By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily
A debate featuring all five Republican candidates for Wyoming’s lone U.S. House seat will be open to the media, the debate’s host has announced.
WyomingPBS, after first announcing Thursday’s debate in Sheridan would be closed to both the media and public, on Tuesday announced that Sheridan College had decided to allow credentialed media to cover the event in person. There was no mention of allowing members of the public to in person.
The debate, which begins at 7 p.m., will be live-streamed.
Terry Dugas, general manager for WyomingPBS, did not specify that it was Sheridan College’s decision to close the event to the media and the public, but he credited the Sheridan Press newspaper for convincing the college to allow media access.
Dugas said the safety of the candidates and WyomingPBS staff was a primary concern in the original closure.
“Daily, there are news reports of political figures and public servants being assaulted,” he said. “Even in Wyoming, political figures receive death threats. One of the candidates even describes such a death threat on his Facebook page.”
Sheridan College President Walter Tribley would not personally respond to questions about the decision.
“For reasons related to the safety of all in attendance at the event, I am not responding to questions about the event at this time,” he said in a Tuesday morning email.
Dugas said PBS was also concerned about the possibility of a vocal supporter disrupting the live event.
“The intense passion among supporters of all the candidates led us to close the debate to the public,” Dugas said. “We were not asked to do this by any of the candidates.”
Several of the candidates taking part in the event told Cowboy State Daily they did not ask for the debate to be closed. State Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, blamed incumbent U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, but Cheney’s press manager Tammy Hooper said the Cheney team had no input on the decision and were simply given the same rules and guidelines as the other candidates.
None of the candidates said it was their preference to have the debate closed and Harriet Hageman and Denton Knapp said they wanted it open.
Last week, Dugas said PBS would confer with the “security team” for the event, which he said made the decision to close the event to the public. He did not disclose the identity of the security team.
The debate’s moderator said he and PBS both worked to open the debate.
“As the moderator for Thursday’s upcoming Republican U.S. House Debate, I am very pleased about this announcement,” said Craig Blumenshine, debate moderator. “The moment I learned this event would be closed to the press, I fought back hard, and my former colleagues at WyomingPBS did as well. It is the right decision to allow a free and independent press to cover the event in person.”