If Charlie Scott Wins Re-Election, He Will Be One Of The Longest Serving Legislators In U.S.

Casper Republican Charlie Scott, the longest serving member of the Wyoming Legislature, is running for reelection for his 14th term in the state Senate. If he wins, he’ll be among the longest serving legislators in the U.S.

Leo Wolfson

June 21, 20246 min read

State Sen. Charlie Scott, R-Casper, was first elected to the Wyoming Legislature in 1979. He's running for reelection for a 14th term this year.
State Sen. Charlie Scott, R-Casper, was first elected to the Wyoming Legislature in 1979. He's running for reelection for a 14th term this year. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

State Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, could easily hang it up and walk away with an already highly respected and historic career in the Wyoming Legislature. If and when he finally retires from politics, Scott will take with him a list of personal achievements and a deep well of institutional knowledge.

That day won’t come soon if it’s up to Scott, who entered the Legislature in 1979, and is already the longest serving legislator in Wyoming history.

Scott, 78, isn’t satisfied and is running for a 14th term this fall. He wouldn’t officially commit to it being his last, but said it’s likely.

“Ask me again in three years,” he said with a laugh.

Scott is being challenged by former Natrona County commissioner Rob Hendry and Charles Schoenwolf in the Republican primary for Senate District 30 this August.

If reelected, Scott would become one of the longest serving state legislator in America. The current title holder, South Carolina state Sen. Nikki Setzler, has been serving two years longer than Scott but plans to retire at the end of the year.

Scott has a way to go before claiming the all-time crown, however. That belongs to a Wisconsin state senator who retired in 2020 after serving 64 years.

Because of his experience, Scott is often leaned on for sage advice by his fellow legislators. It’s a presence that has been lacking in recent years, with a large turnover of members in 2022. More than half the members of the Legislature are in their first or second terms.

Although picking up the basics at the Capitol is a relatively simple task, understanding the coalitions and process of political sausage making is more a fine art that Scott said usually takes two to three terms.

“There are some special concerns, and it helps to have someone experiencing some of the problems and knows about those special concerns,” Scott said.

Unfinished Business

Scott said he still has unfinished business to attend to in the Legislature when it comes to getting public education to a level he believes it can perform at, an effort he spent his last term working on as well.

“That’s still to be done,” he said.

Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Scott has led an effort to try and get local school districts to pay better attention to their lower-performing students’ reading scores.

“This is the most important thing that state and local governments do,” he said. “Keeping the districts effective and doing a good job is an ongoing struggle, but it’s a particular struggle right now and setting the ongoing reforms I think is doable in the next term.”

He cited a report conducted by an outside firm for the Legislature three years ago that came to the conclusion that Wyoming, which has some of the highest per-pupil funding in the country, wasn’t getting its money’s worth based on test scores. The crux of the report was that Wyoming was properly preparing all of its students for today’s modern world.

“If the local administrators set that priority and are competent, they can do a pretty good job,” he said. “If the priority is to build a bureaucratic empire with lots of administrators and paying them well, or the priority is to build a sports empire, then they ignore the reading stuff.”

Scott points to early literacy as a particular problem area in Wyoming, as he’s received a number of test scores and anecdotal reports from high school teachers about students who still can’t read well once reaching that level. Average reading performance fell about 7% from pre-COVID-19 to post-COVID-19 in Wyoming.

Scott points to a school district in Sheridan County, which despite receiving some of the least funding in the state, has some of the highest test scores. He said the school formed small committees for each low performing student to diagnose the cause of their low proficiency.

“When they pay that kind of individualized attention, they can get much better results,” he said. “What they're doing is something the other districts could replicate perfectly well.”

Scott believes these problems could be rectified with better competition instigated by the growth of charter schools, and higher standards.

Scott was the lead sponsor on a bill passing the Hathaway Scholarship into law, which he counts as his biggest accomplishment while serving in the Legislature. The Hathaway Scholarship allows high-performing Wyoming students to attend college in Wyoming at extremely reduced rates or even free.

Property Taxes

If reelected, Scott wants to continue addressing the issue of property taxes in Wyoming. He believes Wyoming has been frugal enough with its savings that it can make property tax reform without doing considerate damage to the state’s tax base.

During the 2024 session, Gov. Mark Gordon vetoed a bill that would have reduced property taxes by 25% for home values up to $2 million in Wyoming.

Scott said this hurt Wyoming residents, and he believes Gordon is “having problems” in his relationship with the Legislature even though having some friction between a governor and their Legislature is normal.

“He surprised us this time, we’re going to have to be much more careful with veto overrides,” Scott said.

The Race

Hendry may be Scott’s biggest challenger in quite some time because of his own level of notoriety in Natrona County.

Scott didn’t have much to say about Hendry, but said they disagreed about Natrona County’s sale of the Wyoming Medical Center in 2020. He said this prevents the county from having any say in the hospital’s day-to-day decisions such as sending patients to Colorado.

“I think that was a major mistake because it removes the influence we need over that operation,” Scott said.

One of Hendry’s biggest criticisms of Scott was his vote against the biennial budget this spring, a move he said lacked leadership.

A sharp divide emerged this year between the House and Senate on the topic of the budget. Scott, like some other senators, believes that leadership in the House has been dictating the budget for too long.

“The House has been much more willing to spend big money, and some of their spending is on just flat pork barrel schemes,” he said. “In general, I thought some of the funding schemes were a bit overboard and a mistake.”

Scott believes it’s the government’s job to provide basic services, but beyond that should be fiscally prudent. He voted to support the creation of the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund in 1974 and considers it one of the smartest fiscal decisions the state has ever made.

Also challenging Scott in the race is Schoenwolf, who took on Scott in the Republican primary in 2020, losing by about 500 votes.

Scott hasn’t faced a particularly close race since 2012, when he beat Republican primary challenger Bob Brechtel by about 80 votes.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that if reelected, Charlie Scott would be among the longest serving legislators in the U.S., not the longest.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter