Wyoming: A popular governor gets mysterious

  • Daryl Cagle/Caglecartoons.com


Democratic Gov. Dave Freudenthal isn't running for a third term, despite his belief that he could successfully challenge Wyoming's term-limits law in court and translate his high approval ratings into another win in the ballot boxes. And he's apparently decided that it's no longer crucial to have a Democrat in the governor's office as a counterbalance to the Republican-dominated Legislature. During an awkward joint appearance at the state capitol, he offered lukewarm praise for his party's candidate, Leslie Petersen -- saying she's "more than qualified" to be governor -- but declined to endorse her.

Petersen, who has family roots in ranching -- practically a Wyoming requirement -- is based in the resort town of Jackson, one of Wyoming's Democratic strongholds. She's served stints on the Wyoming Water Development Commission and the Teton County Commission; she's also chaired Wyoming's Democratic Party. And she's shown restraint by not getting into a public feud with Freudenthal over the endorsement snub.

Petersen says she would raise state taxes on oil and gas companies and steer more of that revenue to local governments -- similar to Freudenthal's longtime goals. But she's also said she would end his feud with the feds over the state's wolf management plan, by dropping his insistence that wolves should be shot on sight in much of Wyoming.

The Republican candidate, Matt Mead, will probably win this November simply by riding this statistic: Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats more than 2-1 in Wyoming. While many Republicans crossed party lines to help elect Democratic governors in six of the last eight elections, that bipartisan spirit seems to have gotten lost somewhere in the Red Desert.

Mead might represent Wyoming's Republican version of Freudenthal's centrism. He's a grandson of former Sen. Clifford Hansen, and runs a ranching and farming business that enabled him to spend more than $1 million of his own money on his campaign by mid-August. He succeeded Freudenthal as U.S. Attorney for Wyoming in 2001, and the two men are good friends.

Some Democrats think Freudenthal held out the possibility he would run again well into 2010 in order to discourage other Democrats from entering the race against Mead. Freudenthal -- who has a 71 percent approval rating even among Republicans, according to the Casper Star-Tribune -- might be positioning himself to run for one of Wyoming's seats in the U.S. Senate or House, or just planning to practice law again and do business with Republicans.

Best kingmaker loss The most hard-line right-wingers didn't do very well in Wyoming's Republican primary. Rita Meyer -- Sarah Palin's pick -- lost to Mead by 714 votes. Tea Partier Ron Micheli -- who was backed by Wyoming kingmaker Diemer True, vowed to force Wyoming schools to teach creationism, and wanted to ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest -- finished third.


always in Wyoming
Ted John
Ted John
Oct 21, 2010 10:53 PM
One must keep in mind that, here in Wyoming, you can always count on the "crazy-fringe" candidate (whatever one's perspective) to receive 20 to 25% of the vote. It is not surprising that Ron Miicheli came in third place during the recent Republican primary election - there were only four candidates on the ballot. Had there been five, then Micheli would likely have had a high chance of winning the primary and, by default, the general election for Wyoming's next governor. I'll probably be voting for Leslie Petersen and end up in 75% of somebody's "crazy-fringe" category!
wyoming gubernatorial primary
Benjamin R. Bombard
Benjamin R. Bombard
Oct 22, 2010 10:40 AM
Your article is correct in stating "The most hard-line right-wingers didn't do very well in Wyoming's Republican primary," but that result wasn't terribly indicative of the political leanings of most Republican voters in Wyoming. Rather, it's a commonly accepted fact among both Democrats and Republicans that Dems switched parties to vote for Mead in the Republican primary to edge out more hard-line right-wingers, particularly Ron Micheli. Wyomingite Republicans' political beliefs tend, for the most part, to fall on the most conservative end of the spectrum, and a candidate like Micheli would probably best represent the majority of the state.
Never thought Micheli would win
Gregory Nickerson
Gregory Nickerson
Oct 30, 2010 09:18 AM
Micheli may have had the support of oilman Diemer True, but I disagree that Wyoming has any "kingmakers" in the state Republican party. I'm also suspicious of the idea that most Wyoming Republicans are "on the most conservative end of the spectrum." Wyoming, while being about 10% Mormon isn't a particularly religious state when compared to red states in the bible belt. There are a lot of moderate Simpson-style Republicans who are fiscally conservative but have a live-and-let-live ethic when it comes to social issues. These moderates form the silent majority in this state, but Micheli didn't fit that mold. He seemed more than a little lacking in judgement, particularly when he got tarred and feathered for writing a letter of support for a family friend who was charged of a brutal rape in Casper earlier this year. He certainly had a chance to win, but only because the majority of Republican voters split between Meyer and Mead.

As for Democrats jumping ship to vote republican, this isn't a recent phenomenon. Some of the most liberal Wyoming folks I know vote in the Republican primary every time to try to either support candidates they like, or oppose candidates who would threaten democratic challengers in November. This may be less true during presidential years, and more true in off-year elections.

Wyoming may be heavily Republican, but the state elections are often unpredictable. In a state where "being native" is prized, Cynthia Cloud, a virtual unknown, moved from Alabama to Cody seven years ago and grabbed the Republican primary for state auditor. Now she's running unopposed. We'll probably have to wait to find out who she is until after November 2.