By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
An established legislative leader and a determined write-in candidate are vying for the State Senate District 23 seat, for Campbell and Converse Counties, in Tuesday’s Republican Primary Election.
Speaker of the Wyoming House of Representatives, Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, announced his resignation from the House last year. By this spring, he had announced his run for the Senate seat, for which Republican incumbent Sen. Jeff Wasserburger has chosen not to run.
Write-in candidate Patricia Junek is challenging Barlow. She also lives in Gillette and describes herself as a solid conservative.
Junek said she never intended to run for office, but has been displeased with Barlow’s voting record. She said legislator-ranking site Wyorino.com shows Barlow as voting along the Republican Party platform about 10% of the time throughout his career.
She said voters in the region noticed her while she was volunteering as an activist for election integrity bills in the Wyoming Legislature.
“People… asked me to run,” said Junek. “At first I said ‘no,’ over and over, and in the end, when no one else filed to run against Barlow, we just could not let him go unopposed.”
Specifically, Junek disputed Barlow’s vote not to introduce the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act on the final Tuesday of the legislative session in March. The bill would have barred biological males from competing in girls’ school sports.
Junek believes Barlow’s position, that there wasn’t enough time to cultivate the bill, was an excuse for what she called a pattern of “not representing the people of Wyoming.”
“In my doorbell campaigning, maybe 98% of the people I talked to, hands down, believe that boys should not be competing in girls’ sports,” said Junek.
‘Not A Vote On The Merits’
Barlow did not return two voicemails and an email requesting comment.
However, another House Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton, told Cowboy State Daily that for many of the 37 representatives voting not to introduce the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, including herself, the vote was about deadlines.
“There is an agreed-upon deadline between the House and the Senate in which to consider bills,” said Oakley, adding that deadlines are “especially important” in the shorter budget sessions occurring on even-numbered years. In the year following a census, legislators also have a duty to approve a re-districting of the legislative voter districts.
“Based on both very real-time limitations and statutory deadlines, legislators will vote ‘nay’ on the further introduction of bills,” Oakley continued. “It is not a vote on the merits of the bill; often (the bills) are good. This is a basic function of the Legislature – and to assert that many of these bills were voted against because of the content of them is false.”
Oakley looks forward personally to working on the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act in the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January.
Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, who sponsored the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, wrote a March op-ed in Cowboy State Daily calling its failure “disappointing.” As it stands, the Wyoming High School Athletics Association has a permissive appeals process by which transgender students can compete in the sport of their choice.
Junek describes herself as an advocate for small government who is also “pro-life, pro-God, pro-Second Amendment and pro-family.”
She would not vote for Medicaid expansion, Junek added.
“It would take a lot for me to ever vote to increase government reach into our personal lives,” she said.
Junek is a retired small-business owner and college instructor. Her former business, a cleaning business, grew from 500 customers when she bought it to 5,000 customers when it was sold. She and her husband Mark now own The Lodge – A Wyoming Man’s Salon, in Gillette.
Junek learned about how burdensome “government overreach” can be while running her business, she said.
She has lived in Wyoming for eight years and in Gillette for six. She is originally from the eastern portion of Washington state, but said she’s always been a Wyomingite in her heart.
“My entire adult life, my conservative views in any state or national election didn’t matter, didn’t count,” she said. “So I was thrilled and excited to move to Wyoming, to a state that represented who I have always been.”
Junek said she has no agenda except to serve the people of Wyoming.
“I am simply trying to step up and give voters a choice,” she said.
One Decade In
Barlow was first elected to the House in 2012 and has been serving since 2013. He was assigned to chair his first committee in 2017 and has held multiple leadership posts since. He became Speaker of the House – the chamber’s highest rank – in 2021.
He is a veterinarian and rancher by trade and served as a US Marine in the Cold War era, from 1984-1988.
Barlow co-sponsored several bills this year and last. Some of these include:
A bill to decriminalize and cultivate medical marijuana;
A bill requiring employers to extend COVID-19 vaccine mandate exemptions to their employees;
A bill making it a felony to ingest methamphetamine while pregnant;
A bill expanding the state’s ability to fight the federal government’s actions to stifle the coal industry;
A bill banning abortionists from providing abortions solely because of fetal disabilities or abnormalities, the baby’s sex, race, or ancestry. (This bill was crafted before it was constitutionally possible to ban abortion outright.)
These did not pass, but one of Barlow’s sponsored bills, House Bill 123, requiring the environmental quality council to establish rules for uses and disposal of waste in non-coal mining sites did pass this year, and has become law.
Another bill co-sponsored by Barlow that passed was House Bill 82, which extends Wyoming veteran honorable-discharge benefits to military veterans who were discharged from the service for refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccination.
Barlow voted in favor of Wyoming’s trigger ban, that is, a ban on nearly all abortions. The trigger ban couldn’t pass into law until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade in June.
Although deemed legal by the Wyoming Attorney General and certified by the governor in late July, the state’s trigger ban has now been paused as a coalition of abortion advocates are challenging its constitutionality in Teton County District Court.
“If elected I will continue listening, learning, and finding solutions that serve your needs, and Wyoming’s best interests,” Barlow wrote on his Facebook campaign page.