CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Following a first term fraught with a double dose of crises — the COVID-19 pandemic and crash in oil prices that combined knocked the wind out of Wyoming’s economy — Republican Gov. Mark Gordon is asking voters to give him four more years.
He faces a little-known Democrat, Theresa Livingston, of Worland, a U.S. Air Force veteran and retired educator and U.S. Bureau of Land Management employee.
Gordon faced criticism in the pandemic’s first year for public health restrictions that many in his party considered intrusive and heavy-handed, stirring talk he would face a serious primary challenge.
After lifting the restrictions in 2021 and shoring up his appeal to right-leaning voters on issues including abortion, he didn’t.
Last year, Gordon asked the National Rifle Association to consider moving its headquarters to Wyoming. Earlier this year, he signed into law a bill that would ban abortion in nearly all cases.
The NRA didn’t bite on his offer. The abortion law, which lawmakers crafted to take effect after the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversed the Roe v. Wade ruling in June, remains held up in state court and has yet to take effect. Even so, right-wing chatter about giving Gordon the boot diminished.
Meanwhile, one of the few Republicans who could have given him real trouble – Cheyenne attorney Harriet Hageman — ran for Congress instead, beating Liz Cheney in August.
Hageman finished third in the six-way GOP gubernatorial primary four years ago. Gordon won that year with 33% of the vote and this year dominated a four-way Republican field with 62%.
Gordon enters final stretch of the governor’s race coinciding with the national midterm elections boosted by good news: State revenues, thanks to higher oil and natural gas prices, are up, taking pressure off a funding picture that forced Gordon and legislators to enact steep spending cuts in 2020 and 2021.
Gordon claims success in getting Wyoming through the pandemic and recent struggles to maintain revenue from its fossil fuel industries. He has also led efforts, he said, such as promoting carbon capture, or pumping carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants underground so the greenhouse gas won’t contribute to global warming.
“I’ve really tried to focus on diversifying the economy and making Wyoming a better and stronger place to live. I think that’s shown its results,” Gordon said in a televised Oct. 13 debate hosted by Wyoming PBS and Wyoming Public Media.
Gordon, a Johnson County rancher and businessman who was state treasurer for eight years before becoming governor, now faces Livingston, who has no prior experience in elected office.
In 2020, Livingston lost a state Senate race to Ed Cooper, getting just 15% of the vote in the heavily Republican district covering Washakie and Big Horn counties and nearby areas.
Amid the uncertainty over whether Wyoming’s new abortion ban will take effect, ensuring women have all of their rights is Livingston’s top priority, followed by expanding access to Medicaid health coverage, like other states have done, under the Affordable Care Act.
She also supports diversifying Wyoming’s economy such as by mining more of the state’s rare earth minerals essential for renewable energy and electric vehicles.
“I believe there’s always a better way. I had students for many years when I worked for the BLM and that was our motto, and we always tried to prove a better way to do stuff,” Livingston said in the debate.
Wyoming voters will also be asked to consider two proposed state constitutional amendments. One would raise the mandatory retirement age of state judges from 70 to 75; the other would allow local governments to invest funds in equities.
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Mead Gruver, The Associated Press