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Star-Tribune Editorial Board

The four-way race in the Republican primary to succeed U.S. Rep. Barbara Cubin has two strong candidates in Mark Gordon and Cynthia Lummis. Both are intelligent and knowledgeable about the major issues.

Ordinarily, the experience of Lummis, a former legislator and state treasurer with an excellent record of expanding the state's portfolio, might give her an edge. She is likely to have the support of the same conservative base that carried Cubin to a record seven terms. But the fact she is much more of a politician than Gordon isn't a plus in a year when nationally voters' confidence in Congress has slipped to below 10 percent.

Gordon is a rare candidate who overcomes his lack of experience with his ideas, his vision for Wyoming and his enthusiasm for the job. He represents a fresh approach compared to old-style politics.

There isn't a huge difference in their positions on major issues, which makes this contest a close call. But in our view Gordon represents the Republican Party's best chance to defeat Gary Trauner, who ran a strong campaign against Cubin in 2006 and is unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Gordon has been criticized by Lummis and other Republicans for his past financial support of some Democratic and independent candidates. That may certainly help Lummis in the primary, when only party members are allowed to vote.

But in a state where independence is a source of pride, having a representative who isn't going to automatically toe the party line is appealing. Of all the candidates, including Bill Winney and Michael Holland, Gordon appears to be the one who isn't tied to a particular ideological wing of the Republican Party. That should help him in the general election.

Lummis has noted Gordon's ties to the Sierra Club, and accused him of being too liberal to be a Wyoming Republican. But Gordon broke with the group back in 1993 over its support of wolf reintroduction, and that allegation is unfounded. Gordon's views typify a moderate Republican stance: He wants balanced energy development that also protects our environment.

Winney, a retired Navy officer from Bondurant, is a conservative Republican who has mounted a serious campaign. He shares many of Lummis' and Gordon's views on energy, health care and Iraq, but lacks the resources of the two front-runners to get his message to Wyoming voters. Holland, a Green River physician, didn't respond to our invitation to discuss issues.

A telling point in our conversations with Gordon and Lummis came when we asked both of them how they would have responded to the controversy over keeping Sylvan Pass open in the winter. While acknowledging that avalanche control would be expensive, Gordon also recognized that it was in the National Park Service's interests to high-ball the estimated cost during negotiations. Sylvan Pass, he concluded, is critical to the local economy, and he would have fought to keep it open.

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Lummis, meanwhile, couldn't decide what she would have done. While admiring the community's aggressive campaign to keep the pass open and noting she would be "inclined" to help Wyoming people, she never provided a definitive answer.

The candidates' motivation was also an important factor in our decision to endorse Gordon.

Lummis said she had no burning desire to run for the U.S. House until she thought about how her experience makes her qualified for the job. "I'm uniquely positioned to represent Wyoming," she said. "I'm not saying I will be in 10 years, but I can make a difference now."

You get the impression from talking to Gordon, however, that he would be happy representing Wyoming for many years to come.

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