Albany County is one of the few places in Wyoming where one can find a Republican legislative candidate who supports some gun control, opposes former President Donald Trump and supports full legalization of marijuana.
But Wayne Pinch, running for House District 13 in Laramie, said he knows his audience. He describes himself as a centrist, supporting Democrat presidential candidate George McGovern the first time he was eligible to vote in 1972.
“I’m a Democrat with soul,” said Pinch, who worked in the music industry most of his life. “The far left is completely out of left field. We have to think about that.”
More Liberal Venue
HD13 is an area encompassing the eastern part of Laramie and southern half of the University of Wyoming campus, an area filled with dormitories, university students and faculty and a more liberal venue than most other Wyoming communities.
HD 13 is the current seat of Democrat Rep. Cathy Connolly, one of the most progressive legislators in the state and the first openly LGBTQ person elected to the Wyoming Legislature. Connolly is not running for reelection this fall.
A Republican has not run in HD13 since Joey Correnti IV lost to Connolly in 2016.
Due to redistricting, only a small swath of land remains from the district that elected Connolly when she ran unopposed in the general election in 2020.
Ken Chestek, a Democrat running this year to replace Connolly, said these changes have made the district more conservative and competitive, with more registered Republicans than Democrats, but with more unaffiliated voters than either party.
“I’m here to help people and empower people,” Chestek said. “I want to level the playing field so everyone has an equal chance at success.”
Both candidates in HD13 are modeling themselves after others. Chestek said he shares the same political views as Connolly, while Pinch compares his political views to former President John Kennedy.
“Jack Kennedy would be a Republican these days,” he said.
Pinch said he is a progressive when it comes to women’s rights. He supports abortion in during the first trimester of pregnancy or in cases of rape or incest, but said his position becomes “sticky” for anything beyond those circumstances.
Pinch said he is a firm believer in the Second Amendment but supports increasing the legal age to buy semi-assault rifles to 21 years of age. Chestek said he supports most of the gun control legislation being considered in the U.S. Senate right now, and favors reasonable restrictions on firearms such as increased background checks, repealing Wyoming’s gun show loophole and initiating red flag laws, which allow friends, family members and police to seek the confiscation of an individual’s firearms.
Albany County GOP
Although he has attended a few Albany County Republican Party meetings, Pinch said he doesn’t associate with the group.
Chestek is the state committeeman for the Albany County Democratic Party and is actively involved in Democratic State Party politics. He said he came away from the party’s recent state convention with a renewed passion and vigor.
“Our platform is very positive,” he said. “We have a vision for what we want to do. I’m proud to be a Democrat.”
Chestek ran in House District 46 in 2016, losing to former Republican Rep. Bill Haley by around 17%. Now he lives in HD13, but shares many of the same neighbors from his canvassing drive of six years ago, a connection he believes will give him an advantage in the race.
Chestek believes Wyoming needs to diversify its economy and become less dependent on mineral revenue. He doesn’t favor moving away from oil and coal entirely and said creative thinking needs to take place to find new uses for these fossil fuels, such as using coal for construction material.
He said towns like Kemmerer and Rock Springs, cities highly dependent on coal, can be kept alive by re-tooling these resources for new purposes.
“Rather than stomping our feet and being mad, let’s treat it as a tool to our future,” he said.
Chestek said Wyoming should be harnessing solar and wind energy, two renewable energy sources readily available in the state. To Chestek, the environment and economy have a symbiotic relationship.
“We should be getting ahead of this market instead of falling behind,” he said. “Every time there’s an upheaval effect of the economy you like to get out ahead of it.”
Chestek is also passionate about eradicating dark money from politics and cites the 2010 Supreme Court decision “Citizens United” that lifted prohibitions on corporations making independent expenditures and electioneering communications as being highly detrimental to the current state of politics.
He predicted a large amount of dark money will be spent on this year’s election and wants to pass a resolution demanding federal campaign finance reform by joining 22 other states in supporting an amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court decision.
“Corporations are not people,” he said. “We can’t solve any of the things that are wrong in this country until we solve money in politics.”
Pinch has never worked in politics. He ran an entertainment company for many years and is now working on a patent for a center pivot irrigation system that covers square chunks of land rather than traditional circular patterns.
If elected, he said he will work for veterans’ rights and legalizing marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes.
Pinch’s son is an Iraqi War veteran and depends on marijuana to function in his everyday life. Pinch finds it “outrageous” that alcohol and pharmaceutical drugs are federally legal but not marijuana.
He acknowledges fighting for these goals will be an uphill battle in Wyoming but said it’s worth the effort.
“If someone is found by the police with anything (marijuana) in their system that person loses everything,” Pinch said. “There needs to be a way for it to be seen as a normal medicinal treatment.”