Moderate GOP incumbents challenged in western Wyo primaries– Guest column by political blogger Meg Lanker-Simons
On Tuesday (August 21), Wyoming’s voters will march to the polls to cast their primary ballots. Yard signs have exploded in number, seemingly overnight, and candidate forums abound. In Centennial last Tuesday, a 90 minute candidate forum stretched to 2 ½ hours, running until 9:30 PM, and culminating with residents vexed over the United Nation’s “Agenda 21” hollering at candidates.
Rep. Kermit Brown (R-Laramie) told one ardent attendee that while government intrusion on private property rights are a concern of his, he is not “looking for black helicopters in the sky” and does not believe the UN is encroaching into Wyoming’s affairs. After the attendee insisted, “But it could happen!” Brown chuckled and replied, “The mob could operate in Wyoming, but it isn’t likely.”
Ah, politics. It sometimes casts clouds over the “one long Main Street” of Wyoming. The action is no less heated in western Wyoming. Numerous Republican incumbents have primary challengers. The two districts in western Wyoming to watch in the primary are the races between Rep. Pat Childers (R-Cody) and T.D. (David) Ball, David Northrup, and Cody City Councilman Charles Cloud in House District 50; and the race between current Minority Floor Leader Rep. W. Patrick “Pat” Goggles (D-Ethete) and the winner of the Republican primary between Daniel Cardenas and Jim Allen in House District 33.
Park County is an interesting mix of libertarianism and Old Testament-based social conservatism. For example, in neighboring House District 25, 9/12 Project activist David Kellett, a Republican candidate from Powell, proclaims his support for driving the “homosexual lobby” out of Wyoming, yet told KODI’s News Director David Koch he is willing to allow private possession of nuclear weaponry because Second Amendment freedoms make it constitutional, and citizens should be as armed as their government’s military to prevent tyranny. HD 50’s slate of candidates run the gamut from those who align with Kellett, to more moderate Republicans who align with Wyoming’s pre-eminent former U.S. Senator, Alan Simpson.
Childers stated Thursday he has never seen a primary like this one. Childers is strongly conservative, though he acknowledges social conservatives dislike his positions on social issues – particularly on gay rights. He has opposed measures to limit the rights of gay and lesbian Wyomingites, and spoke at a rally in front of the Capitol Building February 3, 2009, in opposition to HJ 17, a bill that would prevent Wyoming from recognizing legally-performed same-sex marriages from other states. Childers said, “I know that I’ve made some folks unhappy with my stances on issues having to do with gay people in Wyoming, but I’m doing what I believe is right, and I’ve gotten emails from all over Park County and Wyoming supporting me on this. If that’s why people want to run against me, that’s fine, but I’m going to do what’s right.”
Childers is the longest-serving Wyoming representative, having served eight terms in HD 50. He said he believes Park County voters are reasonable people who send “good, common-sense” legislators to Cheyenne. Childers pointed to the success of Simpson in the U.S. Senate as an example of needed bipartisan cooperation. While very conservative, he also believes that government can only function when people work together, adding that he is reluctant to run a negative campaign because “there’s just no place for that kind of thing.” He is also endorsed by the National Rifle Association as the most pro-gun candidate, receiving a grade of A-.
Charles Cloud said in an interview Thursday that he chose to launch a bid against Childers in the primary because he believes, “Childers just doesn’t have the passion any longer.” Cloud added, “I don’t know if he’s tired or what, but he’s just not representing the people of HD 50 like he should.” Cloud also wished to clear up a rumor floating in Wyoming political circles that he is a “birther.” Cloud categorically denied indulging in conspiracy theories surrounding President Barack Obama’s birthplace, calling those claims a “distraction” because “the president has repeatedly proven he is an American” and “there are more pertinent reasons to criticize Obama.” Cloud said Childers’ support of gay rights did not factor into his decision, and that marriage equality is an issue best left to Wyoming voters. He summed up his run as a “logical step” after serving on Cody’s city council and that he has the passion he believes Childers lacks. Cloud is married to current State Auditor Cynthia Cloud.
