Prominent Wyoming Politicos Go Head-To-Head In Sheridan Legislative Battle

Two well-known names in Wyoming politics — Thomas Kelly and Gail Symons — are running against each other to represent Sheridan in the Wyoming Legislature.

Leo Wolfson

May 22, 20248 min read

Thomas Kelly, left, and Gail Symons are running for the Republican nomination to represent Sheridan in the Wyoming House.
Thomas Kelly, left, and Gail Symons are running for the Republican nomination to represent Sheridan in the Wyoming House. (Courtesy Photos)

Some of the most intriguing races for the Wyoming Legislature may be in the northern part of the state this year.

In House District 30 in Sheridan, political activist Gail Symons is running against 2022 Superintendent of Public Instruction Republican candidate Thomas Kelly in the Republican primary. They’ll be vying for the seat now held by conservative legislator Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan.

It’s the second noteworthy race to be announced in north central Wyoming recently, as Jennings announced last week he’ll run against Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo, for the state Senate.

Symons is a well-known figure in Wyoming politics, routinely testifying before the Legislature on election-related topics.

Kelly is relatively new to the state but has become a familiar face thanks to his 2022 campaign, where he finished third, and a brief stint as a host of the Wyoming Is Right conservative radio show.

Called Into Action

Kelly said he had no intention of running for elected office again but decided to launch his campaign after Jennings gave him a call last week encouraging him to run for his seat.

“I’m just the kind of person when friends and family ask me for help, I always show up,” he said. “This was presented to me as my community needed my help and are asking for me to do this.”

Kelly is a college professor and chair of the political and military science department at the American Military University, a private, for-profit online school based in West Virginia. He also served on the city of Sheridan Planning Commission from 2019-2021.

“I do have conservative principles, I do have Libertarian principles,” Kelly said. “That’s why Mark Jennings looked at me and said, ‘This is a man we can trust.’”

Although Kelly said his Libertarian inclinations give him a firm belief in local control and limited government, he also believes national hot-button cultural issues are highly relevant in Wyoming and need to be addressed.

“Wyoming is dealing with forces from outside the state, national forces that wish to flip states from red to blue,” he said. “There’s an encroachment on the lifestyle and liberties of living in Wyoming from the federal government through the pressures of federal money.”

Kelly believes Wyoming needs to move away from dependence on federal money in certain situations like energy and social issues.

“We should take federal money when it makes sense and reject it when we’re compromising our principles,” he said.

About Those Property Taxes

As a college professor, Kelly also has firsthand experience dealing with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) requirements in higher education. He supports the move made by the Legislature this spring to cut all of the money for the University of Wyoming’s DEI office, and the school’s subsequent decision to remove the program.

But he also said it’s the university’s right to fund the program with private money if it wants to and doesn’t want to see the Legislature start to micromanage what can be taught at the school.

“I don’t support the state dictating what instructors, what departments, what programs, what scholars are allowed to say in the classroom,” he said. “I get wary of the state starting to do things like ban DEI and ban CRT (critical race theory) and essentially censor speech.”

Kelly also wants to bring more property tax relief to Wyoming and mentioned how his own property taxes have doubled in recent years. He believes some of the tax reform passed during the 2024 session, such as a refund only eligible to long-term residents, is an example of the government picking winners and losers.

“That leaves out the single mom in her townhouse taking care of her kids,” he said.

But during the 2024 session, the state’s property tax rebate program was expanded to include higher income earners, an opportunity all low-income homeowners in Wyoming were already eligible to participate in.

Kelly wants property taxes assessed at the purchase value of a property, one of the farthest-reaching solutions that’s been suggested so far on property tax relief.

On energy, Kelly wants Wyoming to invest in whatever industries make most economic sense, rather than being dictated by green energy mandates from the federal government.

Who’s Symons?

Symons had a different path to her candidacy, as she had been considering running for months. When she failed to find another candidate to run for HD 30, Symons said she officially decided to throw her hat in the ring Tuesday.

“Competition is critical to democracy,” she said.

Symons is a former Navy officer who worked for General Electric for her professional career.

Although she finds national issues relevant to some degree in Wyoming, Symons said she wants to place a priority on local, Sheridan County matters if elected.

She believes most Wyoming residents are more concerned with local issues and that the people raising alarm about national issues are mostly recent transplants to Wyoming who moved from areas where those types of culture war issues are much more relevant.

“I want to put Sheridan first, not national hot-button issues, not ideology,” she said. “We have got our own issues to deal with.”

Symons clarified that she does believe certain national issues are relevant like the BLM’s recently announced rule that will halt nearly all coal production in the Powder River Basin by 2041, which she firmly opposes.

If elected, Symons wants to focus on economic development, which she believes goes hand-in-hand with providing enough education and training resources in Wyoming. Symons explained that if local employers can’t find people qualified to fill the jobs they’re offering, those jobs may go elsewhere. Likewise, if those qualified people can’t find jobs here, that’s another problem that needs solving.

These two pieces are also connected to workforce housing, which Symons sees as a separate issue from low-income or affordable housing. Many communities like Jackson, Sheridan and Cody have a serious dearth of available housing to rent or buy.

“It’ll all have to be addressed similarly,” she said.

In her past legislative efforts, Symons has mostly focused on election policy. She wants the Secretary of State’s office to focus more on trying to get as many eligible voters to participate in elections rather than having tunnel vision on election fraud.

More On Property Taxes

On a similar front, she also believes the state’s relatively opaque business filing laws need reviewing.

“We need to balance the benefit that the LLC laws bring to the state, and balance that with how we keep bad actors from taking advantage of it,” she said.

On property taxes, Symons believes the Legislature has accomplished all it can do under the current tax structure in the state. That’s why she supports a constitutional amendment going before the voters this fall that would create a separate class of taxation for residential properties, which she believes would open many more opportunities for property tax reform.

She also wants to bring even more tax relief to long-term residents and supports a proposal brought by Rep. Martha Lawley, R-Worland, last session that would allow homeowners to put a lien on their homes instead of paying tax increases.

On energy, Symons said although she supports Gov. Mark Gordon’s all-of-the-above support for all forms of energy, she finds many of the green energy mandates issued by President Joe Biden’s administration to be unrealistic.

“I personally believe some of it is ridiculous and putting the cart before the horse,” she said. “There’s absent a clear understanding of the balance (of energy sources) needed.”

But with that said, Symons said her experience working in the corporate world has taught her that Wyoming must come to terms with what the world markets are demanding.

“If the utilities industry believes in it, then it’s our reality,” she said.

The Race

Kelly said although he and Symons have sharply different views on certain topics, they have worked well with each other within the Sheridan County Republican Party.

“I’m hoping that Gail and I can be an example for many across the state of how to disagree vigorously and not be mean to each other,” he said.

Jennings beat Symons by about 350 votes each in the 2018 and 2016 Sheridan County Republican primary elections.

Symons complimented Kelly’s intelligence, but said his perspective is that of someone who was a Republican minority in a Democratic-controlled state. She challenges him to focus on issues pertinent to HD 30.

“I like what he has to say, but I don’t think it’s very relevant to Sheridan,” she said. “I still think he’s being driven by national talking points.”

Leo Wolfson can be reached at

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter