By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Three Republican candidates are battling over a Wyoming legislative district that has been Democratic until recently.
Wade LeBeau, Valaira Whiteman, and Sarah Penn are campaigning for the Republican nomination for House District 33. The winner of the primary on Aug. 16 will challenge Democratic incumbent Rep. Andi LeBeau in the general election on Nov. 8.
LeBeau is running unopposed in the Democratic primary election.
Re-drawn in the early 1990s to satisfy congressional and U.S. Supreme Court standards for keeping a majority of racial-minority voters in legislative regions wherever possible, House District 33 is Wyoming’s only American-Indian district.
In recent months, the district’s registered voter numbers showed more Republicans than Democrats for the first time since the district was re-drawn. There were 1,393 Republicans and 1,272 Democrats registered in HD33 as of June 21, according to the Fremont County Clerk.
HD33 is about 67% American Indian, with white voters comprising most of the remaining margin.
Penn, Whiteman, and Wade LeBeau are all fiscally conservative Republicans and all live on the Wind River Indian Reservation. But they’re not cookie-cutter candidates.
A Rivalry Revived
Valaira Whiteman came within 96 votes of defeating LeBeau in the 2020 general election and she’s hoping to close that gap in November if she wins the August primary.
Whiteman, in an interview with Cowboy State Daily, remarked on her many similarities with the incumbent. Both are women, enrolled Northern Arapaho Tribal members, mothers, residents of the Wind River Indian Reservation and both passionate about preventing crimes against Indigenous women.
But as a Republican, Whiteman, who describes herself as fiscally conservative, a pro-life advocate and a proponent of traditional interpretations of the U.S. Constitution, has big plans to change the district’s policy approach.
Whiteman has an associate’s degree in criminal justice, is working on her bachelor’s degree and also works as a manager in automotive maintenance.
“I feel there’s a large portion of my district that’s not represented,” said Whiteman, listing rural areas such as Atlantic City, the outskirts of Lander, the river overlook in Riverton.
Property tax reform is a key priority for those areas, said Whiteman, adding that she’d like to advance legislation to manage the property tax hikes that lambasted homeowners in the recently booming housing market. She said she is eager to brainstorm with other legislators.
Housing is an issue on the reservation as well, said Whiteman, but it’s a different animal.
The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs manages land titles on the reservation and properties often grow more and more fractured as they’re split between new generations.
Whiteman said if elected, she’d like to use her position in the Legislature to encourage the BIA to involve the residents in its decision making in a more inclusive, transparent process.
“The people being left out (of the process) are on allotted lands, and have got no place to voice their concerns,” said Whiteman. “These are problems state and tribal officials, leaders, need to be aware of.”
Whiteman, an official on the Wind River Tax Commission, said she is prepared and willing to work smoothly with the sovereign governments of both the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribes.
‘If Children Are Challenged’
Another priority for Whiteman is reforming the state’s K-12 education system so state education funding allotments will follow each individual student, wherever that student chooses to go to school. The candidate theorized that this would promote a healthy competition between schools, which in turn would help children excel.
“If children are challenged and you have an expectation for them, they will reach it,” said the mother of six.
Education is the key to a better life, said Whiteman, who said she hopes that better education prospects will help individuals “navigate through life without dependency on either the tribal government or the U.S. government.”
Whiteman is pro-life. She also does not support the death penalty because of her Catholic faith and her deeply held belief that “all lives are precious; all lives matter from conception until death.”
She said the Republican Party appeals to her because she believes in less government interference and self-sufficiency.
Whiteman said she also believes that public servants should be as transparent as possible, especially where the people’s money is concerned.
‘I Need To Become The Bridge’
Wade LeBeau is a father of five, a Wind River Indian Reservation resident, an enrolled member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe and a Navy veteran who works in telecommunications.
He served five years in U.S. Naval active duty, two years in Navy Reserve and two years in Army Reserve.
He was deployed in 1997 to the Persian Gulf with Operation Desert Shield.
Wade LeBeau is not related by blood to Rep. Andi LeBeau, but is a distant cousin by adoption.
Often forthright, LeBeau said he is a Republican because he “outgrew being a government baby.”
He remarked that a majority of American Indians are Democrats, but he attributed that to actions by the Democratic Party that appear to help, but don’t actually help tribal people.
“Realistically I’ve never really seen either party be help or hinder the native (community) any more or less than the other,” said LeBeau.
