The Wildcatter says goodbye

This is the last edition of The Wildcatter, thanks for all your support!

Happy Monday! Astute readers may notice that The Wildcatter skipped last week. I wish I had a good excuse for that, but the truth is I was busy with work and didn’t think I could put out a solid newsletter. When I started this newsletter, I was expecting to be working full-time as a freelance journalist and able to devote a good chunk of time to The Wildcatter. For better and worse, that’s not quite how things turned out. I’ve felt my connection to Wyoming its politics and players fading during my time out of the state and I just don’t have the necessary time to devote to this newsletter. WyoFile, the Star-Tribune and Adams Publishing Group (The Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Laramie Boomerang) are also turning out some awesome work and I think now is the right moment for me to wind this experiment down. This will be the last edition of The Wildcatter for the foreseeable future.

I’ve been heartened that so many of you have signed up to receive this newsletter, with a significant portion chipping in to help support a product that you could otherwise have been reading for free. If and when I return to Wyoming full-time, I’ll consider relaunching a more robust version of The Wildcatter.

In the meantime, I may put out a couple editions of The Wildcatter on a sporadic basis. I still have thoughts about Wyoming politics but I don’t have the time or resources to properly report on all the interesting storylines out there. For example, in the midst of his embarrassing loss in the governor’s race, Foster Friess is likely setting out to reshape Wyoming politics in his image — and as an enormous political donor, he probably do so. But laying this out in an email-length essay is beyond me at the moment.

For those of you who have subscribed to The Wildcatter, first, thank you so much! One of the most exciting aspects of this project was witnessing how many people were willing to help financially support the work I was doing. You’ve given me faith in the future of media, and that’s no small thing. I’ll be ending the renewal of subscriptions this week, meaning that you shouldn’t see any future charges from The Wildcatter on your credit cards. That should take care of it for all monthly subscribers. For those of you who selected the annual subscription and would like a refund, please let me know who you are and I can locate you within the subscriber database and process a pro-rated refund.

You can all continue to reach me at with questions, comments or political tips (I’ll never stop being interested).

Happy trails,


The Wildcatter: It all comes down to this

This year's election was always going to be Wyoming wild — it's been wilder

Happy Monday! Or, as the state’s chattering political class knows it, Happy Day-Before-We-Find-Out-Just-How-Weird-This-Year-Will-Be. It’s times like these that I’m sad to be out of the daily newspaper reporting game in Wyoming. There’s so much going on! Thankfully Nick got in at the Star-Tribune at least a couple weeks ahead of the main event and word is that the Wyoming Tribune Eagle has hired Ramsey Scott of The Sentinel in Aurora, Colorado to become its state politics reporter. Too late to cover the primary, but at least the state’s small political press corp is returning to full size.

Get up to speed on the election with these articles from last week:

On Wednesday morning we’ll all have a lot to unpack. There are interesting races across the state, including the contest to replace retiring Sen. Bruce Burns in Sheridan, a competitive Democratic primary in a Cheyenne House seat between rising star Sara Burlingame and former state senator Floyd Esquibel and occasionally nasty GOP infighting in the races for state auditor and treasurer. Oh, and then there’s the question of how many votes Republican insurgent Rod Miller can pull away from Liz Cheney in the House primary. And also which Democratic will earn a spot on the November ballot to face Cheney (nobody with a chance of beating her is running, but still). But the governor’s race is the big one — and that’s what I’ll be digging into this morning, with a look at John Barrasso’s very brief campaign as well.

By the way, if you enjoy this newsletter please consider chipping in $5 per month so that I can keep writing it and ensure it remains free for everyone (you can click the button below if you’d like to contribute).

But first, this…

I just want to draw everyone’s attention to the latest (and perhaps last) chapter in the very weird saga about the war booty at F.E. Warren Air Force Base that Wyoming’s congressional delegation has been adamant about keeping the state for unclear reasons.

