Symbolic Wyoming bill follows code of the cowboy

CHEYENNE, Wyo. —Some members of the Wyoming Legislature want to instill "cowboy ethics" in state law, lest lawmakers and residents forget the state's Western roots.

The code would emphasize the importance of living with courage, keeping promises, finishing what you start, and saying more by talking less.

Based on the "Code of the West" outlined in a 2004 book called "Cowboy Ethics" by James Owen, a retired Wall Street investor from Texas, Senate File 51 passed the Wyoming Senate last week and on Monday received unanimous approval from the House Minerals Committee.

The bill is a symbolic gesture that carries no criminal penalties and is not meant to replace any civil codes.

Sponsor Sen. Jim Anderson, R-Glenrock, said Owen's book captured his interest, and he was inspired to introduce the bill after seeing the December premier of a related video project, "The Code of the West: Alive and Well in Wyoming."

"There's a work ethic in all things that we do, particularly in government," Anderson said.

A number of states have enacted ethics codes, but Wyoming's proposal has a unique flair, said Peggy Kerns, director of the Ethics Center at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"It's OK to put in statute these kinds of aspirational statements, and then of course, the proof comes in how it's played out," she said.

Brent Hathaway, dean of the University of Wyoming College of Business, keeps a copy of the cowboy code hanging above his desk.

"It's a nice way to remind the young people or the business people that come into my office to say this is how we believe we should act toward one another and what we should be," Hathaway said.