Natrona Democratic Party

The Natrona County Democratic Party host an election watch party last November at the Ramkota Hotel in Casper. The party hired Dean Ferguson as its new executive director on Thursday.

File, Star-Tribune

Dean Ferguson, the Wyoming Democratic Party’s new executive director, said his politics are rooted in the same place as many western progressives.

“I saw, over time, a lot of my favorite hunting areas go away and fishing areas getting over-fished, and what I wasn’t seeing was the people in power, which were the Republicans, doing anything,” Ferguson, who previously worked for the Idaho Democratic Party, said in an interview.

Ferguson said his interest in public lands and the environment is part of what drew him to Wyoming. Idaho and Wyoming also share an anemic Democratic presence among state-wide elected officials, and Ferguson said he has a good idea of how to effectively organize a minority party.

While Democrats hold just a few more seats in the Idaho Legislature than they do in Wyoming, Ferguson said that the party there had success advocating on distinct issues and changing the statewide discourse enough to win over Republicans.

As an example, he said the Democrats stopped Republicans from pushing through major tax cuts and turned funding for public education into a bipartisan issue.

“Our Republicans all now say that education funding is the best thing that they can do for businesses,” Ferguson said.

Another priority is ensuring that Democrats feel that they are being effective even when their advocacy efforts don’t translate to hard political control, such as electing more lawmakers or statewide officials.

Ferguson previously served as interim executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party and has worked on political campaigns in that state. Wyoming party chair Joe Barbuto said in a statement that he was well prepared to work in the Cowboy State.

“Dean is a good fit for Wyoming and he has the right experience to build our Party’s infrastructure and expand our support of candidates up and down the ballot,” Barbuto said. “He understands what it means to work and live in a state where everyone is basically a neighbor.”

Ferguson said that he would take a community approach to growing the Democratic party and pushing progressive politics in Wyoming rather than campaigning on national issues.

“I hear a lot of Democrats who are really looking for a way to connect more effectively with their neighbors,” he said. “When Democrats in western states are successful, they are successful because their neighbors know them, their neighbors trust them.”

Wyoming’s state Legislature has the lowest percentage of Democratic representation of any state in the nation, and Democrat Hillary Clinton performed worse in the Cowboy State than anywhere else in the 2016 election, failing to break 22 percent.

Ferguson did not believe that this meant the Wyoming party was broken but acknowledged there was work to be done.

“What I see is a lot of opportunity,” he said. “Obviously, the Republican party is doing something right.”

Arno Rosenfeld covers state politics.

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Star-Tribune reporter Arno Rosenfeld covers local government, with a focus on Casper and Natrona County.

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