The Department of Defense finally agreed to return the Bells of Balangiga to the Philippines last week. The bells were looted as part of a revenge massacre by American soldiers in the Philippines in 1905, during the U.S. occupation of the islands. Basically, Filipino insurgents successfully killed dozens of U.S. soldiers and in response, the Americans murdered all Filipino boys and men over the age of 10 in a nearby town — and then took a pair of church bells for good measure.

But Sens. Barrasso and Mike Enzi, along with Cheney, seem oddly attached to the bells, saying in a statement:

These bells are memorials to American war dead and should not be transferred to the Philippines.

They wouldn’t answer any of the Star-Tribune’s questions about the bells. But anyway, Barrasso, Enzi and Cheney all think that bells stolen from the Philippines in conjunction with a brutal massacre of civilians should stay in Wyoming. Good to know.

Barrasso’s five-minute campaign

There are two ways to look at Barrasso’s Senate campaign. One is that he seems to have been in a deep slumber until, oh, like a week ago when his team started running a bunch of slick video advertisements on social media (I’m not watching local television in Wyoming, so don’t know what the airwaves look like). The other is that he’s been running for reelection for the past six years, and the last-minute campaign is just a formality. Both are likely true. Barrasso has voted and acted in line with what most mainstream Republican voters in Wyoming expected him to, and he’s been back in the state frequently enough that he’s in a good position to cruise to reelection with little effort.

But it does seem like Team Barrasso decided within the last few days that ceding 20 or 30 percent of the primary vote to challenger David Dodson would be at least moderately embarrassing and best avoided.

I’ll eat my hat if Dodson wins. Heck, I’d be surprised if he breaks 20 percent in what is actually a weirdly crowded Republican primary field (one that includes former Democratic candidate Charlie Hardy, among others). He doesn’t seem to have properly staffed his campaign or created the kind of ground game necessary to win. He’s not terribly charismatic, has had a consistently muddled message and no real Wyoming bonafides — nobody knows him and he has no base of support. What he does have is a good lock on the anti-Barrasso vote, from those who are more moderate than the senator to those who are just mad at the establishment or see Barrasso as too close to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Dodson has put forward serious ideas about the state and toured around it enough that these folks can feel like they’re casting slightly more than a protest vote against Barrasso.

Barrasso doesn’t want to lose a significant chunk of the primary vote for a couple reasons:

  1. It hurts his reputation. Barrasso has gone largely unchallenged in the Wyoming political scene for the last decade or so, relying on a strong base of establishment support and refusing to stick his neck out in any way that would cost him politically. If that’s not good enough to collect 80 to 90 percent in a primary without true competition (see: Foster Friess or Erik Prince), then his aura of invincibility becomes tarnished. If a political unknown like David Dodson can pull 30 percent of the vote with a campaign based primarily on direct mail, then what could a firebrand lawmaker or seasoned businessman from Cheyenne or Casper do with a bigger war chest and more name recognition? Barrasso doesn’t want to find out.

  2. It weakens him in the general election. If Dodson’s attacks on Barrasso penetrate a significant chunk of the Republican electorate, some of those voters may be disinclined to support Barrasso in November. Barrasso doesn’t want to cede 5 or 10 percent of the general election vote to Gary Trauner as a result of Dodson’s jabs.

  3. It’s embarrassing. Barrasso is a high-ranking Republican senator. He has a professional political staff and millions of dollars to spend on a campaign. Dodson was always likely to pick up a sliver of anti-Barrasso voters, but there’s no reason to let him pick up an additional segment as a result of Barrasso failing to really run a reelection campaign.

  4. He could lose. Again, I don’t think Dodson has a chance at winning. But he could! There have been no public polls done in the race, though I know Dodson’s team has done some internal polling and I’m sure Barrasso’s campaign has as well. So they may know better about the odds of a crazy upset than I do, but basically you never know — and better safe than sorry.

In order to avoid any of these outcomes, Team Barrasso has pushed out four full-length video advertisements, including one directly attacking Dodson, a generic “I’m a good senator” ad and two touting specific constituent services-style work that he’s done while in office. There’s also a weird six second video advertisement featuring his wife Bobbi saying, in the ad’s entirety, “Please vote for my husband John Barrasso on Tuesday. Thank you!” He also has some other short Facebook ads floating around, including one promoting his support for President Donald Trump’s SCOTUS pick.