While Cloud is likely Childers’ toughest opponent, David Northrup and T.D. Ball are both more conservative than Cloud. Northrup received the endorsement of the Wyoming Educational Association and was chairman of the Park County Republican Central Committee from 2007-2008. Ball received the endorsement of the socially conservative Political Action Committee (PAC) WyWatch. Ball indicated on WyWatch’s questionnaire that abortion is unequivocally murder under any circumstance. He did not state what kind of penalties he would prescribe under Wyoming’s homicide statutes, but Park County’s voters may want to clarify that with Ball. Ball has signed a pledge with WyWatch PAC. The pledge states, in part, “Furthermore, I agree that as I take the oath of office, I shall perform my legislative duties in a manner that reflects the stated Mission and Vision, and in a manner that advances the interest and work of WyWatch, and faithfully so, to the best of my ability.” In return, WyWatch pledges to provide “lobbying assistance” and support from allies. Notably absent is any mention of HD 50’s constituents, who Childers said come “first and foremost” in his mind.
Moving to Fremont County and the Wind River Reservation, HD 33 is of interest for one reason – Daniel Cardenas. Cardenas, another social conservative, commenced his second bid against incumbent Rep. Pat Goggles (D-Ethete) in December 2011 via Facebook. In order to challenge Goggles, he’ll have to defeat the more moderate Jim Allen. Goggles narrowly defeated Cardenas in 2010 by a margin of 19 votes. However, an interesting wrinkle appeared in HD 33 Thursday. Cardenas, the third-heavily financed candidate by WyWatch PAC in 2010, has not received WyWatch’s 2012 endorsement.
In a phone call, WyWatch PAC Chairman Becky Vandeberghe indicated Cardenas quit returning their phone calls, and the group chose not to endorse Cardenas after being unable to reach him. I could not reach Cardenas myself. His campaign website is down and there is no activity on the campaign’s Facebook page or Twitter since June 8. As Vandeberghe said, Cardenas “seems to have dropped off the face of the earth.” However, the Secretary of State’s Elections Office confirmed Cardenas is still officially running in the HD 33 primary, and has not withdrawn. His campaign is still up in the air – therefore, Cardenas lingers as a wild card in HD 33.
Regardless, HD 33 remains a primary to watch. Jim Allen was previously appointed by Fremont County Commissioners to fill the unexpired term of Rep. Harry Tipton (R-Lander) who died in office. Allen was unseated by Goggles with a margin of 359 votes in 2004. Allen narrowly won in each non-reservation precinct, but lost each precinct on the Wind River Indian Reservation, with the exception of Crowheart School. If presidential election year turnout swings right, or voters on the reservation choose to stay home, Goggles could lose the seat.
For political nerds, Wyoming remains a fascinating state to watch. While very conservative in party composition, that doesn’t paint an adequate picture of Wyoming’s political scene. When Tuesday finally comes, it’ll be interesting to see if Wyoming’s Republican voters reject the social conservative, single-issue candidates in favor of experienced incumbents with a more moderate bent, or, as in Albany County’s SD 10, a contest between two moderates – one, an almost career legislator, and the other, a University of Wyoming professor with differing ideas. In November, the yard signs are put away and the sun shines once again on Main Street. At least until 2014.
– Meg Lanker-Simons is a prolific political writer and activist based in Laramie, attracting in-person interviews from across Wyoming’s political spectrum. She has lived in Wyoming for 10 years. Lanker-Simons worked as a journalist in the U.S. Navy, and for the past two years has written about the innards of Wyoming and national politics at her own site, Cognitive Dissonance. She also hosts a radio show by the same name every Friday night from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. in Laramie on 93.5 KOCA FM. Contact Meg at [email protected]
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