By Leo Wolfson
Republican U.S. House candidate Harriet Hageman said in a commercial released Monday that the election is not about U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney or Donald Trump.
“It’s about you,” Hageman said. “Wyoming deserves a voice in Congress to fight for our values, our way of life.”
Is this election just as much about Trump as it an election on Cheney?
“We love President Trump here, and Cheney spends all of her time pursuing her personal war against him,” Hageman said during a June interview.
Trump has played a central role in the U.S. House race for Wyoming’s lone Congressional seat, with both leading candidates splitting camps on the former president. Trump’s endorsement has been a centerpiece to Hageman’s campaign since day one. In fact, his endorsement preceded her own official announcement of candidacy by a few hours on Sept. 9, 2021.
In May, the two held a rally together in Casper.
“Having President Trump come to Wyoming to support my campaign has been a massive boost and I still hear from people every day how excited they were to be able to be there with us (in person or watching on TV),” Hageman said. “People miss President Trump’s policies more than ever today because they can see the mess (President) Joe Biden has made.”
Many major players in the Wyoming Republican Party have supported Hageman’s campaign.
Over the weekend, U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis endorsed Hageman, a major break from the traditional refrain state officials usually have on endorsing candidates in state and federal races.
Basking in the limelight of Wyoming politics may be a new role for Hageman, but her roots in the state are not.
Hageman grew up on a ranch outside Fort Laramie. It’s a town of 207 people in Goshen County, according to 2020 U.S. Census figures. Born on Oct. 18, 1962, she is the daughter of James Hageman, a longtime former Wyoming legislator known for his work championing education.
“The passion he held for building up our public education system, and for improving the lives of children overall, should serve as an example for us all,” former Gov. Dave Freudenthal said in a press release after Hageman’s 2006 passing.
Taking care of children was a passion for James and Marion Hageman. In addition to their seven children, James and Marion were foster parents for many children while Harriet was growing up.
“It came very natural to my parents to take in kids who needed somewhere to live,” Hageman said during a June interview. “They (Hageman parents) believed that it was our responsibility to help people in our community, to provide stability and shelter, and to help these children learn and grow through working on a ranch.”
Hageman was born into agriculture, working on her family’s ranch from a young age. During a 2004 speech, she said it was these early experiences that taught her the importance of water availability.
“Growing up on my family’s ranch outside Fort Laramie taught me the importance of hard work, the value of strong families, community involvement, and independent thinking,” Hageman said during the June interview. “It also instilled in me the Code of the West and the notion of ‘riding for the brand’ – that is, loyalty to the outfit you’re working for.”
Riding for the brand. It’s a slogan that’s been mentioned numerous times during her campaign and frequently mentioned in Wyoming political circles in recent years. Is the outfit Hageman speaks of Trump, Wyoming values or both?
Cheney has also picked up on the slogan, mentioning it in a May video where she officially announced her reelection bid. Cheney defines “the brand” as the U.S. Constitution.
‘Wicked Witch of the West’
After graduating from Lingle-Fort Laramie High School, Hageman first attended Casper College. According to a 2010 publication honoring her as a distinguished alumni for the school, Hageman was a member of the livestock judging team at Casper College, an experience she credited for allowing her to hone her analytical skills.
“Throughout her life, Harriet always excelled and she continues to do so with conviction and compassion,” said Dianne Delozier, childhood friend of Hageman, in a recent campaign commercial.
After attending Casper College, she continued her education at the University of Wyoming where she earned a Bachelor of Science in business administration in 1986 and a Juris Doctor from the UW College of Law in 1989.
After law school, she worked as a law clerk for Judge James Barrett on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. Barrett was an appointee of former President Richard Nixon.
Following her clerkship, Hageman started practicing law in Denver and Michigan around 1991. She served as an adjunct professor at Central Michigan University during this time period.
According to Casper College, Hageman returned to Wyoming in 1997 to work as a senior district attorney general with the Water and Natural Resources Division of the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office under then-Gov. Jim Geringer.
