Cheyenne House Race A Tale Of Three Very Different Wyoming Republicans

The Wyoming House District 8 race features three very different Republicans: Incumbent Dave Zwonitzer, a Freedom Caucus supporter who calls Zwonitzer a “RINO” and a 22-year-old newcomer to Wyoming who has been here for 18 months.

Leo Wolfson

June 05, 20248 min read

House District 8 Republican candidates, from left, Steve Johnson, Rep. Dave Zwonitzer and Cayd Batchelor.
House District 8 Republican candidates, from left, Steve Johnson, Rep. Dave Zwonitzer and Cayd Batchelor. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

One thing that sets the House District 8 Republican primary race in Cheyenne apart is that it features three distinct candidates with equally different backgrounds and political views.

Incumbent state Rep. Dave Zwonintzer, R-Cheyenne, is running for a second term representing HD 6. Zwonitzer also served in the House from 2006-2016, losing his bid for the Senate to Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, by five votes.

Zwonitzer said he was considering stepping down from the Legislature after this year’s session until an event took place that stoked the fire underneath him.

While speaking at the Laramie County Republican Party convention this spring, he said some in the audience directed catcalls at him, calling him a “RINO,” an acronym for Republican in name only. There was also campaign literature on hand from one of his opponents, Steve Johnson, attacking him before he had even announced his intention to run again.

“That’s what sparked me to run another term,” Zwonitzer said. “Wyoming shouldn’t be this way, and for sure Laramie County shouldn’t be this way. It’s not what politics are.”

Zwonitzer, a longtime resident, is taking on Johnson and Wyoming newcomer Cayd Batchelor in the primary. Batchelor, who is 22, moved to Wyoming from Georgia about 18 months ago.

Johnson is a Wyoming native. He said he’s primarily running against the actions Zwonitzer has taken in the past and what he sees as a lack of conservative leadership in the Legislature.

“We need to change leadership in the House so that we get some of our bills read,” he said.

Who’s Zwonitzer?

Zwonitzer is a veteran lawmaker who aligns more with the establishment faction of the state Legislature. During the most recent session, Zwonitzer served on the House Appropriations Committee, one of the most important committees at the Legislature for its role in crafting the biennial and supplemental budgets. Zwonitzer described this experience as a “milestone” in his political career.

“My biggest accomplishment is I feel I have at least a decent grip on all the different accounts,” he said. “There’s a lot to know what’s going on.”

If reelected, Zwonitzer said he wants to continue his work on this committee and “keep the ship going straight.” Zwonitzer said he’s most concerned about what Wyoming will look like 10-20 years down the road.

“That’s one of my main objectives, to try and bring some civility and keep things that are right for Wyoming and we’re going to be proud of in 10 or 20 years,” he said.

One of the biggest fiscal divides within the Legislature is on how to use the state’s savings accounts. Historically, these accounts have been used to grow the state’s investments under the theory that they can be tapped into during more lean years, an approach Zwonitzer supports.

“I do believe in saving money for future generations,” he said.

Others like Johnson have complained that this money should be returned directly to the taxpayers, arguing the state’s rainy day fund has enough money in it that it could be considered enough for “a biblical flood,” and that the state’s spending is out of control.

On property tax relief, Zwonitzer believes the Legislature has made legitimate progress but also would like to explore more options. One of the most popular property tax bills passed during the 2024 session would have provided 25% off on home values worth up to $2 million, but was vetoed by Gov. Mark Gordon. Zwonizter said he found this veto disappointing but he understood the governor’s logic in doing so.

“You can’t give the population of Wyoming back a refund and not refund the mineral industry and the manufacturing industry because we all pay taxes at the same rate,” he said.

Zwonitzer also wants to address the state’s gaming laws and teacher retention in his next term.

He said the farther right Wyoming Freedom Caucus has been a detriment to finding solutions at the Legislature and has made efforts to inhibit state growth, such as voting against a $64 million federally funded generation plant for the Wyoming military.

Compared to when he started in 2006, Zwonitzer believes fewer amendments are being proposed to bills to try and make them better. He also found the voting down of 13 committee bills on the first day of the 2024 session particularly egregious.

“You would not have seen that in the past, period,” he said.

Who’s Johnson?

Johnson represents farther right views than Zwonitzer and aligns with the Freedom Caucus, whose members he considers “the good guys” at the Legislature.

“They’re the real Republicans, not the RINOs,” he said. “They’re the guys who have the citizens' prosperity at heart.”

Johnson first got into Republican politics around 2008 in response to former President Barack Obama’s first campaign.

He believes there’s too many Republicans in Wyoming failing to follow the platforms and resolutions of the party. Johnson said a majority of the House Republicans are voting more in line with Democrats in that chamber than other members of their own party, which is why he believes Wyoming is actually a “Democrat state.” Republicans have a larger majority in the Wyoming Legislature and in overall voting numbers than any other state in the country.

“They’re there in disguise and they keep getting elected,” he said.

Johnson believes Zwonitzer falls into this camp.

As an example, he mentioned how Zwonitzer voted against a bill in 2023 banning most forms of abortion in Wyoming. The bill passed by an overwhelming majority regardless.

Zwonizter also voted against a bill prohibiting red flag gun seizures in Wyoming, which also easily passed into law. Efforts like these have been similarly opposed by President Joe Biden.

“If you have an R by your name, you don’t vote for anything Joe Biden has,” Johnson said.

Zwonitzer said it’s ridiculous to make the insinuation that because he opposed these bills that he’s supporting Biden.

Johnson said he wants to keep fighting for more property tax relief and believes the property tax reform passed during the 2024 session will do “absolutely nothing.” This includes a 4% cap on year-to-year increases, an expansion of the state’s property tax refund program, and an exemption for long term homeowners in the state.

He also believes the governor’s property tax veto amounted to a bail out for his “good old boys club.” Johnson said he found this veto indefensible when considering the state budget has increased over the last few years.

“You can’t tell me you can’t give the citizens a break on their taxes,” he said.

Johnson also wants to continue working on parental rights and school choice in education and believes transgender people should be required to use the bathrooms of their biological sex.

Who’s Batchelor?

Batchelor moved to Wyoming with his wife and two young daughters to work on the railroad in Cheyenne. If elected, he would be one of the youngest legislators in the state, a perspective Batchelor believes is sorely missing at the Capitol.

“I’m not a politician, this is my first election,” Batchelor said. “I bring a different perspective.”

Batchelor wants to make it easier for people to do like he did and move to Wyoming by reducing taxes and other costs.

“I haven't seen any real effort to encourage people to move to Wyoming,” he said.

His biggest agenda items are education funding, increasing the state’s tobacco tax and reducing government regulation on business.

“I want to make it easier for people struggling with bigger items, make it easier for new families,” he said.

Batchelor said the biggest reason he’s discontent with Zwonitzer is that he’s not bringing forward any of these exact proposals.

“He hasn’t put forward any of these proposals I have to increase business revenue,” he said. “I haven’t heard him get rid of other taxes. I want to give money back to people who actually might need it.”

As far as legislation passed during the most recent legislative session, Batchelor supports bills prohibiting transgender care on minors and banning gun free zones in schools, two measures Zwonitzer also supported.

Batchelor is also concerned about the future of Wyoming education and wants to ensure teachers are paid competitive wages so that the Cowboy State doesn’t fall behind neighboring states.

“I don’t want to have to send my daughters down to Colorado to get a better education,” he said.

Batchelor also wants to bring in new forms of gambling and increase the number of hunting tags allotted to make it easier to lower residential property taxes without hurting the state’s coffers.

Conversely, he wants to exempt purchases on baby products from the state sales tax and reduce the fuel tax.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter