Favorite political stories from the state's leaders

© 2017-Kemmerer Gazette

For a long time, the Riverton radio station KVOW was located in a small house along the Big Wind River.

Unbeknownst to statewide politicians back in 1984, the radio station moved and the building was turned into a private residence.

U.S. Rep. Dick Cheney was running for re-election and late for his radio interview. He pulled up to the house and barged through the front door. He totally surprised a woman who was vacuuming the floor. A baby was in a high chair.  

Neither Cheney nor the woman knew quite what to say. Finally Dick asked, “Isn’t this the radio station? I am late for an interview.”

The gal said, “No, they moved the station a few months ago.”

“Oh,” replied Cheney, “sorry for the interruption,” and he started for the door.

“Wait,” the woman shouted. “Who are you?”

Cheney replied: “I am Al Simpson and I am running for Senate. Sure would appreciate your vote.”

I have heard versions of this by both Cheney and Simpson and it is my favorite Wyoming political story.

Several friends from around the state recently sent me some of their favorite Wyoming political stories and I am going to print them at a later date. I would also appreciate readers of this column sending me their favorite stories, too.  Here are some more:

Two years ago during the celebration of the state’s 125th anniversary at an event in Laramie, several such stories were told from the same podium.

Milward Simpson was the director of the state’s Arts, Parks and Cultural Resources Department. He is the namesake of his grandfather, Milward Simpson, who served as governor and U.S. Senator back in the 1950s and 1960s.

Young Milward wanted to share his grandpa’s favorite story.

It might be appropriate to mention that the elder Simpson served in the Senate with another Wyoming senator named Gale McGee, who was a Democrat and a former professor at the University of Wyoming. 

As an extra note of interest, McGee is the subject for another in a series of excellent Wyoming political biographies by Laramie author Rodger McDaniel.  Rodger told me that doing his research has been a fun blast from the past as he explored all the crazy politics of the 1960s and 1970s. Back then, McGee was a powerful national Democratic U.S. Senator and an early supporter of the Vietnam War. McGee later had big regrets for that decision.   

Back to Milward’s story.

Milward comes from the ubiquitous Simpson political family. His dad is legendary UW professor and historian Pete Simpson and his uncle is retired U.S. Sen. Al Simpson.

He said the elder Milward’s favorite story was about one time when a group of grade schoolers were asked why Wyoming was called the Equality State?

The late Jacques “Jack” Sidi in Casper was a teacher and asked his students why Wyoming was called the Equality State? One little girl replied it was because “Wyoming has two female U. S. Senators, Mildred Simpson and Gail McGee!”

Later in the conference Gov. Matt Mead told a story about his grandfather, former Governor and U.S. Senator Cliff Hansen.

It seems that when Hansen was growing up in Jackson he had a horrible stutter. As a young tyke, he was sent home from school with a note pinned to his chest saying he was “uneducable.”

His frustrated parents shipped him by train to Indiana to a woman who had performed miracles with other stuttering children. She taught young Cliff to slow down his speech and wave his arms a certain way with every word he spoke.

Mead then shared with the crowd some additional punch lines to that tale. He told about how Cliff, as a young cowboy, would be near the back of the herd of cows waving his arms and talking up a storm. He drove his fellow cowboys crazy. Seems he never quit talking.

The governor told the story that Cliff’s fellow cowboys often said: “Now we can’t shut him up. Maybe he’s practicing to be governor?” That reportedly brought a big laugh there in the dusty herd.

But Cliff did have lofty ambitions. He went on to become a county commissioner, a governor and a U.S. Senator. 

A sad ending to Mead’s story is that when Hansen was first elected governor he wanted that long-ago speech teacher to come to his inauguration. She was killed in a car wreck on her way from Indiana to Cheyenne. 

Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns at billsniffin.com. He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written six books, which are available at fine stores. His latest is Wyoming at 125. His books are also available at wyomingwonders.com.

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