Foster Friess (Andrew Graham/WyoFile)

Jackson based GOP megadonor Foster Friess announced his candidacy for governor Friday following a wide-ranging and seemingly unscripted speech at the Wyoming Republican Party Convention.

In more than an hour of remarks to convention attendees and the press, Friess touched on topics ranging from arming Kurdish troops in Iraq to climate change to Republican messaging.

His remarks were short on gubernatorial platform planks but long on national conservative talking points and references to the right-wing stars Friess has rubbed shoulders with over the years.

While Friess has repeatedly emphasized the need for civility in politics, and called for people with opposing political views to seek discussion and common ground, his public remarks in Laramie on Friday hearkened to conservative rallying cries. He suggested former President Barack Obama was funneling taxpayer dollars to family in a nonexistent nation, falsely attributed gun-control ideology to the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, said the “left needs to develop a sense of humor,” and described the sexual revolution as “destructive.”

The chief asset he touted to Wyoming residents who might consider him for their next governor centered on his experience as an investor and a businessman. Friess offered to put his contact list at the state’s disposal to boost the economy by attracting new businesses.

“If I can use my contacts with all the companies I used to invest in while I was managing money and be able to entice some of them to come here, I think that is more important than what is happening on the government level,” Friess said.

Friess readily professed a lack of knowledge about current state policy discussions, such as the debate over education funding that dominated the last two sessions of the Wyoming Legislature. He also said he would have to study Gov. Matt Mead’s ENDOW initiative to diversify the economy before commenting on it. Friess intends to listen to voters and stakeholders and form ideas about those issues as he tours the state, he said.

Friess had sponsored a lunch at the event, and gave a 45-minute address while convention attendees ate. Friess had been advised it would be unfair to the other Republican candidates to use that platform to announce his gubernatorial run, he said, because other candidates had not been given the opportunity to sponsor a lunch. Nonetheless, following his discussion of national political issues, the Jackson Hole resident answered questions about a run for office. Friess said if he was elected governor he would only serve one term and ask voters to pick a charity to which he would dedicate his salary.

Friess then confirmed his candidacy after the lunch, when he spoke with reporters and a gaggle of convention attendees in the hallway.

Below are excerpts of Friess’ remarks.

On gun control and Republican messaging…

I was on a hunting trip with Wayne LaPierre [president of the NRA] and also sitting next to me was Taya Kyle, who as you know is the widow of the “American Sniper,” Chris Kyle, and we badgered [LaPierre] — stop using the term ‘defending the second amendment,’ stop using the term ‘the right to bear arms.’ That sounds like a debating topic you’d give at Yale or Harvard. Instead, change the terms to ‘preserving the right to protect our lives and the lives of our family.’ That resonates more with more people.”

“All those people advocating for gun control, if you look where they live, they live in very, very safe neighborhoods. If a gun-free zone for our children is such a good idea… our politicians in D.C. are very important too, so let’s create a gun-free zone in Washington D.C. so the guards don’t carry guns and see how well that flies. Maybe Steve Scalise could be one of the first interviewees. [a U.S. Representative from Louisiana and the House Majority Whip, Scalise was injured in June 2017 during a shooting at a congressional baseball game]

“Then they talk about more background checks. If anything happened in the [Parkland, Florida school shooting] it’s one thing became loud and clear — the Government does not have the ability to protect us.

“I was meeting with Kay James, the new head of the Heritage Foundation [a conservative think tank], and she said this term ‘first responder’ is inaccurate. If you’re a single mom sitting at home and you have two little babies, two little kids in there, and a criminal comes through the door, you’re the first responder.”

“And so we have to recognize that a lot of the opportunities that are being shoved down our throat are for a complete different reason. It isn’t to protect our children, it’s just that somebody, to gain power, has this technique about getting it done. Lenin said the way you take control of a society is you disabuse people of the notion of God, you take away their guns and you give them healthcare. That was the formula.”

Through an internet search, WyoFile was unable to find reference to a similar quote from the Russian revolutionary and Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin.

“Lenin simply did not speak like that or express those concepts,” Dr. Michael David-Fox, a Georgetown University professor focused on the Russian Revolution, wrote in an email. “I am very confident that this is an apocryphal American fabrication and that you could search the collected works of Lenin and never find it.”

David-Fox contested the idea that Lenin was a gun-control advocate. “Many Bolsheviks carried pistols into the 1930s,” he wrote. “Lenin died in 1924.”

A request for clarification sent to an email address for Friess’ campaign went unanswered Monday.

On banks fined following the 2008 financial crisis

Do you remember when the banks got fined this big, big amount of money? My friend Frank Keating [former Republican governor of Oklahoma] … He tried to encourage them to fight it because, you know, the market went wrong … but the point is there was a huge fine, where did that fine go? The fine went to La Raza, ACORN [progressive advocacy groups that received money under a Department of Justice policy that allowed companies found of wrongdoing to pay part of their settlement to groups that advocated for those affected. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ended the policy upon taking over the DOJ] and the worst one of all … to delinquent borrowers in Philadelphia, Chicago and Oakland.”

On Climate change

We [Republicans] think that climate change is a normal thing that has occurred over centuries. The ice age came all the way down to Florida and we’ve had droughts that are mentioned in the bible that last seven years.”

Friess also called the Paris Climate Accord, which President Trump has withdrawn from, misguided. When the United States agreed to the deal under former President Obama, the nation contributed $1 billion, and pledged $2 billion more, to the Green Climate Fund. The fund is intended to help developing countries adapt to climate change. Friess appeared to accuse Obama of corruption, saying he funneled U.S. taxpayer money to family overseas.  

President Obama put a billion dollars into the green fund. A billion dollars, he didn’t go through Congress he just sent it to them. Where’d that money go? … I have a hard time pronouncing the country … Zunauto? … Z… U, N, A, U, T, O? Some little country near the … I’ve never been there. They got $26 million out of that fund. Did they get windmill blades? Did they get solar panels? They got $26 million of really good data so they can plan for future climate change. And that’s where our money went. It probably only got to the President’s cousins or all the different people he knew in this little country.”  

The Green Climate Fund is currently valued at $9.16 billion, according to a 2017 report. It’s possible Friess was referring to Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific that is threatened by rising sea levels and changing weather patterns that could bring devastating storms to the archipelago. Vanuatu has received $26.6 million from the Green Climate Fund to develop climate resiliency, according to the report.

On President Donald Trump and prayer breakfasts in the White House

How do we build leadership in our state and in our country, and the Donald Trump phenomena I think has given us a terrific lesson. God has blessed me with an enormous amount of financial success and I think one of the reasons was because I evaluated people not so much on where they’ve been and their past or where they are today, but on what they can become. Everyone of us here are on a journey of improvement. We’re going to be better a week from now than we are today and you look at Donald Trump and think of the progress that he’s making as a human being and the ability to put his past behind him is something that we in our culture, that’s what our Christian culture is all about. You mess up today tomorrow is a new slate. We have to appropriate that and look at what [Trump] can become down the years.

At the prayer breakfast my table was next to [former Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson and King Abdullah [II] of Jordan. After it was over I said ‘you know I’ve said on the Cavuto show [Fox Business Channel] that if Donald Trump gets elected they’re going to have within a year bible studies at the White House,’ and Tillerson says ‘maybe between me and [Vice President Mike] Pence we can make that happen.’ And I’m told they now do have bible studies in the White House.”

Bible study groups have been meeting at the White House over the course of the Trump presidency, according to national media reports.

The groups are regularly attended by top cabinet members including Education Secretary Betsy Devos and Vice President Mike Pence. The pastor who leads the groups has been associated with comments condemning homosexuality and suggestions that women shouldn’t take leadership roles in either marriages or the church, most recently by an April 11 report in Newsweek.

