Wyoming Senator Craig Thomas, 74, Dead

Ever since I was in college (or at university, according to your tastes) I have had an oven timer in my brain: when a story is ready, the bell goes off and it’s time to write it.

And never before. Like that old Orson Welles wine commercial, we will scribe no script until it’s time. That I made my living (writing for scrip) throughout the 1970s and 1980s entirely on writing deadlines is a peculiarity that I cannot entirely explain, except that the oven timer ended up set to go off at N-frantic hours or minutes before deadline. I once had an editor drive over to my apartment to collect my 5.25″ floppy disk* and was literally finishing the story, and typing whatever it was that you typed to save in WordStar 3.0.

(*This was in 1986 – in 1988, at a typesetting shop in downtown Whittier, California, I booted their typesetting computer using giant 8 or 10 inch floppy disks. For some reason Compugraphic and Varityper, the duopoly of commercial typesetting in the ’70s and ’80s both reacted to the computer revolution by making each successive generation of typesetting machine BIGGER and BIGGER. Varityper went bankrupt in the late ’80s or early ’90s, I recall.)

And so, yesterday, I’d planned a crackerjack bit of bloggery, having to do with Wyoming, historicity, cowboy politics and the present Embezzlement … er, Administration. But the oven timer never went ‘ding.’ If possible, it went anti-ding (whatever that is, perhaps the sound of an imploding lightbulb). And now I understand why.

Yesterday, one of Wyoming’s senators, Craig Lyle Thomas of Cody, Wyoming (license plate county prefix code number ’11’) passed on, met his Maker, joined the Choir Invisible, crossed the Jordan, went to the last roundup or whatever other euphemism one chooses to express the thought that the gentleman died. After a battle with leukemia, leukemia won.

And it is appropriate to note that my oven timer was exactly right. It would have been inappropriate and looked silly to have written that Wyoming column on the same day as the Wyoming news of Mr. Thomas’ passing.

Timing is a thing that defies explanation.

We express our empathetic sadness for the sorrow that Mr. Thomas’ family and friends will feel, we recognize that our inevitable end is reflected in his passing, and move on. Thomas, the MSM is reporting, was a quiet man in the U.S. Senate, preferring to work behind the scenes. As such, it has been my observation that these are the most influential men in Washington, D.C. To have ‘ascended’ into that cess-pool of egos and power-grubbing (Power is to Washington, as Fame is to Los Angeles, as Money is to New York) and having retained one’s humility to work behind the scenes, one can not imagine that Senator Thomas had NOT been effective, whether we agreed with his politics or not.

“He really was a champion for the issues important to us in the West, particularly us in any natural resource industry. He was consistently there for us… This is a real loss for the state of Wyoming of someone who has championed our issues and had some seniority in the Senate. It will be an adjustment for our industry not having Craig Thomas back there for us.”

— Jim Magagna, executive vice president, Wyoming Stock Growers Association

Thomas came to Washington in the election to fill Dick Cheney’s House seat after George Bush the Elder tapped Cheney for his Secretary of Defense in 1989, after that vicious campaign against Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, featuring the “Willie Horton” ad, the “card carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union” (the GOP is ‘agin ’em), the pledge of Allegiance and other earth-shattering issues.

(Cheney had been a Washington GOP “carpetbagger” having been relocated BACK to Wyoming specifically to win the congressional seat and return to Washington, D.C. Wyoming, being the least populous state in the Union and, therefore, a cheap way to ensure two Republican Senators and one GOP congressperson — the latter of which is currently the reprehensible Barbara Cubin, who’s setting obscure records for absenteeism and general incompetence. You might call it hereinafter, the “Cheney Chair” for the Wyoming GOP.)

Mr. Thomas stepped into the senatorial shoes of returing Malcolm Wallop in 1994, becoming Wyoming’s first senator with any hair on the top of his head since the 1980s. (Both Alan Simpson and Malcolm Wallop were as bald and White as cue balls.)

