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A retired Casper schoolteacher is challenging Rep. Gerald Gay in the Nov. 8 general election on the grounds that he’s not representing the constituents in his Casper district.

Debbie Bovee will be on the ballot as a Democrat after a successful write-in campaign in the primary.

Gay, a Republican, said he missed several votes this year due to health issues. This year, he was absent from most of the votes on the state budget bill, including the final vote – at a historic time when revenues from oil, gas and coal were down by hundreds of millions of dollars. In 2015, he was absent from some of the votes in the supplemental budget bill, too.

He did, however, sue Gov. Matt Mead and legislative leadership – most of whom are members of his own party – over the Capitol reconstruction project at the end of the 2016 legislative session.

Gay objected to Bovee’s accusations that he’s not representing people in Senate District 36.

“Who is going to represent the people when you have legislators gone wild and reforming the government?” he said, explaining that his suit is challenging state contracts that he believes the legislature lacks the authority to approve.

Gay contends lawmakers are illegally reforming the government by performing duties that the Constitution delegates to the executive branch.

Had he been present, Gay said would have voted against the budget bill because he disagreed with spending from the rainy day fund.

Gay hopes to win another term in Cheyenne to keep an eye on what he believes is wasteful spending. He believes many state programs are frivolous and need to be cut. He also will continue to push for medical marijuana — an issue he had advocated in the past — noting Wyoming has a problem with addiction to opiates that are initially prescribed for pain management. He would like to search for alternatives to help the poor other than Medicaid expansion — a key tenant of Obamacare that would extend coverage to an additional 20,000 low-income Wyomingites.

Bovee, meanwhile, supports expanding Medicaid, which would have brought an estimated $248 million to the state over the next two years if lawmakers had adopted it in March.

“It’s not the people who won’t go out and get a job, as I’ve heard, these are people who have jobs but they’re not well-paid jobs, and they can’t afford (private insurance,)” she said. “It would have helped our handicapped people, our disabled people.”

Economic diversification and education are also important to Bovee. She believes the state has done a good job funding education and those levels need to be maintained, even in the downturn, to help the state over the long haul.

In the Aug. 16 primary, Bovee received 68 write-in votes, said Wyoming State Elections Director Kai Schon. She needed 25 write-in votes to land on the ballot.

Bovee retired last year from a career in education. She began as an elementary school teacher. For the past 10 years, she worked in the Natrona County School District, helping special education teachers with instruction.

“I was asked throughout last year if I would run for that seat,” she said. “And I kept saying, ‘No, I’m not a politician.’ I said I was going to retire and not do anything for a year. I kept saying that. Then about eight days before the primary a friend called and said, ‘Please run. She twisted my arm, she said, ‘You only need 25 votes.’ I thought, what the heck?”

Gay has held the seat for HD36 on and off since 2001. He has been defeated by Democrats twice. Liz Gentile held the seat in 2003 and 2004. Mary Hales represented HD36 from 2007 to 2010.

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“It is winnable,” Bovee said.

The district runs roughly west of Wyoming Boulevard in the neighborhoods near Beverly Street and includes most of Evansville.

Gay isn’t the only lawmaker who has dealt with health issues while in session.

In 2013, Rep. Mary Throne of Cheyenne famously showed up to the Legislature nearly every day – despite battling breast cancer. She wore a wig and, as the leader for the Democrats in the House, debated dozens of bills on the floor, met regularly with Mead and organized meetings of her caucus outside of times when the House or committees were convening.

More recently, Sens. Eli Bebout, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, and Cale Case, chairman of the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee, have fought cancer. They were present for most of their legislative responsibilities, scheduling out-of-state treatment around their duties and sometimes teleconferencing into meetings when they were unable to attend in person.

“I would try to schedule my radiation over the lunch break or first thing in the morning or something like that so I wouldn’t miss votes or miss committee meetings,” Throne said. “I missed a few things. But by and large I was able to keep going.

“Everybody needs to evaluate for themselves if they can keep the job and face family pressures or health pressures or career pressures. It’s something we all deal with.”

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Follow political reporter Laura Hancock on Twitter @laurahancock

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