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307 Votes: Crowded field in sprawling House District 47
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307 VOTES

307 Votes: Crowded field in sprawling House District 47

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Welcome to 307 Votes: as complete a guide as you’ll find to every single Statehouse race in Wyoming, contested or uncontested.

The Star-Tribune is examining every legislative district in an attempt to give you a rough idea of what direction the state is headed as we barrel toward one of the most critical elections in Wyoming’s history.

Check each print edition of the Star-Tribune ahead of Aug. 18 for a rundown of a new district, and visit Trib.com to find our collection of every one that has been published so far.

In today’s installment, we take a look at Rep. Jerry Paxton.

House District 47: Rural south/central Wyoming

There is arguably no tougher district in Wyoming to campaign in or represent than House District 47.

Stretching from the Wyoming state line in the south to the Pathfinder Wildlife Refuge in the north and the sparsely populated reaches of rural Albany and Sweetwater counties in the east and west, House District 47 is one of the state’s most sprawling pieces of territory, with the potential for a candidate to travel nearly 200 miles between whistle stops on the campaign trail.

Represented by the bulletproof Rep. Jerry Paxton since 2013, the district has been a safe one as well, with Paxton winning every race he’s run by a minimum of 21 points.

But this year isn’t a normal year. While Julie McAllister — whom Paxton has defeated in the last three Republican primaries by an average of nearly 32 points — will be taking a fourth stab at the seat in 2020, two new candidates, conservative firebrand Joey Correnti and onetime president of the Wyoming Association of Correctional Employees Dee Garrison, will be jumping into the race this year, presenting the first significant shake-up the district has seen this decade.

Could it flip? Paxton’s worst-ever primary performance — a roughly 20-point win over McAllister in 2016 — coincided with the worst turnout in a primary election House District 47 has experienced this decade. When turnout is stronger, however, Paxton has consistently dominated the vote, commanding the support of nearly 70% of his district’s participating Republicans.

The ceiling for participation could be higher, however. In the 2018 elections, 67% of registered voters were Republicans and, in House District 47, a little more than 30% of the district’s voting-aged population turned out for the primary, roughly 1.6 points behind the combined state average for all races.

The entry of numerous candidates — and the diversity of views they represent — could increase enthusiasm for this race, particularly as the candidates’ outreach efforts have been extensive. However, it is unclear what sort of impact that could have on the race, or how the candidates could potentially divide the coalitions garnered by McAllister and Paxton over the last six years.

Correnti, the chairman of the Carbon County Republican Party, stands as the district’s closest candidate to the populist right and has pledged an opposition to tax increases, hard-line support for the Second Amendment and the state’s prospects for coal exports, and a close adherence to the tenets of the state Republican platform. His support for a number of issues valued by hard-line conservatives include the push for an elected attorney general, an opposition to Medicaid expansion in favor of a community-level plan and the acquisition of all federal lands currently within the state of Wyoming — a topic he broached at a July 15 forum at the Carbon County Higher Education Center.

There is also the question of how much support he can garner across the district, a question raised by his 41-point performance in a deep-blue district against House Minority Leader Cathy Connolly in 2016 and a highly proactive outreach campaign across the district.

McAllister already has ample name recognition from her last several races as well as a fairly conservative platform, sharing a number of similarities in platform to Correnti — including support for an elected attorney general, increased fiscal transparency and an opposition to Medicaid expansion. She also boasts a master’s degree in public administration and a practical background in the oil and gas industry, which give her an uncommon inside lane into the heart of Wyoming’s key industries.

Garrison, meanwhile, has positioned herself as moderate in the district, both as a union representative and someone with a pragmatic understanding of the state, its finances and the process required to get things done.

Paxton has an established record in office and currently has seats on several committees within the Legislature and the chairmanship of the Select Natural Resource Funding Committee, but he has also supported measures like Medicaid expansion in the past that McAllister and Correnti oppose. Amid a global pandemic, it would be interesting to see how heavily that issue weighs on voters. With so many variables, we’re refraining from grading this district’s vulnerability score.

Vulnerability Score: N/A

 
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Politics Reporter

Nick Reynolds covers state politics and policy. A native of Central New York, he has spent his career covering governments big and small, and several Congressional campaigns. He graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport in 2015.

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