Foster Friess

What is Foster Friess up to?

Keith Srakocic

Happy Monday! This is the inaugural edition of the Casper Star-Tribune’s politics newsletter. We’re working to bring all of our politics coverage -- health care, education and energy policy on the, local, statewide and national levels -- under a single roof called 307 Politics. For now, this Monday morning email is the main part of this push. You can also access our political coverage by following this link, and as this experiment unfolds we may create social media channels that you can follow and perhaps even offer some live events. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, here’s what I’ve got for you this week:

WHAT THE HECK IS FOSTER FRIESS UP TO? Friess lives in Jackson, has several hundred million dollars to his name and a clear interest in politics. So far, that’s meant bankrolling national candidates like Rick Santorum and Scott Walker. But now, Friess has been recruited by former Trump advisor and Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon to run against Wyoming’s incumbent U.S. Senator John Barrasso, a fellow Republican.

Friess told Washington, D.C. media that he was exploring a run in early October. He confirmed that to me. Then about a month ago he told Fox Business that he was opposed to Bannon’s effort to unseat Republican incumbents who don’t sufficiently support President Donald Trump’s agenda (by what measure Bannon is gauging this remains unclear).

“While Steve Bannon wants to replace Republican incumbents I want to champion the effort [and for] that money be devoted instead to replacing the ten Democrats in states where President Trump won,” Friess told FBN in an email. “I do not intend to raise money to defeat fellow Republicans.”

-- BUT WAIT! Three weeks after he told Fox he didn’t support unseating GOP incumbents, Friess told Buzzfeed News that he is still considering challenging Barrasso. In fact, Friess said he’s planning a listening tour around the state to gauge interest.

When I asked him for details, Friess -- who has a rather eccentric style of emailing that I have come to enjoy -- confirmed that he was still pondering a run and a listening tour.

“No dates yet,,,,re:Listening tour? stay tuned,” he wrote in the subject line.

-- WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? One possibility is that Friess is distinguishing between his role as a major GOP donor and his role as a Wyoming resident and potential candidate for Senate. Friess has made clear that he won’t underwrite Bannon’s larger quest to unseat Republican incumbents across the country. But that doesn’t mean that in any particular race -- say, the one in Wyoming -- there might not be a candidate better suited than the current Republican incumbent. Like, say, Foster Friess.

MEANWHILE IN THE LEGISLATURE... I’ve written a lot lately about tax proposals coming out of the Legislature’s revenue committee. The committee is kind of considering raising local taxes, property tax, alcohol taxes, the cigarette taxtaxes on lodging and hospitality and a lawmaker not on the committee is also considering introducing a real estate transfer tax.

I say they’re only kind of considering raising the taxes because committee members have been clear that many of the proposals are being brought solely at the request of the leaders in the House and Senate who want options to close the $770 million deficit over the upcoming two-year budget cycle.

The committee, like the rest of the Legislature, is dominated by Republicans, and there was a curious incident at the end of their meeting in Cheyenne earlier this month when Wyoming Republican Party secretary Charles Curley admonished the panel for considering any new taxes and fees.

-- BITING ANALYSIS... Nate Martin of the liberal Better Wyoming group captured Curley’s odd exchange with committee co-chair Sen. Ray Peterson, R-Cowley, in a harsh piece of analysis last Wednesday (Martin is no fan of Peterson):

Peterson—albeit grudgingly—has said that new taxes must be part of the solution if we’re to figure out how to create a more stable revenue structure.

So, when Curley finished, and while other lawmakers on the committee were dumbstruck ... Peterson made an important point: How, if we don’t institute new taxes, will Wyoming ever move away from its dependence on minerals and the boom-bust cycle that goes with it?

“I’ve got to ask the question,” Peterson said. “When is the Republican Party going to address that concern I have—as a good conservative Republican—about having a 70 - 30 percent [minerals dominated] revenue stream, and that boom-bust cycle we continually go through? When are we going to get serious about that problem, and do they see it as a problem?”

Right. Plus, a revenue committee is, after all, supposed to consider revenue-related ideas. And more often than not, that means taxes. 

-- WHAT'S NEXT? When members meet in December, they’ll decide which measures to sponsor, but even then it’s possible that some bills might make it out of committee without the earnest support of its individual members.

Like Foster says, stay tuned.

QUOTABLE -- "Go to a bar in northeast Wyoming or south-central Wyoming and try asking some roughnecks if they’d be OK paying another 1 percent tax on their beer and nachos ... If you do ask them that I would recommend wearing running shoes and keeping your car door unlocked” Mike Moser, executive director of the Wyoming State Liquor Association, told the revenue committee at their Cheyenne meeting.

MORE TAXES -- Wyoming’s U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi has been hard at working overhauling the federal tax code. While Wyoming's U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney voted for the House version last week, it’s been difficult to cover because the details of the plans remain in flux as the authors seek to get enough Republican senators on board without losing too many supporters in the House.

Anyway, Enzi spoke with Sheridan Media about tax reform last week and his main point was that his colleagues in the Senate should be offering constructive criticism rather than simply complaining about elements they don’t like.

-- TALKING TAXES. JUST TAXES. Enzi is so focused on tax reform that he apparently had no time to speak with HuffPost reporter Jen Bendery (attentive readers will recognize her from an October collaboration with the Star-Tribune) about the allegations facing Republican Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been accused of dating young teenage girls:

“I’m working on taxes right now and concentrating on that and heading to a meeting where I have to speak and that’s what I’m concentrating on,” Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) told HuffPost, walking quickly down a Senate hallway.

Asked if he has any thoughts at all on the Moore scandal, he replied, “My thoughts are on taxes. If you want to talk about taxes.”

“OK. Do you want to tax Roy Moore?” asked HuffPost.

Enzi said nothing and walked away.

Enzi has said elsewhere that Moore should withdraw from the race.

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Like I said at the top, this newsletter is a work in progress and I need your help. Let me know if you like the style or would prefer more a simpler digest of recent political stories. Is it too long? Too short? And most of all, send me tips! I won’t publish your name without permission. You can reach me at arno.rosenfeld@trib.com or 307-266-0634 and you can find me on Twitter @arnorosenfeld.

Arno Rosenfeld covers state politics.

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Arno Rosenfeld covers state politics including the Legislature and Wyoming’s D.C. delegation, focusing especially on the major issues facing the Cowboy State like economic diversification and what it means to be the most conservative state in the nation.

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