Rex Rammell, a Republican candidate in the Aug. 18 primary election for Senate District 14, filed to run using an address in Pinedale that has raised eyebrows with at least one of his opponents.
In a form filed with the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office declaring his application for a major party nomination, Rammell “[swore] and affirm[ed]” that he lived at an address in Sublette County on Pinedale’s main street. The address is the commercial space where his veterinary clinic is located.
Rammell also owns a house and land, which was listed as his residence until 2019, in neighboring Sweetwater County outside Rock Springs. That property falls outside the senate district he is running in.
The Sublette County assessor lists the Pinedale address as commercial property. County property records do not describe it as having any residential housing.
A photograph from Google Maps, as well as one provided by the candidate, show a commercial building with an office storefront. If Rammell is using it as a residence, the building is not zoned for such, according to the Pinedale city attorney.
Rammell told WyoFile on Tuesday that he has been living at the Pinedale address while remodeling it for his veterinary business, and has made Pinedale his home since June 2019.
Rammell gave WyoFile a photograph of himself at the building entrance. He also sent a photograph of his living quarters, which shows him giving a thumbs up while lying on a bed next to a makeshift nightstand. An hour before that interview, WyoFile spoke with a neighboring property owner who said he could see Rammell at the property, indicating Rammell did send the photographs from Pinedale.
“I just live here and do veterinary work,” Rammell told WyoFile. The property has “just a place to sleep, a microwave, a refrigerator,” he said. “The basics.”
‘Not a lot of the time’
Rammell’s Rock Springs home, and the Pinedale property’s zoning, raise questions about his residency and legitimacy as a candidate just a week before the primary election. The Town of Pinedale issued Rammell a conditional use permit for a veterinary clinic in that town, Pinedale City Attorney Ed Wood wrote to another senate candidate who made inquiries with the city.
“This conditional use permit did not address residential use,” Wood wrote.
The property has not been zoned for residential use, Wood wrote in an email to Lyle Williams, one of Rammell’s opponents. Wood provided WyoFile those emails.
Williams asked Wood if it would be legal for someone to live at the property under its current zoning. Wood offered three conditions under which zoning law would allow someone to live in a property zoned for commercial use. Rammell does not appear to meet any of those conditions, according to Wood.
If Rammell is staying there temporarily, it’s not a zoning violation, Wood wrote to Williams.
“Temporary overnight stays in a commercial structure would not constitute residential use,” he wrote.
Two neighboring property owners in Pinedale cast doubt on Rammell’s assertions.
“I don’t think he’s living there,” said Doug Mason, whose law office sits just south of Rammell’s clinic. The property used to be home to a game meat butchering business, Mason said. Rammell has been remodeling the building but Mason had seen no indication of a residence — though he hasn’t been inside, he said.
Another neighbor said Rammell lives at the property sometimes. “He stays up here when he’s here working on it, which is not a lot of the time,” the neighbor, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid conflict with Rammell, said.
Rammell’s Sweetwater County property is a little less than 17 acres and classified as residential, according to property tax records. It holds a ranch house with two baths, a wooden deck and various outbuildings. The assessor listed its 2020 market value at $488,568.
Rammell also uses that property as a veterinary clinic, he told WyoFile. The Pinedale property’s 2020 market value was $164,463, according to Sublette County records.
Rammell has run for public office various times as a candidate on the far right. He ran for governor as a member of the Constitution Party in 2018, losing the general election to Gov. Mark Gordon. His platform in the past has advocated for causes such as Wyoming seizing federal lands in the state, by force if need be.
During the gubernatorial race, he listed his Sweetwater County, Rock Springs-area address as his residence, according to a filing with the Secretary of State’s office. That address sits in Senate District 11, where there is no seat up for grabs this year. Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) is not up for reelection.
Property tax records for Rammell’s Sublette property in Pinedale list the Sweetwater County property as his mailing address.
