"Rural America needs to recognize what rural America is." - Tara Nethercott

Tara Nethercott is a Wyoming state senator.

She was recently re-elected to serve another term, beginning in 2021.

She was born in Jackson, Wyoming where her family homesteaded in the 1880s and has since lived all across the state.

She was also named one of the state's Top 40 Lawyers Under 40.

Show Notes:

• What Tara Nethercott finds so intriguing about Wyoming
• Why Tara decided to pursue law
• The values people from Wyoming prioritize
• How COVID-19 has affected Wyoming
• How to talk to your neighbors
• How gender played a role in Tara's senate campaign
• The best Wyoming leadership class
• The story behind Nethercott Lane in Teton County, Wyoming

Emy diGrappa: 00:08 Welcome to First, But Last?, brought to you by the Wyoming Humanities. I am your host, Emy diGrappa. Wyoming is called the Equality State because we were the first to give women the right to vote. 150 years later, we wonder what Wyoming women think about the progress toward equality now. Let's find out. And thank you for listening.

Emy diGrappa: 00:34 Today we are giving a warm welcome to Wyoming State Senator Tara Nethercott. Welcome, Tara.

Tara Nethercott: 00:41 Good morning. Wonderful to see you.

Emy diGrappa: 00:43 Well, I've been reading about your bio and you have so many accomplishments, and I love that you were named as one of Wyoming's top 40 lawyers under 40. That's quite an accomplishment. Congratulations.

Tara Nethercott: 00:56 Well, thank you. Yes, Wyoming is a wonderful place to practice, and so I'm- I'm honored to be identified that way and- and serve my Wyoming constituents with the practice of law as well.

Emy diGrappa: 01:06 Yeah. So where- where did you grow up?

Tara Nethercott: 01:10 I grew up throughout Wyoming. So I was born in Jackson where my family homesteaded in the 1880s, and I maintained a close relationship with that community by living there in the summers growing up. And my grandparents and large external family were there as well. And I lived also in Pinedale, I lived in Lovell, and I lived primarily in Riverton during my teenage years. That's where I graduated high school.

Emy diGrappa: 01:37 Wow. What took you so much around the state? What did your dad do?

Tara Nethercott: 01:41 My father was in law enforcement; he was a police officer. And my mother, we were fortunate enough to have her stay with us at home until we moved to Riverton where she was able to work, which she wanted to do, go back to work. And she worked for the community college there for many, many years.

Emy diGrappa: 01:57 Well, that's exciting, and you really do know Wyoming because you've had the opportunity to live in, uh, a number of different places. And what do you find so intriguing about our state?

Tara Nethercott: 02:09 I think that our people are intriguing where we have this unique relationship to the land. I think the people reflect the land where we have a strong independence and survival nature. We're these pioneers. We're a little bit hard to get to know and get to grow, but once you do it is so rewarding. And I- I think that that is probably the most profound experience I ...

Tara Nethercott: 02:36 Until I started traveling outside of the state and doing some international travel did I really appreciate how special it was to be from Wyoming. Otherwise, it just was what I knew and my people, right? I mean, five generations, I certainly am a Wyomingite through and through. But what does that mean from the outside and- and how is that different from other places? And I do think that we're very special and very unique, and a lot of that does have to do with this land that we're so tied to.

Emy diGrappa: 03:01 And what was the reason you chose the career path to go into law? Was that an influence from your dad?

Tara Nethercott: 03:08 Somewhat. Probably not in a way that most would expect. So as a young child, my family was a wonderful nuclear family, and we- we were in Pinedale at the time. This is a story I don't share often. Uh, but life was just great. Mom was home, Dad went to work. I had two older brothers and, you know, pretty i- idyllic home life.

Tara Nethercott: 03:32 But then, and my dad was a police officer, through a result of an election that had very negative connotations around it, my dad lost his job as a result of the decision to disband his department. And in that moment and- and still to this day the, uh, Pinedale Police Department no longer exists and probably never will. So we immediately lost everything financially and with no recourse, so life was very difficult.

Tara Nethercott: 04:04 I understood what it was like to be without resources, being concerned about a next meal, being concerned about where we were going to live, in that kind of anxiety and having that result without having done anything wrong or anything to deserve that. So to me that was really a life-changing event as a young person, as a child. And I knew that I always wanted to be in a position to right those wrongs and to correct maybe those injustices that might occur because they have such significant impact.

