Wyoming voters historically embrace incumbent governors: The last six to seek second terms won reelection. Gov. Mark Gordon intends to carry on that tradition. 

But Gordon, who is facing a crowded field of challengers, is emerging from a turbulent first term in which a global pandemic and fiscal crisis rocked the state and former President Donald Trump’s wing of the Republican party solidified control of the Wyoming GOP and dominated statewide civic discourse. 

His Republican challengers say Gordon has failed to rise to the occasion. Those naysayers include military veteran and political newcomer Brent Bien of Sheridan; perennial candidate Rex Rammell of Rock Springs and business owner James Quick of Douglas. 

Gordon’s 2018 victory triggered an uproar among party insiders who questioned his conservative bona fides and credited his victory to Democratic support and a split of the party’s right wing by other candidates. Several legislative attempts to prohibit crossover voting, and to instill a primary election runoff system followed. To some degree, however, Gordon has of late avoided much of the anti-RINO (Republican in name only) vitriol directed at Wyoming’s U.S. Representative Liz Cheney.

If Gordon is able to secure the nomination in August, he’ll face one of two Democratic challengers — Theresa Livingston of Worland or Rex Wilde of Cheyenne — in November for Wyoming’s highest state office. 

As head of Wyoming’s executive branch, the governor oversees dozens of agencies like the Departments of Health, Transportation, Corrections, Revenue, Tourism, State Parks, Family Services and Game and Fish — and their roughly 15,000 employees. He is commander-in-chief of the state’s national guard and is responsible for presenting a state budget to the Legislature. While the governor does not have the power to create law, he or she does have veto power, and the ability to direct state policy through executive orders and agency regulations. Additionally, it is up to the governor to appoint several state officers and the membership of numerous powerful boards and commissions. 

Along with the other top four state elected officials, the governor also sits on the State Board of Land Commissioners and State Loan and Investment Board. 

Here’s a look at the field of contenders. 

Brent Bien

A civil engineer and a retired marine colonel, Brent Bien has never run for office before. He chose to do so because he felt there was a “lack of leadership” in Wyoming. 

“I wasn’t happy at all with the way COVID was handled,” he said, adding that he would not have signed any public health orders — as Gordon did — in response to the pandemic. 

Gordon put a mask mandate in place in December 2020, long after many other governors had enacted similar mandates. In March 2021, he removed the requirement and lifted all restrictions on bars, restaurants, theaters and gyms and stressed “personal responsibility” to residents. The four-month period went too far, according to Bien. 

“We need to regain the trust of the citizenry, because right now the folks across the state don’t trust Cheyenne,” Bien said. 

Brent Bien, a Republican candidate in Wyoming’s 2022 gubernatorial race. (Courtesy photo)

Bien is also concerned about the state’s suicide rate, which is the highest in the country, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Its prevalence among younger people, according to Bien, stems from what happens in the classroom. 

“This is one reason why I want to get rid of CRT (critical race theory), DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) and social emotional learning, and any curricula that pits our kids against each other because of race,” Bien said. 

Though lawmakers have made several attempts to prohibit the teachings of such topics in Wyoming, none have reached the governor’s desk. 

Bien is in favor of expanding statewide resources for suicide prevention, but he also pointed back to the classroom. 

“​​I do think it’s a matter of building up our young people in a much more positive, much more pro-American atmosphere than what we have right now,” Bien said. 

Bien’s vision for Wyoming’s economic future begins with changing how the state budgets and spends its money. For Bien, that means adopting cash-based budgeting. Lawmakers attempted such a transition with a 2022 bill, but it failed in the Senate. Additionally, Bien supports moving state government to “a performance-based budgeting model,” where departments and agencies must meet certain goals to receive further funding.  

James Quick

The first thing oilfield business owner James Quick would do in office is remove the reservation system for camping in Wyoming state parks, he said.

