The race for House District 14 will determine Democrats’ staying power in a historically Republican part of Laramie where redistricting hurt the minor party’s chances.
For decades HD 14 was represented by high-profile Republicans — Phil Nicholas, Kermit Brown and Dan Furphy — until incumbent Trey Sherwood’s narrow 2020 win. She seized an opening when Furphy ran for, and won, a Senate seat, leaving HD14 without an incumbent.
Having edged out Matthew Burkhart by 85 votes in 2020, Sherwood, a mainstreet business advocate, now faces Bryan Shuster, a moderate Republican who’s plugged into Albany County politics. Shuster, a 20-year veteran of the Laramie City Council, beat Julie McCallister by 124 votes in the Republican primary.
House District 14 encompasses portions of the left-leaning University of Wyoming, but the redistricting process for the 2022 election lopped off where a density of students live.
“It used to include University of Wyoming dorms, but doesn’t anymore,” Albany County Democrats Chair Carrie Murthy said.
Murthy wasn’t off-put by that change, and she agreed with the effort to concentrate much of UW’s student body in a single district, House District 13.
Another change to district lines outside of Laramie proper is also likely to swing HD 14 to the right. Redistricting tacked on the town of Rock River, an outpost of 245 residents some 40 miles north of Laramie along Highway 30.
Sherwood, a political newcomer when elected in 2020, leads the Laramie Main Street Alliance, which seeks to preserve and enhance historic downtown Laramie. As a freshman legislator, she was appointed to four committees, including the Management Audit and the House Minerals, Business and Economic Development committees. She sponsored four bills in the Legislature’s 2021 general session, one of which became law: House Bill 156 – Alcoholic beverage permits, which allowed wineries to sell their products off-premises.
“One of the reasons I ran two years ago was to support our local businesses,” Sherwood said during a recent League of Women Voters candidate forum. “They don’t have to be bribed to move to the state because they love it and they have families here.”
Shuster, who’s been elected five times to the Laramie City Council, formerly worked for his family business, Ideal Foods. He has positioned himself as a political moderate throughout the campaign. In the candidate forum, Schuster said that Wyoming schools and educational systems “would not be able to survive” without federal funding, a stance that puts him at odds with a far-right bloc of House Republicans who voted against accepting federal stimulus dollars last legislative session. Shuster has repeatedly echoed that he favors “home rule law” prioritizing local governmental control, and that he’s leery of legislative overreach.
Sherwood has outraised Shuster, generating more than $13,000 to his $8,450 in total contributions so far this election cycle. The bulk of Shuster’s fundraising has come from the Wyoming Republican Party ($2,000) and Albany County Republican Party ($4,500), though he also garnered a $500 donation from anti-establishment Republican backers Dan and Carleen Brophy, according to secretary of state campaign finance filings. Sherwood, meanwhile, cobbled together more than $5,500 in individual donations. She also took in more than $6,500 from an array of Wyoming-based political action committees, including $1,000 from the Wyoming Realtors PAC and $500 from the Lawyers Active in Wyoming PAC.
What to watch for:
Given the district’s political history, Albany County Democrats aren’t taking Sherwood’s reelection for granted.
“Redistricting made House District 14 even more friendly to Republicans,” Murthy said. “I think it could end up being a very, very close race again — potentially even closer than 2020.”
Some Albany County Republicans, meanwhile, think they’ve got the seat in the bag for Shuster.
“I think that the Republicans will come out for that race,” Albany County Republicans Chair Roxie Hensley said, “and it’ll be won by a larger margin than some people are thinking.”
Republicans outnumbered Democrats voting in HD 14 during the August primary election 7.5-to-1, although that’s partly explained by changes of party affiliation to vote in the high-profile U.S. House race between Rep. Liz Cheney and her likely successor, Harriet Hageman.
As a part of our ongoing coverage of the 2022 election, WyoFile is keeping an eye on notable legislative races across the state. Follow our Legislative Races to Watch series here. —Ed