The Wildcatter: Knives come out at GOP debate

Underdog Hageman goes after Gordon, Galeotos at governor debate

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Hageman goes to the mat

Despite a crowded field, the Wyoming governor race has been relatively civil manner — at least until last Thursday, when natural resources attorney Harriet Hageman decided to drop a hammer on two of her opponents, State Treasurer Mark Gordon and Cheyenne businessman Sam Galeotos.

Hageman used her closing statement during the Wyoming PBS/Wyoming Public Media GOP gubernatorial debate to aggressively attack Gordon and Galeotos, who are leading Hageman in the polls.

"I have always and will always put Wyoming first,” she said. “But I don't believe the same can be said of my opponents.”

Hageman on Gordon:

While I was out protecting ranchers and wildlife from the wolves, Mr. Gordon was giving money to bring them here and while I was fighting the Clinton roadless rule, he was funding the Sierra Club and while I was fighting to protect for Wyoming’s water Mr. Gordon was supporting the Sierra Club’s efforts to drain lake Powell.

Hageman on Galeotos:

Sam Galeotos has touted his business experience … I started my own business on my own dime, Sam’s company took $3.75 million of Wyoming taxpayer money ... Sam’s company has also received $2.5 million in contracts with the state. So while he likes to compare himself to Trump, that's absolutely not the circumstance. It's easy to be successful on someone else's money and Green House Data is a company that is ideologically obsessed with so-called green energy, a company that is anti-coal and anti-ranching and funds social justice organizations. He says one thing when he’s in Gillette but does another thing when he’s in Cheyenne.

The debate itself was a low-key affair and not designed to allow candidates to question or directly respond to one another, which is perhaps why Hageman saved her attacks for her closing statement. Due to a random drawing that determined the order of closing statements, though, Hageman went first and Gordon and Galeotos both had the opportunity to respond.
Gordon rebuked Hageman’s attack and it seemed to provoke his strongest moment in the debate — and a dose of redemption following a lackluster showing an an earlier debate in Sheridan.

“Ms. Hageman,” Gordon replied. “You know that's nonsense. You know that's nonsense and it’s disingenuous.”

(He also delivered an only-in-Wyoming diss of his own: “I’m part of the lamp co-op— I’m not sure you are.”)

Gordon denied having anything to do with funding the reintroduction of wolves into Wyoming, a line of attack that has been floating around in some Republican circles based on a political contribution Gordon made in the 1990s but that Hageman didn’t flesh out during at the debate. He acknowledged an affiliation with the Sierra Club, but said his focus was on stopping the group from advocating for an end to cattle grazing. It was a more succinct defense of the several thousand dollars he’s donated to the group than he’d offered in the past, and while it’s unlikely to convince any Gordon haters it will allow his supporters and those on the fence to write-off Hageman’s accusations as political posturing.

The attack on Galeotos was more muddled than the suggestion that Gordon is a closet environmentalists. It’s hard to identify a voting bloc that would turn on Galeotos based on the fact Green House Data uses some renewable energy and if receiving a few million dollars in government contracts makes a company somehow illegitimate, then hundreds of Wyoming firms have been “successful on someone else's money.”

“I’m totally baffled by the scenario that was just laid out,” Galeotos said. “It shows a severe lack of understanding about how the private sector works today.”

While Green House Data relies in part on coal-powered electricity, he said the company’s clients expect it to offer renewable energy options as well — even some Trump hotel properties rely on renewables, he said.

“This is why we need to elect a private sector leader for this state,” Galeotos concluded. “We must grow the private sector in this state and in order to do that you need to understand how the business world works.”

This episode aside, the first debate of the night — which featured the top three candidates, according to a Wyoming PBS poll — was largely a snoozer. It was followed by an undercard debate featuring Taylor Haynes, Foster Friess and Bill Dahlin, which was far more entertaining and informative. Haynes and Dahlin especially gave clear, concise answers, disagreed with one another and helped voters understand how they would govern if elected. For example, Haynes and Dahlin both called for eliminating Endow, Gov. Matt Mead’s economic diversification initiative, and Haynes announced his opposition to the proposed private immigration detention in Evanston, saying that he opposed any kind of private prison over concern for the rights of inmates.

