By Leo Wolfson, political reporter
*This article has been updated.
State Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, makes no bones about where he stands politically.
When two Republican candidates filed to run against him in his bid for a fourth term in House District 9, it made him question whether his views weren’t conservative enough for his constituents.
But after knocking on some doors and canvassing through his district, Brown said he became convinced that his views aligned with his district and he is the man for the job.
“I was initially concerned I was missing the mark,” he said. “I’m not hearing that from those people. They believe there’s been a positive impact of what I’ve been able to do the past six years.”
HD 9 makes up a mostly suburban area in northeast Cheyenne. Brown, a Cheyenne native, said the right-leaning district maintains a diversity of viewpoints, with a number of residents even expressing displeasure to him about the recent Supreme Court decision revoking Roe vs. Wade.
“A lot of the district doesn’t feel they should have outlawed it as they did,” he said.
Taking on Brown in the Republican primary are Alan Sheldon and Dean Petersen. The winner of the primary will take on Democratic candidate Stephen Latham, who is running unopposed in his party’s primary.
This will be the first time Brown has faced an opponent since his first election in 2016.
Sheldon and Petersen both voted for Brown in the past and said they were inspired to run because they don’t find Brown’s voting record to be conservative enough.
“He has an extreme amount of support from moderate Republicans or Democrats,” Sheldon said.
Sheldon and Petersen said Brown comes off as conservative during political forums and speeches, but doesn’t follow through on his stated policies when it’s time to vote. He said the people of HD 9 are starting to catch on.
“More and more people don’t like what he’s saying,” Sheldon said. “They believed what he said.”
Brown has made education one of his bread and butter issues since taking office. As a member of the House Education Committee, he helped initiate a $300,000 K-3 reading assessment and intervention program. Brown finds reading to be a highly important tool for children as they grow into functioning adults.
“I think this bill will help with multiple issues,” he said. “It will help with some of the issues we’ve seen when it comes to minor suicide. It can be embarrassing not knowing how to read.”
He also helped pass a bill that created an easier process for new residents to enroll their children in Wyoming schools.
Brown said he wants to see a more forward-thinking approach to education in the Cowboy State.
“What are we not teaching in schools? What does the basket of goods require?” he asked, saying the state needs to move away from traditional textbook teaching in favor of teaching students through computers, tablets and cell phones. “We need to have more of an idea of what education looks like in the 21st century.”
Brown and Sheldon would also like more of a focus placed on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education programs, as well as on trade programs where high school students can earn credits for working at jobs such as welding other vocational opportunities.
Brown also helped pass laws supporting veterans and their benefits.
Not A “True Conservative”
One of Sheldon’s biggest criticisms of Brown is he doesn’t consider the incumbent to be a true conservative.
“He votes for a lot of spending,” Sheldon said. “His voting record shows he’s a moderate Republican or maybe even a liberal in any given year.”
Sheldon criticized Brown for supporting most of the 2022 budget spending bill, supporting a bill that increased government spending through a scholarship program and supporting a $31 million increase for elected officials’ salaries. He said Brown has consistently voted for bills that increase the size of government and its spending.
Sheldon also said Brown erred on the side of regulation rather than personal freedom when it came to a few of the bills crafted during the 2021 special session to battle federal COVID-19 rules.
He said he took personal offense to a few of these votes, as he said his lack of compliance with some of the federal mandates could have cost him his job.
Sheldon said he has had an interest in virology and has read scientific journals from a young age and was bothered with the way the pandemic was handled.
“They went off the normal protocols,” he said. “To blanket apply that, to me, was pretty crazy.”
Sheldon, who owns a small aviation and tech company, said he has pored over around 200 votes Brown has made during his time in office. He utilized iVoterGuide, a conservative vote ranking system, to see how he stacks up against Brown politically.
“He was rated “leans liberal,” Sheldon said. “I was rated conservative.”
Sheldon describes himself as a constitutional conservative who will still work with Democrats and Independents on issues.
