Many lawmakers settling into Wyoming’s temporary Capitol building next week may have one eye on the state’s budget and one eye on their re-election prospects in November.
Budget sessions occur in even-numbered years. So do elections. More than 75 seats in Wyoming’s citizen legislature will be up — every member of the House of Representatives along with half of the Senate. November 2018 is an election year for state senators representing odd-numbered districts. Those senators facing re-election are listed at the end of this story.
There are months between legislative votes and elections, but election years can mean more posturing by lawmakers seeking higher office and trying to raise their profile, one longtime legislative observer said.
Wyoming’s primary elections take place on Aug. 21. The general election is Nov. 6. Barring a call for a special session from Gov. Matt Mead, the budget session will convene on Feb. 12 and run for 20 business days, leaving nearly six months between the session’s end and primary elections.
Is there value in lawmakers knowing their votes this session will be fresh in voters’ minds come election season? Opinions differ Marguerite Herman said. “Does accountability make people craven and ultra political or does it make them accountable?” she said.
A lobbyist with the League of Women’s Voters, Herman has been around the Legislature since the 1980s as a journalist and then a lobbyist. If a campaigning spirit enters the floor of the House or Senate, it usually comes from lawmakers who might have their eye on higher, statewide offices, Herman said.
“You may have a lot of speechifying that ordinarily might not be done,” she said. “Especially if you want to get headlines in front of your [campaign] announcement.”
The seats of all five state elected officials are also up for grabs.
The governor will likely take up at least a temporary residence in an executive office in the Capitol building alongside lawmakers. Mead is not up for re-election, having reached the two-term limit set by the Wyoming Constitution.
Secretary of State Ed Murray, State Treasurer Mark Gordon, State Auditor Cynthia Cloud and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow all face re-election if they choose to try and hold their seats or seek different ones.
Gordon and Murray had both expressed interest in gubernatorial runs. Murray, however, told the Casper Star-Tribune he will no longer enter the race nor run for re-election after the newspaper reported an allegation of sexual misconduct against him. It was the second allegation against Murray since early December. He denied one allegation, and declined to discuss the other with the Star-Tribune, saying he did not recall it.
Gordon told the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle in early January that he would make his decision on the race after the session.
In addition to speechifying on the House and Senate floors, an election year could influence the way elected officials interact with the Legislature as well, Herman said. Murray tangled with lawmakers when he challenged a bill last year, earning him the ire of fellow Republicans in House leadership. As state treasurer during a budget session, Gordon has made appearances before several committees this year and will likely continue to interact with lawmakers.
So far, Speaker of the House Steve Harshman appears to be the only lawmaker who has publicly expressed interest in higher office, telling the Casper Star-Tribune he had been approached about running for governor and was considering it. It’s likely some other lawmakers are watching the possibility of open Secretary of State and State Treasurer’s seats, Herman said.
U.S. Sen. John Barrasso and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney will also have to face re-election. Find all the offices up for election here.
Senate district up for election, and current seat holders:
SD-1: Ogden Driskill (R, Devils Tower)
SD-3: Curt Meier (R, LaGrange)
SD-5: Fred Emerich (R, Cheyenne)
SD-7: Stephen Pappas (R, Cheyenne)
SD-9: Chris Rothfuss (D, Laramie)
SD-11: Larry Hicks (R, Baggs)
SD-13: John Hastert (D, Green River)
SD-15: Paul Barnard (R, Evanston)
SD-17: Leland Christensen (R, Alta)
SD-19: Ray Peterson (R, Cowley)
SD-21: Bruce Burns (R, Sheridan)
SD-23: Jeff Wasserburger (R, Gillette)
SD-25: Cale Case (R, Lander)
SD-27: Bill Landen (R, Casper)
SD-29: Drew Perkins (R, Casper)
ED note: This story was corrected to indicate that John Hastert is a Democrat.