Political Outsiders Crowd Wyoming Governor’s Race
From left -- Harriet Hageman, Foster Friess, Mark Gordon, Taylor Haynes, Bill Dahlin, Sam Galeotos.
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — With mega-donor and first-time candidate Foster Friess attempting to force his way into the mix, voters will choose between the business acumen of a former dot-com CEO and the government experience of Wyoming's treasurer in a Republican primary that may determine the state's next governor.
No Democrat has come close to winning major office in deep-red Wyoming in over a decade, leaving the Republican winner heavily favored over a former state legislator likely to win the Democratic nomination.
Friess, 78, is well-known in national Republican circles for his financial support of dozens of campaigns, including Rick Santorum's presidential bid in 2012. Santorum returned the favor and has stumped for Friess, who has endorsements from Donald Trump, Jr., and actor Chuck Norris.
Winning over voters across Wyoming — many of whom tend to look with suspicion on candidates from wealthy Jackson Hole, where Friess lives — is another matter.
"To much is given, much is expected. And so I feel like it is somewhat of a calling to be able to serve you," Friess told a crowd of about 50 in Cheyenne in May after describing how he made $127 million in pre-tax investment profits in 1998.
Beneficiaries of Friess' largesse also include religious organizations such as the National Christian Foundation, making him the candidate likeliest to collect Wyoming's faith-based votes.
Some election watchers put Friess, 78, in a dead heat with State Treasurer Mark Gordon.
Gordon's unassuming demeanor and center-right positions — he doesn't harp on confronting the federal government at every opportunity — make him the candidate who most closely resembles outgoing two-term Gov. Matt Mead.
"I'm the only candidate in the race with a proven track record of saving taxpayers' money. And I'm the only candidate in this race that has a proven track record of working with the Legislature to grow Wyoming business," Gordon said in a July 12 debate.
"I am the only candidate ready to hit the ground running."
Gordon, 61, was appointed state treasurer in 2012 and won election two years later. He is the only Republican running with experience in elected office or even government.
He previously served on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and ran recreation- and tourist-related businesses in the Buffalo, Wyoming, area, where he and his wife own a cattle ranch.
The most Donald Trump-like candidate of the bunch, Sam Galeotos, 60, is executive chairman of Cheyenne-based data storage firm Green House Data. His past titles include chief executive of Cheap Tickets, Inc., one of the first online travel companies.
Galeotos' business background could attract voters worried about Wyoming's economy battered by soft oil and gas prices and declining demand for coal. Fossil fuels provide about 70 percent of Wyoming's state government revenue, resulting in a budget deficit approaching $1 billion.
Galeotos' solution? Technology — everything from better internet broadband to blockchain, the nascent electronic ledgering technology behind Bitcoin and other crytopcurrencies.
"I think the folks that work with me would say I like to live in the future to a great extent. I like to think about possibilities and figure out how to accomplish things that a lot of people would think are not accomplishable," Galeotos said in a Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce forum in June.
Cheyenne water and natural resource attorney Harriet Hageman, on the other hand, promises to stand by and up for Wyoming's fossil-fuel industries, which she often has pointed out provide many times more revenue to the state than technology.
Asked in the Wyoming Public Media forum what she thought of solar and wind energy, Hageman gave a long pause to laughter from the audience before calling them "something that's interesting and heavily subsidized" by the federal government.
"And I don't think that's fair. I think it's really hurt our mineral industry," Hageman added.
Hageman, 55, perhaps more than any other candidate, rails against federal laws, regulations and policies that affect Wyoming lands and resource extraction industries.
Other Republican candidates include physician Taylor Haynes, who is making his third bid for governor but the first under a cloud under allegations he doesn't live in Wyoming. Haynes' ranch south of Laramie straddles the Colorado line, but a judge denied Wyoming officials' request to order Haynes to stop campaigning.
Sheridan businessman Bill Dahlin is making his first run for office.
On the Democratic side, oil and gas industry attorney and former state Rep. Mary Throne, of Cheyenne, faces three little-known opponents: Ken Casner, of Elk Mountain; Michael Allen Green, of Rock Springs; and Rex Wilde, of Cheyenne.