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Riding with the Rangers: 'Ceremonial,' recalling Bud Brimmer, and high percentage of bone

Oct 29, 2014 By Steven R. Peck

Cynthia Cloud dropped by The Ranger office not long ago. She's the Wyoming State Auditor. Cloud is running for re-election this year, and the outcome is in the bag. No one ran against her in the Republican primary, and no Democrat is running. She can start planning her inauguration speech right now.

She raised an issue with me over a question I asked during a televised candidate forum for Wyoming Secretary of State candidates in August. Recalling the contentious fight about Senate File 104, which tried to remove the Wyoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction from power as the head of the state education duties, I used the word "ceremonial" to describe the remaining duties left to the superintendent had the law been permitted to stand (the Wyoming Supreme Court threw it out, you'll recall).

Directing a question to Secretary of State hopefuls, I said something to the effect of "Given that similar changes also have rendered the state auditor's position largely ceremonial, are you worried that a similar action might be attempted for secretary of state?"

I was referring to the carefully planned, researched, debated and well-executed reorganization of the Wyoming State Auditor's responsibilities that created the current Wyoming Department of Audit. The state auditor doesn't have much of anything to do with it anymore. As Cynthia Cloud acknowledged in my office that August morning, "I really don't audit anything."

But she didn't agree with the word "ceremonial" in characterizing her duties. She felt it was a word that tended to trivialize her and her position. Auditor Cloud said all of this with a smile, by the way. She is a very cordial person, and we had an enjoyable conversation on several topics. I briefed her on some details of the position of the Wyoming Modelers Park in the pending sale of state land that now is part of the Wyoming Honor Farm.

That issue touched on one of her most-important jobs in Wyoming, and she's right -- it is not ceremonial. The auditor, along with the governor, the secretary of state, the state treasurer and the state superintendent, comprise the numerous executive boards of Wyoming government. One of those bodies, the State Board of Land Commissioners, will have a say in what happens to the Honor Farm land and, consequently, the Wyoming Modelers Park.

She is not serving as state auditor in those capacities, however. Her actual auditor responsibilities are described as follows in "The Duties of Wyoming Officials."

"As an elected official, the State Auditor travels extensively throughout the state meeting the public, answering questions about the function of the office, as well as board and commission decisions, and listening to Wyoming residents as they present their concerns. The Auditor also hosts groups in the office, and is available to visit with school classes as they visit the Capitol. Any Wyoming resident who wishes to visit with the Auditor is welcome to come into the office, or call for an open time in the Auditor's schedule."

If "ceremonial" doesn't fit, then I'll leave to readers to find the right word to describe those duties.

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I read the obituary of Bud Brimmer wistfully. He died last week at age 92, after a long career in Wyoming public service in which he became best known as an independent and somewhat cantankerous federal judge who made nationally significant rulings on snowmobiles, wolves and grizzly bears, among the many important cases he heard.

What many don't remember is that Brimmer also was part of the greatest primary election battle in the history of Wyoming gubernatorial elections. If you think Mead-Meyer-Micheli was a donnybrook in 2010 -- and it was -- then you would have loved the 1974 primary featuring four candidates who practically finished in a dead heat.

One of them was Bud Brimmer. Another was my uncle, the late Roy Peck, who founded our family newspaper business in 1949 with by father, the late Bob Peck.

Roy had run for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1966, losing a photo-finish primary race to the aging incumbent William Henry Harrison, who himself would be defeated two years later in his own primary by John Wold ("I softened up Harrison for Wold," Roy used to say, only half-joking). Then he served several years under Gov. Stan Hathaway as director of the Wyoming Department of Natural Resources, which later was renamed the Department of Economic Planning and Development.

The two other candidates were State Sen. Dick Jones of Cody and a younger legislator, State. Sen. Malcolm Wallop of Story.

Peck and Brimmer were the two best-known candidates statewide. As if it were yesterday instead of 40 years ago, I can picture my father sitting at our kitchen table breaking down the primary for my brother Chris, who recently had graduated from college at Stanford.

"It's a two-man race -- Brimmer and Peck," said my dad, who sweated every detail with Roy that summer. "Jones is going to be out of it, and Wallop's going to finish last."

Instead, it was a four-man race. Far from being out of it, Jones won. Wallop trailed by only half a percentage point (and two years later would be elected to the first of his three terms as U.S. Senator).

Roy Peck was third, less than a thousand votes behind. Brimmer trailed by another 300.

The final percentages, first through fourth, were 26, 25, 24, 23.

That's close, you might say.

Jones then had the misfortune of running against Ed Herschler in the general election 40 years ago next week, and Gov. Ed Herschler went on to serve three terms, something that never happened before or since.

I was a junior in high school that year, but I became acquainted with Bud Brimmer later in life and liked him very much. He sought me out following my dad's funeral at the Wyoming Capitol in Cheyenne in 2007 and was gracious to my son, Robert, to whom I told the quick details of the great primary of 1974 as the then-85-year-old judge beamed.

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Errors in the newspaper come in different categories. Most are those of carelessness brought on by never-ending deadline pressure and the hurry to fill all those empty pages. I dare say we've never published an edition without a typographical error.

There also are the mistakes that can't be explained by any word better than bone-headed. That's what I did a few days ago when I inserted a detail into reporter Eric Blom's story about a criminal case, confusing this case, in which the murder weapon was a knife, with another current one in which the murder weapon was a hammer.

The story had Eric's name on it, but the mistake was mine. I offer no excuse, because there isn't one.

Then there are those mistakes of a past generation that are perpetuated in blissful ignorance. A caption in our 4-H centennial edition Sunday re-used a picture and caption that first had been in The Ranger in 1954. The caption had a mistake in it 60 years ago, and it had the same mistake in 2014. A reader pointed it out. I wonder if the same reader notified us 60 years ago?

We wish there were no mistakes, but we have learned that they are inevitable. That's one of the realities of newspaper life learned the hard way while Riding with the Rangers.

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