Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
Republicans have expanded their already-overwhelming majority in the Wyoming Legislature following Tuesday’s election, adding four seats in the state House of Representatives. Although Wyoming’s red wave didn’t capsize blue House districts in Laramie and Jackson, it flooded other Democratic-represented areas like Rock Springs and the Wind River Indian Reservation.
The Democrats fared much worse, losing two seats, dropping from nine to seven state lawmakers,
There also are no longer any third-party officials in the Legislature as state Rep. Marshall Burt, a Green River Libertarian, lost his reelection bid and Republican Andrew Byron took the seat held by retiring Independent representative Jim Roscoe of Wilson.
One of the few silver linings for Democrats on Tuesday was their ability to hold onto seats in two closely contested races. Liz Storer of Jackson beat Republican Paul Vogelheim by 3.4% to keep the House District 23 seat now held by Rep. Andy Schwartz, D-Jackson, blue. This was the closest race of the night by percentage of vote.
The close call was surprising given that the historically Democrat-dominated Teton County gave twice as many votes to U.S. House Democratic challenger Lynnette Grey Bull over Republican nominee Harriet Hageman. The competitiveness of this race is perhaps a testament to Vogelheim’s popularity within the local community as a former Teton County commissioner. Vogelheim also may have been aided by the state record amount of money he raised and spent during his campaign.
The county also elected a nearly all-blue county commission, losing its one Republican commission seat and gaining a Democratic newcomer. One former Democratic commissioner, Greg Epstein, switched his affiliation to Independent during his commission term. The commission in recent months has made headlines for its stringent control over housing development decisions in Teton County, where roughly 40% of all homes are worth more than $1 million.
Rep. Trey Sherwood, D-Laramie, also held her House District 14 seat, fending off Republican challenger Bryan Shuster by 9% of the vote.
Rep. Andi LeBeau, D-Ethete, didn’t fare as well, losing her two-term incumbency by 11% of the vote to Republican challenger Sarah Penn in House District 33. Penn is a nurse practitioner who lives on the reservation, but is not a tribal member. She campaigned on parental autonomy in education decisions, personal autonomy in vaccination choices, and a pro-life platform.
Cheyenne Stays Red
The Democrats also missed opportunities to flip seats in what was projected to be three competitive Cheyenne races.
Marcie Kindred, a Cheyenne Democrat, lost to Sen. Stephan Pappas, R-Cheyenne, by 14%, or 800 votes in Senate District 7. Elected in 2014, Pappas chairs the Select Committee on School Facilities, which oversees funding for the state’s school buildings. He has served on numerous committees, including the Education committee and Revenue committee, which oversees taxation and infrastructural law.
House District 44 in Southern Cheyenne stayed Republican despite Democratic representation prior to 2020.
Republican Tamara Trujillo beat former Democratic representative Sara Burlingame for the district by about 21% of the vote Tuesday night.
Burlingame lost in 2020 to incumbent Republican Rep. John Romero-Martinez, who ran against both women as a write-in Tuesday and got just 10 votes.
Cheyenne Democrat Marguerite Herman came closest in her bid against Rep. Jared Olsen in House District 11, but still lost by 6% of the vote. This was the closest race of the night by margin of votes, with Olsen winning by 131. It was Olsen’s closest win since he knocked off incumbent Democrat Mary Throne in 2016 by 62 votes.
No Republican incumbents or seats were lost in Tuesday’s elections.
Sweetwater Blue No More
Decades ago, Rock Springs was a Democratic stronghold for Wyoming in part because of a prevalent labor union presence prior to the state’s right-to-work status.
Things have changed.
Republican J.T. Larson beat Democratic Rock Springs incumbent Rep. Chad Banks with about 21% of the vote for the House District 17. The men differ on their approaches to taxation, with Larson hoping to resist additional taxes.
Burt lost his House District 39 seat to Republican Cody Wylie of Rock Springs. Wylie won by 50% of the vote.
Wylie was endorsed by Gov. Mark Gordon, who is generally seen as aligned with a more moderate form of Wyoming Republicanism.
Other Races Of Note
• Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, easily beat Republican write-in opponent Roger Connett by 3,206 votes in Senate District 1. The win will likely propel Driskill into the Senate president position for the upcoming legislative session.
• In House District 46, Rep. Ocean Andrew, R-Laramie, beat challenger Merav Ben-David, a University of Wyoming professor who ran against U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis in 2020 for the U.S. Senate seat, by a large margin. The upcoming term will be Andrew’s second as a state representative.
• Republican Jon Conrad of Mountain View handily beat Republican write-in opponent Joe Webb and Democrat Sarah Butters for House District 29 in Uinta County. The Uinta County Republican Party endorsed Webb in his campaign.
• In a close vote in Albany County, incumbent Sheriff Aaron Applehans, a Democrat, beat Republican challenger Joel Senior. When Appelhans was appointed to fill out the final two years of the former sheriff’s term, he became the first black sheriff in Wyoming. His election Tuesday now makes him the first elected black sheriff in the state.
With unofficial final results in, Republicans now hold 57 of the 62 seats in the state House and retained the 29 of 31 seats they hold in the Senate.
There were no surprises in Wyoming’s statewide races Tuesday.
Hageman beat Democrat Lynette Grey Bull by 45% of the vote. The blowout result was largely expected before the race, and Grey Bull did not perform better than her 2020 bid for the U.S. House.
A University of Wyoming poll released shortly before the election showed that 67% of the people who voted for U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney in the Republican primary said they planned to vote for Grey Bull. That demographic did nothing to narrow the gap for Grey Bull. This was possibly subdued by the active support for Hageman statewide, fueled by vehement opposition to Cheney.
Gov. Mark Gordon was reelected, beating Democratic challenger Theresa Livingston by 62% of the vote. Gordon won every Wyoming county including the left-leaning Teton.
Republican Megan Degendfelder beat Democrat Sergio Maldonado by 55% of the vote in the race for superintendent of public instruction. Degenfelder beat Interim Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, by a narrow margin in the primary election.
State Treasurer Curt Meier and State Auditor Kristi Racines, both Republicans, won their uncontested elections, as did secretary of state candidate Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper. There were 13,574 write-in ballots cast against Gray.