On becoming the largest shareholder of conservative publication the Daily Caller

As you know I’m the largest shareholder of the Daily Caller which is kind of an interesting story how that happened. Jenny Mayfield, was assistant press secretary to Dick Cheney and she had a friend, Neil Patel, who was Tucker Carlson’s [a Fox news talk show host] college roommate, and he [Patel] was domestic advisor to Cheney for ten years. They come up to Jackson and I wanted to hear what they’re doing on this web-delivery of news so we’re sitting across the table and they’re mourning the fact that ‘we want to get this started but we’re dealing with this venture capital firm — they’ve got all kinds of rules, control issues, reports … it drives us crazy but next Tuesday we’re going to sign with them. We’ve got to get this started.’

So I said ‘what is your price?’ and it’s $3 million. So I’ve liked Tucker for a long time and Neal so I said ‘I’ll tell you what. Make that same exact document, cross out everything you don’t like, send it to me and I’ll give you three million bucks … and so that’s how I wound up owning 40 percent of Daily Caller.”

On his abandoned primary challenge to Sen. John Barrasso

I had no intention of running for Barrasso’s seat but I get a call from a guy who was [close] with Trump, and so he says ‘would you consider running?’ All the people that had asked me before to run for public office for the last 20 years were just angling to get an invite to my birthday party so I just totally ignored them. But this time this guy was a pretty, for real, serious guy so I’ll listen.”

Friess was then asked if it was former White House advisor Steve Bannon who had suggested he run for office.

Read a WyoFile feature on Friess’ pondering of a Senate run

It probably was. But basically Bannon and I are not on the same wavelength. In fact he wanted to take out all of the moderate republicans, so he went after [U.S. Senator for Nebraska] Deb Fisher and John Barrasso and one other person. But I wrote in an op-ed that I don’t think that’s a very smart strategy and we want to keep Fisher and Barrasso there and we should keep our effort and money to go to the 10 states where Trump won and are held by Democrat senators and take them out.”

On Contraception and the sexual revolution

“[NBC’s Andrea Mitchell] asked me some question about contraceptives,” Friess recalled on Friday after a Casper Star-Tribune reporter brought up a 2012 incident. Friess then repeated the “joke” that had led to a media firestorm when he first uttered it.

“I said ‘in my day the grandfathers told their teenage daughters to use an aspirin for birth control and put it between their knees.’” The retelling generated some laughs in the crowd. “I mean all hell broke loose,” Friess said of the reaction. “The left can not … first of all we have to help the left get a sense of humor.”

“I’m fully in favor of humor, and the more that we inject humor into our society and culture, the better we’re going to get along,” Friess said.

However, Friess said, there were more serious concerns caused by what he saw as a drifting away from the teachings of God and morality when it came to sex and childrearing in the United States.

“The sexual revolution that’s taken place has in many ways been destructive,” he said, referencing high numbers of single-parent households.

Wyoming gubernatorial candidate and GOP megadonor Foster Friess speaks to a crowd of reporters and GOP members at a convention in Laramie on April 20. (Andrew Graham)

Following that informal hallway press conference, Friess changed his leather cowboy blazer for a suit and tie to go on air with Fox Business about his candidacy.

“The nation craves a return to civility and when it comes to that Wyoming is what America could be,” he told the host, anchor Charles Payne.

“I’ve been to Wyoming on several occasions and I gotta tell you you’re right,” Payne said. “It’s a beautiful place and the people are wonderful, they’re friendly and they’re outgoing.”

With that, the Fox Business host moved on to other topics. “Are you still going to be able to donate in the midterms and are there some candidates you’re looking at?” Payne asked.

Friess mentioned two Florida politicians, state representative and gubernatorial candidate Ron Desantis and current governor Rick Scott, who is eyeing a U.S. Senate seat, as two candidates he was interested in. He then tried to steer the conversation back toward Wyoming tax incentives but his time on air was up.

Andrew Graham

Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from Laramie. He covers state government, energy and the economy. Reach him at 443-848-8756 or at andrew@wyofile.com, follow him @AndrewGraham88

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