Doug Gerard: Bouchard, Gray, Smith – Who Should Be The Conservative Candidate For Wyoming’s House Seat?

Guest columnist Doug Gerard writes: "Perhaps the best way to illustrate the difference between Anthony, Chuck, and Darin is to share my first experience with each candidate.

Doug Gerard

May 19, 202111 min read

(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Liz Cheney needs to go.

In 2016 I feared she’d be a lousy fit for Wyoming, and I was right. Liz went against what most of Wyoming thought when she voted to impeach President Trump. While I’m glad Liz had the backbone to do what she felt was right, she was wrong, and it should cost her job.

At least six candidates are running or are considering throwing their hats in the ring: Marrisa Selvig, Everett Knapp, Ed Buchanan, Sen. Anthony Bouchard, Rep. Chuck Gray, and Darin Smith.

It will take six things to beat Rep. Cheney this next go-round:

  1. Not being Liz
  2. Living and being from Wyoming
  3. Name recognition
  4. Supporting the Republican Party platform
  5. Money
  6. Even more money

This rules out Marrisa Selvig and Everett Knapp by my calculations.

Marissa is a relative unknown. While there is time to get name recognition, I doubt Ms. Selvig will earn the name recognition and raise the $1.25 million needed to run an effective campaign against Rep. Cheney.

General Knapp, while originally from Wyoming, hasn’t lived here in 38 years. Wyoming has changed. I don’t see Wyoming getting rid of perceived carpet-bagger Liz Cheney in favor of someone who only last week moved back to Wyoming from California.

Ed Buchanan, our current Secretary of State, was a solid conservative Speaker of the House when he was in the legislature. Unfortunately, Secretary Buchanan hasn’t been as proactive as many Republicans would have liked to have seen, especially regarding elections.

That narrows the field down to a meaningful choice of three viable conservative candidates, Sen Anthony Bouchard, Rep. Chuck Gray, and Darin Smith.

I will support any of the three candidates in the general election as they will be the best choice again any Libertarian, independent, or Democrat that may toss their hat in the ring.

With that said, who is the best conservative candidate?

The three pillars of conservatism in Wyoming are Fiscal Responsibility, Pro-Life, and Gun-Rights. I like to think of myself as a fiscal conservative, a pro-life conservative, and a gun-rights conservative, in that order.

Bouchard and I share many of the same core beliefs. A significant difference for me is his huge focus on gun rights, almost to the exclusion of everything else conservative. I know Anthony supports the three pillars of conservativism, just not in the same order and emphasis I do. Additionally, Wyoming needs federal legislators in leadership positions to be the most effective for Wyoming. I am concerned Anthony’s focus on gun rights makes him unlikely to be a consensus builder needed to earn leadership positions in the US House.

In contrast, Chuck Gray shares my values in roughly the same order. While I am just a tiny voice in Wyoming conservatism, Chuck always has the time to have substantive discussions about conservative policies. He has always been willing to spend time and answer policy questions. Chuck has always been the epitome of Ronald Reagan’s “Happy Warrior.”

Much like Chuck Gray, Darin Smith holds the primary conservative virtues in roughly the same priority. His 2016 campaign against Liz Cheney was small, grassroots, and the most significant threat to Cheney in the 2016 election. Had Darin gotten an earlier start, he might have made the race competitive for Cheney. Darin wears his heart on his sleeve and tells you what he thinks and why. Much like Chuck Gray, he is one of Reagan’s Happy Warriors.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the difference between Anthony, Chuck, and Darin is to share my first experience with each candidate.

Anthony Bouchard – In 2008, Obamacare was the day’s issue, and I started lobbying the Wyoming Legislature to get the Wyoming Health Care Freedom Act added to our constitution. It was a hard slog and built on the work of the Goldwater Institute out of Arizona. I was lucky enough to testify in front of the Senate Labor-Health and Social Services Committee in 2009, starting the process of getting the Health Care Freedom Amendment added to the Wyoming constitution.

It wasn’t until 2011 when the Wyoming Senate considered SJ-2 (Nutting) and SJ-3 (Scott) both taking different approaches to get the Health Care Freedom Act done. With Bouchard’s supporting Senator Nutting’s SJ-2, the Wyomingified version of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) suggested Health Care Freedom Amendment.

I was fully aware of ALEC’s language. While the ALEC version was laser-focused in its intent, SJ-2 didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of making it to the voters in Wyoming. It was too long, too complex, and unwieldy to make it to the voters.

I discussed with Anthony the work that went into SJ-3, why SJ-2 would fail, and why SJ-2 might cause the whole enterprise to fail, primarily because of its length and extreme complexity. SJ-2 was nearly six pages in length, roughly a third the size of the entire Wyoming Constitution. Anthony refused to listen to my concerns dismissing the objections out of hand.

As I predicted, SJ-2 nearly stopped Health Care Freedom Amendment from happening. In committee, the Senate Labor-Health and Social Service Committee did what it could to kill the bill entirely by combining SJ-2 and SJ-3 and moving the combined mess to the Committee of the Whole. If not for the last-minute work by Senator Drew Perkins and Rep. Tom Lubnau to wholly rewrite the Health Care Freedom Amendment, it would have failed. Comparing the text of the enrolled resolution SJ-2 to the proposed SJ-2 and SJ-3 text illustrates my original critique of the proposed SJ-2 as spot on.

Don’t get me wrong, Sen. Nutting and Sen. Bouchard were instrumental in getting the Healthcare Freedom Amendment on the ballot. In no small part, the volume of attention Anthony Bouchard brought to the issue’s importance was influential and helped get the issue on the ballot (and in the constitution). But Anthony’s insistence he knew best almost killed the bill, and that’s concerning. Knowing you’re right doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to other people and include some of their ideas to grow a consensus to get the job done.