Tara Nethercott: 04:39 That's another motivation as- as why I ran for office: understanding the importance of those decisions and behind every decision that I make is a family that is impacted as a result of any, you know, budgetary reduction that we need to do or program elimination. There are real families and real people who are impacted by those decisions and have lifelong results.

Emy diGrappa: 05:02 When you were running for the state senate, so you became a senator in 2016. Is that correct?

Tara Nethercott: 05:07 Yes.

Emy diGrappa: 05:08 Did you travel around the state and ask people what- what concerned them the most?

Tara Nethercott: 05:16 I did, and I traveled around my district as well, and really wanted to lean in and understand what their concerns were of the people. In truth, you know, most people are not prepared for that question, and s- (laughs) so those answers I'm not sure how accurate they always were.

Tara Nethercott: 05:34 But the constant theme, I would say, is a preservation of our Wyoming way of life and, of course, for each community member and family member, that might be different. But just this general appreciation and understanding of what we have here and how to change but preserve our culture and our Wyoming way of life that we value so greatly.

Emy diGrappa: 05:57 And I think that when- when you say asking people and them not being really prepared for that question because it is a big question. Like, "What concerns you most?" Is it ... You know, if you're talking to a mom, it's education, or if you're talking to someone who's older, it's Medicaid or Medicare or retirement or, you know ...

Emy diGrappa: 06:19 How are you doing right now, you know, currently? Not ... I mean, I'm sure it must be at a heart level, but also just in the, in- in the senate with all the budget cuts, and what does that make you feel?

Tara Nethercott: 06:36 It's- it's very, very difficult. You know, I feel a great amount of pressure concerning all of those decisions. You know, as mentioned, just understanding that there are real humans behind them, real people, right? Real children, um, and real families that will be impacted. But knowing that there's no other alternative and being frustrated by that lack of alternative, and looking back to my Wyomingites for how we together solve this through, you know, if we want to preserve the way of life, what compromises do we need to make in order to do that and having those- those questions.

Tara Nethercott: 07:13 And that doesn't necessarily mean taxes, which I think a lot of people turn to and is an appropriate conversation. But also, you know, what type of jobs and businesses do we want to create and support within our communities and are willing to do? Because that's for that economic diversification conversation. And so really driving down and looking at that independent pioneering spirit in us and- and re-evaluating and re-questioning how much we're applying that maybe in a business perspective for these, for these needs that we have.

Tara Nethercott: 07:43 We've got the grit and we've got the strength to do it. So how do we put our heads together in a meaningful way to ensure our Wyoming way of life without, you know, needing to tax our way out too heavily and recreate a- a situation that becomes untenable? And we end up losing what we value so greatly?

Emy diGrappa: 08:04 Well, and I think, you know, this is 2020 and we're living in this historic moment. And- and the pandemic, you know, all over the world and the United States, and- and how has it affected our Wyoming jobs, families? You know, even when you're looking at that budget already, you know, with the lack of mineral resources that have really hurt our economy, what has the pandemic done?

Tara Nethercott: 08:33 I believe that the pandemic, in addition to the national conversations, has created on both sides, all parties, to people generally a state of fear that is very concerning to me. You know, the communications that I receive on a regular basis maybe have a tone of anger or a tone of frustration, uh, or even a tone of sadness.

Tara Nethercott: 08:56 And when I look deeper into why perhaps that tone or context is there, I really believe it's really based in fear as a result of the psychology of being in a pandemic, uh, the instability that is created from our economic situation. And then the isolation of- of our lives, both naturally and inherently within our state and then further exacerbated by a pandemic, which we all seem to like most of the time. But realizing those quick results that could happen from isolation.

Tara Nethercott: 09:27 So I do believe Wyoming families are further harmed. I think perception is just as powerful as reality. So even if most of Wyoming has remained open, for example, Laramie County sales tax revenue is up, Cheyenne has weathered this storm remarkably well.

Tara Nethercott: 09:45 I think what we're also learning is that most communities also have turned out okay, despite some of those concerns. A lot of people have remained to shop locally. They're not traveling into other larger communities for their supplies, and that has in turn helped shape and- and strengthened their local economies.

Tara Nethercott: 10:03 Certainly some businesses have failed, and that's- that's unfortunate. And I do think what we'll see is new businesses grow and maybe remain stronger as a result of a need, of a new need that has been created. So I'm hopeful that Wyoming residents will move beyond the fear and look to their innovation.

