Wyoming’s Capitol Building in Cheyenne. WyoFile reporter Gregory Nickerson says that given the field of candidates, there are 11 main races that may change the course of Wyoming policy. But, he adds, every race counts. (Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile — click to enlarge)
Wyoming’s Capitol Building in Cheyenne. WyoFile reporter Gregory Nickerson says that given the field of candidates, there are 11 main races that may change the course of Wyoming policy. But, he adds, every race counts. (Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

Eleven primary races that could change Wyoming politics

By Gregory Nickerson
— August 5, 2014

Over the course of this primary season I’ve spoken with dozens of candidates and political observers, trying to get a handle on Wyoming’s changing political landscape.

Gregory Nickerson

Those conversations are the basis for this short list of races where the outcome could cause a shift in Wyoming’s political landscape. The list is not intended to be exhaustive or conclusive, but it does point out a few races to watch during August 19 primary.

That doesn’t mean other races should be ignored. As one source told me, every race is important to the people who are in it. Voters should consider each race important, because it’s fairly common in this small state for a primary to be decided by a handful of votes, with policy consequences that last for two years at the minimum.

Races to watch in the legislature

Many Republicans across the state are watching the GOP primary between Anthony Bouchard and incumbent John Eklund in Cheyenne. Bouchard is a professional gun lobbyist who directs the Wyoming Gun Owner’s Association.

Rep. John Eklund (R-Torrington)

If Bouchard wins, the state legislature could see an even greater focus on gun issues. That has some moderate Republicans in the House nervous, because they expect Bouchard to be a hardline single-issue advocate on the House floor. One source told WyoFile that some Republicans regard Bouchard as so uncivil that they may consider doing away with caucus meetings if he wins the seat.

Rep. Allen Jaggi (R-Lyman) is in line to be chair of the House Travel, Wildlife and Recreation committee. Current chair Kathy Davison is stepping down, and Jaggi has several terms of accrued seniority. This matters because Jaggi has been perhaps the strongest voice against raising license fees for hunting and fishing — a major source of funding for the Wyoming Game & Fish Department.

If Jaggi is defeated by GOP primary challenger Dan Jay Covolo of Lyman, the newcomer says he’d be a voice for supporting the Game and Fish. Someone other than Jaggi would become House chair of the Travel Committee, which could potentially shift the debate over proposed license fee increases for the Game & Fish.

Several prominent Tea Party leaders are making a bid for legislative seats. If Bob Berry in Park County beats incumbent Rep. Sam Krone (R), and Carl Allred in Uinta County beats incumbent Sen. Paul Barnard (R), two of the strongest Tea Party figures in the state would give more voice to the political movement in the legislature. Bob Berry is a key figure in the Park County GOP and the Big Horn Basin Tea Party, while Allred has wielded influence in the state GOP organization.

Rep. Samuel Krone (R-Cody)

Charles Cloud, husband of State Auditor Cynthia Cloud, is running against Rep. David Northrup (R-Cody). Charles Cloud is running on his opposition to Senate File 104 and the recent hike on the gasoline tax — both are common planks for candidates running to the right of GOP incumbents.

Looking forward to the general election, two of the most socially-conservative voices in the House face challenges from Democrats. If Rep. Mark Baker (R-Rock Springs) loses to Democrat and former legislator Joe Barbuto in the general, and Rep. Gerald Gay (R-Casper) loses to one of his two Democrat challengers, two incumbents who believe marriage should only be between a man and a woman would no longer be heard in the legislature.

Another conservative voice on the marriage issue is already leaving the House: Rep. Lynn Hutchings (R-Cheyenne) is challenging incumbent Sen. Fred Emerich (R-Cheyenne).

Whatever happens, the outcome of these three races will affect the debate about marriage during the 2015 legislature.

Statewide offices

The Secretary of State race seems to be tipping toward Cheyenne real estate developer Ed Murray, who has run the most visible and presumably well-funded campaign thus far. Candidates Pete Illoway and Ed Buchanan are both former legislators who are well known in Cheyenne but neither they, nor Rock Springs lawyer Clark Stith, have been able to match Murray’s campaign organization, which has blanketed the state with signs.

Ed Murray signs candidate filing forms in the race for secretary of state, as his wife Caren Murray looks on. (Courtesy Ed Murray — click to enlarge)

Prior to announcing his candidacy, Murray wrote two strongly-worded letters to the Casper Star-Tribune criticizing Mead over Senate File 104 and other issues. Since announcing his run, Murray has pulled back from that anti-Mead stance. If Murray does win, it will be interesting to see how he works with Mead on the State Land And Investment Board — provided Mead gets reelected.

The Superintendent of Public Instruction race has implications for the review of statewide education standards and the promotion of early childhood education efforts. Candidates Jillian Balow (R) and Sheryl Lain (R) might be more vocal critics of the Common Core State Standards, but Bill Winney (R) and Mike Ceballos (D) would also seek to review the standards. Lain has expressed doubts about the need to improve early childhood education, while the other candidates are interested in this issue to varying degrees.

All four candidates in this race have significant administrative experience, though Winney has had the least direct participation with implementing Wyoming education policy. It’s possible Winney, Balow, and Ceballos would take a less oppositional stance to the legislature compared to Lain, who has spent the last four years working closely with Superintendent Cindy Hill.

Cindy Hill, Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction.

In the primary race for governor, incumbent Matt Mead (R) faces two candidates who are running to his right, even as he remains a staunch supporter of the energy industry and opponent of federal overreach.

If Taylor Haynes defeats Mead, he would bring an even more strident anti-federal stance to the office than Mead, along with outwardly religious views on social issues. Haynes says he would pursue ideas such as transfer of federal lands to the state and disrupting federal authority over environmental matters in Wyoming. At this point in the race, Haynes seems to have covered more of the state with campaign signs than fellow challenger Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill.

Hill is most well-known for her tenure at the Department of Education over the past four years, during which she opposed the legislature’s approach to school reforms and supported teacher education efforts. Her successful lawsuit against Senate File 104 solidified her image among her supporters as a champion for protecting “the vote of the people” and the constitutional authority of her office.

Hill has consistently opposed federalization and centralization, and would likely bring that approach to the governor’s seat. If she ultimately wins the governor’s seat, she would bring with her a strained relationship with certain legislators, some of whom accuse her of mismanaging finances and staff during her time as head of the Department of Education.

Whoever wins the GOP primary for governor faces Pete Gosar (D), who says he would work to innovate Wyoming’s fossil fuel industries to keep them competitive, while refocusing on efforts to diversify the economy. He’s also the only candidate to fully endorse Medicaid expansion and the implementation of the Next Generation Science standards.

Primary voting information:

Primary voters may register at the polls when they vote on August 19, provided they show proof of residence.

Absentee voting is already open. To get an absentee ballot, contact the election office in your local county courthouse.

If you don’t know what legislative district you live in, or what polling place to go to, that information can also be found on your county’s website.

— Gregory Nickerson is the government and policy reporter for WyoFile. He writes the Capitol Beat blog. Contact him at greg@wyofile.com or follow him on twitter @GregNickersonWY.

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Gregory Nickerson

Gregory Nickerson worked as government and policy reporter for WyoFile from 2012-2015. He studied history at the University of Wyoming. Follow Greg on Twitter at @GregNickersonWY and on www.facebook.com/GregoryNickersonWriter/

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3 Comments

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  1. Glad to see an outside perspective will be offered in the Secretary of State’s office. We need new leadership and fresh blood in our state government, and Murray has been positive and innovative in his campaign. I definitely agree that the race is tipping that way. Looking forward to seeing what he accomplishes as Secretary of State.

  2. Another key race might be between Democrat Joann Dayton and Republican Steve Watt in HD17. The Rock Springs area, historically a hotbed for Democrats lost two house seats in the last election. In personal conversations with Watt, I am not sure he knows where he is half of the time. Dayton is a hard worker, highly organized, and very familiar with the legislative process, having spent 6 years as a legislative aid. When a colleague and I went to Cheyenne last year to lobby in favor of Common Core, he said he had no idea anyone was in support of it, and said, “I’m not an expert on anything except getting shot.” Recently, I asked him about his choice to stand on the podium with Gerald Gay when Gay announced his plan to investigate the governor as a way to squeeze extra life out of the Hill Bill. Watt told me just because he stood up on a platform when someone was making a big announcement, that doesn’t mean he supports the idea. It also, apparently, mean he doesn’t support the idea. In my estimation, it is a show of solidarity, but who knows what that means in Steve Watt’s world.