Bill Winney Has Lost Six Times For Wyoming Legislature; Will 7th Try Be The Charm?

Bondurant resident Bill Winney has run unsuccessfully for the Wyoming Legislature six times since 2010, but that isn’t stopping the Republican from running again. This time he's challenging Albert Sommers for a state Senate seat.

Leo Wolfson

June 17, 20247 min read

Bill Winney has run for the Legislature six times, but has never won. He's hoping his seventh run is lucky.
Bill Winney has run for the Legislature six times, but has never won. He's hoping his seventh run is lucky. (Gillette Public Access Television)

Bondurant resident Bill Winney is one of the more recognizable faces at the Wyoming Legislature even though he’s never been part of the body as an elected official.

Winney is steadfast in his desire to be involved in Wyoming politics, so much so that he’s testified on almost every topic that’s come up at the Legislature over the last 15 years.

He’s now making his seventh attempt to win a seat in the Legislature over the last 14 years, running in the Republican primary for Senate District 14 against House Speaker Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, and Kemmerer resident Laura Taliaferro Pearson. This is his first time running for the Senate.

Winney may have had an easier path to victory if he ran for the House in District 20, with two newcomer candidates looking to fill Sommers’ role, but he told Cowboy State Daily that he believes the Senate is a better place to try and enact property tax reform.

A 30-year Navy veteran, Winney was in charge of large-scale budgets while working as a program coordinator at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

Upon retirement, Winney could have easily devoted his time to more leisurely pursuits, but said “it wasn’t in my heart” to do that. Instead, he’s been closely observing and participating in the Legislature since 2005.

Winney has spent most of this time attempting to draw a bridge between his Navy and federal government experience and a multitude of Wyoming topics over the years at the Legislature. Simply put, if there’s a bill being considered by a committee, you’re likely to see Winney give his input on it.

Winney credits himself for helping convince legislators to pass multiple bills into law, such as rangeland studies and computer science programs since he testified for the first time in 2009.

“A private citizen in Wyoming, if you speak well and speak from the heart and speak from experience, you can affect what they do,” he said.

He was officially recognized by the Legislature for his participation in 2019.

Too Much Spending

Integral in Winney’s campaign is a belief that Wyoming state government is spending too much money. Winney said it’s not that any single department or program is wasteful as a whole, but more that the government could be spending its money more wisely.

“There’s a lot of places they could cut spending if they just took a good hard look at what they’re doing,” he said.

Winney was in charge of making many fiscal decisions during the six years he spent working at the Pentagon. He also wrote the equivalent of laws for the submarines he was a commander on.

He cited the example of a local school district in Sublette County his wife worked at spending $25,000 on a set of reading and literacy books it never used.

“That’s money that came out of taxes and it did nothing,” Winney said. “How do you get down into that level of detail? I’d like to try and do that.”

Winney still supports local control and wants school boards to be property trained so they know where to look to prevent future incidents like that.

“It’s the part and parcel of bureaucrats, superintendents, principals, vice presidents to know how to do things and get the school board to want them to do,” Winney said. “How do you get the school board to be able to recognize it?”

Property Taxes

Winney said most retired Wyoming residents don’t get cost-of-living pension increases like he does with the Navy that have doubled in 20 years. As a result, when their property taxes increase, they don’t have extra income to cover the bills. He’s already seen this happen to a few former Teton County residents who had to move to cheaper residences further south.

“We have to remember that if we push elders out of their homes, they’re going to end up in the elder care facilities, which is a lot more expensive in the long run,” Winney said.

If elected, Winney said he’d look at putting inflationary caps to help curb the rising property taxes the state has been dealing with the last few years. He also firmly supports a constitutional amendment going before the voters this fall that, if passed, would separate residential property as a separate form of taxation in Wyoming. This would allow for a reduction of the assessment rates in the state.

Although Winney didn’t have much to criticize about his two opponents, he was disappointed by the lack of interest from a slim majority of legislators this spring in calling a special session to override Gov. Mark Gordon’s vetoes. One of the most upsetting vetoes for Winney was on Senate File 54, a bill that would have provided 25% property tax relief on home values worth up to $2 million in Wyoming.

Sommers had been one of the most vocal in opposing the special session effort at the time, arguing that it wouldn’t be worth the time and effort spent convening when the bills could be brought back again next year.

“I thought the response particularly of the House leadership was underwhelming,” Winney said. “I thought the House and Senate should have come back into session and they kind of faded out on that.”

During his time as speaker, Sommers has had a relatively cold relationship with the Wyoming Freedom Caucus, a group of farther right House Republicans. Winney said the Freedom Caucus gets a “bum rap” and their members are actually much more dynamic than other groups of the Legislature. He supports their fiscal approaches, but said the group’s members also have a tendency to get “a little doctrinaire.”

“Spending — that’s a big deal for those Freedom Caucus guys, but I think it should be a big deal across the broader part of the Legislature,” Winney said.

Other Issues

Winney also wants to look at cost-of-living pension increases for retired state employees and to make emergency medical services classified as essential in Wyoming.

“Our EMS out here, people can be an hour or more away from some kind of trauma care,” Winney said. “That’s going to be a tall order but I got it.”

Certain Republicans have opposed pension increases, saying the state can’t afford it. Winney said this could be easily remedied by pulling money from savings.

“We can’t afford to not do that,” he said.

Pearson is a sheep rancher and school bus driver who has often testified before the Legislature over the last few years on a variety of issues, consistently expressing farther right views.

Pearson said the people of Wyoming are “fed up” with the way the state is being run.

SD 14 also encompasses the new TerraPower small nuclear plant that will be built in Kemmerer. Winney said he wants to pass legislation to help better support the facility. Because of his past experience working with submarines, Winney has strong knowledge on the topic of nuclear energy.

“There are folks that are anti-nuclear out there and I’ve found that they typically tell only one side of the story,” he said.

On education, he believes there hasn’t been enough focus on providing scholarships for students to attend community colleges or receive vocational training.

Winney’s Chances

Winney has run in every election cycle in Wyoming since 2010, six times for the Legislature and one time for Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2014, only winning one contested primary and no general elections.

His closest race came in 2020 when he lost to former Independent state legislator Jim Roscoe by 366 votes.

Winney said he plans to engage in more door-knocking, mailers and text messaging to make his seventh bid for the Legislature the charm.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Bill Winney said pension increases could be easily remedied by pulling money from savings.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter