Wyoming's Legislative Races Will Be Among The Most Competitive In The Nation

Jun 17, 2016

Wyoming House of Representatives.
Credit Bob Beck

Getting people to run for the legislature can be a challenge, but this year Wyoming has had no problem attracting candidates. In 2014 Democrats made a strong push to get more people to run and they came up with 32 candidates. This year the number is 64. Even Republicans have more candidates running than two years ago. Jason Swadley of Ballotpedia studies elections.

“In all of the areas where we look at competitiveness, this year Wyoming is actually much more competitive than the U.S. average.”

Swadley said that over the last three Wyoming election cycles the winner of the legislative primary typically was uncontested in the general election.

“68% of the time, whomever makes it to the general election won’t see a competitor from the other major party. This year it’s going to be 25%,” Swadley said.

Which means the vast majority of the legislative seats will be contested in the general election. But there’s also a lot of competition in the primary. Ballotpedia noted that 20 Wyoming incumbents are facing primary opposition in the House of Representatives and two Republican Senators are also facing primary opposition. 

Bri Jones of the Equality State Policy Center said that’s good news. 

“Competition is always positive for democracy would be the position that I come from.” 

Jones said she’s heard that a number of the newcomers want to finally get Medicaid expansion passed.

“I think there’s a lot of candidates that are talking about it and we know a majority of Wyomingites support Medicaid expansion, so continued refusal on the legislature’s part is very confusing and very frustrating to a lot of people.”

 

I think this is a year where nationally there's been a lot of frustration with candidates and incumbents and I think you are going to see that here in Wyoming too.

Wyoming Republican Party Chairman Matt Micheli said the state’s financial difficulties have also convinced a number of people to run. 

“There is kind of a special sense of hey my state needs me right now and this is my chance to step forward.  And the candidates I’ve talked to and visited with that’s been the common theme, this is my chance to help and give back to the state and help at a critical point.”

Laramie resident Jon Gardzelewski is one of the many young Democrats in the state that has gotten involved in party politics. He is not running for the legislature, but this spring he was elected to serve as a national committeeman. He credits the excitement around the Hillary Clinton-Bernie Sanders Democratic Presidential primary for firing up the party and for getting people interested in running for office. Gardzelewski agreed that the failure of Medicaid expansion has also played a role when it comes to getting people to run in legislative races. He said party optimism is high.

“There’s just really kind of a sense that we’re coming back and the effect of that is when someone calls you up and says we need someone to run in your district people are volunteering instead of saying uh oh.”

They need that optimism, because Wyoming’s Legislature is heavily dominated by Republicans, which is not a surprise since most registered voters identify themselves with the GOP. Currently, only 4 of the 30 State Senators and 9 of the 60 State Representatives are Democrats. Gardzelewski says getting more candidates into legislative seats starts with strong candidates and he says the party has come up with several this year. He adds it’s important that they frame the debate and get people to hear their point of view. 

Kerry Drake is a longtime Wyoming political reporter and a columnist for the online newspaper WyoFile. He’s fascinated by the high democratic numbers, but also by all the contested Republican primary races. Drake predicted that there will be a number of new faces holding legislative seats in 2017.

“I think this is a year where nationally there’s been a lot of frustration with candidates and incumbents and I think you are going to see that here in Wyoming too.” 

Political observers say it should be an exciting year for Wyoming voters