It’s funny to watch a slick campaign kick into gear with a week to go before the election. If Dodson somehow manages to take a major bite out of Barrasso’s support in the primary, it’ll be hard not to fault the late start.

Despite everything, I think Gordon will still win the GOP primary

I’m making this prediction because throwing my hands up would be too easy.

Foster Friess is suddenly a serious competitor in this race, with a poll of rather dubious origin placing him number one (it was conducted by a GOP consulting firm, not a public interest polling firm. Who paid?). The feud between Harriet Hageman and Taylor Haynes has gotten so intense that what seemed like a plausible 25 to 30 percent of the primary vote for Hageman is she could win over his supporters has vanished. Sam Galeotos earned the Star-Tribune’s endorsement and, as the newspaper noted, seems like the most dynamic candidate running, and yet has to deal with Friess and probably even Sheridan businessman Bill Dahlin pulling away businessman/political outsider votes.

My point is, the race is weird enough that I could well throw up my hands. I don’t know what will happen, but I think current State Treasurer Mark Gordon will eek out a victory in a primary that will see higher-than-usual turnout given the massive sums of money poured into the race by Gordon, Friess and Galeotos and the grassroots support driving Hageman and Haynes.

Gordon’s victory will be based on five components:

  1. Early voting. Friess was late to get his campaign off the ground (well, he was late in even deciding to run) and even if the tide turned in his favor in mid-August, thousands of ballots have already been cast and the pro-Friess Trafalgar poll said those returns will favor Gordon by a significant margin.

  2. Anger at Friess. While Friess may have turned some undecided voters in his favor, he has also served to energize those voters who back one of his opponents or who were undecided but angered by the notion of a Jackson snowbird trying to buy a Wyoming governorship. Those angry voters won’t miss this election — and I think backing Gordon is seen as the safest bet to oppose Friess.

  3. Friess voter apathy. Anger at Friess could be mitigated by a big turnout among his supporters. The only problem? His supporters are by definition newly converted and likely have little particular loyalty to Friess. Whereas the anti-Friess vote will definitely show up, I don’t think everyone who is telling pollsters they back Friess will actually bother to voting on Tuesday.

  4. Attacks on Galeotos. Hageman (and possibly others, there’s a lot of dark money sloshing around now) has gone after Gordon and Galeotos aggressively, considering them her strongest opposition in what used to be a three-way race. I think these attacks hurt Galeotos more than Gordon. Gordon is the only veteran politician in the race and for those who care about experience in statewide office, he’s the only choice. Both Galeotos and Friess have built up reputations almost from scratch and touted their business bonafides and personal accomplishments. Voters who see mud slung at Galeotos could well flip to Friess in a way that they couldn’t flip from Gordon.

  5. Support from Democrats. There’s a small push being made by Independent Republicans of Wyoming, a pro-Gordon popup, to encourage Democrats to vote for Gordon as the only moderate in the race. Even just a 1,000 new votes for Gordon through this method could make a big difference.

I’m fully ready to embarrass myself with these predictions, but here’s my handicap for Tuesday’s race:

  1. Mark Gordon, 27%

  2. Foster Friess, 22%

  3. Harriet Hageman, 21%

  4. Sam Galeotos, 19%

  5. Taylor Haynes, 8%

  6. Bill Dahlin 3%

(One final thought: If Gordon or Galeotos wins the primary, they’ll likely cruise to victory in November. If Friess or Hageman come in first, Democrat Mary Throne will have a fighting chance.)

That’s it for this week, folks — thanks for reading and once again, if you’re enjoying The Wildcatter please forward it around and encourage your friends to sign-up. Once again, chip in if you can with the button below!

The Wildcatter: Dodson miscalculates -- and pays

John Barrasso won't debate David Dodson, who gave up what little leverage he had

Happy Monday! Welcome to The Wildcatter, where we’re still focused on the upcoming election — today looking at the U.S. Senate contest, which went from a snoozer of a race to a potentially intriguing contest, before reverting back to nothingburger status. Why? Because John Barrasso is a savvy politician and David Dodson is… not.