Emy diGrappa: 10:23 And- and I was just thinking as you were talking because it hasn't just been the pandemic in this that's made this time so historic. I think people ... You know, it's all over the media. How do we talk to our neighbors? We're so politically divided. How do we come together and just have community conversations and- and help each other in spite of, you know, our political party?

Tara Nethercott: 10:48 Yeah. That's probably one of the primary questions that the legislature is having, that I'm having and struggle with. Certainly, topics of conflict are always a challenge and something Americans have always been faced with. But why does it maybe feel differently now? And is it actually different?

Tara Nethercott: 11:08 In other times in our history, and I- I am comforted and I frequently communicate to- to those that feel somewhat pessimistic about the situation that we have weathered far worse storms in our past and in our history and come out having learned a great deal and still things to learn. And- and sometimes we are recycling some of our past mistakes, but I think generally we're moving in a positive direction. And we have been in harder times.And so I do think that we'll move through it, and that gives me some level of comfort.

Tara Nethercott: 11:39 And how do we have those conversations right now with our neighbors? I think kind of taking back and learning from that history and taking in that wisdom, and know that maybe some of these micro issues that we're challenged with with our neighbors maybe aren't as important in the big picture as we think they may be. And to give some grace and to just get grace.

Tara Nethercott: 11:58 And similarly to what I have observed in the communications to me and my fellow legislators, I mean, I will share that there is a bit of wearing down of some of those elected officials because of there's so much maybe hate, negative communications being received, to understand the source. Like I said, that that's really coming from a place of fear.

Tara Nethercott: 12:18 And so when you understand that, do you maybe interpret the information differently and try to address the source of those fears in order to maybe get different response or to allow for a greater dialogue because no one is in a state of fear?

Emy diGrappa: 12:33 Well, it's interesting that you say that we've, you know, faced these harder times before, that we've been through tough times. And that's what, uh, I think is interesting about Wyoming, is it has gone through different boom and bust cycles, you know, where literally a town is just thriving and then the oil company picks up and leaves and all of a sudden it's a ghost town. I mean, they've gone through all those, you know ... They've had to redefine themselves all the time. Which, I agree with you. We have gone through those tough time.

Tara Nethercott: 13:08 And we absolutely have, and- and we come through just fine. (laughs) And we find ourselves meeting our neighbors down the road for whatever help and assistance we might need, whether it be digging out of the- the snowbank in ditch or, you know, a cup of sugar. Those needs will still remain and we will still help each other out despite maybe political differences or other differences around the response to the patem- pandemic and different emotional, really, decision and values that we've experienced here in Wyoming.

Emy diGrappa: 13:42 Well, and I- I do think sometimes we feel like we're not a part of the national conversation because we are a big state but a small population. And sometimes that feels, you know, awkward.

Tara Nethercott: 13:59 It does feel awkward. You know, my impression of that based on my experiences is I wish we would do that a little more right now. (laughs) Because some of the concerns and that I am hearing really are national concerns that are being projected here locally that- that really aren't realistic. Or really aren't, we're really not experiencing in Wyoming at the levels that other areas of the country are.

Tara Nethercott: 14:27 And some of the mismanagement of government or allegations associated with that are also being projected here really on un- unrealized fears. And that gets hard to manage at a local, at a local level or state level, of having to address mismanagement in other states and promise that it won't happen here and constantly just being in that cycle. As opposed to being able to stop, evaluate where we are and look up and look out to create a plan and a vision.

Emy diGrappa: 14:56 Well, I think what the other thing as I've talked to different people about this is we are a rural state full of rural communities. And a lot of what you see on national news has a lot to do with large populations in very large cities (laughs) that, you know, one of our towns is a suburb, right? (laughs)

Tara Nethercott: 15:21 Right.

Emy diGrappa: 15:21 It's a suburb.

Tara Nethercott: 15:21 Right.

Emy diGrappa: 15:21 Well, it's like I think we need a bigger voice for rural America. (laughs)

Tara Nethercott: 15:30 Yeah, and I also think rural America needs to recognize what- what rural America is. And that you're living here because you don't want to be dealing with those things, so don't bring those things to me. So remember who you are and don't lose your pragmatism, and- and look around and look out.