I attribute the more compelling nature of the second debate to a fearful and cautious approach by Gordon and Galeotos. As the frontrunners, I’m sure the duo is nervous that any gaffe or risky policy position could cost them the 1,000 or 2,000 votes that may make the difference in the Republican primary next month.

With that, here’s my unsolicited ranking of debate performances:

  1. Haynes — charismatic, confident and funny

  2. Dahlin — gave clear answers based on his business experience

  3. Hageman — remains consistent on core platform

  4. Galeotos and Gordon — nothing new from either, but no mistakes

  5. Foster Friess — failed to show mastery of Wyoming, a couple minor stumbles

Is Taylor Haynes in deep trouble?

Speaking of Taylor Haynes, the perennial candidate for governor may be in deep trouble. Two recent WyoFile reports by Andrew Graham explore the claim floated by an anonymous tipster that Haynes doesn’t live in Wyoming.

Here’s an excerpt that captures the gist:

Gubernatorial candidate Dr. Taylor Haynes’ voter registration records show three different residential addresses listed since 2014, none of which are classified as residential properties in official county records.

The log also shows that in 2015 the Albany County elections office flagged him as having moved out of the state. He voted in the 2016 election with a commercial property in Laramie as his residential address.

If Haynes did, in fact, leave Wyoming for Colorado in 2014 that would not only make him ineligible to run for governor but could raise questions about whether he illegally cast a ballot in the state two years ago.

Haynes called the claim he did not live in Wyoming a “pack of lies” in a video posted to his campaign website, though representatives would not elaborate when I pressed them by email.

But regardless of the claim’s merit, it begs the question of who circulated the information to reporters. I received an anonymous email several weeks ago with a packet of information calling Haynes’ residency into question, but the person or group behind it did not respond to follow-up questions I sent. Haynes rep Beth Wasson said the campaign knows who’s behind it — but she wouldn’t tell me.

“We have information from a very good source telling us exactly who is responsible,” Wasson said in an email.

Hageman appears to have the most to gain if Haynes is disqualified from the ballot. The Wyoming PBS poll put Haynes at 10 percent and Hageman at 11 percent. The speculation among political observers in the Cowboy State is that they’re fighting over a very similar pool of anti-regulation, hardline conservative voters, especially those who care about agriculture and rural issues. Assuming she picked up all of Haynes supporters — never a sure bet, though none of the other candidates are promoting a similar message — that would push her to around 20 percent, enough to win depending on how the rest of the vote is split, though she’d likely need closer to 30 percent on election day.

But spokeswoman Trinity Lewis said Hageman’s campaign had nothing to do with the effort to undermine Haynes’ presence on the ballot.

“We learned about it when we started seeing the news spill out,” she said. “It’s a matter of law, so it’s just completely out of our hands. But we have nothing to do with it — but it is interesting.”

Exclusive: Galeotos wants total abortion ban, Gordon a partial one

The question of whether Trump U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that identified a constitutional right to abortion, came up at the PBS debate in a roundabout way that allowed candidates to dodge. Only Hageman said that she believed Roe v. Wade was incorrectly decided, though she declined to say what steps she would like Wyoming to take were the question of reproductive rights returned to the state level.

I followed up with the top three candidates, as well as Friess, following the debate. Galeotos spokeswoman Amy Edmonds said that if Roe v. Wade were overturned, the businessman would support a total ban on abortion in Wyoming with none of the typical exceptions, including life of the mother.

“Sam is strongly pro-life,” Edmonds said.

Mark Gordon representative Kristin Walker said that Gordon supported overturning Roe v. Wade and would like Wyoming to ban abortion were the precedent reversed.

“Mark is pro-life,” Walker said in an email. “He believes strongly in families and the values they teach and protect. As Governor, he will fight every day to protect Wyoming families and look at every law through that lens.”

Walker said that Gordon would support exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.

Friess and Hageman did not respond to requests for comment.

Only 16 percent of Americans believe abortion should be illegal in all cases, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center poll.

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. Do you want me to keep providing the “roundup” feature from 307 Politics (a recap of recent political stories from around Wyoming)? Is it too long? Too short? Not enough pictures? And once again, if you’re enjoying The Wildcatter please forward it around and encourage your friends to sign-up.