By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Any delegate hoping to be elected to Wyoming’s only American-Indian legislative district should be racially colorblind, according to a former representative of the area.
Former Rep. Jim Allen reflected on the busy House race Friday, and offered his experience and advice to the three Republicans and one Democrat registered in the Aug. 16 Wyoming primary election.
Valaira Whiteman, a Republican who came within three percentage points of Andi LeBeau’s majority win in the 2020 general election is vying in the primary against Wade LeBeau, who has registered for the race for the first time; and Sarah Penn, another newcomer to the House District 33 political race.
None of the three Republican candidates, nor incumbent Andi LeBeau were available Friday morning for interviews.
Andi LeBeau, D-Ethete, filed last month for reelection. She is unopposed in the Democratic primary.
House District 33 is the lone “majority-minority” district in Wyoming, which is a designation set by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1986 interpretation of the Voting Rights Act enacted by Congress in 1965. The precedent mandates that wherever a majority of voters in a racial minority can be gathered into a single voting district, they should be, so their votes aren’t diluted.
Since it became a majority-minority district in 1992, House District 33 has had more registered Democrats than Republicans. That changed this spring, according to Fremont County Clerk Julie Freese, who told Republican precinct people in a May meeting that House District 33 was, for the first time in recent memory, registered mostly to Republicans.
Despite being a Republican, former Rep. Jim Allen held the historically Democratic House District 33 seat from 2015 to 2018 after he defeated Democratic incumbent Patrick Goggles in 2014.
Allen also had finished former Republican Rep. Harry Tipton’s term in 2004 when Tipton died.
Allen said surviving two elections as a Republican in the Democratic district centered on the Wind River Indian Reservation takes hard work.
“I worked my tail off,” said Allen, recalling that he hung signs, advertised, and mobilized his campaign as often as he could.
‘May The Best One Win’
Allen is not endorsing any one candidate, he told Cowboy State Daily on Friday.
“May the best one win,” he said.
The former lawmaker did furnish some hard-won advice for the House hopefuls, however.
“My attitude and my philosophy was, I’m colorblind,” said Allen, who is not a tribal member.
While running for election, Allen informed voters that race, tribal affiliation, and town wouldn’t affect his efforts to represent everyone fairly.
“I don’t care which tribe they are, if they’re a mixture, if they’re white, if they’ve just moved here from some other country – I don’t care,” he recalled saying. “There’s no provision for that in the Constitution.”
Tribal thinking is common on the Wind River Indian Reservation, as it is occupied and governed by both the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribes, which govern both separately and jointly.
Tribal members can legislate within direct democracies in their own sovereign tribes. They can elect executive-branch leaders in tribal leadership, and they can participate in county and state elections, as well as city elections if they live within an incorporated city.
House District 33 is about 66% American Indian, with white individuals comprising most of the remaining 34%.
“My job was to represent everyone regardless of their race, their tribe,” Allen said. “My job was to make sure Constitutional rights were upheld equally, for everybody.”
One of his proudest accomplishments in office was advancing and passing the Indian Education For All Act, which ensured that state schools include American Indian heritage in their social studies programs.
While there may be a temptation to pander only to tribal interests, the House District 33 delegate also must balance the interests of the 34% of non-native voters, said Allen.
“Their rights are just as important. So I tried to represent everyone equally,” he said.
Allen encouraged the four candidates to advertise as much as they’re able, remembering that while many community members can be reached with internet advertising, there’s still a newspaper crowd out there.
He said that candidates will do well to realize each person’s vote is valuable.
“When people go to vote, they want to get value for their investment, just like they would if they bought a product,” said Allen.
Allen said he thought about running again, but decided ultimately that that phase of his life has passed.
“And that’s fine,” he said. “People change with the times, and their leaders should as well.”