By Leo Wolfson, political reporter
In a state with a large GOP majority, there are still a handful of competitive Wyoming Legislative races to keep an eye on for November’s general election.
In a state with an overwhelmingly Republican majority, many of Wyoming’s most competitive races are decided in the primary election. But there are more than a handful of State Legislature races in this year’s general election bucking that trend.
Democratic candidates received far fewer votes than Republicans in almost every district in the primary election. This was likely due to at least 10,000 traditional Democrats who crossed over and voted in the Republican primaries.
There are 37 contested races in the Wyoming Legislature this year.
House District 44
In Cheyenne’s HD 44, Republican Tamara Trujillo will take on Democratic former legislator Sara Burlingame. Trujillo took down incumbent State Rep. John Romero-Martinez, R-Cheyenne, who happens to be her cousin. There were only 111 votes that separated those two leading candidates, but due to a low voter turnout, this made up an 11% difference between the candidates.
Burlingame served in the House from 2019-2021 and is still considered one of the leading members of the Wyoming Democratic Party. In 2020, she lost to Romero-Martinez by 48 votes. She is pro-choice and the executive director of Wyoming Equality, a LGBTQ advocacy group.
Trujillo is solidily conservative with a pro-life stance and a belief that the state should provide better support for school of choice options.
Prior to Romero-Martinez’s election, HD 44 had been a longstanding Democratic-leaning district.
House District 33
Rep. Andi LeBeau, D-Ethete, will take on Republican Sarah Penn in the general election. HD 33 is an area that encompasses Riverton and the Wind River Indian Reservation and has historically been a swing district.
LeBeau was raised on the reservation and considered one of the state’s foremost leaders on tribal issues. She won her 2020 election over nearest challenger Valaira Whiteman by 96 votes.
Penn is supported by leaders in the Wyoming Republican Party. She has a pro-Second Amendment platform and is against COVID-19 mandates.
LeBeau also won her 2018 race by a close margin. Prior to her taking office, the district was represented by Republican Jim Allen, who LeBeau beat in 2018.
House District 14
North Laramie’s HD 14 could offer a very competitive race in this year’s general election. Rep. Trey Sherwood, D-Laramie, will attempt to hold on to her seat against Republican challenger Bryan Shuster.
Sherwood, a first term legislator, won her 2020 election by 85 votes. She is director of Laramie Main Street Alliance, an organization that supports downtown businesses in the town.
Since the 2020 election, redistricting has added a few rural precincts to her district that voted overwhelmingly for Republicans in the past.
Shuster is a Laramie City Council member who has pledged to support term limits for U.S. Congress members.
HD 14 is a historical swing district, with both Republicans and Democrats representing the district over the last decade.
House District 11
Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, may have solid standing as the House majority whip and three terms under his belt, but he represents a district that has voted for Democrats in the last decade. Olsen faces a strong Democratic challenger in Marguerite Herman for the general election.
Herman is a lobbyist for the League of Women Voters in Wyoming and a Laramie County School District 1 board member. She has also been the federal legislative chair for the Wyoming PTA.
Olsen won his first election in 2016 by a narrow margin, but has won every general election race since then by larger and larger numbers over his nearest competitor. He won his 2020 race over Democrat Amy Spieker by 11% of the vote.
House District 23
Teton County’s HD 23 will likely stay Democratic despite Rep. Andy Schwartz, D-Jackson, stepping down, but that does not mean this race won’t be at least competitive.
Republican Paul Vogelheim will face Democrat Liz Storer in the general election. Vogelheim was a major supporter of U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney in Teton County, where Cheney had her biggest win in the primary election. Vogelheim was a Teton County commissioner from 2008-2019. He describes himself as a “Al Simpson Republican.”
Storer has been lobbying at the State Legislature since 1994 and runs the George B. Storer Foundation, which invests in nonprofits and programs throughout the state. The foundation supports nonprofit journalism entities WyoFile, Wyoming Public Media and High Country News, University of Wyoming scholarships, and protecting sage grouse habitat and other projects.
Democrats have comfortably won elections in HD 23 since 2014, but the district was represented by Republican Keith Gingery prior to that year.
House District 13
With progressive legislator Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, set to retire after her current term, Wyoming’s Democrats can’t afford to lose any seats considering the already-slim minority they hold in the Legislature. Although HD 13 has historically swung solidly blue in the past, the national trend of increasing political polarization could erode some of this Democrat-stronghold. Also, due to redistricting, only a small swath of land remains from the district that elected Connolly when she ran unopposed in the general election in 2020.
Democrat Ken Chestek is running to replace Connolly and boasts a respectable political resume. Chestek runs Wyoming Promise, an organization working to remove corporate influence from elections and create better election transparency under the belief that corporations are not people. He has worked with the Legislature on bills related to this topic since 2016 and also ran for the State House in 2016, losing in House District 46 to Republican Bill Haley.
Chestek will take on Republican Wayne Pinch, who ran unopposed in the primary election. Pinch is a relative political newcomer and a small business owner. He is very moderate politically, supporting abortions in some instances and the legalization of marijuana.
House District 46
HD 46 will likely stay Republican under Rep. Ocean Andrew, but Democratic challenger Merav Ben-David may give him a solid challenge.
Andrew represents South Laramie, an area that has traditionally leaned Republican. One of the most conservative legislators and the youngest in the state, Andrew easily beat Republican challenger RJ Lennox, a much more moderate candidate, in the August primary election.
Ben-David, a University of Wyoming professor, ran against U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis in the 2020 election, earning more than 72,000 votes. Ben-David is very active in both the Wyoming and Albany County Democratic Party.
House District 16
Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, has easily won every race he has faced since he was first elected in 2018. He may face his toughest challenge yet this year against Republican Jim McCollum, father of fallen U.S. Marine Rylee McCollum.
Yin is the House minority caucus chairman and one of the Legislature’s leaders on the topic of cryptocurrency. He is also a member of the judiciary and revenue committees.
McCollum does not have political experience but gained widespread recognition and support in Republican circles for speaking against President Joe Biden in regard to his sons’ passing during the military pullout in Afghanistan. His family members have also sued actor Alec Baldwin for defamation.
HD 16, an area encompassing downtown Jackson, is solidly blue but was represented by a Republican as recently as 2014.