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Moving to Wyoming and then immediately running for the legislature is a real trend

It used to be that when someone moved to a new state, it would take some time to get to know the local leaders, history, and general situation of the country before he or she would delve into local or state politics.

Now more and more newcomers are becoming politically active right out of the gate. This election cycle features a number of recent Wyoming Republicans throwing their hats into the ring to run for the state legislature.

One of those is Casper resident Pamela Mertens, who is running in the Republican primary for House District 56. She moved to Wyoming from South Florida in August 2023.

Mertens believes she can offer the state a new perspective, based on her deep appreciation for what the state has to offer. She said her run for parliament is just a continuation of her lifelong commitment to public service.

“I bring new ideas and at the same time want to preserve and preserve what drew me here,” she said.

State law requires a one-year residency from the time a lawmaker begins his term.

Wyoming probably has one of the lowest barriers to entry into a legislature in the country.

Due to Wyoming’s low population density, many legislative races draw only a few candidates, and sometimes just one. Additionally, the average amount of money spent in a typical race in Wyoming pales in comparison to what is typically spent in other states.

Most of the new resident candidates this year are fairly conservative. Many have expressed the opinion that Wyoming is not as conservative as it seems.

Others have portrayed themselves as political refugees, moving to Wyoming as a result of COVID-19 restrictions and/or what they see as the tyrannical rule of Democratic-led policies in other states. Many have come forward with cautionary tales of what they think could happen in Wyoming if nothing is done about it.

Laramie resident Joe Giustozzi is running for House District 14 after moving to Wyoming from Connecticut four years ago. Giustozzi said his main inspiration is to stop Wyoming from implementing policies he saw implemented back east.

“I don’t want to happen here what I saw happen in New York and Connecticut,” he said.

Wyoming nuances

Someone who can bring a new perspective is always valuable in politics, but political newcomers also lack some of the institutional knowledge of former residents.

By simply living and working in one location for an extended period of time, one usually gains a strong understanding of the overarching culture and the most pressing issues and problems of their particular area. The United States is also a diverse enough country that an issue that may be highly relevant in one location may be irrelevant or non-existent in another.

Wyoming native and state Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, said voters should at least be aware of the backgrounds of the candidates they are considering voting for.

“I think voters need to be well informed about people who haven’t been in the state very long and are coming with thoughts from out of state,” he said.

Northrup finds Wyoming’s culture unique and mentioned how the state constitution, which he strongly supports, contains many elements that could be interpreted as libertarian or even progressive. He said the state’s founders who wrote the Constitution probably read the Bible in its entirety more than many people today.

“Our Constitution comes out and blatantly protects certain classes of people, quite frankly, when some people probably wish that weren’t the case,” he said, citing Black and LGBTQ people as two examples.

Who is Mertens?

Mertens is a disabled military veteran who continues to work remotely for the Louisiana Department of Education. Her time in the military and as a teacher has led her to live and work in many locations across the U.S., which she says has given her an appreciation for policies that work and those that don’t.

She has also overcome breast cancer and decided to move to Wyoming to fulfill a childhood dream of living in the Cowboy State.

“There’s not a blade of grass here that I take for granted,” she said.

She is running for HD 56, a seat held by Rep. Jerry Obermueller, R-Casper, who is retiring from the Legislature. Pete Fox and Elissa Campbell are also running for HD 56.

Mertens is opposing the development of a controversial gravel pit proposed in Casper, which she says is an important part of preserving the local scenic beauty.

Mertens has more than twenty years of experience teaching in higher education and wants to anchor parental rights in education. She would like to better clarify Wyoming’s laws about what type of information parents must be given by school staff about their children.

“There’s a lot going on in this world and too much is happening without the parents’ knowledge,” she said.

Mertens said she fully supports the policies of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is seen by many conservatives as a staunch supporter of parental rights.

“When it comes to conservative values ​​and morals, he has taken a lot of risks and he is loved for that,” Mertens said. “I think the world is tired of the radical left.”

Mertens believes there is not enough transparency about how property taxes are determined in Wyoming and wants this to be made more understandable for homeowners. She wants to see more property tax reforms implemented to prevent future tax increases.

She also believes that Wyoming’s First and Second Amendment laws should be better preserved, while retaining “some levity.”

“I don’t mean any kind of extreme radicalism or anything like that,” she said.

She also wants better controls on immigration so that the state does not become a haven for migrants.

Although she does not consider herself politically correct, Mertens says she is transparent, sincere and sincere. When it comes to joining the Wyoming Caucus or Wyoming Freedom Caucus, the Republican Party’s two main factions in the House of Representatives, Mertens said she wants to bridge a common group between the two.

“One can be extremely stubborn, the other can be a little too extreme,” she said. “I want to collaborate and work and maybe build a bridge between the two.”

The neighborhood experience

Rep. Jeanette Ward, R-Casper, is the prime example of the election of a recent Wyoming transplant. Ward moved to Wyoming from Illinois in 2021 and was voted into the Wyoming House just over a year later.

Ward has been both praised and criticized for often proposing legislation that mirrors bills introduced in other states and addresses popular national talking points. Her What Is A Woman Act, which required people to use the bathroom of their biological sex in public spaces in Wyoming, was nearly identical to legislation of the same name passed in Alabama.

Ward is to run for re-election this year against Republican Julie Jarvis and independent candidate Tyler Cessor.

Other newcomers

In addition to Mertens and Ward, there are at least a handful of other candidates running for the Legislature who have lived in Wyoming for five years or less.

  • Cayd Batchelor moved to Wyoming from Georgia about 18 months ago and is running for House District 8 in Cheyenne.
  • Buffalo Gun Lobbyist Mark Jones moved to Wyoming from North Carolina in 2021 and is running for House District 40.
  • Marc Torriani, a Laramie County resident, moved to Wyoming from Colorado about five years ago and is running for Senate District 6 in Cheyenne.
  • Sheridan resident Laurie Bratten is running unopposed for House District 51 after moving to Wyoming from Colorado in 2019.
  • Basin resident Tom Olmstead is running for Senate District 20 after moving to Wyoming from Colorado three years ago.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at [email protected].

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