A two-term legislator stepping down has left Albany County’s House District 46 up for grabs as Democrats try to steal the seat held by the GOP for at least four decades.
Rep. Bill Haley, R-Centennial, did not file to run for a third term in the Wyoming House of Representatives. He won the seat in 2016, taking up the nomination when former Rep. Glenn Moniz, now a Republican state senator, moved on to the other chamber.
Now former Albany County Commissioner Tim Chesnut and two-time statewide office candidate Lawrence Struempf are facing off in the Democratic primary while newcomers Ocean Andrew and James Jackson are seeking the Republican nod.
Haley, a retired game warden, won comfortably in both of his general elections, by 373 votes in 2018 and 849 in 2016. Since 1996, only one Democrat, Tony Mendoza in 2012, has come within 200 votes of grabbing HD 46.
The primary election is set for Aug. 18, with the general election on Nov. 8. Early voting begins July 2.
Ocean AndrewState government is too involved in Wyomingites’ lives as far as Ocean Andrew is concerned, and he wants to change that by running for state Legislature.
Andrew is an entrepreneur and small business owner in Laramie who graduated from the University of Wyoming. While a student, Andrew said he started the chapter of Young Americans for Liberty at UW, a libertarian organization based in Austin, Texas.
“I think you would say I’m probably more conservative, but on certain things I also may come off a little more libertarian,” Andrew said. “But I’ve always been a member of the Republican Party.”
As a small business owner, Andrew said small businesses were targeted in economic shutdowns in a way that did a lot of harm in the community.
“There’s nothing good about what was done to the economy by the shutdowns,” he said.
Beyond just seeing Wyoming’s economy return to a sense of normalcy, Andrew said he’d like to see the overall regulatory burden on small businesses decrease. In a state like Wyoming where innovation and small business growth is going to be key to its economic future, he said it’s the right time to let the market do its work.
“I think generally there’s a lot of large corporations advocating for heavy regulation because they can easily comply,” Andrew said. “But all the regulation makes it difficult for smaller, more innovative companies to innovate outside that framework. It ends up harming them. I want to make sure that doesn’t happen in Wyoming and that we remain a friendly place for small businesses.”
After a decline in mineral prices sent Wyoming’s economy into a downturn in late 2015, a conversation about tax increases began that hasn’t gone away. While some lawmakers have called for increases in areas such as sales, property and tobacco taxes, the supermajority Republican Legislature has largely rejected meaningful tax measures, insisting on further reductions in spending first.
For Andrew, it’s generally a “closed door” on tax hikes. Instead he thinks Wyoming’s decrease in revenue needed for services is an opportunity to “clean up inefficiency with state agencies,” something Andrew said he thinks everyone knows is the case.
“I think that’s a really important draw for the state of Wyoming for companies and a lot of people is a break from the tax burden,” he said. “That’s one of the most important things we can offer, so whatever we can do to preserve that I think we should.”
Running for office in 2020 is far from Tim Chesnut’s first rodeo.
Of all of Albany County’s legislative candidates, including incumbents, he’s spent the most time in elected office after serving as a Democratic Albany County commissioner for 20 years. Chesnut, earning third in a race for two commissioner seats in 2018, was replaced on the board by Democrat Pete Gosar, a former gubernatorial candidate.
Chesnut also ran against former Senate President Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, in 2004 for state Senate District 10, coming up short 4,693 to Nicholas’s 3,710. In 2012, Chesnut ran against U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., in 2012, losing by more than 132,000 votes.
Whether he was acting as a commissioner, a journalist covering the Legislature or whatever capacity it may have been, Chesnut’s seen how the sausage is made in government. As a Democrat, Chesnut would be a part of a very small minority in the 90-member Legislature. But he said he sees himself as a statesman ready to make government work in a bipartisan way.
Chesnut points to former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson, R-Wyo., as a role model.
“Al Simpson knew, and that’s what I’ve learned from Al, is that if everything is a fight, nothing gets done,” Chesnut said. “What I want to bring is a middle ground, I want to bring in some different views and bring a sense of humor lost in politics.”
And while he doesn’t have a single answer for taking on Wyoming’s fiscal challenges, Chesnut said he would be prepared to take on the challenges of the coming years if elected.
“We’re obviously going to have to refocus how dollars are spent,” Chesnut said. “Revenue resources are going to be so much less this year. I have my ideas on how cities and counties should be funded, but that’s going to change this year because those dollars will dry up.”
As Laramie and Albany County struggle to make ends meet amid the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn, Chesnut said he hopes lawmakers will be open to giving local governments more authority to implement tax measures.
“One of the big things I want to focus on is allowing cities and counties to be able to tax,” Chesnut said. “The Legislature is so anti-tax, but local municipalities can put that to a vote to their people. You don’t want to give cities and counties the authority to just tax, but you do want to allow legislation to allow them to raise taxes through local elections like the sixth and seventh cent.”
As for his primary opponent, Chesnut said he hopes people will cast their votes based on his experience in office and working in the legislature.
“I hope my resume speaks for itself,” Chesnut said.
A Marine Corps veteran in Laramie is hoping his ability to work with people of all stripes will carry him to the Republican nomination in House District 46.
James Jackson is retired and a student in the criminal justice program at the University of Wyoming.
Jackson said he would have run for the seat whether Haley chose to throw his hat in the ring or not.
“I wanted to give the district more of an option for an individual that they wanted to select to represent them,” he said. “Because I’m retired I have lots of time, and I like to spend it with individuals, solving problems, coming to compromise. I’m a people person and I want to get out there.”
While he doesn’t have a set of policy positions to put at the forefront, Jackson said he wants everyone in a district he represents to have a voice.
“After 20 years in the Marine Corps, you learn how to be flexible and adjust off an individual action, and just talk with people until you come to a consensus for how to make things right or fair,” Jackson said. “I can work well with Democrats, I work well with Republicans.”
On raising revenue to pay for Wyoming’s services, Jackson said he’d be skeptical of any tax increases brought to his desk. But understanding the need, he said he would look for solutions with a minimal impact on state residents.
“There are lots of ways to increase taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, there’s all these different ideas we’ve heard from the state,” Jackson said. “I think we need to get out there, and I think some people in the community have some good ideas too, for saving money or creating more.”
Asked whether he would support a measure to allow local governments more statutory authority to put a vote on tax increases to voters, Jackson said he would need more time to look into the matter.
Ultimately, Jackson said Republican primary voters should choose him because of his commitment to open communication.
“They should vote for someone they can email, text or call directly and get a response,” he said.
Editor’s note: The Boomerang published a candidate profile on Lawrence Struempf on Oct. 11, 2019. It is available for free at www.laramieboomerang.com.