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Recapture is sign of changing times

REMEMBER THE SAYING be careful what you wish for?

Many of us during the recent cold May wished for warmer temperatures so that we could get outside and get started on summer — the camping, the summer sports, the gardening, the unwinding on the porch, the walking, the enjoyment of being outdoors.

We were thinking of temperatures in the 70s and 80s, the nice temperatures we’re used to experiencing in June.

Well, it certainly got warmer. The absurdity of it all is that while we were so anxious to be outdoors enjoying the warmer temperatures, we find ourselves seeking the indoors to get out of intense heat.

It’s also a reminder that it wasn’t all that long ago that for two years in a row, we didn’t have to turn on the sprinkling system until almost the Fourth of July.

What a difference a few years makes.

I HAVE BEEN THINKING of both “be careful what you wish for” and “what a difference a few years makes” for a month. It was then that the Campbell County School District announced that for the first time ever, it would no longer be a recapture district.

It was a shocking revelation.

That term, caught up in bureaucrat-ese as it is, likely isn’t familiar to a lot of people who think Wyoming’s education system simply exists. It actually is a product of a 40-year-old challenge by poor schools to capture some of the wealth they saw in school districts like Campbell County and share it with those more needier schools.

It didn’t help that Campbell County schools could boast of things like the Aquatic Center and Planetarium, and that new schools — albeit desperately needed new schools — were popping up everywhere.

What emerged over the years was a system in which a base expense was established to educate every student in Wyoming, and districts that collected more in taxes than it needed to pay those expenses sent the excess to the state as “recapture” money.

Since the 1983-84 school year, Campbell County has contributed almost $1 billion in recapture money — a fact school trustees began keeping a tally of and announcing to the world at large as they approved their budgets year after year.

It was both a reminder of this county’s role and a defense mechanism. For too long, residents of this fine county had to put up with derogatory comments and jealous sniping from people in other counties. It’s history as an ugly, sketchy boom community was a difficult one to overcome. And there were always people too willing to take aim at the community that built itself with sheer determination — and even while all the sniping occurred, new schools were being built in their communities.

It was a stunning change. For the first time in almost 40 years, Campbell County will be the one accepting money from the state — money “recaptured” elsewhere and handed out.

One way to look at it is that Campbell County has done its part in helping education in the state. It’s someone else’s turn.

But the economic reality is significant. Wouldn’t we love to be back when we could count on the coal industry to support us to the same degree, both locally and statewide?

It’s almost as though the community is mourning.

ANOTHER INDICATION of changing times … We were traveling along a busy street pulling a trailer partially full of 16-foot posts for a pole barn when we stopped for a stoplight.

A car pulled up next to us and rolled down his window and leaned over to yell out the window.

It was a little startling, because while at one time a friendly gesture, few people talk between car windows today. Windows are rolled up tight and cellphones rule the road.

But the older gentleman had something to communicate.

“You need an armed guard for that load on your trailer,” he shouted, waved and drove off.

He, too, remembers cheaper (and cooler) times.

How Trump can flip the Senate with one phone call

WASHINGTON — We are told that there are two types of Republicans today: those who accept that Donald Trump is the leader of the party and those who are in denial. Well, if Trump is really the head of the party, there is an easy way for him to demonstrate it — by making one simple, magnanimous phone call to Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and persuading him to flip the Senate to GOP control.

It is in Manchin’s interest to switch parties. He wants bipartisanship, but right now, he is under unrelenting pressure from Democrats to vote for their radical agenda. How many times has Manchin been asked if he is really, absolutely, 100 percent sure he would never vote to eliminate the filibuster? As a Republican, he would never be asked that question again. There would be no shock or outrage over his announcement that he will oppose the Democrats’ partisan election bill, because if Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., were majority leader, that bill would never make it to the Senate floor. The same goes for D.C. statehood, court-packing and other far-left priorities that progressives are pushing Manchin to support. Once he switches parties, all that pressure disappears.

As a Republican, Manchin would still be the swing vote in the Senate, but in a much stronger position to pursue bipartisanship. In return for switching parties, he could secure promises from McConnell to bring some of his key priorities to the Senate floor. With the left’s radical agenda off the table, he would be in a position to forge real compromise on issues he cares about, from infrastructure to energy. In contrast with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer’s iron-fisted control over his committee chairmen. McConnell gives Republican committee chairmen full authority to run their committees as they see fit. And Manchin could still cross the aisle and vote with Democrats whenever he chose to, just as Republicans such as Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) routinely do. He could remain a maverick, but a much more powerful one.

Manchin would also be more likely to win reelection as a Republican. Today, he is an anachronism — a Democrat in one of the reddest, most pro-Trump states in the union. In 2012, Manchin won by a comfortable 159,000 votes. In 2018, his margin was fewer than 20,000. This does not bode well for his prospects in 2024 as a Democrat. As a Republican, he could win in a landslide.

So, what keeps Manchin in the Democratic fold? Simple. As a Democrat, he is assured his party’s Senate nomination. But if he becomes a Republican, he could face a primary challenger angry over his votes to convict Trump in his impeachment trials. Trump has made clear his intention to exact vengeance on any senator who voted for his removal. So, if Manchin defects, he faces the real prospect that Trump could support his primary opponent and deny him the nomination.

This is where the former president comes in: Trump could alleviate that concern with a single phone call. He could tell Manchin that if he switches parties and hands Senate control to the GOP, all will be forgiven — Trump would oppose any primary challengers and campaign enthusiastically for Manchin. By contrast, if Manchin runs as a Democrat, Trump would campaign against him, which could prove decisive in a state Trump won in 2020 by a nearly 70-to-30 margin. Trump could ask Manchin: Do you really think “sleepy Joe Biden” is going to help you win in West Virginia? Wouldn’t you rather have me endorsing you and my MAGA movement pulling for you rather than against you?

This is something that only Trump can do. McConnell can offer Manchin Senate perks and policy concessions, but he has no sway with the MAGA voters in West Virginia. Only Trump can clear the field for Manchin and persuade his loyal base to vote for him.

Will Trump do this? The conventional wisdom says no — that Trump is more concerned with personal loyalty than the fate of his party. But Trump can be magnanimous when he wants to be. Moreover, persuading Manchin to switch parties would also be an enormous demonstration of power. With a simple phone call, Trump could throw Schumer out of the majority leader’s office and render House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., powerless. Wouldn’t that be far more satisfying than working to defeat Manchin in 2024? And with Manchin as a Republican, Democrats could no longer enact radical legislation reversing Trump’s legacy on taxes, immigration, trade and energy, among other areas.

In other words, it is in Trump’s interest to bury the hatchet with Manchin. All he has to do is pick up the phone.

No free lunch

Hardly a day goes by without at least someone — and usually a number of someones — leaving indignant and sometimes snarky comments on News Record social media posts about how our stories published online should be free to read.

While other readers often respond to defend the bulk of the News Record’s content being behind a paywall, a few are persistent in their belief that, for some reason, our business can maintain under a different model than any other.

For example, nobody would expect to walk into a bakery and take a box of doughnuts without paying. The bakery may at times give out free samples or honor a coupon, but by and large, it won’t stay in business long giving its product away free.

Gillette is a generous, welcoming community that has proven this of itself many times over. We rally for our neighbors in tough times. We’ve seen this throughout a prolonged energy downturn and especially over the past 15 months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the first state public health orders monkey-wrenched bars and restaurants, many of us went out of our way to order curbside or delivery service as much as possible to support those businesses during a tough time.

The newspaper also is a local business. In fact, it’s the oldest continuously operating business in Gillette. Founded in 1904, the News Record in some form has been reporting local news for 117 years.

Believe it or not, we put plenty in front of that paywall: daily COVID-19 updates, news flagged “breaking,” national news, Wyoming news, obituaries, classifieds, calendars are some of them. Other times when the content of the information is determined to be essential for public safety, we’ll also make that free to read.

That follows the national trend. Other publications simply put a counter on their free content; others have a firm pay wall with the belief that if you wanted that news in print, you’d have to plunk down a few quarters to pay for it.

The adage you get what you pay for is also true for news. An established news organization that charges for its work product can be counted on to produce stories that are more readable, more accurate and more trustworthy. It costs money to pay professional journalists, and at the News Record we have some of the best in Wyoming who bring close to a century of combined experience writing and editing newspapers.

The importance of an independent press to inform, hold governments accountable and record our stories for history is so vital our Founding Fathers protected it in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Truth is, there are about 36,000 fewer journalists writing for their local communities in the United States than when the pandemic began. And while some may joke that nobody would notice if the News Record were to join the 1,800 community newspapers that have disappeared since 2004, that’s exactly why a newspaper is a local business worth supporting.

If we weren’t here:

  • No one would notice whenever the Gillette City Council were to hold an improper executive session.
  • No one would read the dozens of long-form features telling the stories of local people.
  • No one would have a newsprint clipping of their loved ones’ obituaries.
  • No one could build scrapbooks for their kids and grandkids as their lives become public in the pages of their local newspaper.

An established local newspaper adds value to a community in so many ways, and that’s something other towns and cities are learning the hard way.

Thomas Jefferson famously said that if it were his decision that “we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter.”

Maybe that’s why people hold newspapers in a different light than they do other businesses. Wanting free news may not after all simply be a sign of entitlement or derision that what we produce isn’t worth paying for.

Legendary journalist and war correspondent Edward R. Morrow summed up that train of thought best when he said: “Most of us probably feel we couldn’t be free without newspapers, and that is the real reason we want newspapers to be free.”

Quote of the week

“It doesn’t take much, we’ve learned. This is pretty early into the season for us to be seeing this kind of activity.”

Kate Eischeid

The battalion chief for the Campbell County Fire Department commented on the high fire danger this week with high temperatures, low humidity and strong winds. The department has responded to numerous fires over the past week, including the nearly 300-acre Sweet Grass fire and two wildland fires off Highway 387 that burned about 750 acres.