“I want to go back to the first come, first served,” Quick said. To help out-of-state travelers plan their visit, Quick said he would keep some spots on the reservation system. But state parks are anticipating another big visitation year, and Quick said it’s not right for locals to have to compete with an online reservation system.

“Then I want to get to work on the coal-fired electric plants,” Quick said. “I really want to keep those open.”

Lawmakers recently adopted a bill to reduce severance tax on coal, amounting to an estimated annual state revenue loss of $10 million. 

Quick said he supports such measures to sustain fossil fuel extraction in the state, so long as they are applied across the board. 

“If they want to give tax breaks to one energy, they should do it to all of them,” Quick said. Like Bien, Quick is not in favor of the Natrium nuclear power project in Kemmerer. 

James Quick, a Republican candidate in Wyoming’s 2022 gubernatorial race. (Courtesy)

As governor, Quick said he would also prioritize recruiting and retaining state workers and would support pay increases. 

“When I was growing up [in Douglas], state jobs were coveted jobs,” he said. “People got those and they held onto them, and they had some pride in the work. We’ve lost that. We need to get back to that.”

Between 2010 and 2021, turnover rates at nearly half of Wyoming’s executive branch agencies doubled. An August 2021 state employee survey found that 39% of respondents worked second jobs to make ends meet, while 3% relied on some sort of public assistance, such as SNAP.

Gordon successfully lobbied the Legislature this spring for state worker pay raises. He also signed a law to boost salaries for the five statewide elected officials, which will take effect in 2023. The last increase for those positions was in 2002, but Quick said it was still inappropriate. 

“That’s not fair,” Quick said. 

Rex Rammell

Rammell, a veterinarian, has run for office unsuccessfully several times. He ran as a Constitutional candidate in Wyoming’s 2018 gubernatorial race, coming in third in the general election with about 3% of the vote. In 2020 he ran for the Wyoming Senate and was accused of lying about his residency to qualify for the Republican primary race.

Rammell’s platform largely rests on the state taking over the nearly 30 million acres of federal lands in Wyoming. 

“I will sign that executive order on day one, and I’ll order the state police to walk these [federal land managers] out of their offices, voluntarily or involuntarily, and Wyoming will take control,” Rammell said. 

While Rammell said he does not intend for it to be a hostile takeover — “I don’t believe that one shot would be fired” — his vision is “reminiscent of the Revolutionary War of 1776.”

This approach to the federal government is what sets him apart from the sitting governor, Rammell said. It would also solve “most of our problems, if not all of them,” according to Rammell, including the state’s fiscal troubles since he sees it as a way to divert money and jobs to the state.

Rex Rammell, a Republican candidate in Wyoming’s 2022 gubernatorial race. (Courtesy)

Like Gordon, Rammell opposes the BLM’s recent purchase of the Marton Ranch. Through a voluntary sale, the federal agency purchased the 35,670-acre ranch on the North Platte River in Natrona and Carbon counties. Shortly after, Gordon announced he would challenge the purchase on the grounds that state, local governments and public input were not properly solicited.

Rammell opposes it for the simple fact that he is against the federal government having any land holdings in Wyoming, he said. 

There’s another distinction Rammell makes between himself and Gordon. 

“I don’t believe in climate change,” Rammell said. “I just don’t believe that carbon dioxide is going to destroy the planet.”

Theresa Livingston

Democratic candidate Theresa Livingston retired from the Bureau of Land Management in 2016. She served nine years in the military before joining the BLM. In 2020, she ran against Sen. Edward Cooper (R-Ten Sleep) for Senate District 20, but lost with about 14% of the vote.

Livingston would make Medicaid expansion her No. 1 priority as governor. 

“I want everybody to have health coverage because a healthy Wyoming is going to be a great Wyoming,” she said. 

The issue has become more critical, Livingston said, as abortion is soon-to-be banned in Wyoming and two labor and delivery units have closed in the state within the past year. Livingston would be in favor of subsidizing hospitals for the cost of childbirth to keep the remaining birthing units open. 