It was at this point Hageman’s legal career started taking off.
The state had hired her to handle the critical water case of Nebraska v. Wyoming, where she defended Wyoming’s rights to the North Platte River. This case had critical ramifications for agricultural producers in her home of Goshen County and throughout the North Platte watershed.
This case was addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2001, with a settlement agreed to among the parties.
In 2000, Hageman opened up a private practice with Kara Brighton, where Hageman specialized in water and natural resources litigation. Four years later, the two started the Wyoming Conservation Alliance (WCA), an organization created to increase public participation at both the state and federal regulatory level.
Hageman made a number of speeches for the WCA during this period of time, using the federal government’s protection of the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse as an example of Endangered Species Act overreach.
“The Endangered Species Act has been used by the radical environmentalists for decades to stop development, control land and water use, and prevent the construction and maintenance of much-needed infrastructure projects,” Hageman said during the June interview. “We all believe in preserving and protecting fish, wildlife and plants. The ESA has become too politicized, with listing decisions and habitat designations being based more on land control than on actual preservation.”
Hageman has also traveled the country delivering a speech called “Regulation Without Representation,” where she expresses her views about government overreach on private property owners.
Hageman also became known for her position in gray wolf management, representing a group of agricultural, sportsmen, outfitting organizations, and several counties against the federal government.
“Most of her work was with private property, water and grazing rights, but she forged a legitimate reputation as an anti-public lands ‘sagebrush rebellion’ lawyer and pro-ranching, anti-wolf advocate,” Dan Smitherman, Wyoming state director at the Wilderness Society, said in a January E&E News story.
One of her most famous cases came in 2001 while representing the state of Wyoming as “outside counsel” in challenging the U.S. Forest Service’s roadless rule. The case resulted in a 2003 federal court injunction, which President George W. Bush didn’t appeal.
According to a 2009 High Country News story, it was largely Hageman’s research and arguments that persuaded Judge Clarence Brimmer to throw out the rule, attacking the case with particular tenacity.
This tenacity earned her the moniker “Wicked Witch of the West,” a title bestowed by environmentalists in a letter to the editor.
“Private property owners generally take much better care of the environment (land quality, water quality, air quality) than does the federal government,” Hageman told Cowboy State Daily.
“Private property owners’ livelihoods depend on protecting the environment. You need look no further than the destruction of our National Forests to recognize that federal ownership and control has been catastrophic in terms of forest fires, the pine beetle outbreak, the explosion of invasive weeds, damage to our watersheds, and destruction of millions (if not billions) of board feet of usable timber.”
Hageman represented a Wyoming landowner in another case, in their battle against an Environmental Protection Agency’s determination that an irrigation ditch violated the Clean Water Act.
“After a two-week trial, we prevailed in that case, and the EPA lost. Because we were right. The Clean Water Act does not apply to his activities,” Hageman said on “Wake Up Wyoming.”
Hageman recently took heat for her role in a proposed water pipeline project about a decade ago. This project involved organizing public municipalities in Wyoming and the Denver area for the pipeline that would have drawn water directly from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir and connected it to municipalities in Eastern Wyoming and Denver.
Hageman advocated at the time against a private version of the project initiated by Colorado entrepreneur Aaron Million.
Both projects were initiated by entities from Colorado. Parker Water, which started Hageman’s project, was involved in both her and Million’s project at the same time.
Since 2019, Hageman has served as senior litigation counsel for the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a conservative public interest law firm based in Washington, D.C.
“Private property rights are the foundation of our country,” Hageman said. “The federal government should have very little authority to regulate private property rights. Pursuant to the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution the federal government cannot take private property without due process and without just compensation.”
By 2016, Hageman had started getting involved in state politics. She introduced Cheney at the State GOP convention that year, a speech where she made disparaging remarks about Trump and expressed support for Cheney.
She said she was misled by the corporate news media in rendering her opinion about Trump.