Rammell has been remodeling the Pinedale property for a year, he said. He goes down to his Sweetwater property for veterinary appointments and then comes back to Pinedale, he said. The website for his veterinary clinic lists both addresses.
Rammell checked with the Secretary of State’s office last year to see if he would meet the residency requirement to run in Senate District 14, he said. State law requires a person to have occupied an address in the district for a year before he or she is eligible to run for office. Rammell says he’s met that requirement, having registered his truck and gotten a mailbox in Pinedale last summer.
Records show Rammell changed his voter registration address from Sweetwater to Sublette County on Dec. 30, 2019. He also changed his political party then, from the Constitution Party to the Republican Party.
Rammell suggested Williams, one of his two opponents in the Republican primary, is ginning up controversy against him. “I think I’m leading the race, that’s probably why Lyle and his buddies would sabotage me,” he said.
Reached by WyoFile on Tuesday evening, Williams said he asked Rammell about his residence, because it “doesn’t look right.” He did not accuse his opponent of violating election law.
“I think it’s important that we play by rules and not try to bend them to our own advantage, but I’m not in a place to make a call one way or another,” Williams said.
“If I had concrete evidence I’d share it with you,” Wiliams said. “I guess to me, the Secretary of State should look into that.”
Rammell’s other primary opponent, the incumbent Sen. Fred Baldwin (R-Kemmerer), told WyoFile he was not aware of any questions of validity regarding Rammell’s residency.
The Secretary of State’s office has not received any complaints, and is not looking into the matter, agency spokesperson Will Dinneen said.
The Legislature decides who is eligible for a seat, he said. If a person’s residency is challenged, the House or Senate can investigate and vote on the person’s eligibility.
But for Williams, having the Legislature weigh in on Rammell’s residency after the Aug. 18 Primary Election was unsatisfactory.
“If he takes one vote, he’s altered the election,” Williams said, “and if he’s not a legitimate candidate he shouldn’t be able to alter the election.”
Residency questions have dogged several recent Wyoming elections, as Rammell noted.
“They’re trying to do the Taylor Haynes thing on me,” Rammell said. “The difference is I actually live here.”
History of questions
Taylor Haynes was a Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2018. Tax records showed the house on his ranch, which straddled the Colorado-Wyoming border, was in Colorado.
The Wyoming Attorney General and Secretary of State investigated Haynes’ residency following a complaint filed in Albany County, and ultimately asked a judge to remove him from the primary ballot. A lawyer for Haynes argued his ranch was considered part of Wyoming, though the Albany County elections clerk had sent him a letter in 2015 informing him he would be removed from voting rolls in that county.
“A man who has every intention,” Haynes’ lawyer Michael Pearce wrote at the time, “in word and deed, of being a Wyomingite, even if a ranch crosses a border, should be considered a Wyomingite.”
The disclosures about Haynes’ residency, and state officials’ ultimate action to try and remove him from the ballot, came in the weeks leading up to the primary election. Haynes declined the state’s request for a speedy trial, and the judge declined to remove him from the ballot, saying he did not have time to adjudicate the matter.
After the primary election, the secretary of state’s office dropped the legal complaint.
Earlier in 2018, the Legislature closed a loophole in law that had led to a different residency dispute in Sweetwater County. Rep. Clark Stith (R-Rock Springs) was appointed to a vacated House seat despite complaints from area Democrats that he didn’t in fact reside in the district.
At the time, Stith told WyoFile the residency requirements did not apply to an appointment, as opposed to an election. Stith is now running for his third term in office and resides in his district.
Democrats’ complaints about the Stith case to a county attorney and the Wyoming Attorney General weren’t investigated — those officials said only the Legislature could rule on its members’ eligibility for office.
Lawmakers never took up the question of Stith’s residency, but they changed election law to ensure the same residency requirements that apply to candidates also apply to appointees.
UPDATE: This story was updated after publication with additional information from the Pinedale city attorney. —Ed.