Wyoming needs to change how it fills statewide-office vacancies before another elected Republican jumps ship.
Two of the state’s top five officials — Secretary of State Karl Allred and Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder — were chosen by GOP leaders. Voters had previously rejected both men.
Allred has a real knack for alienating both elected officials and rank-and-file citizens. He recently called Rep. Mike Yin (D-Jackson) a “flippin’ idiot.” During the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, Allred told the Daily Beast Gov. Mark Gordon was acting like a “dictator” for trying to minimize the death toll. And he has a habit of showing up armed at legislative meetings. He may consider himself a good guy with a gun, but firearms can intimidate some lawmakers and the public. I can attest to the latter.
Allred wants to ban “crossover” voting to keep Democrats out of Republican primaries, despite the fact that taxpayers, not political parties, pay for public elections.
So, how did this guy suddenly become the second-highest official in the executive branch, the person who would be acting governor if the real one were to leave the state? I’m glad you asked.
State law requires when a vacancy exists for any statewide office, the party the official belongs to sends a list of three nominees to the governor. The governor must appoint one as the interim officeholder.
A joint legislative committee wants to change the process and instead allow voters to choose an interim statewide official via a special election, if the vacancy is created at least 60 days before a general election.
The panel’s draft bill would have applied to Schroeder, who took office in February when SPI Jillian Balow resigned to take a similar position in Virginia. Schroeder lost the Republican primary in August but will remain in office until January, when November’s winner is sworn in.
The measure would not affect Allred. He replaced Ed Buchanan, who resigned in mid-September to become a state district court judge.
Still, when the GOP’s central committee selected Allred and two other far-right nominees for interim secretary of state, it clearly made the decision based on party loyalty, not qualifications to hold the job. Under the current law, an unqualified person could serve as an interim official even if a vacancy lasted nearly four years.
The Republican central committee has a history of favoring candidates whose positions have already been rejected by voters and/or the Legislature. Schroeder for example, is the former head of a private Christian school, whose tenure at the department of education has been marked by his rants against “critical race theory” — something that’s not taught in Wyoming’s schools — his witch hunt for transgender girls in sports and his general antipathy for public schools altogether. We’re talking about a guy who’s so out there that he lost the Republican primary despite being endorsed by former President Donald Trump.
The secretary of state supervises statewide elections and registers all statutorily authorized business entities. The official serves on the State Board of Land Commissioners, the State Building Commission and the State Loan and Investment Board.
Eleven Republicans applied to replace Buchanan. The Republican central committee chose three of its own voting members: Allred, foreman of a Uinta County gas company; Marti Halverson, president of Right to Life of Wyoming and a former state representative from Etna; and Bryan Miller, Sheridan business owner.
All three chair their respective county Republican parties. Halverson is the only one with state government experience, serving three terms in the House before losing her re-election bid in 2018.
Halverson trained partisan poll watchers and served on a Republican committee examining “election integrity and security” — GOP code for weeding out voter fraud Buchanan emphatically said does not exist in Wyoming — but neither count as actual experience running elections.
Allred lost this year’s state House Republican primary. He was also unsuccessful in state House bids in 2018 and 2020, plus a 2014 state Senate contest. Miller lost this year’s GOP primary for a state House seat after dropping out of the Republican congressional primary when eventual winner Harriet Hageman entered the race. He ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2014 and U.S. House in 2020.
Their selection of voter-rejected ideologues wasn’t for lack of alternatives. The committee bypassed two GOP applicants whose experience seems tailor-made for interim secretary of state.
Mary Lankford ran elections as the Sublette County clerk for 32 years. Since retiring, Lankford has been a Wyoming County Clerks Association consultant.
Patrick Miller of the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office also applied. He advises the three boards the secretary of state sits on.
Halverson said one of her priorities would be reviewing the state’s relationship with the federal government. “Exactly how is the sovereign state of Wyoming tied to, and subject to, federal election laws, rules, and regulations?” she asked in her application.
It’s a transparent attempt to say she’ll get the feds off the state’s back when it comes to running free and fair elections. Still, I’d prefer that approach to what Allred emphasized in his application: Before his current job in the gas plant, he took a company from a start-up to the third largest electronic bingo manufacturer in the world.
No wonder Lankford’s three decades supervising elections couldn’t compete with Allred’s resume.
Allred spoke at a “Save Wyoming” rally for party-boss-approved Republican candidates in Lander in July. Political parties are not permitted under state law to endorse or contribute to any primary candidate, but only one GOP hopeful in each contest was invited. The law was skirted by labeling the event “independent,” not sponsored by the party officials who attended the rally and held a fundraising auction.
At the rally, Allred offered an incredible explanation for why Republicans didn’t get a primary crossover voting ban on the ballot in 2022.
“Well, I think it was planned this way,” Allred said. “But all of a sudden this thing called corona hit, and that locked it down to where we couldn’t get the petitions circulated and our time ran out on July 9, 2021.”
A socialist plot or divine intervention? You be the judge.
Allred said the petition drive is continuing for the 2024 election. He shouldn’t be allowed to lead that current fight as long as he’s in the secretary of state’s office.
Allred informed rally-goers that the Wyoming Legislature — in which 77 of 90 lawmakers are Republican — isn’t filled with real party members, but rather closet liberals that happen to have an “R” after their name.
“Washington, D.C., has nothing on the corruption in Cheyenne,” he said. “And if you don’t believe it, come to the Legislature and watch what happens. We have people who’ve made millions of dollars off your taxpayer dollars.”
Allred promised to play nice with lawmakers during his time in office. He said he won’t bring weapons to state buildings, even if he disagrees with the policy.
I’m not reassured. In 2018, Allred and several other delegates to the party’s state convention chose to violate the University of Wyoming’s open-carry ban on campus.
Allred vowed to work with the staff he inherits to ensure a smooth transition when the new secretary of state takes over. That is virtually guaranteed to be Rep. Chuck Gray (R-Casper), a 2020 presidential election denier who won the primary and is the only candidate on the Nov. 8 ballot.
In light of Allred calling him an idiot that “we need to get rid of,” Yin is understandably upset. “Karl Allred is now going to be our unelected secretary of state and will be in charge of my election results,” Yin tweeted.
Hopefully, enough “RINOs” — the GOP’s derisive shorthand for supposed “Republicans in name only” — will be elected to take filling vacancies out of partisan hands and leave the decision up to voters, where it belongs.