By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily
The rural, northwestern corner of Wyoming is home to the most crowded primary race in the state Legislature so far, with four Republican candidates vying for the House District 25 seat.
Mudslinging has already started between two of the candidates, with each pointing at the other as representing much of what they each find wrong with the party itself.
“Let the battle begin,” David Northrup told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday.
Northrup, a former legislator and Troy Bray, the author of a vulgar email sent to a sitting state senator, are both running for the state House seat to be left vacant with the Rep. Dan Laursen’s decision to run for the Senate, as are Chris Good and Rex Rich.
Northrup served in the state Legislature for four terms in the House. In 2020, he ran for State Senate and was beaten by incumbent and current Sen. Tim French (R-Cody).
It’s possible his loss was the result of a diluted field, as a competitive third candidate ran on a very similar platform to Northrup’s.
This time around, the differences between Northrup and his opponents may be more discernible.
“David Northrup is every bit of what I would describe as a Remocrat,” Bray said. “Northrup’s record speaks for itself. He didn’t represent Willwood (a neighborhood near Powell) and Park County.”
In Thursday’s Powell Tribune, Northrup’s wife Astrid Northrup responded took task with earlier comments by Bray, saying he “does not represent me, or the majority of Park County Republicans, in his comments or his lewd and indecent language.”
“Troy Bray is a Tea Party Republican,” David Northrup said. “He is as far as the party can go to the right.”
Bray sent a vulgar email to State Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, last September, telling her if he was her he would kill himself and using profane language to refer to her.
He later issued an apology for the language he used, but not his sentiment.
Bray was a precinct committee member within the county GOP party when he wrote the letter, a role he still holds today. The county and state GOP declined to chastise or ask Bray to step down for his behavior and his role in the party was elevated after the event, as he was called on to write resolutions and censures.
At the state GOP convention in Sheridan earlier this month, a few members of the county party wore “Troy Was Right” t-shirts in his support.
In an interview with Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday, Bray described himself as a “constitutional conservative Libertarian Republican.”
“My biggest things are individual liberties and adherence to the Constitution,” he said.
Bray said if elected, he will try to get rid of corruption in state government and the “good old boy network.”
He said he disapproved of the way Gov. Mark Gordon handled the COVID-19 pandemic and has no confidence Gordon will perform any better in future emergencies.
“We need checks on the governor’s power,” he said.
Bray said he decided to run when he found out current Laursen, R-Powell is running for state Senate against Sen. R.J. Kost, R-Powell. He said Laursen encouraged him to run and last week he decided to pull the trigger.
“It’s important we get Kost out of there,” Bray said.
Bray, who said he has been closely following the activities of the Legislature for the past 10 to 15 years, criticized Northrup’s 2014 vote on a controversial bill that temporarily stripped former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill of her powers. The law was overturned by the state Supreme Court. Northrup has said multiple times he regrets that vote.
Bray ran unsuccessfully for Natrona County commissioner in 2012 and 2014.
Since the time he was running for the Senate, Northrup’s prior House District 50 was realigned. Now, Northrup lives in HD 25, which takes up a sizable portion of downtown Powell and the campus of his alma mater Northwest Community College, as well as a population base of roughly 10,000 people and significant amounts of farmland.
A farmer himself, he views this district change as enhancing his ability to represent his district.
“I will always represent education the best as I can,” he said. “Agriculture has also been primary for me for a while. Our area has a lot of ag in it. We face a lot of rural challenges.”
Northrup made education one of his highest priorities while serving in the Legislature, serving as chairman of the House Education Committee from 2015 to 2020.
He describes community colleges as the “stepchild” of the Wyoming educational system and wants them to receive better funding.
He said more Career Technical Education needs to be offered to K-12 students, as well as Science, Technology, Engineering and Math opportunities.
“We need more electricians, we need more plumbers,” he said.
He sees the current split within the Republican Party as a divide between “Reagan-era Republicans” like himself and a Tea Party contingency.
The leadership of the Park County Republican Party has denounced Northrup and Kost, criticizing their voting records as not conservative enough. Northrup said he finds it ironic, considering most of the leadership of the Park County GOP are transplants.
“The Park County Republican Party has been taken over by Tea Party interests,” Northrup said. “The leadership is almost entirely people from out-of-state.”
He said there has been a misinformation campaign instigated against him in local media, including the claim he is in Wyoming to restrict Second Amendment rights, despite the fact he shoots firearms himself.
“I don’t think crazies need to have guns, I don’t think felons need to have guns — in light of what just happened in Texas I still feel that way,” he explained.
Also running in the race is Rex Rich, a former neighbor of Northrup’s who has known the former representative for more than 50 years.
Rich describes himself as a “pro-life, conservative Republican” Christian who believes in the Constitution, adding he always keeps a copy of the document nearby.
“I think more of us Christians need to get involved in politics to get involved in issues that may affect us,” he said.
Rich said although he considers Northrup a “great human being and great person,” he is more conservative than his former neighbor. Still, Rich said he isn’t interested in slinging mud at either Northrup or Bray and trusts the “really savvy” electorate of his district to make the right decision come August 16.
“I’ll let them duke it out,” he said of Bray and Northrup. “I believe the high road is always the best way to go.”
Rich, a former Forest Service and National Parks Service employee, is now a semi-retired landlord and widow with free time available to dedicate to representing his community at the Legislature.
“I want to stay busy but I don’t want to stay busy just to stay busy,” he said.
He said having worked in nearly every industry in Wyoming gives him great experience to represent his district at the Legislature.
“The state Legislature has a lot to do with how you would run a business,” he said.
Also running in the race is Chris Good. Good, a “Christian conservative Republican,” ran against Laursen in 2020 but pulled out of the race before primary election day because of his wife’s health.
He still pulled in around one-third of the vote, a tally that gives him great confidence about how that election would have turned out if he stayed in as well as his chances for 2022.
“I believe I was fully on my way to winning,” he said. “The people in House District 25 wanted a change. Their leadership has been lacking.”
Good describes Northrup as a friend and “a good, well-rounded guy” but said the former representative is a “little more liberal” than him on certain issues. He said a vote for Northrup would be a vote for the status quo, even though Northrup is not currently in office.
“It would be nice to have a fresh eyes on things,” he said.
Good has done extensive work at his church and said he runs a business in almost every Wyoming county, giving him a solid understanding of the issues affecting the state and its mostly blue collar workforce. He said he is a “commonsense person who can initiate commonsense business decisions at the state level.”
“People in Wyoming are kind of fed up with the do-nothing attitude in Cheyenne,” he said, comparing the situation to U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney’s recent departure from her earlier support of former President Donald Trump.
If elected, Good said he will bring his collaboration skills learned in business over to the state Legislature.
“I’m willing to sit down and listen to see if we can come down to some agreement and come together,” he said. “Politics is so polarized today.
“It doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything, it just means we have to listen.”