Move To Wyoming And Then Instantly Run For Legislature Is A Real Trend

Pamela Mertens moved to Wyoming in August 2023 from Florida and now she's running for House District 56. Tom Olmstead is running for Senate District 20 after moving from Colorado three years ago. They aren't anomalies. It's a trend.

Leo Wolfson

June 06, 20247 min read

A number of candidates and incumbents who've lived in Wyoming five years or less are running for office this year, including, from left: Top: Mark Jones, Laurie Bratten and Tom Olmstead. Bottom: Cayd Batchelor, Pamela Mertens, Joe Giustozzi and Marc Torriani.
A number of candidates and incumbents who've lived in Wyoming five years or less are running for office this year, including, from left: Top: Mark Jones, Laurie Bratten and Tom Olmstead. Bottom: Cayd Batchelor, Pamela Mertens, Joe Giustozzi and Marc Torriani. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

It used to be that when someone moved to a new state, it took some time to get to know the local leaders, history and general lay of the land before he or she would dive into local or state politics.

Now, more and more newcomers are becoming politically active right out of the gate. This election cycle features a number of recent Wyoming transplant Republicans throwing their hats in the ring to run for the state Legislature.

One is Casper resident Pamela Mertens, who’s running in the Republican primary for House District 56. She moved to Wyoming in August 2023 from south Florida.

Mertens believes she can bring a fresh perspective to the state based on her deep appreciation for what it has to offer. Running for the Legislature, she said, is just a continuation of her lifelong dedication to public service.

“I’m coming in with new ideas while at the same time wanting to keep and preserve what drew me here,” she said.

State law requires one year of residency from the time a legislator starts their term in office to serve.

Wyoming likely has one of the lowest barriers for entry into a legislature in the country.

Because of Wyoming’s low population, many Legislature races only draw a few candidates, and sometimes only one. Also, the average amount of money spent in a typical race in Wyoming pales in comparison to what’s typically spent in other states.

Most of the new resident candidates this year are fairly conservative. Many have expressed views that Wyoming is not as conservative as it seems.

Others have painted a picture of themselves as political refugees, moving to Wyoming as a result of COVID-19 restrictions and/or what they see as the tyrannical rule of Democratic-led policies in other states. Many have come with cautionary tales about what they believe could happen in Wyoming if left unchecked.

Laramie resident Joe Giustozzi is running as a Republican for House District 14 after moving to Wyoming four years ago from Connecticut. Giustozzi said his main inspiration is to keep Wyoming from enacting policies he saw put in place back East.

“I don’t want to happen here what I’ve seen happen in New York and Connecticut,” he said.

Wyoming Nuances

Someone who can bring a fresh perspective is always valuable in politics, but political newcomers also lack some of the institutional knowledge of longtime residents.

Simply by living and working in one location for an extended period of time, one usually gains a strong understanding for its overarching culture, most pressing issues and problems of their specific area. The United States is also a diverse enough country where an issue that may be highly relevant in one location could be irrelevant or completely nonexistent in another place.

Wyoming native and state Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, said at the very least voters should be aware of the backgrounds of candidates they’re considering voting for.

“I think the voters should be well-informed about people not in the state very long and coming with out-of-state thoughts,” he said.

Northrup finds Wyoming’s culture unique and mentioned how the state Constitution, which he vehemently supports, has many elements that could be interpreted as Libertarian or even progressive leaning. He said the state founders who wrote the Constitution likely read the Bible more in its entirety than many people today.

“Our constitution comes out and blatantly protects certain classes of people, frankly, that some people probably wished it didn’t,” he said, mentioning black and LGBTQ people as two examples.

Who’s Mertens?

Mertens is a disabled military veteran who still works remotely for the Louisiana Department of Education. Due to her time in the military and teaching, she’s lived and worked in many locations throughout the U.S., which she said has given her an appreciation for policies that do and don’t work.

She’s also overcome breast cancer and decided to move to Wyoming as a fulfillment of a childhood dream to live in the Cowboy State.

“There’s not a blade of grass here that I take for granted,” she said.

She’s running for HD 56, a seat held by Rep. Jerry Obermueller, R-Casper, who’s retiring from the Legislature. Also running for HD 56 is Pete Fox and Elissa Campbell.

Mertens opposes the development of a controversial gravel pit that’s being proposed in Casper, which she considers an important piece of retaining local scenic beauty.

Mertens has more than 20 years of experience teaching in higher education and wants to enshrine parental rights in education. She would like to better clarify Wyoming laws on what type of information parents should be made aware of from school staff about their children.

“There’s a lot happening in this world and too much is happening without the parent’s knowledge,” she said.

Mertens said she fully supports the policies enacted by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is seen by many conservatives as a staunch advocate of parental rights.

“When it comes to conservative values and morals, he’s taken a lot of risks and he’s loved for it,” Mertens said. “I think the world is tired of the radical left.”

Mertens believes there isn’t enough transparency for the way property taxes are assessed in Wyoming and wants this to be made easier for homeowners to understand. She wants more property tax reform put in place to try and prevent future increases in taxes.

She also believes First and Second Amendment laws need to be better preserved in Wyoming while maintaining “some levity.”

“I don’t mean any kind of extreme radicalism or anything like that,” she said.

She also wants immigration better monitored so that the state doesn’t become a sanctuary for migrants.

Although she doesn’t consider herself politically correct, Mertens said she’s transparent, sincere and genuine. When it comes to joining with the Wyoming Caucus or Wyoming Freedom Caucus, the two main factions of the Republican Party in the House, Mertens said she wants to bridge a common group between both.

“One could be extremely stubborn, the other could be a little too extreme,” she said. “I want to collaborate and work and maybe bridge these two together.”

The Ward Experience

Rep. Jeanette Ward, R-Casper, is the most significant example of a recent Wyoming transplant being elected to office. Ward moved to Wyoming from Illinois in 2021 and was voted into the Wyoming House a little more than a year after.

Ward has been both lauded and criticized for often proposing legislation that reflects bills brought in other states and addresses popular national talking points. Her What Is A Woman Act that would have required people to use the bathroom of their biological sex in public spaces in Wyoming was nearly identical to legislation passed in Alabama that had the same name.

Ward is running for reelection this year against Republican Julie Jarvis and Independent candidate Tyler Cessor.

Other Newcomer Candidates

There are at least a handful of other candidates besides Mertens and Ward running for the Legislature who have lived in Wyoming for five years or less.

Cayd Batchelor moved to Wyoming from Georgia about 18 months ago and is running for House District 8 in Cheyenne.

Buffalo gun lobbyist Mark Jones moved to Wyoming from North Carolina in 2021 and is running for House District 40.

Rural Laramie County resident Marc Torriani moved to Wyoming about five years ago from Colorado and is running for Senate District 6 in Cheyenne.

Sheridan resident Laurie Bratten is running unopposed for House District 51 after moving to Wyoming in 2019 from Colorado.

Basin resident Tom Olmstead is running for Senate District 20 after moving to Wyoming three years ago from Colorado.

Sheridan resident Thomas Kelly is running for House District 30 after moving to Wyoming in 2019 from Illinois.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter