The Wildcatter: Unpacking the Taylor Haynes fiasco

The "constitutionalist" governor candidate runs afoul of the law

Happy Monday! Welcome to The Wildcatter, where I can pretty much assure you that things are going to remain largely focused on the Wyoming governors race for the next month. Why? Because it’s a wild race and shows no signs of slowing down. Au contraire, it appears as though we are just getting started. Let’s dive in.

Taylor, how could you?

For anyone who knows Taylor Haynes — his current and past candidacy, his general shtick — the news that he doesn’t live in Wyoming, and is thus ineligible to serve as governor, is absolutely incredible.

Haynes once lectured me during an interview that an 8th grader could understand the United States Constitution. His point was that interpretation of the Constitution or even of laws is unnecessary and, more broadly, that statutes are not intended to be flexible. That didn’t make much sense at the time (the point of the U.S. Constitution is almost certainly, in part, for laws to be tested against it through an inherently interpretive process) but Haynes was adamant. So imagine my surprise when I saw Haynes’s response to a ruling by the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office that he does not live in Wyoming.

In a press release Friday, Haynes disputed the ruling that his ranch was in fact located in Colorado — but didn’t quite deny it:

I have lived in Wyoming for nearly 35 years and during that entire time have not had a residential address in any other state.

Am I the only one who smells equivocation? State residency isn’t rocket science: You either live within the legal boundaries of a given state, or you do not. The issue is that Haynes’s ranch straddles the Wyoming-Colorado border and his actual house is located on the Colorado side, according to the Secretary of State. Haynes seems to be acknowledging that his house is in Colorado. But he then argues that when examining the larger context — where he pays taxes, where the public road access connects him to, etc. — he should still be considered a Wyoming resident.

That’s a reasonable argument. When I first heard the rumors about Haynes’s residency floating around, I assumed the allegation was that he had one ranch in Wyoming and a second one in Colorado where he spent more than half the year. In other words, I thought it was a real scandal — the kind where a candidate or elected official doesn’t live in the district she claims to represent, or want to represent — not a technicality. But someone who for all intents and purposes is a resident of the proper jurisdiction, is an active part of the community there? Please. To add more weight to Haynes’s claim that he should remain eligible for the governorship, current Secretary of State Ed Buchanan previously held an honorary post with the campaign of Harriet Hageman, the GOP primary candidate who likely stands to gain the most from a Haynes exit.

“This politically motivated attack has been designed by its perpetrators to confuse voters and is well-timed to coincide with the commencement of early voting.” Haynes said in his statement.

A judge may indeed reject Buchanan’s request to remove Haynes from the ballot, arguing that it is too late in the game, that Haynes has followed the spirit of the law, or is otherwise justified in remaining in the running. But in any other context, what would Haynes, the “strict constitutionalist” candidate, make of a judge ignoring the letter of the law — candidates must live in Wyoming — and using purely subjective reasoning to generate a controversial ruling? One can only wonder.

Hageman doubles down

If you thought Hageman’s attempted takedown of rivals Sam Galeotos and Mark Gordon during the debate two weeks ago (covered in last week’s Wildcatter) was the height of drama, you were wrong. Hageman’s campaign has now taken out online advertisements promoting a website called “Wrong for Wyoming,” which attacks both Gordon and Galeotos.

To Hageman’s credit, the website transparently describes itself as a project of her campaign and directs interested voters to Hageman’s main website for more information. But the website itself offers some fairly silly attacks, including a “quiz” that asks:

The answer, in case you were wondering, is Mark Gordon. Though if that’s the case, then Hageman seems to be implying that Sam Galeotos actually is a “lifelong conservative.”

I haven’t seen it start yet, but look for Galeotos to pile on the attacks of Gordon’s record of support for some (relatively moderate) environmental groups between now and the election. Retail politics may still reign supreme in Wyoming, but with Gordon and Galeotos polling within the margin of error and Hageman expecting a surge of Haynes supporters, the leading candidates may be ready to air all the dirty laundry they can.

Will the moderate candidate please stand up?

Hageman needs to attack both Gordon and Galeotos because they’re likely attracting similar voters — attack only Gordon and you might push some of his supporters to Galeotos, or vice versa. The duo are both wealthy and tout their experience in the private and public sectors as credentials for the governor’s mansion. But I also think that they’ve drawn the bulk of the moderate Republican primary voters. Whether or not either candidate is a moderate, though, remains an open question.

In some states, the general elections are contested enough that many voters sit the primaries and wait for the general election to pick a side. But in Wyoming, the winner of the GOP primary will likely be the winner in November. So instead of drawing only the most diehard conservatives, the Wyoming Republican primary attracts lots of more middle-of-the-road voters. In a race with six serious Republican candidates, you’d think at least one of them would try to carve out the “moderate” niche for him or herself, even if just as a political tactic. I think Gordon, and to a lesser degree Galeotos, have claim this turf by running as common sense conservatives, avoiding the rigid ideology of anti-regulation candidates like Hageman.

But it’s not clear to me that either Gordon or Galeotos are, well, moderates. At least on would-be (could-be!) wedge issues like gun control or abortion, all the Republicans have stood in lockstep. Gordon joined his rivals in opposing any type of gun-free zones (even the public, government meetings you attend as treasurer, Mr. Gordon?) and Galeotos and Gordon have both called for total abortion bans in Wyoming (Gordon would allow a handful of exceptions).

One area that Gordon and Galeotos do land to the left of Hageman & co. is on general government administration, with both refusing to take the bait when it comes to calls for shuttering Endow, Gov. Matt Mead’s signature economic diversification initiative, or making a grab for federal lands, to take two examples. But Galeotos has still called for steep, if vague, cuts to the state budget and Gordon has declined to make an affirmative case for raising state revenue to support public education.

Perhaps that leaves Sheridan businessman and political novice Bill Dahlin, who has not mounted a serious enough campaign to clench the nomination, as the most moderate Republican in the field. This leaves few options — other than Mary Throne, the Democratic candidate — for GOP voters who want a candidate that will keep in check the Legislature’s increasing tendency to consider and sometimes pass hardline bills on issues like guns, abortion and sexual orientation. Of course, campaigns are not governorships and candidate Mead was a different character than Governor Mead. But for all the obfuscation that campaigns entail, part of us is forced to take candidates their word — and thus far it’s been quite the hardline conservative word from the top of the pack.

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.