SHERIDAN—A year and a half after the earliest candidates announced they would challenge Congresswoman Liz Cheney for her seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, the incumbent and her four Republican opponents faced one another in person for the first time. 

Cheney along with Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne), Harriet Hageman, Robyn Belinskey and Denton Knapp took to the stage at Sheridan College and debated for 90 minutes last week. It was part of a long tradition of Wyoming Public Broadcasting Service hosting political debates as a civic service to the state. 

“It’s an opportunity for voters to see candidates and hear them in their own voices,” said Craig Blumenshine, who moderated the debate and recently retired from being a producer for Wyoming PBS. 

Breaking from the norm, the event was closed to the public due to alleged threats and concerns about hostility and violence. Nonetheless, candidates remained safe and civil, and in the week following the debate video has streamed more than 52,000 times. Thousands more likely tuned in live to Wyoming PBS or Wyoming Public Radio, who also aired the debate. 

“I thought it should be a template for candidates not only in Wyoming but across the country on how to air their views on specific topics in a very civil way,” Blumenshine said. 

Debates are often the only time voters see candidates speaking to one another. And while candidates may attempt to steer the conversation towards campaign talking points, panelists drive the direction of the debate by asking candidates for specifics about certain issues. On Thursday, those questions and topics were decided by three Wyoming journalists: Bob Beck of Wyoming Public Radio, Steve Peck of Wyoming PBS and Stephen Dow of the Sheridan Press. The three of them used conversations with Wyoming voters and past political reporting to frame their inquiries.

Beck’s first question was about the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in January of 2021. 

“I’m hearing many of you downplay the events of January 6,” Beck began, referencing several candidates’ responses to a previous question about the state of the Republican Party. Beck then asked why some candidates weren’t more concerned about the events of that day and “the fact that some leading people in the Trump administration said his goal was to overturn the election,” he said. 

As to why he pressed candidates on the insurrection, Beck said: “I got a lot of people asking me to ask various questions on that.” Approximately eight voters contacted him prior to the debate requesting the topic be discussed, he said. 

“My suspicion is that these were people either on the fence, or these are people that in particular, wanted to hear what Hageman had to say about it,” he said. 

Beck took into account what he’s been hearing from voters to shape his questions, but he also leaned on his decades of experience covering politics in Wyoming. For instance, Beck asked the candidates whether they had a federal solution to the issue of affordable healthcare for Wyoming residents. 

“That’s a question that’s been pretty standard for me,” Beck said. “I’m going to ask it because for a lot of years, we [get] lip service, but we don’t really ever come up with a concrete solution. And I’m not really sure I heard one the other night.”

One of two education-related questions came from Dow, who told WyoFile he included it so the topic would not be left out of the discussion. Dow also asked if bipartisan cooperation should still be the goal in Washington, or if it was unachievable at this time. Candidates have dodged that question, Dow said, when he previously asked it for his own reporting in the Sheridan Press. 

“So I really wanted to try to get them on the spot on the stage and ask them that question because I think there is, especially in the Republican Party, maybe not as much of a desire for that as there used to be,” Dow said.

Dow’s other questions were posed on behalf of Kristen Czaban, the publisher of the Sheridan Press. Originally, Czaban was scheduled to be a panelist but had to drop out due to the death of a family friend. 

As for Peck, he called on his many years in the newspaper business to shape his inquiries. Before joining Wyoming PBS earlier this year, Peck was owner-publisher of the Riverton Ranger for many decades

He raised the federal infrastructure bill and asked candidates how they felt about one-time federal dollars coming to “Wyoming to build or improve infrastructure projects that were often built with federal dollars in the first place.”

It’s not unusual for Republicans to take aim at the federal government, but Peck said he is always interested in watching lawmakers grapple with the contradiction of “condemning federal dollars, particularly when there’s a Democrat in the White House, and on the other hand, of course, readily taking them.”

For much of the debate, candidates worked to make distinctions between themselves, but there was much they agreed on. Cheney stood out on her approach to the events of Jan. 6 and her stance on COVID-19 vaccines, according to Peck. 

