Rock Springs Republican Candidates Battle Over Who's More Conservative

State Sen. John Kolb, R-Rock Springs, has a Republican primary opponent who said he’s the true conservative in their Republican primary race. But Kolb says, "My background isn’t a guy who fell off the hay wagon yesterday."

Leo Wolfson

June 20, 20248 min read

State Sen. John Kolb, R-Rock Springs, left, and Jeff Ramaj
State Sen. John Kolb, R-Rock Springs, left, and Jeff Ramaj (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

There’s a lot of charged rhetoric tossed around in politics, and one common theme in Wyoming Republican circles is whether someone is or isn’t a “true” conservative or a “real” Republican.

State Sen. John Kolb, R-Rock Springs, said his opponent Jeff Ramaj’s claims that he isn’t a true conservative are patently false. The two are running against each other in the Republican primary for Senate District 12, which covers most of Rock Springs.

“I am the only candidate that’s a conservative, that’s effective and respected within the body,” Kolb said. “I have an impeccable record of conservative voting and I have the education and experience to get things accomplished.”

Kolb, who has been serving in the Legislature since 2021, is running for reelection for his second term in office. Prior to that, he was a Sweetwater County commissioner from 2011-2019.

“My background isn’t a guy who fell off the hay wagon yesterday,” Kolb said. “My background is a guy who served as a county commissioner in a large county that handles a big budget with diverse needs.”

Ramaj, who works in sprinkler irrigation, has no formal political experience beyond running for the Sweetwater County Commission in 2022, finishing eighth of nine candidates.

“I think Kolb, he’s done well on some votes, and I think he’s done terrible on others,” Ramaj said.

Ramaj’s campaign theme is “Reboot Wyoming,” a phrase that has been plastered across his campaign yard signs along with his name and a graphic of a cowboy kicking a rhinoceros, which Ramaj said he also plans to repurpose on baseball hats. This is in reference to a popular acronym RINO used in Wyoming political circles, “Republican in name only.”

Ramaj, who describes himself as a “realist,” clarified that this embodies his mission of kicking out the current political system as a whole. He believes Kolb is voting to support the status quo too much.

“I think that we need to reboot America,” Ramaj said. “I look at facts, and the facts on the ground are not supporting what the people want, the way the voting is going on him.”

State Sen. John Kolb, R-Wyoming
State Sen. John Kolb, R-Wyoming (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

Who’s Kolb?

Kolb describes himself as a fiscal conservative and believes there’s not enough transparency in Wyoming’s budgeting process.

“You’re (only) getting part of a picture and the people in power want to keep the control by non-transparency,” Kolb said. “It is deliberately complicated so only the people in charge know where the money is and know when the money gets there.”

During the crafting of the 2024 budget, negotiations between the Senate and House temporarily fell apart when there was a $1.1 billion disparity between their two budgets. Kolb said this is emblematic of the Senate pushing back after long subservience to the House’s wishes on the budget.

He also believes too much pork-barrel spending is being stuffed into the budget for individual members of the Appropriations Committee’s pet projects such as a Wyoming float in the Rose Bowl Parade. If reelected, Kolb said he would hope to be appointed to this committee.

“I would be very honored to serve on Appropriations if that comes about,” he said.

On property taxes, Kolb said he wants to pass the most effective legislation that doesn’t decimate the state’s coffers and serves as a sustainable long-term solution. He supported all of the property tax legislation that passed into law this year but voted against Senate Fille 119, a bill that would have established a property tax exemption for real property.

Kolb said this bill would have destroyed funding for local public services in Sweetwater County like the hospital, ambulances and police department. He believes public services like these are a necessity.

“What I don’t support is a property tax bill that would decimate a local tax structure like this would,” Kolb said. “There’s things that we can support and things we cannot.”

One of his biggest achievements during the most recent legislative session was getting $150 million included in the biennial budget to fully fund the construction of a new high school in Rock Springs. Kolb considers it an investment that will benefit future generations of Rock Springs residents.

“The people that elected me overwhelmingly wanted the Rock Springs High School,” Kolb said. “I go back to the people that elected me as my No. 1 focus.”

Ramaj, a 1983 Rock Springs High School graduate, said he would have opposed that because of the state of Wyoming’s economy.

“The high school is not what I would consider ancient and I believe that if the maintenance had been kept up and things had been done on it I don’t see it was necessary,” Ramaj said. “I don’t see that as a priority at this point and I think the money could be put to better use.”

Kolb is also pro-life on abortion, a firm Second Amendment supporter and opposed to the loss of public access to federal lands. However, pro-life abortion group Wyoming Right To Life has endorsed Ramaj’s campaign.

Although he personally supports the group on certain issues and said he’s already spoken with their members, Ramaj accused Kolb of being a member of the Wyoming Freedom Caucus. He considers this group too influenced by the Washington, D.C., network that supports it.

To this, Kolb laughed and said he is neither a member of the Freedom Caucus or the opposing Wyoming Caucus and said Ramaj “doesn’t know anything.” Kolb considers himself a negotiator between the two camps on various issues and nondiscriminatory about who he works with in order to pass fiscally conservative legislation.

“I’m into representing my senate district and that’s what I do,” he said. “That’s why there’s a new high school coming. If I was in the Freedom Caucus, there wouldn’t have been a new high school.”

Jeff Ramaj
Jeff Ramaj (Courtesy Photo)

Who’s Ramaj?

Ramaj believes the Wyoming Legislature and Congress are putting band-aids on problems instead of getting to the root cause of their existence. He drew a comparison to his work in fixing leaky irrigation lines.

“We’re looking at the side effects of bad policy instead of changing the original policy that caused the bad problems,” Ramaj said. “That’s what I want to do is go back to the source of the problem and fix it there, rather than putting band-aids on the symptom.”

He also believes many legislators don’t put enough time into understanding the true effects of bills.

“Just because something’s constitutional and we can do it doesn’t mean we should do it,” he said.

Ramaj said he’s against government overregulation, but he’s also upset that Kolb voted in 2022 against a bill brought by former Green River Republican state legislator Tom James that, among other things, would have revoked licenses from businesses in Wyoming that followed federal COVID-19 mandates.

“What goes into my body is my business and it’s my choice and my decision,” Ramaj said. “The government mandating a vaccine to me is completely unconstitutional. It violates a lot my rights.”

Kolb said although he opposes vaccine mandates, he found this bill “insane” and “devastating” as it would have caused billion-dollar industries like trona to shut down because of federal contracting requirements.

“They had a bill that would’ve destroyed Wyoming businesses, destroyed them,” Kolb said. “It was a badly written bill. I can’t emphasize how much of a train wreck that was.”

Ramaj said if elected, one of his top priorities will be to deliver cheap energy, but wouldn’t reveal his plan to enact this.

He believes projects like the TerraPower small nuclear reactor in Kemmerer will play a much larger part in complementing America’s energy future than wind or solar energy.

“Obviously, Bill Gates is a shrewd businessman and he wouldn’t be doing it unless he knew he’d be making billions off it,” Ramaj said.

He’s also confident coal will continue to be a viable resource into the future and wants the government to renew its commitment to the industry. Ramaj also wants a rollback of Environmental Protection Agency regulations and other taxes on the mineral industry.

“This is going to be a reboot of America,” Ramaj said. “It’s going to take candidates that understand these things and how to deal with them and put the genie back in the bottle at the federal level and the state level.”

He believes it’s up to a coalition of states like Wyoming to keep the federal government in check. Like Kolb, Ramaj supports the calling of a Convention of States as long as it’s assembled with strict guidelines.

On property taxes, Ramaj supports a ballot initiative recently certified for the 2026 election that would reduce property taxes in Wyoming by 50%. He wants the entire tax assessment structure reevaluated in Wyoming but wouldn’t say what this would entail.

The District

Kolb is the first Republican to represent Senate District 12 since its creation. He beat out Democratic incumbent Sen. Liisa Anselmi-Dalton in the 2020 election by about 700 votes. It was the first contested race in that district since 2000.

The winner of the Republican primary will face former state legislator and Democrat Kenilynn Zanetti in the general election.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter