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Candidate Profile: Tara Nethercott For Wyoming Secretary of State

in News/politics

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By Leo Wolfson, political reporter
Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com

At the age of six-years old, Secretary of State candidate Tara Nethercott saw the impact of politics firsthand. Her father and the rest of the officers with the Pinedale Police Department had just been laid off. 

“We (her family) immediately lost all of our income,” Nethercott told Cowboy State Daily on Sunday. “There was no consideration for the public service of the officers who had served the community and the force for a number of years, or the families they were supporting.” 

This experience stays with Nethercott today, she said, teaching her the value of serving as a thoughtful and patient lawmaker, leaving no stone unturned when voting for and crafting legislation. 

“It’s important to have good, kind, considerate people run for office,” she said. “There are real impacts on people’s lives.”  

Nethercott, a state senator from Cheyenne, is currently engaged in a vitriolic primary race with frontrunner challenger State Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper. Both parties have engaged in mudslinging and personal attacks against each other.  

Many see the race as a question on whether Wyoming’s elections are secure. Nethercott has said they are and has committed to managing the state’s current elections laws. Gray said these laws need to be tightened and has committed to enacting and lobbying for stricter regulations. 

Moving Up 

Nethercott has risen through the ranks for most of her life. After graduating from Riverton High School, she attended Central Wyoming College and the University of Wyoming. At UW, she also attended the school of law, where she served as student body president. 

Following law school in 2009, Nethercott started practicing law at a Cheyenne law firm and became a partner there in 2012.  

“I just was really focused on practicing law and community involvement and issues in Cheyenne,” Nethercott said. 

In 2016, former State Sen. Tony Ross announced he would not seek reelection. After receiving some prodding from community members, Nethercott decided to make her first run at the State Legislature. 

She said the general election of that campaign, when she ran against Democrat Ken Esquibel, reminds her in some ways of her current campaign for Secretary of State. 

“My Democrat opponent had some of the same tactics,” Nethercott said. 

She won the election by more than 20% of the vote.  

Once reaching the Legislature, Nethercott requested to be put on the Corporations, Political Subdivisions and Elections Committee because of her past experience in corporate law. She has been formally trained in securities regulation and has prosecuted securities crimes. 

“I think this is where I’m most useful and what I have the most interest in,” Nethercott said. 

She was granted that request and appointed to the Judiciary Committee. She has continued serving on both committees over the past five years. 

As a member of the Judiciary Committee, Nethercott has worked on establishing enhanced penalties for child sex traffickers, Medicaid fraud, strengthening laws against government waste and abuse, anti-trust amendments against meat packers, mental health injury coverage for first responders and sponsored a Bachelor’s degree program for Wyoming community colleges, a bill Gray co-sponsored. 

Nethercott has also served on the Plan for Aging Voting Equipment (PAVE) Task Force in 2017, a group that studies options for replacing Wyoming’s voting equipment safely. 

Gray has claimed Nethercott voted against his voter ID bill in the past. Nethercott never voted on the bill prior to voting for and co-sponsoring it in 2021.  

“This is not a bill you can get wrong on the first try because the end result you will get is the wrong one, disenfranchisement of legal voters,” Nethercott explained. 

Gray and other detractors of Nethercott have used this bill to argue that she waits to support legislation until she is confident a bill will pass.  

Nethercott both voted for and against the crossover voting bill in this year’s legislature, voting for it in her last vote from the Senate floor.   

She denies the characterization that she plays politics with bills and rather, argues she is patient and methodical with the development of bills, from crafting of the first draft to legal enactment. 

“It’s easy to be responsive to immediate fears, it’s easy to look for immediate gratification but ignore larger issues at place,” she said. “I want to feel like I’m doing something where I’m getting all the facts, which then usually means I’m acting in the most responsible way of serving Wyoming.” 

In 2021 Nethercott was awarded Legislator of the Year by Wyoming County Commissioners Association and in 2020, received the Person of the Year Award by the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce. 

In May, Nethercott, 40, and Gray, 32, filed to run for Secretary of State when Ed Buchanan announced he would not run for reelection. No matter whether Nethercott or Gray win the race, Wyoming will have a young Secretary of State. 

“I think it’s good to have diversity in our elected officials,” Nethercott said. 

Current Race 

Gray has criticized Nethercott for having a lack of vision for the job because she does not want to make significant changes to current election laws and policies. 

“I’m not concerned about fraud in other states, I’m concerned about local elections,” Nethercott said. “Now, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be mindful of risks and that does not mean there can’t be challenges to how things are done in Wyoming.” 

Ballot drop boxes have been a major topic of the race as well. Gray adamantly opposes the boxes and has shown free screenings of the “2000 Mules” movie during his campaign. This movie argues that the 2020 Presidential election was fraudulent because people allegedly stuffed outdoor ballot boxes in key battleground states. 

Nethercott said Gray’s showing of this movie has sowed unwarranted doubt about the security of Wyoming’s elections. No footage from Wyoming was shown in the movie and Nethercott maintains that she does not think there is any fraud in Wyoming’s elections.  

“It’s a real disservice to undermine the public’s confidence in duly-elected county clerks,” Nethercott said. 

There were nine Wyoming counties that used ballot drop boxes during the 2020 election. Natrona County, where Gray calls home, kept theirs inside the elections office, the device was only accessible during business hours. 

Gray has clarified that although he doesn’t think Wyoming elections are currently fraudulent, he believes laws need to be enacted to keep it that way. Nethercott, in contrast, has said she wants to make the Secretary of State’s Office “boring again” by focusing on the statutory duties of the position. 

Nethercott has consistently expressed confidence in the security of Wyoming’s elections, citing the work she has done with the state’s 23 county clerks while serving on the Legislature. 

She said she would support legislation that Gray has proposed, preventing private donors like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerburg from donating funds to help the state run its elections. The funds Zuckerberg donated to Pennsylvania in 2020 were for nonpartisan, get-out-the-vote type efforts. 

But Nethercott said the Secretary of State doesn’t have the power to enact these and other changes. 

“The Secretary of State is not a lawmaker and that lies within our Wyoming Legislature,” she said during a July forum. “You have given them the power of your vote to make those laws. The Secretary of State is a rule follower, following the laws set by the Wyoming Legislature in the wake of the judicial branch, and it’s important that your Secretary of State knows that role and honors it, it is the rule of law.”  

Despite the focus on elections in this race, there are many other duties the Secretary of State is responsible for overseeing. 

The Secretary of State is responsible for all corporate formations and serves as a regulatory body for securities exchange, providing solutions to citizens who fall victim to financial fraud, the latter a sector Nethercott has about a dozen years of experience working in. The Secretary of State also serves on the State Board of Land Commissioners, State Building Commission and State Lands and Investments Board. 

Nethercott has expressed skepticism in the idea that foreign oligarchs are taking advantage of Wyoming’s lenient limited liability corporation and trust laws. The abuse of these laws was extensively detailed in a 2021 Washington Post report, which Gray has complimented. 

Gray has criticized Nethercott for receiving funding from political action committees, while he has received 95% of his campaign funding from his father.  

Nethercott has denied the categorization that she received significant amount of money from PACs. She has received $53,550 in PAC money during her campaign, 16% of her overall contributions. The Momentum 307 PAC was her biggest donor, giving her $24,000 over the course of the campaign through Aug. 9.  

Western Conservatives, a Colorado-based PAC has also supported her campaign significantly. 

Nethercott has received support from some of the biggest names in the Wyoming Legislature, with 10 current legislators, numerous former legislators and State GOP leaders donating to her campaign.  

State Sen. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, an early candidate in the Secretary of State race, suspended his campaign in July and endorsed Nethercott. 

Also supporting Nethercott has been former Wyoming Secretary of State Max Maxfield, who filed a Federal Election Commission complaint against Gray. 

Although Gray hasn’t won as much support in the State Legislature, he has earned an endorsement from former President Donald Trump. 

Gray’s has taken notice of Nethercott’s support. He has used it to further his argument that she is part of a group of “insiders” within the State Legislature he vehemently opposes and led to his voter ID bill being shut down three times before passing.  

The “insider” accusation is one that Nethercott has responded to inconsistently throughout the campaign. After a July forum in Casper she found no fault with the description. 

“If being a fifth-generation Wyomingite who is respected then I’ll take the label,” Nethercott said. “I think that means I’m an effective lawmaker.”  

But during her Sunday interview, Nethercott said she does not consider herself to be an insider or part of the “political machine.” 

Gray has crafted campaign literature claiming Nethercott is being sued for slander and “lying” and that she is being investigated by the State of Wyoming for violating finance laws.  

Monique Meese, a communications director with the Secretary of State office, said no campaign finance investigation is taking place of Nethercott. 

Despite the nature of this race, Nethercott said she has enjoyed this campaign. 

“The experience has been humbling,” she said, expressing gratitude. “To engage with people around the state like this is something that I’ve never experienced before. It’s been overwhelming and enriching.”

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