Gordon Wrangles with Major Issues—and Rivals for Governor—But Experts See Clear Path to Reelection
Wyoming voters have not unseated a sitting governor in over half a century
- Published In: Politics
- Last Updated: Apr 04, 2022
Gov. Mark Gordon (left), seeking reelection, is running against at least two other Republican candidates: veterinarian Rex Rammell (middle) and retired Marine Corps colonel Brent Bien (right). (Courtesy photos)
By Shen Wu Tan
Special to the Wyoming Truth
Wyoming voters have not ousted a sitting governor for decades, and political experts say it’s unlikely that will change this election season. But how the governor navigates pressing issues for voters is another matter.
Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican, is seeking to retain his seat for a second term—a goal he is likely to accomplish, according to political analysts—although he faces challenges from multiple candidates. Gordon also faces a bevy of important state issues, such as a slowing economy, increasing gas prices and an ongoing drought. Public opinion polls also show voters in Wyoming are concerned with the loss of family farms and ranches; the quality of public education; a lack of jobs that pay well and health insurance coverage; a decline in numbers of big game animals; and the loss of habitat for fish and wildlife.
Getting reelected may be the least of Gordon’s troubles. “We rate the Wyoming gubernatorial race as ‘Safe Republican,’” said J. Miles Coleman, associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan political analysis newsletter run by the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “Over the past decade or so, we’ve seen a strengthening correlation between how a state votes for president and its patterns for every other office. Wyoming was Donald Trump’s best state in the nation in both 2016 and 2020, so that would bode well for Republicans. As he seeks a second term, history also seems to be on Gov. Gordon’s side: Wyoming has not ousted a sitting governor since the 1960s.”
Gordon is running against at least two other Republican contenders who have announced their election bids ahead of the May 12 filing start date for candidates: veterinarian Rex Rammell and retired Marine Corp colonel Brent Bien.
“I expect Gordon to remain in office,” said Jim King, a political science professor at the University of Wyoming, noting Gordon’s job ratings have been low compared to other governors but still positive. “All the candidates will stress their opposition to federal interference in state matters and protection of various sectors of the state’s economy. Republicans and candidates of the Libertarian and Constitution parties will oppose abortion and vow to protect the Second Amendment. The policy differences among the candidates will be few.”
Gordon announced his re-election bid at an event in Buffalo last week. When asked about his re-election bid, Gordon’s campaign spokesperson Tom Wiblemo declined to comment, instead referring to the governor’s campaign website.
“We’ve cut taxes, passed a budget that is $400 million less than 2020, reduced the size of state government to its smallest level in 10 years and strengthened our right to bear arms by enacting the Second Amendment Protection Act,” Gordon said in a statement on his campaign website. “But there is more work to do.”
He noted it is his priority to improve Wyoming’s education system with more parental involvement, streamline federal and state regulations on businesses and recommit to the goal of American energy independence.
Gordon was elected governor Nov. 6, 2018, and sworn into office Jan. 7, 2019. He served as Wyoming state treasurer prior to that.
Erich Frankland, a political science professor at Casper College, agrees that Gordon has a pretty good chance of retaining his seat, despite his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
“His one ‘hiccup’ was the state’s protective health measures on Covid, but he quickly moved to remove the measures as soon as he could,” Frankland told the Wyoming Truth. “He has raised attention on a variety of important issues, from mental health, energy development
, to missing and murdered indigenous women that resonate with many voters. He and the first lady have made many public appearances that have gone over well with attendees.”
He added, “Some of the more conservative Republicans will likely search for another candidate but I believe that most Republicans will support Gordon’s reelection.”
Rammell, who has run for multiple offices, including state senator and Congress, campaigned for governor in 2018.
“I’m just not happy with the trend of Wyoming,” Rammell told the Wyoming Truth. “By most metrics, Wyoming is not doing well…I’m worried about the economy and energy industry. I’m worried about the public school system. I’m worried about property taxes. Property taxes just go up and up.”
He also mentioned his concerns with crossover voters who participate in a primary election for a political party they do not usually affiliate with, a backlog of court cases, a shortage of court staff and government workers and the size of Wyoming’s government, which he said is too large.
“I’ve been in politics for 20 years,” said Rammell, a Rock Springs resident. “I’ve run for numerous high-level offices. This is my third run for governor, and I think I’m talking about things that nobody else dares talk about. Nobody talks about education reform. They just try to figure out how to keep funding it. Nobody talks about natural resource sovereignty issues. And I haven’t heard anybody really talk about property tax reform. So, a lot of the issues I am comfortable speaking about, I seem to be the only one talking about them.”
Another candidate challenging Gordon for his seat is political newcomer Brent Bien.
“I’m running on my goal to make Wyoming the freest state in the nation,” Bien said. “I’ve seen a lack of leadership in the gubernatorial seat for a long time, in particular the last three and a half years.”
If elected, the Sheridan resident said he would seek to protect freedoms, such as private property, rights of the unborn and Second Amendment rights; pursue government accountability, including ensuring voter integrity, and getting the state budget under control; and promote state sovereignty, like enhancing the energy industry with market-driven green energy.
“Wyoming should be leading in a lot of these efforts and we’re not,” Bien said, noting his leadership skills from his years in the Marine Corps. “And there’s too much at stake right now with the current administration…I do know how to lead. I do know how to bring people together from opposing views because I’ve had to do it so many times to accomplish whatever the objective was.”
He added, “I do know how fragile freedom is. With freedom actually comes a lot of responsibility. We have to stand up for what we have, and it’s really to preserve the freedoms today for tomorrow’s generation.”
Frankland of Casper College said there doesn’t seem to be a particularly strong challenger against Gordon, with the death of Foster Friess, a prominent donor to the Republican Party who ran for governor in 2018.
In the 2018 primary, Gordon won 33.4% of the vote, followed by Friess with 25.6%, according to Ballotpedia.
Gordon went on to win the general election with 67% of the vote, data shows. Democratic candidate Mary Throne trailed with about 27%. Rammell, who ran as a Constitution Party candidate, finished third with just over 3%.
“I’m interested to see how much of a vote Rammell ends up with in the GOP primary,” said Coleman of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “I’m not expecting him to actually win, but a ‘protest’ vote against Gordon may materialize, as Rammell has tried to position himself to the governor’s right. This has been something of a trend across the country this cycle: Of the 36 gubernatorial races on the ballot this year, 28 feature incumbents. Perhaps as a result of that, Republican governors, in particular, have been pushed in their primaries by challengers seeking to get involved in the electoral process.”
He added Bien appears to be aligning himself with Harriet Hageman, the Trump-endorsed candidate running for the lone U.S. House of Representatives seat for Wyoming, and the more conservative wing of the state party, meaning he could garner some anti-Gordon protest votes in the primary.
Gordon may win a higher share of the votes in the general election than in the primary, depending on the volume of protest votes, Coleman said, which would be especially true if Democrats don’t even bother to run a candidate.
A Democratic candidate has not announced an election bid for governor; however, candidates have until May 27 to file.