By Leo Wolfson, State Political Reporter
The policy stances of the two candidates running for state House District 14 in Laramie aren’t starkly different, but Rep. Trey Sherwood, D-Laramie, said she needs to bridge the gap and make a connection with all voters if she wants to have any chance at getting reelected.
“I’m not taking anything for granted,” Sherwood said. “I know if the whole district votes party-line, I will lose.”
President Joe Biden won Albany County in 2020, but Sherwood’s district also contains a conservative, rural swath outside of the University of Wyoming campus. Support for Biden has fallen considerably nationally since 2020.
Sherwood is running against Republican Bryan Shuster for a second term.
Both candidates remarked on the significant amount of advertising their opponents have been running during the general election campaign. Sherwood had no opponent in the primary while Shuster beat challenger Julie McAllister by 124 votes. Shuster spent $2,064 during the primary.
In the 2020 election, Sherwood beat Republican Matthew Burkhart by 85 votes. After redistricting, a few rural precincts, including the community of Rock River, a town of 245 people, was added to HD 14. This area has traditionally voted Republican. Sherwood said she recently attended a barbeque in Rock River to learn about the needs of the community.
“Their needs are different from the people in Laramie proper,” she said.
Rock River is a ranching and agricultural community located about 40 minutes north of Laramie.
“I made a concerted effort to listen to people there,” she said.
HD 14 is a historical swing district with both Republicans and Democrats representing it over the last decade.
Sherwood is the director of Laramie Main Street and has master’s and bachelor’s degrees from schools in Georgia. She has credited herself for building relationships with Republican legislators, but only one of her sponsored bills has passed in the last two years.
Shuster is a longtime Laramie resident who has been on the Laramie City Council for 20 years. He said his particular focus during that time has been government finance.
In 2015, Shuster voted against supporting a Laramie city ordinance that protects gay and transgender people from discrimination at work, in housing and public places such as restaurants, saying he was concerned about the rights of religious people who disagree with homosexuality, according to a Casper Star-Tribune story at the time.
Shuster also has experience serving on the local rifle range, airport and youth conference boards, and has experience with urban systems planning. He is an employee at WyoTech and studied at the University of Nebraska.
“I love Laramie and want to continue serving it,” he said.
Shuster said Laramie could be on the cusp of having some water rights fights and the city needs a strong advocate at the table to serve its needs. He said the city of Laramie has enough water for the next 250 years but mentioned how other communities may be in a more desperate position.
Shuster said Sherwood is “pretty far left” and does not represent the views of what he describes as an “extremely conservative state.” He said when he told a few state legislators he was considering running, Shuster said he received strong encouragement from those lawmakers.
Shuster criticized Sherwood for her lack of success getting bills passed. Her bill that did get signed into law, which passed in 2021, allows wineries to hold tastings and sell products off-site.
Although Shuster said he does not like the practice of abortion and would always try to convince someone from having one, but would not vote to completely ban it.
“People get to live the life they want,” he said. “I’m not going to tell you what to do with your body.”
Sherwood is pro-choice.
“I personally think it should be a woman’s choice,” she said. “You wouldn’t believe how many older, Republican males I’ve talked to while door knocking that said the state should have no role in family planning.”
Sherwood is disappointed national issues like Critical Race Theory and transgender athletics have become hot-button issues at the state Legislature. Despite this year’s Legislature being a budget session, both topics took a significant amount of time on the floor during the session.
“When I go door-to-door, people are thinking about funding for education and funding for infrastructure,” Sherwood said. “These national issues are becoming a distraction.”
She said she wants to have conversations with UW personnel about what their needs are.
“It would be wise to stop micromanaging what is taught at the University,” she said.
Although he is opposed to teaching Critical Race Theory, Shuster does not find it to be a prevalent educational item at UW, where his wife is an employee.
If elected, Shuster said education will be one of his bread-and-butter issues at the state Capitol.
He also said he would support term limits for congressional legislators.
Shuster said he supports all forms of energy in Wyoming and mentioned how the state has some of the cleanest coal in the nation.
Sherwood has a similar stance and said important decisions will have to be made in the coming years about what to do with the additional revenue steep oil and gas prices has brought in this year. She is a member of the Management Audit Committee and House Minerals, Business and Economic Development committees
“A windfall is not the new normal,” she said.
She said it’s important to remember the trend will not be a permanent fixture of Wyoming’s economy and wants the state to be as diversified as possible when it comes to energy.
“I love the idea of an all-of-the-above energy strategy,” she said, mentioning the new soda ash mine being developed near Green River and rare earth minerals being explored in the state.
On the topic of Medicaid expansion, Shuster said he doesn’t like the concept, but believes it might be a necessity for Wyoming moving into the future. Sherwood said she is a firm supporter of Medicaid expansion and mentioned how Albany County could see a significant benefit from it as one of the lowest-income counties in the state.
Shuster said he also would favor legislation that would freeze property tax rates for homeowners when they reach the age of 65. He sees the skyrocketing property tax rates as an issue brought on by federal pressures and national inflation.
“Whoever is trying to say we control the price of property taxes – that’s a blatant lie,” he said. “We’ve got to be realistic.”
Sherwood said she is interested in the topic of property taxes from the “lens of affordable housing” and would not favor changes to current property tax law that would require amendments being made to the Wyoming Constitution.
“I fear that if we start taking away local control and revenue coming, a source of income our police, fire and snow removal services depend on – that could have a disastrous effect,” she said. “I don’t think you can have it both ways. I don’t think you can go all in on making changes to the Constitution.”