Before we dive in, I’d also like to draw everyone’s attention to some of new Star-Tribune reporter Nick Reynolds’s recent work. First, he took a long look at what impact Harriet Hageman’s attacks on her rivals will have on her chances in the governor’s race. Second, Reynolds spoke with a few folks about Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez’s fundraising trip to Jackson, where he sought contributions for both national and local candidates. Come for the in-depth analysis, stay for Dave Freudenthal’s mild trolling of national political figures (“(B)oth parties tend to raise money in Jackson … They don’t show up in Wyoming generally … They show up in Jackson.”).

It’s great to see state politics reporting returning to the Star-Tribune after a brief hiatus while they hired my replacement and I want to encourage everyone to subscribe to the newspaper — with one strong suggestion. If you subscribe, please email general manager Dale Bohren ( and let him know why you’re doing so, or why you already do. I love the Star-Tribune because of its great reporters and editors, but its corporate business model doesn’t always prioritize the newsroom. That’s why it’s essential to let them know that you’re subscribing because of the quality and breadth of reporting. Plus, a digital subscription is just $5 per month at the moment, which is a crazy good deal and the same price as the suggested donation to The Wildcatter (see button below).

Barrasso knows what he’s doing — Dodson doesn’t

The power of incumbency, arguably, does a great disservice to our democracy. If elected officials were truly responsible to, and able to be held accountable by, the public, then incumbents would be seen as far more vulnerable during elections than challengers. After all, an incumbent has a track record that voters can examine and find lacking. But that’s not the world we live in. For politicians who know what they’re doing, incumbency is king. And John Barrasso knows what he’s doing.

Barrasso has been a longtime fixture of Wyoming politics, first running for federal office (against Mike Enzi) in the 1990s, and then serving for several years in the Wyoming Legislature before being appointed to Craig Thomas’s vacated seat by Freudenthal. Though not beloved or particularly distinguished (show me the lie), Barrasso has solidified his post as the state’s junior senator, traveling Wyoming for community events on many weekends and even regularly serving as a standby physician at the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo to burnish his cowboy bonafides. Throw in his status as a good Republican foot soldier who rose to a senior rank in the GOP Senate leadership and Barrasso has a solid grip on power.

That’s what makes this year’s Senate race something of a non-contest. Democrat Gary Trauner is running a serious campaign but Barrasso has given little indication of vulnerability (no scandals, controversial votes, failure to return to the state, etc.). After the prospect of big name and big money candidates Erik Prince and Foster Friess vanished from the Senate picture, the only remaining curiosity was Jackson businessman and political novice David Dodson.

Dodson was never going to win. But the Republican’s initial plan to run as an independent in the general election could have thrown a wrench into Barrasso’s reelection. If Dodson was able to pull a few percentage points from disaffected Republican voters — say, some of the roughly 6 percent of Wyoming voters who backed Gary Johnson or Evan McMullin for president in 2016 — he could end up throwing the race in Trauner’s favor. This possibility, which still would have required Trauner to push 45 percent on his own, was likely what prompted outrage from Wyoming GOP chair W. Frank Eathorne when Dodson announced his plans and led Barrasso’s team to start circulating information about Dodson’s past contributions to Democrats.

But after a few months Dodson gave up his plan to run as an independent. He registered to run in the Republican primary, presenting his decision as a response to people who questioned whether he was running a good faith campaign or simply looking to serve as a spoiler in November. But if Dodson’s decision to enter the primary instead was genuinely meant as a good faith gambit, Barrasso hasn’t returned the favor. Barrasso has declined to debate Dodson. That’s a politically savvy move — why give oxygen to an opponent who currently has no chance of beating you? — but one that deprives Wyoming voters of, well, a genuine debate, and Dodson of a much needed platform.

(Barrasso, for the record, said he wanted to attend but could not because the Senate had extended its session into August.)

