What will the Cowboy State look like in 20 years?

Note: This is part 1 of a two-part column series on predicting what Wyoming will be like in 20 years.

So, what will Wyoming look like in 20 years, in 2043? I hope to be there. We shall see.

Before looking forward, it might make sense to take a look back.

One advantage of writing a Wyoming weekly column for the past 53 years is that I get to go back and review predictions that I made way back then.

In 2003, Wyoming was embarking on the biggest economic boom of its existence. From 2002 to 2012, the economy could not be much better than it was in Wyoming. With our own Dick Cheney helping Pres. George Bush in the White House, we cannot think of a better scenario for an energy-producing state. With both VP Cheney and Bush being from fossil fuel states, the wheels were greased for great prosperity.

It was always obvious that, had Al Gore won the presidency in 2000, this fossil fuel boom would have been much smaller. Gore and former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt had already tried to put the screws to natural energy states during the Bill Clinton presidency. Instead, with Bush and Cheney in office, happy days were here again in Wyoming.

Lordy, was that just 20 years ago?

What a difference two decades can make!

But before doing any more forecasting, let’s go back and see what I predicted for Wyoming back there 20 years ago.

Social media did not dominate back then. There were no smart phones. The internet was used for email, and folks in the media business were starting to use it more. The idea of a digital news service was not around yet. Google was still in its infancy. Facebook did not exist.

Wyoming was entering its “golden age,” which is what I repeatedly predicted during my unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2002.

I was never keen on the prediction that wind and solar could replace fossil fuels for energy production. But back then, I seriously predicted that individual hydrogen fuel cells would soon be created which would make all our power plants obsolete. Hydrogen fuel cells? What happened to that?

In my predictions, I missed anticipating a pandemic but I did worry about some huge catastrophe (which did not happen). I was worrying mainly about either an accidental or terrorist-inspired crash of our energy industry. Luckily, it did not happen.

In 2003, the country was still reacting to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. I correctly predicted a surge in tourism to natural places like Wyoming after that, which continues today.

Wyoming had a relatively tiny savings account back in 2003 and I lamented that Alaska had a $25 billion stash due to forward-thinking severance taxes. Today we have our own $25 billion stash from this same kind of tax strategy.

In 2002, I wrote that “Once the mines close and the money spigot is shut off, what do we do here for financial stability?” And, yet, here we are today still collecting millions of mineral severance tax dollars. Good news for our budgetary needs.

In a later column back then I looked back another 20 years. It is important to recall what had happened during Wyoming’s 1982-2002 economic malaise. Here is what I wrote back then:

“That big news was this 2002-2012 sustained energy boom ended a 20-year economic slump that sapped the hopefulness out of an entire generation of Wyoming citizens.

“In times of economic stress, you can get used to the condition you are in. The resilient Wyoming people who stuck around, especially in the 1980s, lived here during a time almost unimaginable to people living here today.

“Some folks, this writer included, have argued that the 1980s hit Wyoming harder economically than the Great Depression did in the 1930s.”

The biggest casualty during that 20-year bust (from 1982-2002) was the disappearance of a generation of middle-class Wyoming workers and their families. 

A great many of them were Democrats, which was borne out by the fact that in the mid-1970s, the state had a Democratic governor and two of its three national representatives were Democrats. 

With all those Democrats gone from the state, Wyoming has now turned into the most Republican state in the union. Back then, two decades ago, with the election of Bush-Cheney in 2000, good economic times were on the way.

The famous bumper sticker that referred to the Wyoming of the booming 1970s, but displayed in the lame 1980s, was “Please, Lord, give me one more boom. This time I promise not to piss it away.”

Those prayers were answered. It was a time so golden, it may never be seen again in the Cowboy State.

Today, Wyoming is much different than it was 20 years ago.

My next column will be my attempt to predict what Wyoming will be like in 2043. Please send your predictions to me at [email protected]. Thanks!