Livingston is also worried about the mental health impacts of the abortion ban and “how many women are going to be driven to suicide because they can’t find a solution that they need,” she said. That’s one reason why Livingston would be in favor of expanding statewide resources for suicide prevention in Wyoming. 

Theresa Livingston, a Democratic candidate in Wyoming’s 2022 gubernatorial race. (Courtesy photo)

Her vision for Wyoming’s economic future involves moving beyond fossil fuels, and she said an income tax for higher incomes may become necessary. She’s also optimistic about Terrapower’s Natrium nuclear project in Kemmerer. She’d be in favor of applying Wyoming’s Industrial Siting Act to the project, which has been used to redirect or fast-track sales and use taxes to communities that need help managing an influx of workers for large industrial facilities. 

“I always believe whatever money you put into a community you usually end up getting out a whole bunch more [back],” she said. 

Livingston’s primary opponent, Rex Wilde, has run for office several times before, including the governor’s race in 2018. He came in fourth in the primary election. Wilde did not respond to several interview requests by WyoFile. 

Gov. Mark Gordon

Before becoming governor, Gordon owned and operated a ranch outside of Buffalo and served as state treasurer from 2012 to 2019. He is the only candidate in the race with experience in elected office. 

Wyoming has started the process of diversifying its economy, Gordon said, and he considers that an accomplishment of his first term. He’s seeking a second term to continue that process, he said. 

“Climate change is not going to be solved simply by saying we can’t generate coal fired electricity anymore. We know it takes more of an effort and that if we can build better technology that’s good for all of us,” Gordon said in reference to carbon sequestration, renewable energy and the nuclear project in Kemmerer. 

Gordon would also like to see the Wyoming Innovation Partnership through a second term, he said. With the use of ARPA funds, the partnership was created in 2021 at Gordon’s request to expand the state’s workforce and economy. 

“It’s just taking its initial steps right now. I think that will be a very key component to attracting new business and keeping businesses here,” Gordon said. 

In that same vein, he aims to continue the work of his Health Task Force with the Wyoming Department of Health, which has focused on improving emergency medical services.  

In response to criticisms he’s received for his pandemic response, Gordon stands by his decisions. Wyoming, he said, was one of the most open states while it “balanced lives and livelihoods.

“I hear this a lot as I go around [Wyoming], ‘you found the balance, you made it work,” he said. “And the way we dealt with it, I think was right for Wyoming.’”

Absentee voting for the primary election began July 1. Primary election day is Aug. 16. The general election is Tuesday Nov. 8.

Maggie Mullen reports on state government and politics. Before joining WyoFile in 2022, she spent five years at Wyoming Public Radio.

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  1. I would like to know how each of the candidates stands on the water being let out of flaming gorge to other states

  2. My experence with the current Governor is very negative. The Uinta Co Judge appointted by a Wyoming Democrat Gov. Rosenthal is a danger to gun ownes.
    Judge Greer is a radical Leftest anti-gun Judge. He is using a “Red Flag” to confiscate hundreds of firearms.
    Judge Greer Uinta Co Wyoming is attacking homes without warrants? Our weak Govenor has refused to stop this. Do we support “Red Flag” gun laws?

  3. I challenge anyone and everyone to watch 2000 Mules. they present the evidence, the surveillance videos, geo tracking, personal testimony as to election fraud in multiple states on a grand scale. It isn’t about Trump, it is about saving our country. Our vote is precious and the only tool we have to bring change. The average citizen does not have th deep pockets to battle or rebut every attack against their Constitutional freedoms. That is actually the role of the government and leaders that took a oath to defend it against all enemies foreign and domestic. WE have rinos activist judges, Pelosis, Swalwells, and a plethora of fake agents in our own state. The curtaiin was opened during covid and we got a reall look atthese petty tyrants on school boards and superintendents arresting kids, brow beating parents instead of upholding their constitutional rights. The individual in Wyoming has primacy over his health care not Mark gordon or Alexa Harrist or the school boards. We also have the rfirst amendment right to freedom of assembly and we weere locked out of churches and lost 6200 small businesses and their employees. We lost health care workers to other states because of mandates to take shots and wear masks. Mark Gordon engaged in picking winners and losers. he killed off the middle class owners but left big coproation businesses and booze shops open. Businesses took and signed a oath to obey our constitution to operate here and they broke that by interfering in the individual employees health care decisions. The state should have intervened and fined those corporations and restored those people to their jobs but the legislature and governor Gordon did nothing but extend the mask mandate and lock down three times. Governor you violated your oath and the Constitution. Colonel Brent Bien is exactly the candidate we need to protect our rights and fight back against government overreach and apathy at state and federal level. He has the calm and the courage in 28 plus years of proven leadership under stress. He surpasses every candidate in qualifications skill set and proven personal attributes.