Dodson’s leverage was never fantastic. He likely had the resources to collect the 5,000 signatures required to run as an independent candidate in November, and has shown a willingness to spend some advertising dollars attacking Barrasso. But Barrasso received 76 percent of the vote in 2012, meaning the senator could afford to bleed a significant number of votes to Trauner and Dodson before sweating. Plus Dodson hasn’t crystalized a coherent and salient attack on Barrasso, like his closeness to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Still, earning 5 percent of the general election vote would have made Dodson a factor in the race and the prospect of a tight race might encourage otherwise apathetic Trauner supporters to turn out in greater numbers. Instead, Dodson placed himself in a primary election where even earning 10 or 20 percent of the vote is rather meaningless.

Dodson should have demanded a trade of sorts: he would agree to enter the primary election and give up his general election bid in exchange for Barrasso promising to debate him. I don’t know if Barrasso would have taken the deal but it would have been a win-win situation for Dodson. If Barrasso agreed to the debate, Dodson’s would have received a huge amount of publicity and the chance to force Barrasso into a gaffe, or at least get in a few good lines. If he’d declined, Dodson could have remained in the primary and said that it was Barrasso, not he, who was running a campaign in bad faith. Barrasso might well have taken the deal. The senator is a skilled speaker comfortrable parlaying with cable news anchors and might well have figured the risk of elevating Dodson’s platform would be neutralized by the benefit of getting him off the November ballot.

Instead, Dodson dropped his independent campaign with no guarantees from Barrasso’s team and is now stuck running Facebook advertisements like this:

Good luck, man!

That’s it for this week, folks — thanks for reading and once again, if you’re enjoying The Wildcatter please forward it around and encourage your friends to sign-up. I’ve seen a big uptick in sign-ups over the last week, so appreciate all those who shared the newsletter and hope more of you continue to do so. Expecting to have a slightly newsier newsletter next week, so keep an eye out for that!

The Wildcatter: Foster Friess surges in governor race

Suddenly, the Jackson businessman is within striking distance of the governor's mansion

Happy Monday! Welcome to The Wildcatter, a newsletter I’ve been fielding more questions about lately. They tend to be from sources and run along the lines of, “Hey Arno — why are you still asking me questions if you don’t work at the Star-Tribune anymore?” This is why 💁. It’s no substitute for regular newspaper coverage, but this summer has been a rough patch for political coverage in Wyoming. Both the Star-Tribune and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle have been without full-time political reporters for the last couple months. Other reporters have filled in at both newspapers and Andrew Graham at WyoFile has continued churning out strong articles. But I hope The Wildcatter has served a meaningful role during this busy period in Cowboy State politics. The Star-Tribune’s new state politics reporter, Nick Reynolds, started late last week, so make sure to keep an eye out for his work.

You can also check out a recent article about the governor’s race that I wrote for the Star-Tribune’s voter guide and another I wrote about the chance of a “blue wave” in Wyoming this year (hint: not that high!).

Friess soars in recent polls

The Wyoming governor’s race remains sorely under-polled. Surveys are expensive and Wyoming is a hard state to poll, with a small and dispersed population. The Wyoming PBS poll used for its July debate is the only public poll I’ve seen on the race. That mid-June ranking placed Jackson businessman and GOP megadonor Foster Friess in fifth place, with a middling 7 percent of likely voters stating that they would vote for him if the election were held tomorrow. That led me to write Friess off as a serious candidate.

But two well-placed sources confirmed to me on background last week that, according to the private research conducted about the race, support for Friess has shot up in the weeks since the Wyoming PBS poll. Friess is now within striking distance of first place in the crowded, six-way contest where victory is possible with just 17 percent of the vote (though candidates are aiming for closer to 25 or 30 percent). He’s now in a tight battle with the three other top contenders: State Treasurer Mark Gordon, Cheyenne businessman Sam Galeotos and natural resources attorney Harriet Hageman.