He also remarked that there is much more to tribal politics than the national partisan picture.
“I think one of the biggest issues with the native community is it’s misunderstood. The native politics are misunderstood, the tribes themselves are misunderstood, with the differences between them,” said LeBeau.
Tribal populations contend with tribal governments, the over-arching federal government that oversees reservations and the smaller but sometimes crucial family politics between and within certain tribes. LeBeau said he’d like to see sensitive, nuanced policy-making that takes all these factors into account.
He also said he’s not against leveraging state funding for tribal causes, but would embrace business or grant contracts that promote “economic development” and business expansion throughout the district, rather than “handouts.”
LeBeau said he’s willing to work with both the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shosone tribal governments but also would like to ensure that they are following their governing federal and tribal policies. He said his goal as a legislator would be to open communications between both tribes and between non-tribal members.
“There seems to be a lot of animosity or prejudice on both sides, and there just needs to be a bridge gapped,” said LeBeau. “I need to become the bridge.”
Wade LeBeau said he feels the Democrat incumbent has not done enough to push for tribal treaty rights to be actualized in Wyoming legislation.
Wade LeBeau favored a resolution drafted by Rep. John Romero-Martinez, R-Cheyenne, addressing treaty land grants. The resolution was rejected by the Legislature tribal relations committee, but if it had passed, it would have prompted the Wyoming Legislature to ask Congress to acknowledge and promote “verified land designation history and support collaboration with all heirs of treaty lands.”
Rep. Andi LeBeau slammed the proposed resolution in a March meeting of the Legislature’s Tribal Relations Committee, calling it “divisive” between the two tribal governments.
The 1868 Fort Bridger Treaty promised a vast segment of Wyoming to the Eastern Shoshone Tribe. The Northern Arapaho Tribe is not listed in the document as a land heir, however, the tribe has since come to co-govern the Wind River Indian Reservation along with the Eastern Shoshone Tribe.
Although Rep. Andi LeBeau disputed Romero-Martinez’ draft, her would-be challenger Wade LeBeau said it’s not intended to disenfranchise anyone – and that is not his goal, either.
“When I look at this as a whole, I look at everybody. At everybody’s rights,” said Wade LeBeau, adding that areas where the Eastern Shoshone Tribe maintains specific treaty rights, “that doesn’t mean those rights aren’t used to protect everybody.”
“The treaty rights by the Shoshone are being used by every single person in this county (Fremont County), whether they know it or not,” said Wade LeBeau. Specifically, he said, as a legislator he would put the reservation’s access to water to use to benefit the entire county and the state.
Faith And Life
Wade LeBeau described himself as pro-life, but said he believes abortion should be available in cases of rape, certain medical conditions and other scenarios.
He said his faith system is rooted in the traditional “cultural ways” of his tribe.
For God And Country
Sarah Penn hopes for a return to family values and moral decency.
A Fort Washakie resident of eight years who grew up in Utah and attended graduate school in Colorado, Penn is now a family nurse practitioner, a wife and a mother of three.
She’s running to fight against the moral and fiscal decline she sees in Wyoming and nationwide, she said in an email.
Penn declined to be interviewed by phone.
“I am growing increasingly concerned about the direction this state and country are taking. Our spending is out of control, our morals are disintegrating, our families are under attack,” Penn wrote. “I want my children to have the opportunities this great nation offers and if we don’t restore some of the conservative values that made this country great, those opportunities will be lost.”
A republican since attaining voting age, Penn said she would like to see less government spending and regulation.
“People are being taxed at increasingly higher levels, levels that are unsustainable,” wrote Penn, adding that government regulation slows business and halts the economy.
She also hoped to establish parental rights over children’s outcomes.
“We need to put God back into our lives,” and protect “forms of worship,” Penn wrote, adding that she considers it her duty to “stand in the face of tyranny.”
Penn said it is her hope that by reimplementing conservative, God-fearing values, citizens “can once again begin to thrive as God intends.”
Sometimes that requires self-sacrifice, wrote Penn.
“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it,” she said, quoting Thomas Paine. She also quoted John Stuart Mill, who said that humans must “take part” and form opinions if they hope to advance good causes.
Link To The Land
Penn said she loves the beauty of the land on and around the reservation.
She is not an enrolled tribal member. Her husband’s father is enrolled in the Omaha and Rosebud Sioux tribes and her husband is a schoolteacher on the reservation