  4. When I look at candidates I hold some to a higher standard than others and two of those running for high office that are failing my standards are the taxpayer funded, educated, employed and pensioned Colonels named Denton Knapp and Brent Bien. These so called “leaders” swore an oath to fight enemies both foreign and domestic, but are now questioning the election of Joe Biden as President.

    If these seditious conspiracy Colonels believe this lie, then they will stop at nothing once they get in office to justify any action they take. They should be embarrassed to run on this lie, but it may just reveal that America has put some of the worst people on a pedestal and that is no lie, see Donald Trump for any doubt.

    Getting paid by the taxpayer to spread out right lies is not something any self respecting American should abide and this dude does not as it appears the Officer Corp that includes LT Gen Mike Flynn, Denton Knapp and Brent Bien are not patriotic in any way, more despotic if I had to say.

    I did a little deep dive into Denton and I have to say my sympathies go out, but man why go this way?

    Alas I will miss sparing with T-Rex on the campaign trail, he was easy to goad because his ideas were always half baked.

    1. I guess you think anyone that questions the last election is an insurrectionist. Sorry but you are wrong. This country was built by people who questioned the actions of their leaders. Free speech and free thought are part of the country we know and love. Freedom comes from those people who question things.

      1. Totally agree on questioning everything, but after 60 lawsuits and the persistence of Trumps lies, one should question whether he is searching for the answer you and he want or whether the question is legitimate. Anybody questioning the election results at this point are not being legitimate, they are just trying to find people like you that will believe the impossible no matter what all of the election officials across all states said.

        So I stand by statement, that anyone questioning the election at this point is just plain lying and subverting our founding document called the Constitution. So supporting Hageman, Knapp, Bien and any other election denier is trying to subvert our Republic, it is just that simple.

        1. Greg Hunter,
          I know Brent Bien, served with him in the Marine Corps, and your characterization of him as a seditious, unpatriotic, liar is grossly unfounded. We need more people like Brent Bien running for office, regardless of party affiliation. Although you may not agree with him, that gives you no right to question his integrity or character. I know Brent as man who courageously flew numerous combat sorties, willing to put it all on the line for this great Nation, on countless occasions. If you have a point to make, do it respectfully and with facts, although that requires a bit of work. I looked you up…it appears you have been unsuccessful in your attempts to win a Congressional seat in WY. Personal attacks against one’s character is not a successful campaign strategy. Engaging with class is always the way to go.

          1. Thanks Mr. Euler. We respect and trust our USMC Officer. We need a strong voice in “Old Cheyenne”, Wyoming.

    2. Thanks for helping me off the fence and solidifying my vote for Bien. Those like you, who accept election results, without permitting a single court case to bring evidence of tampering and fraud, are part of the problem in my opinion. “Go along to get along” is yours and the RINO way, not Wyoming’s.

  5. We should expand programs in school to get the kids more involved after school hours and during the summer so they will not be wandering around doing nothing and we should consider a Tech High School to teach some type of work that they can take care of themselves for the future it’s not just teachers doctors and lawyers we also need technicians and we also need lots of Maintenance Engineers also

  6. Good objective summary of candidates and their views. Maggie continues her journalistic cred.