Matt Micheli won’t run for reelection as chairman for the Wyoming Republican Party, he told WyoFile this week.
The party’s elections will be held on May 6 in Jackson. Wyoming Democrats will meet this Saturday in Sheridan.
Speaking Monday about his decision and the party’s future, Micheli warned Republicans not to grow complacent given their supermajority in the state Legislature and overwhelming control of state government. He said the upcoming gubernatorial election in 2018 could prove more challenging than many expect now.
Wyoming has not elected back-to-back Republican governors since 1967, 50 years ago, when Gov. Stan Hathaway succeeded Gov. Clifford Hansen. At the same time, Micheli noted, the election of Democrats to the governorship has tended in the last 50 years to align with a Republican president in the White House. The reverse also is true.
“It’s easier to get your grassroots motivated when the other party controls the White House, and then that can trickle all the way down,” Micheli said.
Much of the Republican’s success in recent state election cycles, he said, could be attributed to what he called “the bad impact of Obama’s policies in Wyoming.”
The supermajority in the Legislature comes with an added challenge in the upcoming election cycle, he said. “When you control 78 of the 90 seats that’s a lot of territory to defend,” he said.
Micheli said he signed up to chair the party wanting to run it through a presidential cycle. “There were things I could bring to the party and help the party during those two years,” he said. With his two years completed, he wants to dedicate more of his time to his job and family, he said. Micheli is an attorney with Holland & Hart in Cheyenne.
However, he plans to remain active in politics, and expects to be involved in the governor’s race, whether that means supporting candidates in the primary or strictly in the general election.
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Micheli’s father Ron Micheli was a state representative and former director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. The elder Micheli ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2010. Coming from a political family, Matt Micheli said he’s “literally been involved with Wyoming politics since [he] was one year old.”
One of his proudest accomplishments during his chairmanship is getting increased attention for the state from Republican presidential candidates, he said. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz attended the Wyoming Republican Party convention last April, as did a top surrogate for Ohio Gov. John Kasich — Idaho Gov. Butch Otter. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a Trump surrogate, cancelled at the last minute, which Micheli attributed to a scheduling conflict.
Wyoming’s GOP has an outsized delegate share nationally, compared to its size, Micheli said. The state party received 29 delegates in 2016. It was awarded extra delegates for its current dominance of state government, Micheli said, including holding the governor’s office and the Legislature. Micheli spent much of his time on the phone with various campaigns explaining this, he said, and lobbying them to visit Wyoming as a result. He believes the last election cycle gave the state party increased exposure nationally.
The Republican party’s large share of the Wyoming electorate means its members’ ideology, while generally conservative, ranges across a broad spectrum. They don’t always agree. During the recent legislative session, Gov. Matt Mead vetoed a bill allowing guns in public meetings that had been supported by most — but not all — Republicans in the House and Senate.
Micheli declined to discuss what challenges Mead’s veto might have created for party unity. He noted that protecting Second Amendment rights is a pillar of the party platform.
“We try to do the best we can to promote those ideals and support those,” he said. “But those (ideals) manifest themselves in different ways and that would be one of them.”
Overall, Micheli said, Republican lawmakers successfully worked together and relied on party principles during the last session.
Thus far, only one candidate, businessman Ryan Mullholland from Sheridan, has discussed running for chairman in May with him, Micheli said. The GOP has been completing its county elections across the state, and more names could soon surface.
New leadership for the Democratic party
For the Wyoming Democrats, five people threw their names in for state leader.
On April 8, party delegates elected to remove Joe Barbuto, a former member of the Wyoming Legislature from Sweetwater County, to replace Ana Cuprill as chair.
This story has been updated with the results of the Wyoming Democratic Party Central Committee elections. -Ed.