In One State, There's Little Celebration Over Obama

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Obama poses with University of Wyoming mascot Pistol Pete. Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images i

Barack Obama poses with University of Wyoming mascot Pistol Pete before entering a campaign rally in Laramie, Wyo., on March 7. Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
Obama poses with University of Wyoming mascot Pistol Pete. Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Barack Obama poses with University of Wyoming mascot Pistol Pete before entering a campaign rally in Laramie, Wyo., on March 7.

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

In Wyoming, many people are anticipating Inauguration Day with a mix of curiosity and dread. Only 33 percent of voters in the Cowboy State went for Barack Obama. No state voted less Democratic. Even so, many say they'll still give Obama the respect any U.S. president is due.

Just days before the inauguration, the cash register is ringing at a gun shop in Laramie. Owner Dieter Sturm says sales are up 50 percent to 100 percent. People worry, he says, that Obama will ban certain semiautomatic weapons. Those are going especially fast.

"He's one of the best guns salesmen," Sturm says. "Actually, he's better than the Clintons, and they were damn good."

Anxious About Obama

Sturm didn't vote for Obama. He questions the president-elect's patriotism and his stance on Iraq. But for now, Sturm says the specter of a Democratic president is good for business.

The picture is less cheery 50 miles down the road in Cheyenne, where the Wyoming Legislature began work this week. Lawmakers here mingle in suits, boots and bolo ties. Many of them, like Republican Sen. Curt Meier, are anxious about Obama.

"We know that we are going to get change," Meier says. "We just don't know what the change is going to be. And I think that brings both a sense of excitement and a sense of fear. Because the man is very capable in some areas, but I think that he's awfully green in the gills."

Lots of lawmakers agree that Wyoming has a lot at stake. The state's mineral royalties have already taken a hit with the economic downturn. Meier says Obama's push for alternative energy could be even more painful.

The Environment Vs.The Land

But a slice of Wyoming residents are eager for change, especially in Laramie, home of the University of Wyoming. At a coffee shop downtown, many people's eyes light up when they talk about Obama.

"I feel very optimistic," says university employee Michael Yake. "I think he's got some good environmental policies. Hopefully that'll hold up and he won't get a lot of opposition from the Republicans in this state who want to drill and drill and keep on drilling."

Obama's stance on the environment is cause for concern in some circles. Across the interstate in West Laramie, four ranchers sit around a table at McDonald's. One of them is Tom Page, a dark-haired man with a silk handkerchief knotted around his neck. "My wife had the comment," he says, "she said that Obama is going to be like Clinton on steroids. And the farming and ranching industry had a lot of trouble with Clinton."

Page says his first concern is about endangered species protections. To liberals in Washington, he says, endangered species are an abstract, feel-good issue. But to Wyoming ranchers, some of those species, like gray wolves, are a real threat to their cattle — and to their livelihoods.

"You know, if we would turn that wolf loose in Central Park or at the monument in Washington, D.C., they'd be screaming bloody murder," Page says.

Across the table, rancher Scott Sims says he worries the Obama administration will raise the estate tax. He says that could make it tough or impossible for ranchers to pass their land down to their children.

"We don't need more government, we need less government," Sims says. "We don't need more taxes or the redistribution of wealth."

The other men nod in agreement.

University of Wyoming history professor Pete Simpson has seen the tides of Democratic and Republican administrations come and go. He says there's a mix of emotions in Wyoming when it's the Democrat's turn.

"Some anxiety, some hopefulness, some historical ennui," Simpson says. "We're not too great on change in this state."

Regardless, change is coming on Jan. 20. And many here say come Tuesday, they'll stand behind their new president. That's just the Wyoming way.

Addie Goss reports for Wyoming Public Radio.

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