Until primary election night, when he won his party’s Wyoming secretary of state nomination, Rep. Chuck Gray (R-Casper) had a pretty dismal 2022. None of the five bills he sponsored in the budget session passed, including four that didn’t even come up for a vote.
The previous year hadn’t been so hot for Gray, either. In September 2021, when former President Donald Trump went shopping for a GOP congressional candidate to send Rep. Liz Cheney packing, he bypassed Gray and endorsed Cheyenne attorney Harriet Hageman.
Gray knows how to follow orders, and when Trump declared everyone else should get out of Hageman’s way, he dutifully dropped out of that primary.
Gray even tried to win Trump’s favor with two bills to change the name of State Highway 258 to the “President Donald J. Trump Highway.” Trump may well be the most popular politician in Wyoming, but both of those bills failed.
In May, opportunity knocked when Republican Secretary of State Ed Buchanan decided to not run for re-election. Gray announced his bid.
Gray leaned even harder into his Trump allegiance, making the former president’s lies about the 2020 election being stolen the centerpiece of his new campaign. The candidate called the election “clearly rigged” against Trump, with ballot drop boxes like those in Wyoming serving as the tool Democrats used for the theft.
Now, the idea that Wyoming voters can’t trust that their ballots will be fairly counted should have been a tough sell in a state where Trump trounced Joe Biden by 120,068 votes. If state Democrats are that inept at stuffing ballot boxes, they shouldn’t even be allowed to cross the street unassisted.
But Gray’s message that Wyoming’s elections are tainted by widespread voter fraud carried the day, and he defeated Sen. Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne), 50% to 41%.
Gray cast himself as an expert on voter fraud, because last year he went to Arizona to watch the Cyber Ninjas firm conduct a partisan “forensic audit” of Maricopa County’s presidential election. “I support the audit 100%. It’s an incredible, very important operation,” he tweeted.
Gray was briefed by Arizona Sen. Sonny Borrelli, who participated in the “Stop the Steal” effort that attempted to replace legitimate electors for Biden with a fake slate for Trump.
The audit, which took more than seven months as the ninjas hand-counted ballots, did find election errors. Their report concluded 360 more residents voted for Biden than previously reported.
Yet Gray contends Wyoming should automatically conduct the same type of audit statewide using paper ballots, even though only four state residents have been convicted of voter fraud since 2000. All four, by the way, were Republicans.
Gray sponsored free showings of Dinesh D’Souza’s film “2000 Mules” to justify his desire to ban ballot drop boxes in Wyoming. Gray said the documentary, widely debunked by Reuters and other news organizations, shows “how the woke, big-tech left has stolen elections with ballot drop boxes.”
In reality, only nine of 23 Wyoming counties used secure drop boxes in 2020 to allow voters to turn in their absentee ballots after governmental buildings closed for the day, or without entering the building.
Buchanan blasted Gray for showing the movie. “The implication is there is a connection between the movie and Wyoming, and you’re playing on fears of the voters that [are] patently false,” he said.
Fortunately, none of Gray’s proposed voter fraud remedies — banning drop boxes and automatic state-run paper ballot audits — can be implemented without legislative approval.
Former Republican Secretary of State Max Maxfield, who endorsed Nethercott, filed a federal complaint against Gray for allegedly violating campaign finance laws. Maxfield questioned how Gray managed to loan his congressional campaign $300,000 when he claimed to only earn $11,000 in 2021.
After calling the complaint “frivolous,” the work of “liberal insiders,” Gray eventually explained he inherited the $300,000 from his grandfather.
A WyoFile examination of his campaign finance filings revealed other inconsistencies.
For someone with demonstrated privilege, he sure goes after folks for being insiders. The first time I saw Gray was at a Casper Republican forum in 2016. He blasted his then primary opponent, Ray Pacheco, as a “political insider” because he had been elected to the Casper City Council. Gray made it sound like Pacheco’s best buddy is Barack Obama.
Gray easily won both the primary and general elections. He dismissed Jane Ifland, his Democratic opponent in 2018 and 2020, as a “socialist” and swept to two more victories.
In 2022, Gray went back to his original playbook when he appeared at a Casper Boys and Girls Club forum. “This campaign unfortunately has gotten pretty nasty because when someone stands for the truth against the insiders, they will do anything to maintain their power,” Gray charged.
I agree that the campaign turned nasty, and truth matters. That’s why what the “Committee to Elect Chuck Gray” did a few days before the primary was so egregious.
Unsolicited text messages were sent to many Wyomingites — including Nethercott! — that erroneously claimed she is “being sued for lying and slander,” investigated “for violating state campaign $$$ law,” and voting to “give herself a $30k taxpayer-funded raise.”
There is no lawsuit or investigation. Nethercott did vote to increase state officials’ pay, but that was months before Buchanan announced his position would be open.
I don’t know how much damage the phony texts did to Nethercott’s chances of winning. Her loss by nearly 13,000 votes can likely be attributed to her declaring the election wasn’t stolen from Trump and such baseless claims are “undermining our country.”
As expected, Trump endorsed Gray. What’s surprising is that Gray polled about 40,000 votes less than Hageman, even though he and other right-wing candidates tried to tie themselves to her coattails.
Hageman trounced Cheney, but Cheney’s post-election words ring true: “No American should support election deniers for any position of genuine responsibility, where their refusal to follow the rule of law will corrupt our future.”
Gray joins five Republican secretary of state nominees — in Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and New Mexico — who are election deniers. Unlike them, he’s the first who is virtually assured of victory in November, because no Democratic, Constitution or Libertarian party nominees will be on the ballot.
There are only two ways Gray could lose, and both are unlikely. The first requires an independent candidate to obtain 5,418 signatures of registered voters by Aug. 29, and then outpoll Gray. The other, mounting a successful write-in campaign, is even a bigger longshot.
It’s time to face the harsh reality that someone who has the gall to deny the legitimacy of Wyoming elections, without a shred of evidence, will be in charge of them.
To be fair, Gray isn’t the only one responsible for his radical election agenda. He’s a surrogate who took advantage of his politically expedient chance to deliver Trump’s lies to Wyoming. Just as culpable are voters who wholeheartedly bought them — hook, line and sinker.