When Friess unexpectedly entered the race last April he brought a hefty checkbook to what was already expected to be a close and expensive race. Though largely unknown in Wyoming prior to the race, Friess has since spent what appears to be a large amount of money buying television and online advertisements and hiring a gaggle of campaign staff. Meanwhile, Gordon, Galeotos and Hageman have mostly busied themselves attacking each other and let Friess coast along as the folksy and likable, if occasionally confusing and apparently unserious, candidate.

For example, in July Hageman went after Gordon and Galeotos aggressively during the PBS debate, and launched a website denouncing the duo, while saying nothing about Friess.

That may be starting to change as the candidates wise up to the threat being posed by Friess. Seeming to relish her role as the race’s brawler, Hageman added Friess to her list of opponents unfit for the job of governor during the Casper Star-Tribune’s governor debate held last week.

“We have a part-time Jackson jet-setter who vowed form the beginning that he was going to spend whatever it takes to win this race,” Hageman said in her closing statement. “If he is successful at doing this, we will never again have a true grassroots Wyomingite elected to higher office in this state.”

It’s unclear exactly where most of Friess’s newfound support is coming from. While he’s long had ties nationally to the evangelical Christian Republican base — a group that Hageman has also appealed to — his campaign messaging has more overlap with Galeotos, pitching Friess as a common sense conservative businessman.

Galeotos spokeswoman Amy Edmonds acknowledged in an interview that Friess was running a strong campaign.

“Foster definitely has run into our lane is doing some things that are very similar to us,” Edmonds said.

But she sought to emphasize that Galeotos’s roots run far deeper in Wyoming, including current investments in local Cheyenne businesses.

“Differentiation is going to be very important to make sure people understand that Sam is the candidate that is fifth-generation Wyomingite,” Edmonds said. “Sam is the candidate that lives in Wyoming full time.”

While Friess has lived in Jackson since the 1990s, Edmonds and Hageman have both alluded to Friess’s other residence in Scottsdale, Arizona. Last winter, the Friess family sent their holiday cards with Arizona postmarks.

“He’s a part-time resident of Arizona and Wyoming,” Republican consultant and Jackson resident Liz Brimmer told me in an interview last spring. “He’s a snowbird. He winters in a different state.”

In addition to money for his own campaign, Friess brings a host of political connections to the race from his years of supporting various Republican and conservative causes. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum appeared at a Casper event with Friess in late July and Donald Trump Jr. wrote an op-ed endorsing Friess in the Star-Tribune this past weekend.

The idea that these backers are literally indebted to Friess is not a stretch given Trump' Jr.’s own words in his endorsement piece:

Let me tell you a little bit about the Foster Fries that I know… Following my father clinching the Republican nomination, there was a short period where some conventional sources of funding had not yet opened up to us, but Foster was right there when we needed him and helped open the door to other early adopters in the donor community. His generous early support helped make it possible for us to fund our ongoing grassroots mobilization operation in states like Iowa, Michigan and Ohio.

Foster stepped up when we needed him most and made a real difference in my father’s campaign, and for that I will always be grateful.

He had our back in 2016 and I’m proud now to have his back as he runs for Governor of Wyoming.

Edmonds also noted that Friess received his grade from the National Rifle Association weeks ahead of any of the other governor candidates, an unusual step for the NRA, which Edmonds said typically releases grades for all candidates in a given race at once.

“I know first-hand your commitment to the U.S. Constitution and the individual freedom it protects,” NRA President Chris Cox wrote to Friess in a July 10 letter that Friess promoted to supporters in an email. “I appreciate your leadership — and your friendship.”

Galeotos and the other candidates received their scores at the end of July.

“I just wanted an explanation from the NRA about why Mr. Friess received (a score) before anyone else,” Edmonds said. “It’s fine but it’s a little annoying.”

Friess spokesman John Spina did not respond to an email asking why Friess received his NRA score early.

With just weeks left before the primary and the governor’s race appearing to widen from three top contenders to four, it’ll be interesting to see whether other candidates start going after Friess or whether Gordon and Galeotos — the two other wealthiest candidates — kick their spending into higher gear to compete.

