A year ago Rep. Scott Clem (R-Gillette) campaigned through the streets of Gillette in his wheelchair. His eight- and 11-year old daughters went with him, running up to each house and knocking on doors when Clem couldn’t make it up the steps.
“Here is this guy in the middle of August sweating up a storm, rolling up and down the streets in a wheelchair,” Clem said. “I didn’t put hardly anything into my campaign in dollars. I just had a lot of zeal and used a lot of elbow grease.”
Clem won the primary, and the contested general election against Democrat Billy Montgomery, opening a new chapter for a 31-year-old man who was paralyzed from the waist down at age 19.
In the 2015 session, Clem made his presence known by speaking often on the House floor and taking conservative positions. His comfort addressing a crowd comes largely from his time as a leader in Gillette’s Central Baptist Church, he said. He served as interim pastor at his church, and has spent time working in addictions ministry, preaching in the youth church, and managing the Sunday school program.
Born in North Dakota, Clem moved with his family to Gillette when he was six years old. His grandfather ran an oilfield consulting business there for a time before moving back to North Dakota, and his stepfather works at the Dry Fork Power Station.
Clem graduated as one of the salutatorians at Campbell County High School, and attended the University of Wyoming on a full-ride scholarship for a year. He then moved back to Gillette and worked as a rig hand for a summer.
The course of his life change that winter, when he launched off a tabletop jump while night skiing at Deer Mountain ski area in the Black Hills. “I landed on my butt and had a burst fracture in my spine, and I broke my right femur in half,” he said. The bone fragments bruised his spinal cord. He lost all feeling below his waist, which he partially regained through intensive rehab. “I was able to learn how to hobble around on crutches,” he said.
As he recovered from his injury, he met and married his wife, and became active in his church. “As far as knowing God and knowing Christ, that certainly blossomed after the fact,” he said.
He also stopped by the Youth Emergency Services House, a shelter for youth in crisis, offering to become a mentor. Instead, he was offered a job. Clem is now a case manager at the YES House group home, working with a team of counselors and teachers whose aim is to reunite children with their families. He was named 2014 Youth Care Worker of the Year by the Wyoming Youth Services Association.
“You see a different side of society, and sometimes it is an ugly side to society,” he said. Many of the clients come from families that experience emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. “The reward is providing a safe place for these young people.”
In Gillette, he has served on the Beautification Committee for three years, and he ran unsuccessfully for city council before winning election to the state Legislature. On the state level, Clem serves on the Travel, Recreation, Wildlife, and Cultural Resources Committee, but he has interests in a variety of issues.
He favors the transfer of federal lands to the state. Campbell County produces about 40 percent of the nation’s coal, but Wyoming receives only 48 percent of the Federal Mineral Royalties from that production with the rest going to the U.S Treasury.
Clem said he believes state control of the lands could provide more revenue for schools and local government, and enough money to manage the property.
Clem opposes the Common Core, and believes parents should have the right to opt their kids out of state testing. He favors eliminating gun-free zones in public places such as schools. “I don’t think those do anything but disarm people trying to defend themselves,” he said.
On social issues, Clem would like to outlaw abortions after the fetus can feel pain, and ban the sale of baby body parts for research. He favors the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and opposes adding LGBT residents to the list of groups covered by non-discrimination laws.
Wyoming should not modify its law defining marriage to conform with the recent Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, Clem said. “It is a states’ rights issue and I don’t believe the court has the right to do it,” he said.
“Our government in Wyoming has to comply with the Supreme Court [and issue same-sex marriage licenses], but I would be opposed to changing our state statutes,” he said. “I think we should leave them as they are, and they accurately reflect the will of the people. By and large our state believes marriage is between one man and one woman, and I think the statues should reflect that despite the Supreme Court ruling.”
Wyoming’s opposition to same-sex marriage has recently shifted. Fifty-five percent of Wyoming residents opposed same-sex marriage in 2012, but a 2014 poll by the University of Wyoming showed 39 percent now oppose it, while 53 support it. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Clem says it is humbling to be in the Legislature. “As I often say at church or elsewhere, I am a nothing and a nobody,” he said. “I very much believe that.” In his view lawmakers shouldn’t be seen as aristocrats or a noble class, but as servants.
At the same time, he was still impressed when he attended his first legislative reception in Cheyenne and talked one-on-one with the Secretary of State and the Auditor. “They are regular folks just like I am, but it was kind of surreal,” he said. “It’s like, ‘Wow, I am really here.’”