Richard B. Cheney photo

The Vice President's Remarks at the 2006 Wyoming Legislature Budget Session

February 17, 2006

Wyoming State Capitol Building

Cheyenne, Wyoming

11:15 A.M. MST

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much, Mr. President. I want to thank you for the kind words. Governor Freudenthal, members of the House and Senate, constitutional officers, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen: I want to thank you for that welcome home. It's a wonderful experience to be greeted with such warmth by the leaders of our great state. That's especially true when you've had a very long week. Thankfully Harry Whittington is on the mend and doing very well. (Applause.)

I see many friends in the chamber this morning, along with some newer members of the House and Senate that I haven't yet had the chance to meet. It's a pleasure to be in your company today, and to all the Wyoming Legislature I bring good wishes from our President, George W. Bush. (Applause.)

And Lynne and I are pleased to have the university as the recipient of a gift from the trust we set up in 2001, just before I became Vice President. The University of Wyoming has played a very important role in our lives. It provided me with a first class education at a price I could afford, thanks to the generous support of the university by the people of Wyoming and the Wyoming State Legislature.

The first years of our marriage were spent at Laramie in student housing, while Lynne taught in the English Department and I was a graduate student. And this was our way of saying thank you, and of making certain that future generations have the same opportunities that we've enjoyed.

It's always a pleasure to visit Cheyenne, to be in the historic capitol building. The Capitol is, of course, the city's prime landmark. But there's another very prominent building downtown -- the old Union Pacific Railroad Depot -- and it has been part of the skyline since the 19th Century, and we're delighted that the Secretary of the Interior this week designated the Depot as a National Historic Landmark.

It's been four years since I last visited the State Capitol -- and more than four decades since the first time I stepped foot into this chamber, back in 1965. Walter Phelan was in the speaker's chair. Now Randall Luthi is in the speaker's chair. He was my intern in 1982. (Laughter and applause.) Andy McMaster was president of the Senate, Cliff Hansen was our governor; and I was getting my first taste of politics as a legislative intern. I remember it as an important and a demanding job. You had to know every legislator, be there when they needed you, and remember how they wanted their coffee. (Laughter.)

It was a very different time. In those days there was no legislative staff to speak of, one attorney, as I recall, who served both chambers, and a few secretaries; and two interns, one for each chamber. I was the Senate intern and also a first-year graduate student at the University of Wyoming. In addition, I was a newlywed -- so you can bet I drove home to Laramie every night. (Laughter.)

Those 40 days in 1965 constituted the entire session of the Wyoming 38th Legislature, and for me the experience was one of life's turning points. Not only did it teach me a great deal about the legislative process, but it also sparked a fascination with the business of government that stayed with me for a lifetime. And while you can learn a lot in any legislative setting, I'm glad to have worked right here. Because we're a state with a small population, and because we're a Western state, we've held close to the ideal of the citizen legislator. And so I witnessed the common sense, the public-mindedness, and the spirit of good will that come when you bring together a group of men and women who have careers of their own, spend virtually all their time among their constituents, and live close to the land.

As a citizen I've always appreciated all the advantages of our state -- our tremendous resource base; the independence and decency of our people; and the duty we feel to be good stewards of the land and the life around us. And thanks to many far-sighted decisions over the years -- from water development, to good schools, to a climate that favors free enterprise, to the mineral trust fund, our state has been governed very well. And Wyoming is on course to a very bright future.

Another quality I observed in this legislature and still appreciate is the spirit of bipartisanship. That's not to say that I didn't see any disagreements. This is a political business we're in, and that means people take sides and argue. But you get things done by making the best case you can for your point of view, by keeping personalities out of it, and trying to persuade others to come around. Party politics has its place, but it's severely overdone in Washington, D.C. these days. Out there we could learn a thing or two from the tone and spirit of the Wyoming State Legislature. (Applause.)

I'm also proud of how we campaign here. This is a two-party state. The voters put a high value on authenticity, plain speaking, and civility. Party label in Wyoming brings no guarantees -- as evidenced by the fact that only two Republicans have been elected governor in the last four decades. Not that we didn't try. (Laughter.) Al Simpson and I were always laboring to elect Republican governors, and over the years we recruited some fine people to run -- among them Pete Simpson, John Ostlund, and Warren Morton. Somehow it just never panned out.