“I want to find out what Independents and Democrats have to say but I can’t compromise my Republican values,” he said.
An Arizona native, Sheldon said he struggles to understand why people who do not share the same political ideology as the majority of their state choose to live there.
“People should live where their ideology fits,” he said. “They’ll have a lot less stress.”
Petersen, a U.S. Army veteran, runs a film company and has a master’s degree in marketing. He describes himself as more fiscally and politically conservative than Brown and wants to reduce governmental red tape.
“When it comes to the economy, I think both sides need to come together,” he said. “We have to think, how can we diversify the economy?”
Aside from three years spent serving in the military, two years serving as a missionary and 18 months finishing up earning his college degree, Petersen has been living in Wyoming since 1999.
Petersen does support funding education and law enforcement, but wants these entities to reign in spending.
He said Wyoming should move away from its dependence on fossil fuels without shutting down those industries.
Brown mostly agrees and wants Wyoming to actively search for new revenue sources. This past year, the Legislature lowered the severance tax on coal from 7% to 6.5%.
“The Biden administration is doing everything in its power to smash our energy industry,” Brown said.
Petersen supports green energy technology such as electric cars but wants it sold through the free market rather than subsidized by government.
Sheldon said he is a big supporter of nuclear energy and believes it will be a key to success for the short term future. He is against the Green New Deal and is bothered by economic programs initiated by Biden to push Americans toward using new renewable energy sources.
“It’s a radical changing of the market agenda,” he said.
Sheldon and Petersen want to see the state to encourage new industries and businesses to come to Wyoming with tax breaks and other measures. A podcast host, Petersen said he would support a program incentivizing film companies to come to Wyoming to shoot.
Although Petersen is against teaching a “whitewashed” account of American history in Wyoming’s schools, he does not support the teaching of Critical Race Theory.
Brown agrees and said CRT is being taught in the schools on a small, inconsistent basis. Brown was out sick with COVID on the day voting occurred on a bill that would have banned the teaching of it in Wyoming schools.
Sheldon, of Spanish and Native American ancestry, is adamantly opposed to the teaching of CRT and said this is a technique Brown has employed a number of times in the legislature.
“He’s been excused from voting against a lot of things conservatives stand against,” he said.
Peterson said he supports the legalization of medical marijuana but not recreational. He said he was “shocked” Brown in 2021 voted for the passage of a bill that established the regulatory framework of marijuana legalization for Wyoming.
“Someone who is a Republican would not do that,” Petersen said.
Abortion is a topic the three candidates mostly agree on.
Brown voted for the trigger bill, which will all abortions illegal in the state within around 30 days of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade. In the past, he said he voted against pro-life abortion bills because he said they did little to stop abortions in the state.
All of the candidates said they are against transgender athletes being allowed to compete on girl’s or women’s sports teams.
Brown voted against considering a bill that would have addressed this issue in this year’s Legislature and said the issue is best addressed on a local level. The Wyoming High School Activities Association already has protocols on the books when it comes to this matter.
“One of the tenets of being a Republican is small government,” Brown said.
Sheldon is the only candidate in the campaign to have been endorsed by Wyoming Right to Life and Gun Owners of America in his campaign. Brown considers himself a firm supporter of Second Amendment rights and opposes red flag laws, laws that allow a friends or family members of a person to ask a court to temporarily confiscate that person’s firearms.
He said he views Wyoming as being at a crossroads in its history, which has given him inspiration to run for a fourth term. Brown has endorsed U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney in her reelection campaign and said he is not beholden to the Wyoming Republican Party and its Chair Frank Eathorne.
“To those who say I’m not conservative enough, come walk the district,” Brown said.
Petersen said he has, hoping to visit every voter before the Aug. 16 primary election.
“I’ve met some of them that don’t agree with me but there’s more that do,” he said.
*This article has been updated to reflect Peterson’s status as a long-time Wyoming resident.