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A lesson in practical politics

Mar 25, 2013 - By Randy Tucker

As college students, a few of us decided to work for better conditions for renters in Laramie.

With government approval ratings hovering in single digits, you wonder why anyone wants to hold office in either the state or federal legislature. A closer look usually reveals the motive for many of our elected "finest."

Some still elicit the high ideals we used to be taught about our government, but many fall into the category of personal interest. Yes, they run so they can get to the trough first.

It is a jaded view of politics, but in light of the ongoing logjam that passes for the federal government today and the unprecedented, condescending and outright sinister actions of our elected state government, it is a view that is easy to support.

I often ask the rhetorical question "Was it always this bad?"

Sadly, I think it has been, at least in Wyoming since the beginning of statehood 123 years ago.

As a college student I dabbled in university level politics. Elected twice as a student senator from the education college, I served on the ASUW (Associated Students of the University of Wyoming) as the chairman of the student lobby committee.

The university saw our role as public relations. Get a few articulate youngsters to dress up, cut their hair, and smile a bit at the legislators, and maybe the university could get an extra crumb or two from the assembled group over the hill from Laramie in Cheyenne.

We had a different idea.

The most prevalent complaint among UW students in those days was landlord abuse. There were several large real estate companies in town that made it a habit to take damage deposits made by student renters and lock them up in one-year certificates of deposit. (Yes, they paid much more than a fraction of a percent in those days) Whether you took care of your apartment didn't matter. The landlord used your deposit to earn interest in excess of 10 percent on your money.

Many times, this was the only thing the landlord did . Students lived in sub-standard conditions with inadequate heat, dirt floors in their bathrooms, and leaking roofs. With one individual owning more than 800 rentals in the college town, there was little renters could do, even collectively, to improve their lot. The Laramie City Council stood firmly in the owner's camp.

So the student lobby found a couple of interested legislators to sponsor the Uniform Landlord Tenant Bill in the state house.

As the lobbying chairman it was my responsibility to assemble the best group of students we could find to volunteer for the trips to Cheyenne while the Legislature was in session and to find students with local connections to meet with their own county representatives back at home.

The final conglomeration of personalities was an eclectic group, to say the least. Bill, Linda, Wendy, Scott and I met in the ASUW offices in the evenings in the final days of the fall semester to plan our attack.

Bill was a radical, a left-wing extremist in a pin-striped suit. Wendy was brilliant, with a logical mind and a clear, pointed conversational style. If you can imagine a 5-foot-10 Goldie Hawn with perfect, flowing 1970s-style hair, in a mini-skirt and silk blouse, with a giggle to match, you have an idea of what Linda looked like. The image was a front; she was as bright as any of us but she had something the rest of us did not when it came to attracting legislative interest.

Scott Farris was our star. The former Lander Valley High School sprinter was articulate, well-read, and able to thwart the best the statewide realty association's hired guns could throw at him during committee hearings at the capitol. Scott was an inspiration as he deftly defeated attorney after attorney in open debate and gradually swayed opinion to our side.

The most fun -- and the real work -- didn't take place in the lobby of the House or Senate. The down-and-dirty work came after hours at the now-incinerated Hitching Post Inn bar. We dropped in a few evenings. Linda was an instant hit. As the legislators from Natrona, Sweetwater and Teton counties fawned over her we bent their collective ears. The guys from Cheyenne never dropped in because they were on their home turf and didn't want any potential problems.

At the end of each outing we waited for Linda to change back into her UW sweatsuit ,and we traveled back home with new ideas and funny comments on the most lecherous of the legislators.

Back home I met with State Sen. Roy Peck at his newspaper office a couple of times and with State Rep. Gary Jennings out at his farm. Roy always listened intently, then took my picture and interviewed me for a story. Gary systematically disagreed with just about everything I said but made sure I had a piece of his wife Colleen's excellent pie each time I came out. Gary and I became friends in later years.

In the end ,our effort at revising the landlord tenant laws failed 30-29 in the House when one of our sponsors missed the vote. We never tried it again because we all graduated the following year, but it was an education in the political process that no professor could ever reproduce.

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