.

They certainly don’t include completely ignoring it when private businesses post signage requiring mask usage. I find this one particularly baffling from people who so often talk about individual business rights.

My Wyoming values don’t include refusing to learn from the past and continuing to avoid the hard decisions necessitated by Wyoming’s fiscal woes. Just the opposite. My values tell me that stubbornly refusing to acknowledge reality only leads to more painful situations down the road.

They don’t include cutting services for the most vulnerable, slashing education for our youth, and axing jobs that keep our communities alive rather than even considering new revenue sources.

My Wyoming values don’t include federal, state or local leaders taking to Facebook to spread conspiracy theories about political opponents or the opposing party. Those in leadership positions should hold themselves to a higher standard and carefully vet everything before posting. Lead by example.

And my Wyoming values certainly don’t include putting party over state and country and even considering seceding from the United States.

Though I may disagree with Rep. Cheney on all sorts of policy matters, I appreciate her demonstration of Wyoming values in the past couple of weeks.

I especially appreciate the Wyoming values on display when 30 Wyoming lawyers, judges and legal educators of all political persuasions wrote and published a letter expressing their support of Cheney’s decisions.

I applaud the Wyoming values shown by former state GOP chair Matt Micheli for the stance taken in support of truth and democracy in an editorial I read on Cowboy State Daily and the values of State Rep. Landon Brown who has called for Eathorne to resign following his secession comments.

The Wyoming GOP has already made it clear they intend to primary challenge or find other ways to punish those they deem to be RINOs, including Cheney, Gordon and probably Micheli and Brown, as well as any state legislators who dare to recognize reality about the state’s finances, the pandemic, or any number of other issues during the legislative session.

Doing the right and principled thing in the face of enormous pressure to do otherwise and with advanced knowledge of what the consequences will likely be is most definitely a Wyoming value — one of the greatest.

I would like to encourage those of us who share the Wyoming values I grew up with — whether Wyoming natives or those who have adopted our great state as their home — to speak up and let the WINOs know they don’t speak for us.

Their way or the highway isn’t actually the Wyoming way.

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