Tara Nethercott: 15:45 You know, and a specific topic or an example of that is, uh, elections, which certainly is- is a topic of the day, and voter fraud. And we, I serve on the Corporations Committee, which deals with elections processes in Wyoming, so I had a, having served on that committee for four years. And have a great relationship with our county clerks in each of our counties, 23 counties, right. who- who are responsible for administering our elections.

Tara Nethercott: 16:09 And all of them will tell you that issues of voter fraud are few and far between and they have no concern about the legitimacy of our elections. And, you know, the voter ID requirement, whether you think that that's good or bad, at some level it's somewhat humorous to me because a lot of the, that push is coming from very rural counties in Wyoming, Crook County being a prime example of that. I'm very specifically sharing this information.

Tara Nethercott: 16:35 Well, I am quite confident that the Laramie County clerk and her staff know every single person in Niobrara County (laughs) and that people are not coming up with false IDs and, you know, coming back to vote five or six times.

Tara Nethercott: 16:49 So at some level, some of those concerns which I- I'm hearing, and I understand the- the importance of security of our elections and want to continue having those conversations about how we can maintain and- and further enhance those securities, there is this unrealized or unrealistic fear coming out of some of these very small counties that just aren't occurring in their communities. And so it does seem a bit curious to me.

Emy diGrappa: 17:13 So that goes back to what you were saying earlier about the fear factor.

Tara Nethercott: 17:18 Right.

Emy diGrappa: 17:19 And the fear factor being that you start hearing all this voter fraud going on and then you start conjuring up, you know, how is this affecting me? And then it becomes this other thing that's not real.

Tara Nethercott: 17:35 Right. And so as a legislator, I am frustrated by this conversation all the time because I'm having to address or solve problems that don't exist, right? Solution seeking a problem in Wyoming. I certainly acknowledge that other states, like we do have challenges associated with voter fraud. But I'm a state legislator, and so I'm gonna look at what my state's concerns are and prioritize based on actual needs, not perceived threats and move- move forward accordingly. But unfortunately, those conversations get hijacked because of other states' [inaudible 00:18:07].

Emy diGrappa: 18:08 Yes, I agree. Well, Tara, before I forget, I've always wanted to ask you to tell me the story of Nethercott Lane in Teton County.

Tara Nethercott: 18:20 Yes. So Nethercott Lane is where, the area where my family homesteaded in the 1880s, part of Mormon pioneers coming up and settling the area. So part of my family clan are the Mays and the Budges and the Crandalls, who also settled near the same time. And so near Nethercott Lane is Mormon Row, consistent with those families settlers who came up, primarily from Utah, in the, in the early 1870s, 1880s.

Emy diGrappa: 18:50 Well, what were you saying about the old Wilson schoolhouse? Because now that you told me that I'm gonna go look and see your family on the wall.

Tara Nethercott: 18:58 So my father was a graduate of- of Wilson High School and attended Wilson and all of my uncles. There were six boys total who, you know, lived it up on the Wilson River bottom. And their photos are just throughout the wall on that Wilson schoolhouse, and you can see all of them playing in the snow and- and doing all kinds of antics. They really livened up the valley pretty effectively during (laughs) during those times. And those are the early years and pre the glorious days of Jackson-Wilson area, and those, that was the '50s and '60s.

Emy diGrappa: 19:29 And then when did your family leave the valley and move elsewhere?

Tara Nethercott: 19:34 Some of them are still there; most have left. As you know, living in Jackson can be really hard, not just financially. There's the, obviously the financial challenges, which are significant, but the weather is difficult, right? And so one reaches a certain age, it's certainly easier to move to warmer weather, and so most of them actually went back to Utah and- and continued to grow the family back in Utah.

Tara Nethercott: 19:57 So my oldest brother ... My brothers are in the military. My oldest still wants to come back to Jackson when he completes his career, and so he's constantly looking for opportunities there. But we still have some relatives that remain.

Emy diGrappa: 20:10 Wow. That's great. You are a true Wyoming girl, that's for sure.

Tara Nethercott: 20:15 (laughs)

Emy diGrappa: 20:16 Thank you so much. I'm glad you took the time to answer that question.

Tara Nethercott: 20:20 Absolutely. Yep.

Emy diGrappa: 20:25 The last thing I wanna talk to you about is the fact that we're celebrating. Uh, this is the year.

Tara Nethercott: 20:32 Yep.