In fact, when I worked here Democrats had the House majority -- and I'll never forget the day they brought in the sitting Vice President of the United States, Hubert H. Humphrey, who came and spoke to us from this very rostrum. It's been my privilege to work with a number of Democratic Governors over the years on Wyoming issues, including Ed Herschler, Mike Sullivan, and Dave Freudenthal. Another leading Democrat I remember and respected is Gale McGee, who came from his academic background and won three elections to the United States Senate. And, of course, my predecessor in the House, also a Democrat, Teno Roncalio -- a fine guy and tremendously popular across Wyoming. During my first term in the House, Teno showed up at one of my public events, where he stood up and declared for all to hear that I was doing a terrific job in Congress. It made me feel so good I took the rest of the day off. (Laughter.)

On the Republican side, every time I visit this capitol my thoughts turn to Stan Hathaway, and the man who actually arranged for me to work here. Stan was the state party chair at the time, and he took care of the financial end -- setting me up with a stipend of $300 for 40 days work. That worked out to less than a dollar an hour, which may seem like a bargain, but it's probably all I was worth. (Laughter.)

But I've always been grateful to Stan Hathaway for his early confidence in me, because it led directly to my next several jobs in politics. And within a few years of working under this capitol dome I had the privilege of working in the White House. Stan and I kept in touch over the decades, until he passed away last October. He was a great man. And to the end of his days I counted on his continued friendship and wise counsel.

I remember one conversation with Stan that I had after I came back to Wyoming in the late '70s, after I'd been working in Washington for a while. We sat down one day here in Cheyenne to talk serious politics. He asked me what I was thinking about doing. I told him I was thinking about running for office. He said which office. I said, well, Senator Cliff Hansen is retiring, and I thought I might try for the Senate. Stan listened, nodded, and then, in that direct way of his, he said, there's only one problem. He said, Dick, if you run for the Senate, Al Simpson is going to kick your fanny. (Laughter.) And he didn't say fanny. (Laughter.)

Stan wasn't known for idle words, so I took his advice to heart and ran instead for the U.S. House of Representatives. Sure enough, Al Simpson did run for the Senate, sure enough, somebody else got their fanny kicked. (Laughter.) So Al and I both arrived in Washington as freshman legislators after the 1978 election. We served together for 10 years, and have shared many fine experiences -- whether at home, or in D.C., or campaigning all across the country. Because we represented a state with a small population and knew so many of our constituents personally, both Al and I liked to occasionally answer the telephones in our offices. One day Senator Simpson picked up the phone and the voice on the other end said, "Where is that skinny so-and-so?" And Al replied, "Speaking." (Laughter.)

In all his years as a U.S. senator, Al was the same person -- taking his job seriously, but always keeping his humility. As Al himself has observed, "Those who travel the high road of humility in Washington are not bothered by heavy traffic." (Laughter.) Al and his brother Pete come from one of the great Wyoming families -- and we all remember their dad and mom, Governor Milward Simpson and Lorna. Al is a statesman, one of the truly great sons of Wyoming, and I'm proud to count him as a colleague and a friend.

I'm also proud to have served with our longtime senior senator, Malcolm Wallop, a rancher and a patriot who served in the legislature before going to Washington. And now, with Congresswoman Barbara Cubin and Senators Craig Thomas and Mike Enzi, we continue to have a delegation we can be very proud of. (Applause.)

Another legendary representative of our state in the nation's capital was, of course, Cliff Hansen. Out in Washington, power is usually measured in terms of title and seniority. But every so often, somebody comes along who immediately commands a certain kind of authority and respect. It isn't accorded on the basis of tenure, or notoriety, or the size of their state. It's accorded on the basis of good judgment, integrity, reliability, and character. And from the day he arrived in Washington until the day he left 12 years later, Cliff Hansen had that kind of authority, had that kind of respect.