“Several of them immediately went to the political angle and ignored the public health angle of it except for Cheney,” Peck said. ”The very first thing she said was everybody should get vaccinated.” But in line with her opponents Cheney said she opposed a federal mandate. 

After about a dozen questions posed by the panelists, the debate concluded. When the cameras stopped rolling, press in the audience were invited to the stage to ask additional questions. Cheney took a couple of questions before leaving, as did Knapp, Bouchard and Belinskey. Hageman exited out the back door, declining to field questions and telling WyoFile she had another event to attend that evening. 

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. Did anyone comment or ask questions about broad band coverage in all the rural communities for everyone in WY to have access to the internet and receive the up to date presidential/congressional activities information that affect their lives.

  2. Oh the hypocrisy of the political beast. Harriet’s campaign ads promote her homegrown roots, but just a few short years ago when Liz ran against Ryan Greene (D) of Rock Springs, a true Wyomingite, Liz beat him handily because Republicans touted her Wyoming connections. Republicans supported her mostly because Ryan was a democrat.

  3. What’s ridiculous is that a publicly funded corporation prohibited the public from attending.

  4. Pardon me, but it doesn’t seem to me that
    Mr. Peck, the ex – publisher of the Riverton Ranger or the publisher of the Sheridan Press are ” corporate media stars.” That’s flat out ridiculous.

  5. Hageman said Fauci should be prosecuted? Sounds like she has a low bar for public servants commiting federal crimes

    1. As if Fauci committed federal crimes but Trump didn’t?

      Sanity would love to have you join

  6. This article states that ‘debates are often the oly time voters see candidates speaking to one another’. That is true, but this was definitely not a debate. It was more in the line of a forum, where the panelists ask a question of all candidates and there was no back and forth between candidates. I have been told that the candidates were instructed before the ‘debate’ that there would be no discussion or contention between candidates. Also, Hageman seemed to praise Trump with every statement she made and Cheney made sure she detests Trump. I, for one, am not voting for Trump in this election. He will not be on the ballot. I was very disappointed in the ‘debate’ as a whole.

  7. Hageman, Bouchard and Belinskey all presented themselves as the QANON nutcases that they are. Liz Cheney presented herself as a reasonable adult. The choice is simple.

  8. A few critical differences emerged from the panel debate among the five candidates (1.) Only two viable candidates emerged: Liz Cheney and Harriet Hageman.
    (2) Federal mandate for COVID-19 immunization: Cheney for and Hageman against, the latter declaring that it represented Federal overreach and that Anthony Fauci should be prosecuted. Hageman went on to criticize all the federal agencies should be downsized and that the Education Dept. should be eliminated. Very extreme views that Liz Cheney did not approve of but most of the panelists did it seemed. (Hageman praised Donald Trump and never responded directly to the question as to the veracity of the election. Cheney was quite clear on that issue as she was on many others.

  9. Dear Hon. Congresswoman Cheney:
    Although not in agreement with all of your stances, yet at the very least we can discuss and negotiate solutions together!

    Truly admire all you are doing with your GOP colleague, Adam Kinzinger and surely you would implore other Republicans to come forth to support the findings of the 6J House Committee Hearings, chaired by Hon. Bennie Thompson and co-chaired by you. Our deep thanx also to goes out to Hon. Congressmen-/women; Raskin, Schiff, Aguilar, Lofgren, et al

    In the past, and as a NYer, I proudly voted for these Republicans:
    • Sen. Jacob Javits, Sen. Charles Goodell
    • Gov. Nelson Rockefeller
    • Mayor John Lindsay

    Like you and Congressman Kinzinger, they did their job correctly, but for the State of NY and I implore true GOPers to come back to what the ‘Party of Lincoln’ represents: Equality, TRUTH & Democratic principles!

    Wish you all the success to get re-elected to Congress this coming November! Kindly, Steven L. Hanft & Family
    “If a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and that is moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power” Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1956, 4th Annual Rep. Women’s Conference