Abortion questions remain

Speaking of Friess, his team still has not responded to the questions I put to the candidates following the July PBS debate regarding their stance on abortion laws in Wyoming were Roe v. Wade to be overturned.

Only Gordon and Galeotos responded to my inquiry, with Galeotos saying that he would support a total ban on abortion — with no exceptions, including life of the mother — and Gordon likewise calling for a ban, albeit one that would allow for exceptions in cases of medical emergency, rape and incest.

I circled back with both Friess and Hageman. Friess representative Spina said he was close to being able to provide an answer, but couldn’t do so yet.

“We've been asked this a lot recently and have mostly stuck with no comment, but I'm pushing him to make comment,” Spina said in an email.

Hageman personally replied to my email, though declined to directly address my questions (specifically, whether she would support a ban on abortion in Wyoming if the U.S. Supreme Court opened the path for states to do so).

“As I have repeatedly stated, I am pro-life and I believe that life begins at conception,” Hageman said. “I believe that all life is precious.”

I suppose it’s up to voters to press Friess and Hageman on exactly what kind of restrictions they’d like to see on abortion if elected governor.

Haynes stays in the race after all

Following what seemed like the end of perennial candidate Taylor Haynes’s candidacy this year due to residency concerns, a Wyoming judge has ruled that Haynes will appear on the primary ballot after all, according to the Laramie Boomerang.

Laramie County District Judge Thomas Campbell on Friday denied the state’s request to suspend Haynes’ campaign and put the brakes on further court proceedings.

This came after Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan, a strong backer of Hageman, ruled that Haynes did not meet the residency requirement to run for governor because he had not continuously resided in the state for the last five years. While Buchanan’s role was politically suspect, reporting on the issue — including several fine WyoFile articles by Graham — made it seem like Haynes truly had not lived in Wyoming (his ranch straddles the Colorado border, and the home was deemed to be on the Colorado side).

But Campbell deemed the issue to complicated to be resolved by the August 21 primary and Haynes declined to expedite the proceedings.

“I am surprised that Dr. Haynes unequivocally would not agree to an expedited hearing as a way to guarantee the swift resolution of this matter before the primary election,” Buchanan said in a statement Friday. “The constitutional requirement of five years of continuous residency is very clear, and my office and I will continue to seek that same clarity in how the law is applied.”

The whole thing is messy and its impact on the race is unclear. While both Haynes and Hageman draw on rural voters angry with governor regulation and the federal government, many observers have told me that Haynes’s supporters are extremely loyal and would have been unlikely to defect — even if he were found ineligible to be governor — and crossover to support Hageman. But without a ruling booting him from the ballot, whether or not Hageman would have seen a boost seems like a largely moot question.

That’s it for this week, folks! Thanks for reading and once again, if you’re enjoying The Wildcatter please forward it around and encourage your friends to sign-up.

The Wildcatter: To Trump or not to Trump?

Donald Trump hasn't tweeted on the governor's race, but he's come up anyway

Happy Monday! Welcome to The Wildcatter, where we’re dealing with a subject that I wrote about surprisingly little while on the full-time state politics beat in Wyoming: Donald Trump.

Who loves Donald the most?

One interesting, if now trite, phenomenon in Republican politics since November 2016 has been the degree to which otherwise respectable GOP politicians and elected officials are willing to debase themselves to show Donald Trump fealty. I don’t mean that as any kind of partisan commentary on the Trump administration’s policies — most of which are well within the Republican mainstream — but rather that any serious businessperson or successful politician knows that Trump is neither of those things. Again, that’s less value judgement than fact: Trump appears to have little understanding of most of the policies his administration carries out, he regularly makes contradictory and confusing statements and takes serious action on seeming whimsy. His track record in business was marked by multiple bankruptcies, credible accusations of fraud and successes that seemed more based on leveraging his public persona (see “The Apprentice”) into lucrative licensing deals, than any meaningful acumen in real estate. All that is true even if you genuinely support everything the Trump administration is doing, don’t mind the norms that the president is violating and believe that his presidency is a net benefit for the nation.

