Longtime Wyoming House Rivals Jennings, Crago Square Off For Senate

Two of the more prominent members of the Wyoming House — and in some ways longtime political rivals — state Reps. Mark Jennings and Barry Crago will square off against each other for the state Senate.

Leo Wolfson

May 21, 20245 min read

State Reps. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo, left, and Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan.
State Reps. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo, left, and Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

A Wyoming Senate race in northern Wyoming just became much more intriguing.

State Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan, announced he’s vacating his House seat to run for Senate District 22 last week, the seat now held by Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, who announced earlier this spring he’s not running for reelection.

Jennings said he was considering running for Kinskey’s seat even before he made that announcement.

And Jennings, one of the more prominent members of the Wyoming House, is running against another familiar name in state political circles.

Running against Jennings is Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo. Even though they’re both Republicans, they have been political rivals on many issues, with Jennings often taking the more conservative position.

Crago responded that he's been a lifelong Republican and always adhered to the party's platform.

"I look forward to a good race between me and Mark," Crago said.

He officially announced his campaign for the Senate earlier this month.

Opportunity Presents

Jennings is a farther right legislator who’s served in the Legislature since 2015. He was one of the founding members of the Wyoming Freedom Caucus, a contingency of House Republicans with similar views to his.

Crago is one of the leading members of the Wyoming Caucus, a group of Republican representatives who formed in opposition to the Freedom Caucus.

Strict adherence to and interpretation of the Republican Party platform is what has led to much of the Republican divide in the Wyoming House. Jennings said this is where he and Crago differ.

“I actually vote in line with the Republican Party platforms considerably more of the time than my opponent,” Jennings said.

Although he’s never held a leadership position before, Jennings ran for House speaker in 2020 and 2022, narrowly losing to Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, in the most recent race.

The inspiration to run, Jennings said, is the same as it was for him in 2014 when he first ran for the House — to bring more conservatives to the Senate.

A similar opportunity could be available in the Wyoming Senate, which took a noticeable turn to the right during the most recent legislative session.

During the budget discussions, center-right Republicans like Kinskey and Majority Floor Leader Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, sided with the farther right contingency of the chamber in opposition of Senate President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, and more moderate Republicans. The more conservative bloc in the Senate was often more successful in its efforts, winning many votes by a 16-15 margin.

Jennings’ Platform

Jennings said some of his proudest achievements during his nine years in office include sponsoring House Enrolled Act 96, legislation that passed into law in 2017 enshrining the right of a parent to care, provide custody and control of their children.

He also co-sponsored numerous pro-life abortion bills such as the last two laws passed by the Legislature banning most forms of abortion in Wyoming.

Jennings also mentioned bills he saw as upholding “traditional family values,” several Second Amendment protection bills and his most recent efforts on property tax reform. Jennings took a particularly hardline approach to property tax reform, sponsoring a bill during the 2024 session that would have changed residential property taxation to be based on the purchase price of a home.

If reelected, Jennings said he wants to focus on what he sees as true property tax relief and reform.

“Any conversation about tax reform without a discussion of spending is meaningless,” Jennings said.

On energy, Jennings said the state’s legislative policy should reflect strong support for Wyoming’s legacy industries like coal, oil and gas. He said it’s obvious that renewable energy will be a part of Wyoming’s portfolio moving forward, but should be treated on equal footing and without any additional support not already offered for fossil fuels.

The Race

Crago served two terms in the House, quickly rising to prominence because of his knowledge of judicial issues because of his profession as a deputy county attorney.

The SD 22 race will be particularly interesting because of his and Jennings’ standing within the Wyoming Legislature. It’s also the only race announced so far in 2024 featuring two current legislators going head-to-head for a new seat.

Jennings is the fourth House member this year to announce a run for the Senate. In 2023, three attempted to make the move, with two successful.

The Freedom Caucus has become a formidable force in the Wyoming House, sitting at around 26-27 seats. The group has said multiple times its stated goal for the 2024 election is to gain a majority of Republican seats, which Jennings said it has a "good chance" of doing. Whether new freshman legislators actually choose to join the Freedom Caucus once elected is up to them, Jennings said.

He's also proud of what the caucus has become and the work it’s doing even though he chose to leave the group when its leaders decided to work under the umbrella of the Washington, D.C.-based State Freedom Caucus Network in 2022.

“I'm far more interested in seeing conservative values move forward,” he said.

There are already two Republican candidates who have officially announced plans to run for Jennings’ seat.

The first was Thomas Kelly, a 2022 Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate.

On Tuesday, political activist and Republican Gail Symons also announced she is running for the seat.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at leo@cowboystatedaily.com.

Share this article



Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter