CHEYENNE – A majority of the legislative races in Laramie County up for election on Tuesday are competitive.
Three seats are available for the state Senate, and 12 are open in the House of Representatives.
Nine races are contested in Laramie County. Two incumbents face Democratic contenders in the Senate, and four out of the six House races feature incumbents seeking re-election. House Districts 8 and 44 will bring new faces to the Legislature.
The Wyoming Tribune Eagle asked the 19 contenders to discuss their priorities. They also discussed abortion, election fraud allegations and deepening partisanship.
This is the second of a two-part installment of articles on the candidates, who come from House Districts 8, 9, 11, 41 and 44. Part 1 was published Friday.
House District 8
No incumbents are running for re-election in House District 8, but former Rep. Dave Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, has thrown his hat in the ring again after leaving office in 2017. He won the Republican primary in August, and faces Independent candidate Brenda Lyttle.
Zwontizer said he wants to update school facilities and find ways to improve teacher retention programs to keep up with the growing population in Laramie County. He also said that, based on the recent Consensus Revenue Estimating Group’s increased revenue estimates, he hopes to replace the state’s savings before the bust cycle hits again, as well as re-establish the Wyoming Cowboy Challenge Academy.
“I am all about finding ways to move Laramie County forward and working with everyone,” Zwonitzer said. I am a fiscally conservative Republican with years of experience in the business world, and it is all about balancing a budget.”
He said the most important issues for local residents are increasing the cost-of-living adjustments for retirees, maintaining extraction industries to ward off more taxes and improving quality of life to encourage new businesses to locate here.
Lyttle has lived in Wyoming for 40 years, and served on the Laramie County Community College Board of Trustees for nearly two decades.
She told the WTE that she is focused on expanding Medicaid, finding adequate and stable funding for education and ensuring the state has access to clean water in the future.
“I’ve started getting more and more concerned about our water future in Wyoming and the use of our water, and our water tables dwindling,” she said. “The West is really facing a water shortage.”
Lyttle also worked as a program administrator in the state government for 15 years. She said she has learned about the importance of a legislator, and the impact they can have on the community and state’s future.
She said while it would be easier to run as a Republican here, she didn’t like the divisions. She didn’t mesh with Democratic Party policies. Lyttle said she wants to focus on legislative problem-solving and working as a cohesive body.
“My only concern with Dave is he’s running as a Republican, so he still needs to answer to the Republican Party,” she said. “I’m concerned with all the name calling and finger pointing that’s going on in the Republican Party, and then the division of the Republican Party – that he may also be distracted with some of that.”
House District 9
Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, is seeking his fourth term in the House District 9 seat. He was challenged by Democratic candidate Rev. Stephen Latham, who did not respond to requests for comment.
Brown said he is running again because he doesn’t believe his work is done, especially in education. He said with the lawsuit against the state by the Wyoming Education Association, his experience handling education issues is critical.
“Wyoming’s best days are ahead,” he said. “I want to be a part of the development of those policies that put Wyoming in its best days ahead.”
Brown said he has a bill ready that would broaden the state’s sales tax base, and include nearly all services that aren’t currently taxed. The legislation also would halve the rate to 2%.
The incumbent wants to keep pressure on the early childhood literacy program to become successful. He wants to work with the Military Department to address sexual misconduct issues, as the potential incoming chairman of the House Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee.
House District 11
Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, is seeking another term. He didn’t respond to the WTE’s inquiries. He faces Democrat Marguerite Herman.
Herman said she is running for the district she calls the “Heart of Cheyenne,” which has been her home for 42 years. Her agenda is “good education, good government and affordable health care.”
“I have a strong record of service and leadership. Laramie County voters twice elected me to the school board,” she said in a statement. “For decades, I’ve worked with legislators as an advocate and engaged parent. I’ve been endorsed by both businesses and workers.”
She said she has far more qualifications and records of service, from the Wyoming State Board of Nursing to Wyoming High School Mock Trial.
“As part of that work, I understand the importance of listening to people and sharing important information between elections,” she wrote. My votes won’t be driven by partisan squabbles. I have a track record of problem solving, and I’ll work effectively with other lawmakers.”
House District 41
Rep. Bill Henderson, R-Cheyenne, has two challengers: Constitution Party candidate Matt Freeman and Democrat Jen Solis.
Henderson was born and raised here, and said as a U.S. Navy combat veteran, he defends constitutional rights.
“I want to continue working together productively so we can keep making a difference for our community,” he said in a statement. “I believe in limited government, our freedom and liberty, free markets and open competition – less regulation, not more. I oppose discrimination in any form and believe in equal pay for work.”
His priorities include fighting for good-paying jobs, access to affordable health care, quality education, vocational training and a balanced budget. He said the state needs fiscal responsibility, not political divisiveness, to lower the cost of living.
Freeman was put forward by the Constitution Party as a candidate, and he said he decided to get involved due to a lack of representation. He said no matter how many times he tried to contact Henderson, he wouldn’t get an answer.
His priorities are election integrity, right-sized government, and expanding the coal, oil and gas markets. He said residents want a return to liberty, honesty and accountability in all areas – whether that be elections, government or schools.
The Constitution Party attracted him because he is a firm believer in the founding documents, and wants to take the state back to those principles. He said the Legislature needs to remember the legislative authority comes from the Constitution, and bills should be looked over with scrutiny based on need and affordability.
“My personal identity is in my Lord and savior Jesus, not a political party,” he said. “And my party understands that actually encourages that.”
Democratic candidate Solis also ran out of frustration her district was not well represented. She said a single party is running the state.
“There’s all these purity tests and culture war nonsense, and moderate Republicans are too worried of being called a RINO, or not conservative enough,” she said. “We need different voices in the Legislature.”
She hopes to address Medicaid expansion and health care access, funding education properly and supporting educators, as well as protecting reproductive rights. She said she is tired of seeing residents struggle to afford insurance, teachers being called pedophiles and underpaid, as well as the government trying to take away medical freedoms.
“There are people that want to take these bans further. They want people who are raped to have babies. They want children to give birth. They want women who have miscarriages to just suffer and die,” she told the WTE.
House District 44
Incumbent Rep. John Romero-Martinez, R-Cheyenne, lost the Republican primary to Tamara Trujillo. She will face Democratic candidate Sara Burlingame.
Burlingame previously held the seat until 2021. She didn’t respond to the WTE’s inquiries.
Trujillo said she is running because she is the “only candidate that truly and genuinely cares for the community.” She said she can bring a working-class perspective, people whose jobs are on the line “with how the government is running our country.”
“My top three priorities are to definitely protect the unborn and children,” she wrote in a statement, “taking care of our personal property rights from government overreach, with concerns to annexation and rising property taxes, and, at the end of the day, taking care of our disabled and elderly.”
She said she also wants to focus on building a healthy and robust workforce and investing in the medical care field. She voiced her concern for potential election fraud, due to the long period of time for absentee and early voting.
Trujillo said legislators must be team players, and able to compromise without infringing on their own integrity and “promise to God to be a good person to all.”
“I believe I align with my party 100%, give or take 1%,” she wrote. “And yes, I believe we should align very closely to our party, otherwise we should choose differently.”