GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK—Lynnette Grey Bull spent the last Thursday afternoon of August psyching up climate change activists who’d flocked to Jackson Lake Lodge to encourage the Federal Reserve to account for humankind’s warming of the planet as it examines domestic monetary policy. 

Grey Bull, the Democratic Party nominee for Wyoming’s sole U.S. House of Representative seat and an activist herself, told the 350.org protesters gathered that their willingness to travel and make their voices heard was critical. 

“It’s important that we gather, it’s important that we speak our voices, it’s important that we make our signs and make our shirts and come to these rallies and come to speak to these groups, because it’s important that we are stewards of Mother Earth,” Grey Bull told the 70 or so climate activists congregated outside the building where Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell would speak the next morning. 

“Without stewards of Mother Earth,” she told the protesters, “not only will the climate and our land and our water continue to be toxified and used for resources to make millionaires and billionaires more money, but our grandchildren, our children and the generations behind us will not have the land to live on.” 

Grey Bull, of Riverton, made those remarks on the eve of what she anticipates will be a two-month-long campaign-trail sprint around Wyoming. Her competition, the Republican Party’s U.S. House nominee, is Harriet Hageman, an attorney handpicked by Donald Trump to take on incumbent Rep. Liz Cheney. Hageman trounced Cheney in what many perceive as the real race determining who Wyoming will send to Congress. 

Grey Bull’s challenge of Hageman is certain to lack the international attention that Cheney-Hageman garnered, and there are slim odds that she’ll persuade enough Wyoming voters to make it a tight race, let alone win. Those are the political realities in a conservative state that hasn’t elected a Democratic representative to Congress since Rock Springs journalist-turned-attorney Teno Roncalio left office in 1978, nor a Democratic senator since history professor Gale McGee was voted out in 1976. 

Grey Bull’s own political history illustrates the difficulty of her task come the Nov. 8 general election. Cheney clobbered her in the 2020 general election for Wyoming’s U.S. House representative, beating her by a roughly 3-to-1 margin

Lynnette Grey Bull outside Jackson Lake Lodge in August 2022. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

Sitting down with WyoFile after the Federal Reserve protest, Grey Bull said this campaign and race will be different.

“Last time I ran was solely just to bring an Indigenous issue to the forefront of the media, which I accomplished,” Grey Bull said. “That was the mission.” 

A different campaign

That issue is spelled out in the name of the non-profit organization that Grey Bull founded and directs: Not Our Native Daughters, which focuses on educating the public about missing and murdered Indigenous females. As of 2016, there were more than 5,700 reports of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls, according to the National Crime Information Center. 

Grey Bull’s 2022 campaign, she said, is geared more toward making the race a real contest.

“I’m going to be in every county, and some counties more than once,” Grey Bull said. “I have a busy schedule for the next couple of months, and I look forward to that.” 

Grey Bull, a “divorced single mother of three beautiful children,” grew up in California and lived in Arizona in her early adult life, but is of Northern Arapaho and Lakota descent. She’s the first Native American woman to run for U.S. Congress in Wyoming’s 132-year history, according to Wyoming Humanities. Grey Bull said she’s a proud Democrat, but does not want her party affiliation to define her. 

“I’m passionate about green energy, I’m passionate about the middle class, I’m passionate about meeting people between the aisles,” she said. “I’m big on just advocating for people … Most people in the working class feel like their voices are never heard, both on a state and federal level. So I think it’s important that their voices are at the forefront of policy and policy change.” 

Grey Bull is not running an attack-style campaign against Hageman, she said. But she said that Donald Trump’s disproven claims that the 2020 election was stolen — which Hageman has parroted — are “dangerous for America” and she said she admired Cheney’s willingness to stand up against the former president and participate in the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. 

“I admire Cheney for what she did,” Grey Bull said. “It takes a lot of courage.” 

Hageman’s campaign spokesman, Tim Murtaugh, and campaign manager, Carly Miller, did not respond to WyoFile’s request for comment. 

Harriet Hageman meets a voter at a rally in Jackson. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

Riverton resident and retired attorney Chesie Lee, who worked alongside Grey Bull in the fight to conserve the Red Desert, said that her fellow Democrat, whom she voted for in the primary, has “broad knowledge about the issues,” is “personable” and has what it takes to appeal to Wyoming voters in small-group settings. She also was forthcoming about the long odds Grey Bull — and any Democrat — faces in a statewide race.

“It seems like there’s been a steady decline,” Lee said of the Wyoming Democratic Party. “I would be very shocked if Lynnette Grey Bull won. For Democrats to win, really we need to get back and rebuild the base.” 

‘Steady decline’

The last time the party put up a true fight for a congressional seat was 16 years ago, when Gary Trauner lost by half a percentage point to 12-year incumbent U.S. Rep. Barbara Cubin. Trauner tried to run for Congress two more times, but the outcomes kept tilting more toward the Republicans he was up against. Cynthia Lummis handily defeated Trauner by a 10-percentage-point margin for the same U.S. House seat in 2008, and incumbent U.S. Sen. John Barrasso topped Trauner’s vote total 67% to 30% a decade after that.

“I would be very shocked if Lynnette Grey Bull won. For Democrats to win, really we need to get back and rebuild the base.” 

Riverton resident and Grey Bull supporter Chesie Lee

Trauner’s perception is Wyoming’s move toward total Republican domination traces partly to the decline of labor unions that tended to be Democratic and also the state becoming “more beholden to legacy energy interests” that tend to align themselves with the GOP. 

“I know this sounds crazy, but as long as our state tax structure is the way that it is — I’m a follow-the-money guy — that generally means Republican support,” Trauner said. 

Trauner supports Grey Bull, he said. 

“But it’s tough to be a viable, legitimate candidate when you haven’t raised any money,” Trauner said. “I view campaigns as, I call it the three Ms: message, media and money … To the best of my knowledge, she’s missing the last two Ms right now.” 

As of July, the Grey Bull for Congress campaign had raised a little more than $11,000, according to its Federal Elections Commission’s filings. Hageman, meanwhile, has raised over $4.4 million

Wyoming Democratic Party chairman Joe Barbuto said the plan of attack with the party’s nominee, Grey Bull, is to support her through a “coordinated campaign.” The concept, he said, is that instead of supporting Democrats like Grey Bull individually, party members support them as a collective, sharing resources, training and even volunteers and staff.  

“The whole idea is that, when they’re all working together, rising tides raise all ships,” Barbuto said. “Most of the Democratic campaigns have joined the coordinated campaign, and that’s really exciting for us.” 

Barbuto said that the Wyoming Democratic Party “has a lot of work to do” to bring itself back to prominence after a 44-year losing streak in Congress. 

“It’s an uphill fight for any Democrat seeking statewide office in Wyoming, that’s pretty clear, but it’s not impossible by any means,” he said. “It wasn’t that long ago that you probably couldn’t get anyone to take a bet that Liz Cheney would become a pariah in her party and lose leadership posts and be successfully challenged from the right. But here we are in 2022 and everything that I said has just happened. So circumstances change, and they change quickly.” 

Grey Bull used the word “daunting” to describe what it would take to win over the balance of Wyoming voters. 

“However, all my life and all of my career I’ve always fought uphill,” Grey Bull said. “I don’t look at this race as, ‘Oh, we’re going to lose, this cannot be won.’ I don’t look at it like that. I don’t look at anything like that.”

Mike Koshmrl

Mike Koshmrl reports from Jackson on state politics and Wyoming's natural resources. Prior to joining WyoFile, he spent nearly a decade covering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild places and creatures...

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  1. If all of the Wyoming hunters, anglers and public land recreationists that enjoy public lands would vote Hagerman would get her butt handed to her.
    Something about Wyoming though, people love public lands but vote for people that want to privatize public lands, go figure.

  2. It’s my prediction that if the working people of Wyoming voted, our elections would have very different outcomes. If the Democrats want to win races, they need to reach the people they represent and get them out to vote.

    1. I agree that this is, in fact well said, but at some point voters need to learn to educate themselves. If you are working class like most everyone in this state, then it is imperative that you do your homework on who represents you and who doesn’t. It’s absolutely in your best interest. Obviously Hageman and Trump do not and never will represent the working class people of this state, but if the people who vote them in cannot discern this for themselves, then they are getting exactly what they voted for. If you truly believe the lies and BS from this faction of the GOP best represent you, well great. However, if you truly believe this, then I have some ocean front property that I’m happy to sell you on the cheap that’s only a half days drive from here.

    2. Hilarious! Grey Bull is in Jackson to cheer on all those climate activists who “traveled to Jackson” to show support. How did they get there? They drove.

      NOTE: The working people of Wyoming do vote, John. They are called Republicans.

      1. The people in Wyoming never do their research. They go to the polls and vote right down the “R” party line never understanding who they are voting for. If the party affiliation was taken off the ballots the people of Wyoming wouldn’t know what to do.

      2. Now that’s a broad brush! Yes, the miners where my spouse worked for over three decades were told to “Vote the right way” in 2016. Worker friendly coal saving Jeff Hoops stole from workers, and still owes many thousands to Campbell County. What a hurtful, divisive and sad statement.