Cliff retired from politics some years ago, but he's still going strong up in Jackson, and later this year he'll mark his 94th birthday. He's well remembered still in the nation's capital for his integrity and his independence, his good humor, and his complete devotion to the causes of those people who elected him.

Cliff showed that devotion in every situation, and I recall one in particular from the time I was serving as White House Chief of Staff for Jerry Ford. The President and I were upstairs in the family quarters in the White House one night, going over legislation. The President reviewed a number of bills that were pending before him that had passed the Congress. He paused over one in particular that involved a number of amendments to the Mineral Leasing Act. For various reasons, he didn't like this particular bill, although it had an amendment on it that had been added by Cliff Hansen -- that Cliff cared very much about. The President decided he was going to have to veto the bill anyway, so he asked me to get Cliff on the phone so that he could tell him personally that he was about to veto this bill that had an important Hansen amendment on it.

So I contacted the Senator on the phone, passed the phone to the President. The President explained he was going to have to veto the bill, and then he listened for a minute, and then he laughed and hung up. And I asked him what the Senator had said. He said, well, I told him I was going to have to veto his bill. And he said, that's okay. I understand, Mr. President. He said, I'm going to have to override your veto. (Laughter.)

Well, as President Ford knew, the Senator from Wyoming was not given to exaggeration. As promised, the President delivered the veto. As promised, Cliff delivered the override. (Laughter and applause.)

In those days with President Ford I was still pretty young -- at 34, I believe the youngest person to be chief of staff. In Gerald Ford I had yet another fine role model, and I still look up to the man for his steadiness, for his kindness, and complete lack of pretense, for the way he conducted himself during one of the most serious constitutional crises in the nation's history. It was too brief an experience, since we ended up losing the 1976 election -- and I thereby became the youngest former chief of staff. (Applause.)

In all the time since then, I've been fortunate to see the greatness of America from many vantage points. As Wyoming's congressman, I saw it in the debates of our democracy, and in the sense of fairness and respect that makes those debates possible. As Secretary of Defense, I saw the greatness of America in the character of the men and women in uniform who protect our nation. And in my current office, I see the strength of the American people in a time of testing, and the resolve of the President who leads us today.

Working with President Bush is an experience I've appreciated, but that I had not anticipated. As most of you know, when I left the Pentagon in 1993 I believed it was the end of my career in public service. Things began to change when then-Governor Bush asked me to help him find him a running mate. I ended up joining the ticket for the first election in the 21st Century, which turned out to be one of the truly historic contests. During the campaign the President said he had not picked me because he was worried about carrying Wyoming. (Laughter.) I've often had the chance since to remind him those three electoral votes came in mighty handy. (Applause.)

These five years have turned out to be a period of extraordinary consequence in the life of this nation. Challenges have come to us in legion, and we have seen the land we love come under direct attack. We've taken up the work of delivering justice to freedom's enemies, and liberating brutalized people, and serving the cause of liberty and peace in a troubled region of the world. There is still hard work ahead in the war on terror, because we're dealing with enemies who are intent on bringing great harm to any nation that opposes their aims. Their prime targets are the United States and the American people -- so we have a continuing responsibility to lead in this fight. And as the President said in the State of the Union, "We are in this fight to win -- and we are winning." (Applause.)

Ladies and gentlemen, it's a privilege to serve America as Vice President. But I can tell you that of the many privileges I've had as an elected official, that first one will always carry special significance. When you serve in the House of Representatives, you are recognized from the chair not by your name but according to your state. And for better than a decade, I proudly answered to the title of "the gentleman from Wyoming." And for that, I have a debt that I owe to the people of this state that is hard to square.

Another man who served as Vice President, Harry Truman, used to say, "I tried never to forget who I was and where I'd come from and where I would go back to." For my part, I've always found it easy to stick to my roots. I would not be where I am today were it not for the friendship and the confidence of people all across this state. It's always good to be home. And this morning, as an officeholder -- and, more than that, as a citizen of Wyoming -- I count it a high honor to be in such distinguished company, and I'm grateful for your very kind hospitality.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 11:34 A.M. MST

Richard B. Cheney, The Vice President's Remarks at the 2006 Wyoming Legislature Budget Session Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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