His 2000 margin of victory, 74%, ranks as one of the greatest pluralities ever recorded in a Wyoming state election. He was, by all accounts, hugely popular, flying back to the state “nearly every weekend” for meetings, events, and the rest of the bread and butter politics that don’t generate much in the way of headlines.

The current Democratic* Governor of Wyoming, Dave Freudenthal, will appoint the replacement senator from three candidates chosen by the state GOP. This is, interestingly, exactly the same process by which Oregon counties replace (often) state representatives and senators, and works pretty amazingly. The meeting of the Wyoming state Republican ought to be a very interesting one, with TV cameras from as far away as Denver and even Billings, certainly from Casper and Cheyenne.

[*Democrats are elected in Wyoming as rarely as Bush family elections are run cleanly.]

You can read about it in the Casper Star-Tribune, or the Laramie Daily Boomerang (named, it turns out, after founder Bill Nye‘s favorite mule). Or the Cheyenne Tribune-Eagle, which will have the story from the Boomerang link.

And you will read about it in The Cody Enterprise*, Mr. Thomas’ hometown paper. Cody, by the by, was named for its most famous resident, “Buffalo Bill” Cody, whose main residence was in North Platte, Nebraska, but who spent most of the year on the road with his “Wild West” show. During his early years, Cody would spend half the year out West, as a frontiersman, scout, buffalo hunter, and half the year back East, “treading the boards” as an actor.

[*There’s no news about Thomas’ passing as of this writing. They may be fishing, and have not got back to update their webpage, however. 1:27 PM PDT 2:27 PM MDT]

The coming months will possibly show Washington insiders that the late Senator’s presence was more silently a pillar of community than had been previously known. It’s like an offensive lineman in American football: the only time the crowd learns your name is when you’ve screwed up, so there’s got to be SOME other compensation. The offensive linemen control the game. It’s really astonishing how many head coaches are former offensive linemen, those ‘quiet men.’

Senator Thomas might have been one of those quiet men. But, in a society in which ‘celebrity’ has become so important that it is much easier to get a book published if you have some celebrity than if you are a writer, Senator Thomas will not be much reported on, and we will never know.

And that’s important, I think. It’s a lot harder than you’d think to fill the news with mindless chatter than with information. Paris Hilton is in ‘special’ solitary confinement. Scooter Libby has been sentenced to prison for his role in stonewalling on the Valerie Plame outing by the White House.

The late senator was, additionally, that increasing rarity in American (and especially Western) politics: a local. Raised on a ranch near Cody, he graduated with a degree in agriculture from the University of Wyoming. Served four years in the Marines, and five years in the Wyoming state legislature. (No indication as to which was rougher.)

The AP reports:

Thomas was a low-key lawmaker who reliably represented the interests of his conservative state, often becoming involved in public lands issues. He worked in behind-the-scenes posts to oversee national parks.

Republican Mike Enzi, Wyoming’s other senator, gave an emotional speech on the Senate floor Tuesday morning, his voice cracking as he spoke of his friend.

“Craig died as he lived, with his spurs on, fighting for Wyoming until the very end,” Enzi said.

That last part is understandable hyperbole.

Courage.

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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.
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4 Responses to Wyoming Senator Craig Thomas, 74, Dead

  1. Kevin says:

    Harto,
    Wanted to thank you for your insightful discussion regarding the late Senator Thomas. Clearly we disagree on many things, but I respect the fact that you were able to go beyond the rhetoric to look at the person in your short blog. Gives me hope that people can still look past differences. Something I haven’t seen much of in life or today looking at Liberal Blogs with regards to Craig Thomas,
    Much appreciated,
    Kevin
    Lander, WY

  2. Kevin

    We pride ourselves at being a little different in the liberal spectrum of the blogosphere.

    It’s a very nice piece that Hart wrote.

  3. Another Marine guarding the streets of heaven. Semper Fi, Senator.

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