OPINION: Recollections of the Election

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The following opinion was written and submitted by Tom Gagnon.

Running for an elective office is something I had never pictured myself doing.  I’ve even looked down on politicians as somewhat less than human. Then one day I read something written by the Sweetwater County Conservation District (SWCCD), in March, 2018.  This could not stand. Something had to be done. It was so utterly wrong and misleading, even using as a supporting document RS2477, written in 1866, then repealed in 1976, that I was shocked and almost vomited.  I was mortified at the low level to which a government advisory committee would stoop. I was suddenly motivated to do something!

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I wrote a few editorials in several Wyoming newspapers, I spoke with, called, or wrote letters to several people who are in positions of influence, I showed up for SWCCD meetings.  These were spirit killing for their outright promotion of the financial interests of the members of the SWCCD, with no concern at all for conservation.

Things like “fish and wildlife habitat” rank twelfth, out of twelve, and I can document this, “water quality” ranks fourth, and “grazing-lands management” ranks first.  At one meeting I was humiliated with “Mr. Gagnon you’re out of order!” I had been speaking for thirty seconds, trying to explain the complex issue of the economic advantages of wilderness recreation, when chairperson Mary Thoman cut me off for suggesting that her anti-tourism attitude is not advantageous.

Eventually I decided to run for a seat on the SWCCD.  As word got out by word of mouth, and some newspaper announcements, I was flattered and surprised as people came forward to shake my hand and wish me luck.  Some people stuck money in my shirt pocket, totaling $405, and that’s exactly what I spent. Others, offering help but fearing retribution, asked to remain anonymous.  Many gave me material help, encouragement, and personal stories and inside information.

With some excellent quality flyers, I hit the campaign trail.  I typically started by asking people, “Do you vote in Sweetwater County?”  Most people said yes and accepted a flyer with a smile. Most of these encounters lasted just seconds, but others involved several minutes.  I was impressed by the politeness, and often of the open mindedness, of our county’s residents. I was kicked out of Home Depot, I was asked to leave the entrance area of Smiths, but the people who did it couldn’t have been gentler.  Standing in one spot, walking around, and riding my mountain bike through parking lots, I was usually very pleased to meet the people I did.

Some comments and questions, though, were a little disconcerting, like “What’s a conservation district?” or, “I didn’t know we had a ….” “Do you support hunting and fishing?” “Yes.” “Do you support the Second Amendment?” “Yes.  With some qualifications,” and of course, “What’s your party?” “I’m an Independent.” I guess I have become a politician, and it hasn’t completely destroyed my humanity.

Although years prior I had met Thor Stephenson, a retired BLM range-land professional, I didn’t know that he was planning to run for the same seat on the SWCCD as myself, and he didn’t know I would run.  Our views are not exact, but they bear similarities, such as prioritizing wildlife conditions and clean water, so as to improve the experiences of hunters and fishermen, and for people who would like to immerse themselves in untrammeled wilderness, both locals and visitors.

At the risk of sounding like sour grapes, an expense analyst of the election results looks like this:  Jean Dickenson received 5249 votes, or about 53%; I received 2517 votes, or about 25%; Thor Stephenson received 2200, or about 22%.  I asked Thor, “How much did you spend?” “Oh, I put some gas in my car to attend a meet ‘n’ greet in Farson. Only an idiot would spend money on a job that doesn’t pay anything.”  Let’s say he spent $22. I spent $405. Jean spent $12,022. One way to look at this is to divide the money spent by votes received. This would have Thor’s votes costing one penny each.  My votes cost about sixteen cents each. Jean’s votes cost $2.29 apiece. Thor’s and my votes total 4717, or 47%, and comes in at only 532 votes less than Jean’s total, and for only .11 cents each.

Acknowledging that Jean won, fair and more-or-less square, these numbers indicate is that there is significant opposition to the way conservation is currently not being done.  With time and efforts at communication, that gap between two visions of conservation can close, and flip to actual conservation, and that would be good for people who love the outdoors.

And that’s my experience with being a politician.  All of us, whether in a political office or not, can still ask questions and make statements, and have an influence, and we should, because, after all, the public lands are our lands, and we are the stewards of the wildlife, too.  A pretty good book that sums up our county to a T, is “Welfare Ranching.” It’s in local libraries. The SWCCD holds a meeting on the first Thursday of each month at 4:00, at 79 Winston Drive, Suite 103, in Rock Springs.