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Wyoming still loves Cheney

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Dick and Lynne Cheney sat down in my office one day late in 1988.

When I was editor of the Wyoming State Tribune in the states capital city of Cheyenne, lots of state politicians stopped by.

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There was the funny, wise-cracking Alan Simpson, one of the best-known U.S. senators of the time. And there was Malcolm Wallop, a senator few outside of Wyoming ever would know.

Cheney was different from other politicians. He was a stark contrast to Simpson, who years after he left the Senate, continued to be a popular outspoken guest on cable television news channels.

As a congressman, Dick Cheney was quiet. He did not call the Tribune seeking publicity for this or that bill he just introduced. He left such things for those who liked to see their name in print.

Cheney sat in the office that day and modestly answered questions. He did not try to dazzle an editor new to Wyoming; he stuck to the facts and barely said more. If I had not known, it would have been impossible to tell that Cheney was among the GOP House leaders; he was just an ordinary man, a quiet, ordinary man.

The Dick Cheney I knew in Wyoming may have been a different man from the one Americans know today as their vice president, but his quiet manner and reluctance to talk about himself remain intact.

He was Wyomings lone congressman from 1979 until he became defense secretary in 1989. He was prominent in Washington, D.C., where he rose to being the House minority whip his last year in office.

He was the youngest presidential chief of staff when he served Gerald Ford.

In Wyoming, we didnt have a good grasp on how well known he was. No Wyoming newspaper had a Washington reporter, so there were no eyes and ears in the nations capital to follow the congressional delegation. Cheney certainly did not promote himself.

Maybe Wyomingites were living in ignorant bliss, but at the time he served them, no one could touch Cheneys record or reputation. He easily won elections.

Most Wyoming folks would not take kindly to recent jokes about Cheney accidentally shooting a friend, like Jon Stewarts line from the Daily Show Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a man during a quail hunt ... making 78-year-old Harry Whittington the first person shot by a sitting veep since Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton, of course, (was) shot in a duel with Aaron Burr over issues of honor, integrity and political maneuvering. Whittington? Mistaken for a bird.

Back in Wyoming a few days after the infamous shooting, Cheney still was loved. The Wyoming House chamber was packed with folks wanting to hear him after braving 9-degree-below-zero temperatures to reach the Capitol.

Its a wonderful experience to be greeted with such warmth by the leaders of our great state, Cheney said after a standing ovation. Thats especially true when youve had a very long week.

Cheney recalled the old days, including his first political job as a legislative intern in 1965. He sprinkled in names of Wyoming Democrats and Republicans alike, much to the delight of his audience.

In general, Wyomingites dont accept talk of him being changed by spending so many years in Washington and behind a corporate executives desk.

Maybe Cheney always has been todays tough vice president, but he presented a softer image when home in Wyoming. Or maybe years of political and business life really have changed him. Regardless, people in Wyoming always will remember the gentle, quiet Dick Cheney they loved.

Davis is The Forums Capitol correspondent in St. Paul. He can be reached at ddavis@forumcomm.com

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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