Thoughts on Wyoming

For the last week, I’ve been in Jackson Hole, and in Salt Lake City a few days before that. Now that I’m leaving tomorrow, a few reflections:

a) The Mangy Moose in Teton Village no longer allows smoking. I’m not sure, but I believe that this was one of the signs of the apocalypse.

b) People in Wyoming spontaneously offer to help you dig out your car or push it out of snowbanks. This must be some sort of local norm.

c) The ski resort of Jackson Hole is significantly ritzier than the last time I was here, when there wasn’t a Four Seasons or a RockResort (run by the Vail company). One guy on a lift said he was worried that JH was soon going to be “Aspen Hole.” That said, there really aren’t many places in the country (if any) that combine the size, challenge, snow quality, and views of JH. As the same guy noted, “the folks in the furs can’t change the mountain.”

The really extreme guys will keep coming here because there just aren’t many other places where they can ski such ridiculous things in bounds. But it’s slightly sad that it’s not as funky as it once was. Another negative side effect of income inequality?

d) The reputation of Salt Lake City lags the reality. It’s still not Boston, NYC, San Fran, etc., but it’s incredibly easy to get around, seems to have a quite decent range of restaurants (we went to a quite good Korean place), and nowhere in town is more than 40 minutes from skiing as good as anywhere in the world, and because there are so many ski resorts given the size of the local population, crowds aren’t much of a problem. You can get in your car at 8 and be in Canyonlands NP by lunch, and the hiking in the Wasatch in the summer is supposed to be great. From my cursory look at real estate listings, property is still quite reasonable in SLC (you can buy a nice house in a nice neighborhood not far from downtown for $400,000). And access to the city by air is great, at least as long as Delta keeps a hub there.

Question: why hasn’t every company that wants to attract young people and families, and isn’t part of a network economy that requires them to be somewhere specific, moved there? Is there still a significant Mormon stigma? A perception that that SLC is still in Utah, and thus conservative? (The latter seems not to be the case–SLC has a pretty liberal Democratic mayor–this is also, for some, a sign of the apocalypse).

e) I dump on SUVs a LOT, but my experience driving up to Jackson, WY from SLC, and having to drive back, has given me second thoughts. An SUV is an idiotic thing to own if you’re just using it as a suburban assault vehicle, but if you live somewhere like Wyoming, where you just can’t move anywhere without 4WD and a minimum of a V6, they’re pretty hard to live without. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do more to raise the MPG of SUVs, or penalize them for being gas guzzlers, but we should recognize that doing so would have a quite significant economic effect on the non-wealthy in cold, rural states.

f) We get CSPAN here, and I’ve been watching the Alito hearings in the mornings. Perhaps it’s an obvious observation, but I’d find it hard to believe that Sam Alito has talked for more than 10% of the hearings. The rest is Senators talking.

The simplest explanation for this is that Senators are blowhards who want to score points with their re-election constituencies on national TV. Perhaps. But I think it’s also the case that Senators are doing this because it’s the ONLY time they get to really get in the face of future members of the SC, and they’re hoping that the experience makes them have second thoughts before they make particular decisions. This certainly seems to be Schumer’s strategy, and the reason why he keeps pointing out that everything Alito keeps saying to mollify worried liberals was said by Clarence Thomas. The strategy here seems to be that Allito will then say that he REALLY believes these things, and when he gets on the SC, will at least wish to avoid doing what he said he would not do in his confirmation hearings.

Does what happens in these hearings actually have such an effect? Who knows? The truth could be the opposite–at least for Thomas, his hearing experience seems to have made him, if anything, more determined to stick it to liberals. It may be that Alito’s hearings will have the same effect, but for a different reason. A great deal of modern SC jurisprudence depends on how much deference to give Congress, and especially how much respect to give to its deliberations (this is esp. true in commerce clause and federalism cases). If Alito comes out of this experience thinking that Senators are, on the whole, not the sharpest tools in the shed, he might be MORE willing to second-guess their decisions.

Who knows? I’m so far out of the loop I’m not even sure I can drive out of here tomorrow.

Author: Steven M. Teles

Steven Teles is a Visiting Fellow at the Yale Center for the Study of American Politics. He is the author of Whose Welfare? AFDC and Elite Politics (University Press of Kansas), and co-editor of Ethnicity, Social Mobility and Public Policy (Cambridge). He is currently completing a book on the evolution of the conservative legal movement, co-editing a book on conservatism and American Political Development, and beginning a project on integrating political analysis into policy analysis. He has also written journal articles and book chapters on international free market think tanks, normative issues in policy analysis, pensions and affirmative action policy in Britain, US-China policy and federalism. He has taught at Brandeis, Boston University, Holy Cross, and Hamilton colleges, and been a research fellow at Harvard, Princeton and the University of London.