Chuck Gray – In contrast, my first experience with Gray was different. True to his word and pro-life principles, Chuck brought his first pro-life bill in 2017 bill HB-182. I happened to be in Cheyenne for testimony on HB-182. It was the first significant pro-life legislation even to be heard by that committee in years. While I didn’t testify for the bill as others spoke as I would have, I watched it work through the committee. The bill got gutted as the committee removed the ultrasound requirement from the bill.

After the committee adjourned, I got to visit with Chuck for about fifteen minutes, lamenting what a tragedy it was for the bill to be gutted. Chuck, with his eternal optimism, disagreed with me, saying, “Yes, that wasn’t the best outcome, but a pro-life bill is going to the floor of the House for the first time in years, and that is a victory.”

He was right too. HB-182 became law and the building block for the evermore affirmative pro-life measure that reflects the beliefs of the vast majority of Wyomingites.

Darin Smith – I first met Darin in 2016 at the Wyoming GOP State Convention, where he announced he was running for US House. I had a long talk with Darin. Darin will engagingly talk with you for hours. Sometimes it’s hard to get him to stop as his enthusiasm and passion for the campaign are evident. I choose to support Darin as the other candidates (Tim Stubson, Leland Christensen) lacked a conservative record or didn’t have the resources to mount an effective state-wide campaign.

After our initial meeting, Darin got organized after a brief delay, but he gave it his all once he did. On a much more limited budget than Cheney, he was able to garner significant grassroots support. Toward the end of the campaign, he had over 100 volunteers make phone calls to voters on his behalf for three days straight. I’d never seen that before or since for any state-wide campaign for US House, US Senate, or Governor. I can’t help but wonder what’s possible with a properly organized and funded campaign.

Darin is an interesting character. A businessman trained as a lawyer, he’s worn many different hats working as an attorney, real estate developer, and a fundraiser for large Christian values-0based organizations. He is a charismatic fellow whose optimism is infectious. That helped in 2016 brought the unknown candidate to running neck and neck with well-known establishment politicians. If the 2016 race were a head-to-head, Cheney/Smith, Darin would have won.

Darin’s commitment to the conservative cause is superlative. While he was chair of the Laramie County GOP, he led another first-of-its-kind activist effort to get people to support legislation that fell in line with the Wyoming Republican Platform and resolution. He coordinated with the Wyoming State GOP to get people to testify on bills vital to the Republican Party. He was so effective the Frontier Republicans targeted him for removal, and in a close election, he lost to the wife of tax and spend liberal Republican Representative Olsen.

Now the tricky question, who should you support?

Anthony, Chuck, and Darin are good men trying to do what is best for Wyoming. In recognition of this, no matter who wins of these three, I will support whoever wins the primary.

Unfortunately, to do that, we need a single conservative candidate to beat Liz Cheney. I think Liz is very beatable, and she will still garner roughly 35% of the vote.

Which of the three conservatives candidates can do better than that?

From a policy perspective, I rank Gray and Smith as the best choice over Bouchard. Smith and Gray represent what I believe more accurately than does Bouchard.

On the fundraising front, I expect Smith to outdo Bouchard with Gray at a significant disadvantage to both.

This campaign will be a long, drawn-out campaign and a tough row for all the candidates to hoe. That said, you will be able to tell who wants it by who shows up at all the forums, debates, and Republican Party functions across the state. The first significant debate is this June 12th in Casper.

Working well with others is going to be necessary to Wyoming’s US Representative. It is essential to consider this in selecting a candidate to support. I think Gray and Smith are tied as the best choice in this regard.

Starting with Bouchard, put simply, I don’t think he can build coalitions to get him over the 35% threshold it will take to win the election. He is extraordinarily passionate and was the first to announce his candidacy—a great move on his part.

However, in five years of service in the Senate, he has never been a committee chairman. Wyoming needs a Representative that can lead other legislators to help Wyoming the most in the US House. If Anthony can’t build the support to be a chair in Wyoming, where we all know each other, how will he fare in the US House where he knows no one?

Next is Chuck Gray. I have long been a supporter of Chuck Gray and consider him a friend, but I’ve never worked on any campaign for him. Conservative ideals-wise, Chuck is a natural fit for me.

Chuck has been a conservative leader in the House that has shown an ability to work with others to accomplish traditional goals. This shouldn’t be underestimated. In recent years the House has been led by Speakers Steve Harshman and Eric Barlow, both of whom are barely distinguishable from the average Democrat. The number of legislators that are supporting Chuck is also a good sign.

Unfortunately for Chuck, he is at a considerable disadvantage in fundraising when compared to Bouchard and Smith. While his name is well known in conservative circles and Natrona County, I worry about him being able to mount an effective campaign to reach the needed 35%, especially with two other conservatives in the race. That said, if the race were simply Gray/Cheney, Gray would win.

That leaves us with Smith. While he doesn’t have legislative experience, he does have significant leadership experience. He has shown an ability to mount an effective grassroots campaign state-wide and will outdo Bouchard in fundraising. Darin has the potential to challenge Cheney’s fundraising numbers with folks like Foster Friess in his corner. He also has a record of working for conservative Republican values.

Since I worked for his 2016 candidacy, Darin Smith and I have become friends, although we occasionally disagree on the right way forward. The 2018 governor’s race is the best example where I supported Harriet Hageman, and he endorsed Friess.

For me, in order, my ranking of the conservative candidates is (1) Darin Smith; (2) Chuck Gray; (3) Anthony Bouchard.

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Doug Gerard