Emy diGrappa: 20:32 Wyoming became the first state to give women the right to vote and that we're really proud of that. And- and I think that as you look out into Wyoming and as a woman and someone who is succeeding and a, and a state senator, what do you want to share with young women across the state that will help them believe in themselves?

Tara Nethercott: 20:57 You can do it. And you just have to believe in yourself to get it done. And if you want it, do it. But the roadblocks or perceived roadblocks that may be there are the only the ones in your mind. And so I- I would just ask for young women in our state to have it be a goal to be in positions of leadership, whether that be elected or not, in their communities and in our state. And that they can get it accomplished. They really can.

Tara Nethercott: 21:32 Wyoming history has told us despite the obsession over the numbers, that women in Wyoming can get elected, can be in positions of leadership and do it well and do it for extended periods of time. And that is our reality. It absolutely is our reality and what will be our future.

Emy diGrappa: 21:53 And when you running for your senate seat, was being a female an issue for you? Or did you not, that wasn't even a focus? What- what- what was that for you?

Tara Nethercott: 22:04 It was not a focus. It was something I- I researched ahead of time, concerned about that it might be. Looked at the data associated with women running for office and the, and the research indicates that voters want two things in a female candidate: competent and likable.

Tara Nethercott: 22:23 Male candidates generally can get away with just being competent or the appearance of competency, right? The projection of competency. And so a unique factor of needing to be likable as a woman, so certainly something that deserves additional research, study and thought to understand what that means.

Tara Nethercott: 22:40 But in my experience, I really did not come across challenges associated with my gender. In fact, I would say it was an advantage, particularly when it comes to the- the real campaigning of door-to-door and meeting people. That having a- a female approach your- your home or your property is a far less kind of confrontational or an anxious circumstance.

Tara Nethercott: 23:06 And so I think I was greeted with a little more kindness and- and not that, not that men are not. But I had very, very positive experiences going door-to-door, and I do think being a female was advantageous in that regard. And that- that level of friendliness, I think, was warmer and higher immediately.

Tara Nethercott: 23:24 And the only things that were specifically ra- related to gender was, you know, if I had children and what that meant. And there was an importance that I recognized across the state and in my county about that. And so I think that's an important conversation too for mothers or women without children to consider when they run for office and how that conversation plays in.

Emy diGrappa: 23:45 Right. Did it change your family dynamics in your home considerably when you started serving?

Tara Nethercott: 23:52 Not particularly. So I'm one of those elected women who doesn't have children, so the dogs see a lot less of me, but no, not for me it didn't. But I think for a lot of my colleagues with children, some of that did change, primarily as a result of just seeing our faces and names, you know, in the newspaper on a regular basis and the increase in social media conversations. And how do the people that care about you manage some of those- those interactions?

Emy diGrappa: 24:20 That's interesting. Well, Tara, it's been so great talking to you. And I wanna know because this is a Wyoming thing, what is the best Wyoming leadership class?

Tara Nethercott: 24:35 Leadership Wyoming Class of 2017. (laughs)

Emy diGrappa: 24:42 Okay. I'll just give you an S, but okay. (laughing)

Tara Nethercott: 24:48 I was going, "This is, this is a trick question.

Emy diGrappa: 24:50 I know, I know. (laughs) I just, I had to put that in there because it is such a thing around the state. Uh, right?

Tara Nethercott: 24:59 (laughs) Yes, it is.

Emy diGrappa: 24:59 It's like, "Oh, you're in Leadership Wyoming. Oh, which class were you in?"

Tara Nethercott: 25:03 That's right.

Emy diGrappa: 25:04 Course you always have to say your class is the best class.

Tara Nethercott: 25:07 It was the best class. Yes.

Emy diGrappa: 25:09 It was so fun.

Tara Nethercott: 25:11 It was a great time. I wish we could do it all again.

Emy diGrappa: 25:13 Me too. Me too. But it's been great seeing you and talking to you and spending this time with you. Thank you so much.

Tara Nethercott: 25:20 Thank you for the opportunity. I appreciate it.

Emy diGrappa: 25:25 Thank you for listening to First, But Last, brought to you by the Wyoming Humanities. Please join us again next week as we continue our conversations with women from around the state. You can also find us at thinkwy.org where we continue the conversation on our blog about the history, journey and the challenges of Wyoming's intrepid women living in the Equality State. And if you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to the show and leave us a review on iTunes. Thank you for listening.

"Behind every decision I make is a family." - Tara Nethercott

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