“The Democrats and the press did everything in their power to attack and demonize President Trump,” Hageman said. “The mistake that I made was in not recognizing the lengths to which the Democrats and the press would go in trying to destroy him. We had never seen anything like it before, and I did not fully appreciate that many of the allegations against him were just part of what has been an ongoing and long-term concerted effort to block his candidacy, his Presidency, and his success.”
As a member of the Laramie County Republican Party, she served as a delegate at the Republican National Convention in 2016. Here, she and most of the Wyoming Republican Party delegation supported U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in his run for president. Hageman and fellow Cruz-supporters tried to force a head-to-head vote between Cruz and Trump before the body of delegates, an effort that was unsuccessful.
Hageman said after Trump earned the nomination at this convention, he had her full support.
Two years later she ran for Wyoming governor.
Hageman was not able to keep pace with fellow Republicans Foster Friess and Mark Gordon when it came to fundraising and finished third in the primary.
Hageman has not been able to keep pace with Cheney when it comes to fundraising in her current race, but she said it doesn’t bother her.
“Almost all of her money comes from outside Wyoming,” Hageman said. “She has raised a lot of cash from outside the state, which is fitting because she’s not really from here and hasn’t lived here since she was a young child.”
Hageman said this gubernatorial run was a valuable experience, as it gave her the opportunity to meet with individuals from countless different industries and backgrounds throughout Wyoming, a particular focus for that campaign.
“I spent hundreds of hours discussing their issues, concerns, challenges, joys, successes, ideas, and aspirations,” Hageman said. “I learned important information from every single one of these folks – sometimes about their particular issues, as well as about suggestions that they had for improving Wyoming and addressing the future of our state.”
Hageman has renewed this focus for her current campaign, claiming she has traveled more than 30,000 miles around the state.
Her appearance is extremely consistent, almost always wearing a long dress with turquoise jewelry.
Cheney has been rarely seen in the state during their current campaign due to security concerns. Many Republicans, including some of her supporters, have expressed frustration about this and other campaign strategies she has employed.
There are sharp differences between Cheney and Hageman when it comes to Trump. During a forum in Casper last week, Hageman said for the first time, she believes the 2020 election was rigged.
Cheney has vehemently opposed claims such as these, describing them, like she describes Trump, a threat to the U.S. Constitution, which she has said she feels a duty to follow above all else.
Besides Trump, the two share many similar viewpoints. They are both skeptical about climate change being human-caused and do not want to move away from fossil fuel industries for green energy.
When Hageman speaks at events, she presents information not unlike an attorney would in a courtroom. Her audience is the judge and jury.
“Energy security is national security; it is really that simple,” Hageman said. “What we are seeing right now – a broken supply chain, rising food prices, rising gas and diesel prices, and out-of-control building costs – are the result of the Biden administration’s war on fossil fuels. There are going to be devastating consequences to what this administration has done, with the lowest income and middle class suffering the most.”
They are also both pro-life. When it comes to same-sex marriage, Cheney recently voted to support codifying it into law, while Hageman’s stance is more mysterious.
“The issue of gay marriage is something that has already been settled by the Supreme Court and I don’t foresee it being an issue that would come before Congress. When I am speaking to voters, it’s not an issue that arises,” she said.
Due to her experience as a land and water attorney, environmental law will likely be one of Hageman’s bread-and-butter issues if elected to Congress.
“I have fought for the constitutional rights of the people of Wyoming, and pushing back against unlawful administrative power, which is exactly what I’ll do in Congress,” she said.
On the issue of Trump, Hageman said her support is simple, she agrees with his policies. Cheney had a similar stance prior to the 2020 election, voting with Trump more than 90% of the time.
Now, Cheney says he shouldn’t be allowed to be president again due to his attempts to overturn the election and alleged role in inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
“We did not send her to Congress to be the judge, jury and executioner of President Trump,” Hageman said. “Her own actions are why I will soon be replacing her as Wyoming’s only member of the House.”