That brings us to a great article by Austen Huguelet in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle last week. It addresses a campaign mailer (see below) sent by Cheyenne businessman Sam Galeotos, who is running in the GOP primary for governor.

Galeotos is a political novice and was little known outside of Cheyenne before his name started circulating as a potential candidate last winter. Sources kept telling me that Galeotos was a “Trump guy,” but nobody could explain what this meant. Sure, he was a businessman-turned-politician, but that only describes dozens, likely hundreds, of Republican candidates around the country in any given campaign cycle. Galeotos didn’t seem to have a larger-than-life persona, a penchant for making controversial statements or a sketchy past. He wasn’t turning out tens-of-thousands of prospective voters for rallies. As Huguelet noted in his article on the above flier, Galeotos didn’t even donate to Trump during the 2016 campaign. So what made him a “Trump guy”?

All I can say is that his campaign has periodically sought to closely tie Galeotos to Trump, including in comments from former U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyoming, when she endorsed Galeotos last spring, and in the current mailer. It appears to have kind of stuck, both earning Galeotos the “Trump guy” moniker and leading astute political observers in the Cowboy State to notice that it appears Galeotos is hitching his cart to the president.

University of Wyoming history professor Phil Roberts told me that things usually go poorly for governor candidates who try to attach themselves to national politics, and that most of the candidates this year had stayed away from doing so “with one exception.”

That exception is Galeotos.

“I notice Galeotos is more and more at least directing that way,” Roberts said. “Candidates that have done that in the past, from either party … have done so at their peril.”

That peril stems partially from the fact, Roberts said, that there is a tension between the State of Wyoming’s interests and those of the federal government — even under a friendly federal administration. There’s an added danger given how volatile Trump’s presidency has been and while it’s difficult to see what Trump could do that would spoil Wyoming voters on him, there’s always the possibility.

“He runs a risk especially if things go south on Trump,” Roberts said.

The thrust of Huguelet’s article was that other campaigns think Galeotos is unfairly implying that Trump has endorsed him or, absent such an endorsement, that a vote for Galeotos is somehow uniquely a vote for Trump.

“I just think that it was an effort to convince people of something that isn’t there,” candidate Harriet Hageman told Huguelet.

But what makes the article interesting is that, perhaps because of the reasons that Roberts noted, none of the other candidates actually seem to want to claim that they are a better fit to support Trump if elected. There’s also the debasement question. Galeotos seems OK tying his very reasonable candidacy for the governorship of Wyoming to an erratic president with whom he likely shares little in common with. The other candidates have been lessing willing to do the same.

For example, Gordon spokeswoman Kristin Walker tried to undermine Galeotos’s alleged support for Trump:

“Sam was nowhere to be seen at the 2016 Wyoming Republican Party Convention, when the party chose delegates to elect the Republican nominee for president,” she wrote in a statement. “He hasn’t donated, served in an advisory capacity or done anything to support President Trump’s agenda, as far as anyone knows.”

But she then declined to say that Gordon had any stronger connection to Trump:

Walker … is focusing on Gordon’s record of “upholding and defending the Constitution, saving taxpayers money and fighting back against federal overreach,” and on supporting “Wyoming Republicans and conservative causes.”

Foster Friess’s team did the same thing, suggesting that Friess didn’t support everything that Trump did but had useful connections to the administration nonetheless.

In other words, the other candidates seem OK ceding the Trump guy ground to Galeotos but are nonetheless mildly annoyed that he seems to be doing so without any actual basis (Galeotos is actually an accomplished businessman, for one). Whether the tact pays off with voters or leaves them confused as to whether Trump actually endorsed the candidate — and if not what he’s doing on a Galeotos mailer — remains to be seen.

And that’s it for this week, folks! Thanks for reading and please let me know what you would like to see in this newsletter — I’ve had a couple requests for more photos and I’ll do my best, though there are a limited number of non-copyrighted images of the folks in Wyoming that I’m writing about. Finally, once again, if you’re enjoying The Wildcatter please forward it around and encourage your friends to sign-up.

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