First Challenger To A Wyoming Freedom Caucus Seat In The Legislature Announces

House District 35 in Casper is the first seat in the Legislature where an incumbent member of the Wyoming Freedom Caucus has a challenger for the Republican primary.

LW
Leo Wolfson

March 27, 20247 min read

Christopher Dresang, left, and Rep. Tony Locke, R-Casper, right.
Christopher Dresang, left, and Rep. Tony Locke, R-Casper, right. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Most of the 2024 Republican primary elections in Wyoming will likely be defined along lines of those aligned with the Wyoming Freedom Caucus and those who aren’t.

That will certainly be the case in House District 35 in Casper, where Christopher Dresang has announced he’s running against incumbent state Rep. Tony Locke, R-Casper, in the Republican primary. Although Locke isn’t an official member of the Freedom Caucus, he is politically aligned with the group and signs on with most of its public releases.

Dresang, the director of Student Support Services at Natrona County Schools, said too many harmful laws are being passed by the Legislature that directly impact his job. He plans to work with and seek out an endorsement from the Wyoming Caucus, another Republican group that has sprouted up to oppose the Freedom Caucus’ efforts.

If elected to HD 35, it would be Dresang’s first foray into politics besides serving on a few low-level local boards. He is a lifetime Wyoming resident who was raised in Natrona County.

‘You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me’

After listening to debates about prohibiting employers from requiring employees to have microchips implanted into their bodies and expanding death benefits for the widow of a fallen police officer in Sheridan, Dresang said he decided he had seen enough.

“As a Republican, we’re disenfranchising our own base and we’re wasting taxpayer money,” he said. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

A self-described moderate Republican, Dresang said he wants to bring common sense and civility to the Legislature.

“Just really start focusing on bringing a collaborative, a big-tent approach, to helping the people of Wyoming, rather than ensuing chaos and discord throughout our state,” Dresang said.

He also believes legislation Locke has supported doesn’t represent the wishes of his constituents in HD 35, a district that encompasses the south side of Casper.

“House District 35 is made up by educators, law enforcement, nurses, working-class people, as he passes these bills that essentially are interfering with people’s ability to do their jobs,” Dresang said. “That’s the disconnect.”

Locke, also a Wyoming native, beat out former state legislator and current Natrona County GOP Chairman Joe MacGuire by about 15 percentage points in the 2022 Republican primary.

“I am so blessed and really honored to serve the people of House District 35,” Locke said. “I just can’t thank the people enough for this opportunity and their support. It’s been an amazing experience.”

Locke has yet to have any of his own bills pass into law, but has had bills he’s co-sponsored do so.

He considers himself a small-government conservative that aspires to leave more money in the pockets of taxpayers.

“Overall, that’s been my strategy as I’ve gone through these last two years,” Locke said.

Parental Control

Particularly frustrating for Dresang was Locke’s vote for Senate Enrolled Act 80 in 2023, a bill that created a Wyoming charter school authorizing board to approve all new charter schools in the state. This came on the heels of earlier legislation allowing charter schools like the Wyoming Classical Academy in Mills to go straight to the State Loan and Investment Board, instead of obtaining local school district approval.

Locke said he supports this type of legislation and said these changes weren’t a result of a loss to local control, but rather local government control. He generally supports the expansion of charter schools and believes parents should have more choices in education.

“His version of local control is, ‘Hey, the school board couldn’t reject it,’” Locke said. “At the end of the day, I would argue families are a better form of local control anyway.”

Dresang said he supports parental rights, but not the concept of enshrining rights that come at the cost of infringing on other people’s rights. He mentioned Senate Enrolled Act 9, a bill Locke supported and Gordon recently allowed to pass into law without a signature, requiring school districts to notify parents and guardians about any change to their student’s health status, including identifying as transgender.

Dresang said he finds it hypocritical that Wyoming has struggled to create mental health services for youth but has no problem increasing parental rights.

Property Taxes

Locke, a member of the House Revenue Committee, has made property tax relief one of his bread-and-butter issues and spoke on many bills addressing the issue during the recent session. Unlike some of his fellow Freedom Caucus members, Locke believes legitimate progress was made on property tax relief and reform.

“We’re finally getting some of those things through,” he said. “Anywhere we can give people the relief where they need it, I’m happy.”

But he also said there’s more progress that can be made and was very disappointed by Gov. Mark Gordon’s veto of Senate File 54, a bill Locke supported that would have exempted 25% of fair market value of homes up to $2 million in Wyoming.

“It was the only relief for all residential property owners,” Locke said. “It was the bill I was hopeful for.”

He’s also proud of his efforts drawing attention to rate increases proposed by Rocky Mountain Power last year. Public hearings on these rate increases drew hundreds of people in the Casper area and before the Public Services Commission.

“I was successful in mobilizing a lot of people,” Locke said. “We got a lot of voices heard.”

Legislation was passed during the 2024 session adding additional regulation to these rate increases for the future.

Healing The Divide

Dresang said his 16 years of leadership experience mediating family and student conflicts in the school district translates perfectly to the state Legislature, where a clear divide separates the Freedom Caucus and Wyoming Caucus in the House.

“I think it’s just reaching across the aisle, being collaborative with the few people, the Democrats that represent those communities, but reminding people we’re all in it for Wyoming citizens, not this national agenda that seems to be pushed on every state with the Freedom Caucus,” he said.

Locke said he views this divide as a rift between a desire to manage public money and managing government growth by leaving more money in the taxpayers’ pockets, of which he ascribes to the latter.

Locke said he always tries to legislate with respectful discourse and a desire to have intellectually honest conversations with his fellow legislators with a recognition for the vast majority of issues they can agree on. But he also said moments of “aggressive dissent” should be expected in a chamber with 62 members.

“I have my bills voted down very often, and I try to remind myself I don’t take it personally,” Locke said. “I continue to pursue what I think is best for the Wyoming people and I do my best to not let that personal step in because it’s very easy to let anger creep in. That’s the wrong answer moving forward.”

Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter