Water is by far the most important natural resource in Wyoming, according to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rex Wilde.
As one of the headwater sources for the Columbia, Missouri, Colorado, North Platte and Snake rivers, Wilde believes Wyoming is not fairly compensated for the water it provides the West.
“I’m all about doing what’s right for this state and the people in this state. Water is the main thing,” Wilde told Cowboy State Daily.
Water shortages are an issue significantly affecting the West. With a historical drought prevalent throughout the region, Lake Mead and Lake Powell have dropped to dangerously low levels.
Although Wyoming has been relatively insulated from water pressures in the past due to its low population, Wilde said the effects of climate change should force Wyoming to take a strong stand when it comes to defending its water.
“It shouldn’t be on the back of Wyoming to provide a lot of water,” he said. “It should be sustained by Mother Nature.”
If elected governor, Wilde said he would push for legislation allowing Wyoming to become an autonomous water region, which could allow the state to receive rewards for the water it provides the West.
Wyoming is a member of the Colorado River Compact, a 1922 agreement dividing states along the Colorado River System into the upper and lower basins. Under the agreement, each basin is allocated 7.5 million acre-feet of water annually from the Colorado River. According to the University of Wyoming, the state receives 1 million to 4 million acre-feet of snowmelt per year.
As a result, the state needs to be treated better in recognition of its important status as a water provider, Wilde said.
“They put us in a highchair and put us in a closet,” he said. “What flows out of our state is ours.”
Wilde said Wyoming should build more reservoirs and hold back some of the water it gives other states to prepare for the future, especially if the federal government and other states refuse to compensate the state properly for its water.
“The federal government doesn’t own Wyoming,” he said, adding he also believes all U.S. Bureau of Land Management land in Wyoming should be state-managed.
Wilde said Gov. Mark Gordon, the Republican incumbent seeking election to his second term, has failed to take meaningful action on water since taking office. He added the only attention Gordon will give to the liquid is the mineral water he drinks at his Governor’s Mansion.
“He hasn’t done anything right now and he’s not going to do anything,” Wilde said. “The only reason he’s re-running is he found out how easy it is to not do anything.”
Wilde’s other bread-and-butter topic is marijuana legalization.
Earning the nickname “the marijuana man,” Wilde supports full legalization of the substance for medicinal and recreational use, citing the revenue cannabis could bring the state.
Legislation to decriminalize marijuana failed in this past year’s legislative session, but Wilde believes a silent majority of Wyoming voters support the idea.
“It’s Mother Nature, it’s not something man-made like cocaine or heroin,” he said. “I think it should be legal.”
Wilde is also a “staunch” supporter of gun rights outlined in the Second Amendment, but with some caveats. For instance, he would like to see a law limiting the sale of semi-automatic weapons to those age 21 and older and supports “red flag laws” which allow police, relatives and others to file a petition to ask for the temporary removal of an individual’s firearms. He also supports universal background checks.
“You don’t take weapons away from honorable citizens, you just don’t take it away from law-abiding citizens,” he said.
Wilde would also like to see toll stops put on Interstates 25 and 80, with charges limited to those with out-of-state license plates. Wilde also wants increases made to the price of out-of-state fishing and hunting tags.
“That way we take those revenues and keep our infrastructure running,” he said.
Wilde, a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper and retired cabinet maker, has never held a political office before.
He does have experience running for office, as this will be his third attempt at running for governor. Wilde also ran for U.S. Senate in 2014 and 2020 and Cheyenne mayor in 2016. All these bids were unsuccessful.
“I’m a loser,” he said, laughing.
Wilde will only face one Democratic opponent in the primary election, Worland resident Terry Livingston, giving him a shot at his first-ever primary win. There were four Democrats in the 2018 gubernatorial primary, in which Wilde placed last.
The self-described “wild man” has no illusions he will be a strong contender if he makes it to the general election, but for Wilde, forcing Wyoming’s politicians to give more attention to water issues will be his campaign win.
“I’m probably not going to win, but by God, people are going to hear about water,” he said.