Update: This story has been updated to reflect that Sara Burlingame, Democratic House candidate of Cheyenne, did not accept money from the Wyoming Education Association.
By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
The Wyoming Education Association has put its money on Democrats.
The association’s political action committee for education directed 97% of its candidate donations to Democratic candidates for the Wyoming Legislature this general-election season, according to expense reports filed with the Secretary of State’s Office.
Wyoming Education Association has members in the state’s schools, colleges and university. It lobbies for funding and autonomy for educators in Wyoming.
Its political action committee (PAC) uses voluntary donations, not member dues, to fund political campaigns.
11-1 Support For Dems
In the PAC’s general-election expense report as of Monday, the group had backed 11 Democrats and one Republican candidate to the Wyoming Legislature. It spent $7,682 total, with $1,057 to its parent association, $325 for communications and $6,300 to legislative candidates.
Of that $6,300, nearly 97%, or $6,100, went to Democratic candidates, all of whom are opposing Republicans in Tuesday’s general election.
The lone Republican recipient of the group’s donations is incumbent Rep. Bill Henderson, R-Cheyenne, who received $200. Henderson, conversely, is challenging a Democratic candidate, Jen Solis.
The committee wrote in an endorsement statement that Henderson is “a champion for Wyoming’s students, educators and public schools.”
Henderson in a Monday text to Cowboy State Daily said his priorities include funding, safe and secure schools, recruiting and retaining “our best” teachers and paraprofessionals, and empowering parents to make educational decisions for children.
He said the state needs several school buildings replaced.
“We must fix that,” said Henderson, adding that safety to and from school is another of his priorities and that he is advocating for heightened traffic speed enforcement, driver awareness and neighborhood safety.
The Democratic candidate donations includes the following:
• $500 to Leesa Kuhlman of Rock Springs (opposing Republican Stacy Jones)
• $300 to Ken Chestek of Laramie (opposing Wayne B. Pinch)
• $1,000 to Ted Hanlon of Cheyenne (opposing Republican incumbent Sen. Lynn Hutchings)
• $600 to Robert Johnson of Casper (opposing Jeanette Ward)
• $1,000 to Merav Ben-David of Laramie (opposing incumbent Rep. Ocean Andrew)
• $300 to Sarah Burlingame of Cheyenne (opposing Tamara Trujillo). Burlingame did not accept the money, however, and told Cowboy State Daily she does not accept PAC money.
• $1,000 to Rep. Andi LeBeau of Ethete (opposing Sarah Penn)
• $300 to Rep. Trey Sherwood of Laramie (opposing Bryan Shuster)
• $300 to Rep. Chad Banks of Rock Springs (opposing Joshua Thomas Larson)
• $300 to Liz Storer of Jackson (opposing Paul Vogelheim)
• $500 to Le Ann Stephenson of Riverside (opposing Bob Davis)
The Wyoming Education Association did not immediately respond to Monday voicemails requesting comment, but its PAC website says the group endorses candidates who will protect safe and quality professional working conditions for education staff, support due process rights for them and push for “adequate funding.”
The group has kept a running balance of about $100,000 after election expenditures. It receives funding from numerous Wyoming people, but also from minor donors in Arizona, Missouri and Utah.
Education is now a hot-button topic in Wyoming. The WEA in August sued Wyoming, accusing the state Legislature of underfunding K-12 education functions at about $1.5 billion per year in state and local revenues.
A spokesman for the association, in an Oct. 10 legislative Joint Education Committee meeting, also accused the Legislature of over-scrutinizing and opposing educators in Wyoming.