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Candidates Argue Over Wyoming Roots In Congressional Debate

Bob Beck

Candidates for Wyoming’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives met Thursday night at Casper College for this election’s only debate. Like many past elections, candidates argued over the legitimacy of their ties to the state and their abilities to understand its unique challenges.

For most of the debate, Republican candidate Liz Cheney and Democratic candidate Ryan Greene argued directly with one other, referring to the other as “my opponent,” while third party candidates, Daniel Cummings and Lawrence Struempf, were more concerned with establishing their viability in the race. 

Neither Cheney nor Greene has held elected office, so in that sense both are newcomers. In his opening statement, Greene said he is a “Wyoming democrat,” so he won’t blindly follow party lines.

“I don’t agree with every democrat and I won’t defend every democrat,” said Greene.

Greene runs his family business, Greene Energy Services, and has lived in Wyoming his entire life—something that Cheney cannot claim for herself. However, Cheney argued that Greene has not felt the recent energy downturn in the same way as other Wyomingites.

“Now, not everybody in our state has the job security of being able to work in their parents’ company for their whole career, like my opponent,” Cheney said.

Greene responded quickly.

“Not everyone was given a spot at the State Department because their father is Vice President,” said Greene.

Cheney has been widely criticized for her familial connections—her father is former Vice President Dick Cheney—and fundraising efforts. With $1.9 million, Cheney broke the record for the most money raised by a first-time U.S. House candidate from Wyoming. When the candidates were asked how they would decrease the impact of money in American politics, Greene pointed the conversation directly at Cheney’s own campaign.

“I mean, when Ms. Cheney raises 90 percent of her funds outside of the state—L.A., New York, D.C., and Chicago,” Greene said. “And let’s be honest, folks, they don’t give a hoot about Wyoming issues.”

Greene added that he believes in overturning Citizens United—a Supreme Court case about money in elections. But Cheney said she sees her fundraising abilities as a reflection of her potential to get things done in Washington.

“And I would say that the donations that I’ve had from around the country, give you evidence that I am the only candidate on this stage who will be able to get a national focus and a national attention to our issues,” said Cheney.

Energy also played a prominent role in the debate with candidates sparring over the future of the state’s biggest industry. Greene said Wyoming has been able to strike a balance between energy development and conservation in the past, and he’d like to continue that tradition.

“We have a responsibility to be good stewards of the land and the environment, but also protect our energy sector as well,” Greene said.

Cheney agreed, but then said she doesn’t believe in compromise when it comes to energy.

“We’re the target, here in Wyoming, absolutely, of a war on coal and a war on fossil fuels is coming,” said Cheney.

Cheney added she wants to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, a federal rule which would limit emissions from exiting power plants, and said Congress needs to pass legislation preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon dioxide emissions altogether. Cheney also said she does not support government subsidies for renewable energy.

Greene countered Cheney’s claim, pointing out that Cheney’s top donor is Philip Anschutz. He is the developer of what will be the largest wind farm in America.

“So I don’t believe you’re going to stand by our miners, when you’re funded by wind,” said Greene.

In his closing statement, Greene remarked on the brevity of the term for a U.S. House Representative.

“If I don’t make Wyoming proud, you can vote me out in two years. Getting a democrat out of office in Wyoming, it’s not that hard,” said Greene. “But if elect Ms. Cheney, and we don’t like the results we’re getting, we’re never going to budge her.”

Cheney’s closing statement said Greene does not take federal government overreach seriously.

“You cannot expect somebody to solve a problem when he doesn’t even seem to think there is a problem,” said Cheney.

To catch up on the debate, watch the video here

Maggie Mullen is Wyoming Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. Her work has aired on NPR, Marketplace, Science Friday, and Here and Now. She was awarded a 2019 regional Edward R. Murrow Award for her story on the Black 14.

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