Bebout Misses Legislature; Still Champions Energy Issues

by Bill Sniffin

Sure, he misses it, but . . . 

That was how former legislator Eli Bebout described his feelings when watching the Legislature work from the sidelines during the current session.

Bebout is no ordinary observer.  He is the only person in Wyoming history to serve both as Speaker of the House (1999-2000) and President of the Senate (2017-2018). He spent a total of 28 years in the Wyoming Legislature.  

He says: “All of the time involved would never have happened without the support of my wife Lorraine and my extended family.  Particularly my Mother Dessie, brother Nick, sister Ruby, and Uncle Mike Svilar.”

When asked if he was calling legislators to give them advice, he said definitely no. Asking them questions yes. Tradition demands that he stay out of it.  And yet, he says he gets called often for an opinion and he gives it them.

A two-time survivor with esophageal and throat cancer, Bebout, 74, is thankful to be alive and in good health. He still hunts, fishes, and plays golf. 

Bebout, a Riverton resident, spent the last 50 years championing energy production in Wyoming.  He is very concerned about the direction the country is going under the administration of President Joe Biden. 

He is baffled about the trend of shutting down coal-fired plants power plants. “Coal plants offer the baseline for electricity,” he said. 

One of the primary causes for the recent power crisis in Texas, he said, was the removal of so many coal-fired power plants from the state’s power grid.

“Wyoming is in the same spot.  If we take these plants offline and then a crisis occurs, we could be like Texas,” he said. 

The operators of several coal-fired power plants in Wyoming, such as Rocky Mountain Power, plan to retire those plants in the next several years. Bebout wants to keep open and use the captured CO2 from them for other projects. 

Bebout lamented that in China they adding new coal-fired plants every month, yet here in America, they are being shut down. 

“Similar arguments apply to all fossil fuels for our state and country,” he said. “Why try to shut them down?  We need to have responsible development of all our minerals.”  

 Bebout said as a legislator, he never signed those absolute pledges, such as vows not to raise taxes, that tie a lawmaker’s hands when he or she is working on legislation. 

“I would vote for what made the most sense for my constituents and for Wyoming,” he said, calling himself a “big tent” Republican. “That seems right to me.”

Right now, he says one of the biggest issues facing the state is cutting expenses balance the state’s budget. 

“We need to have a responsible reduction to all expenses of government, including education, diversify the economy, and broaden the tax base,” he said.

The state faces difficult times when it can bring in a company that has 100 employees but that does not pay in any tax revenues to the state, Bebout said. 

“Yet we have to spend $18,000 each to educate their children,” he says. 

Bebout concluded: “The key is the quality of people in Wyoming who love our state. At the end of the day, you still love Wyoming. There are a lot of people like us who love our state. We have some differences, but we all want the best for the state.”

Hank Coe – Another giant presence being missed at the Wyoming Legislature during the 2021 session has been the absence of the late Hank Coe, long-time state senator from Cody.

Coe served 32 years in the legislature and was a driving force for tourism, education, and commercial air service. Before serving as state senator, he was a county commissioner for eight years in Park County. 

Hank was a good friend of thousands.  I knew him for over 25 years and he was always a true gentleman. He died of pancreatic cancer on Jan. 21 at the age of 74 while the senate was in session. The chamber did a silent prayer and took a break before resuming its business. 

One of the last efforts by the Legislature is to name a portion of Wyoming highway 120 in the Cody area, The Hank Coe Leadership Highway. A nice tribute.   Eli Bebout said of his long-time colleague Coe: “He loved Wyoming. He worked hard for his constituency. He worked hard for the state and was a great American. He was what everybody should try to be in terms of public service.”

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