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Travis Helm

Laramie immigration attorney and Democratic candidate for U.S. House in Wyoming Travis Helm speaks at an event in Albany County.

Laramie attorney and candidate for Wyoming’s lone U.S. House seat Travis Helm said he’s always been interested in politics.

“Going back to being a kid, no one would have been surprised at me running for political office,” Helm said. “Of course, at that point they’d have expected me to be running as a Republican.”

It’s not just that the Rawlins-native was raised in a Republican family. Helm said he wrote middle school essays praising President George H.W. Bush and “predicting the greatness of the coming Quayle administration.” He wore Rush Limbaugh T-shirts to high school.

But the Iraq War spoiled Helm on the Republican Party and he became involved with the Wyoming Democratic Party in 2014 when he volunteered on Pete Gosar’s unsuccessful run against Gov. Matt Mead.

Now Helm is gearing up to challenge another incumbent Republican for statewide office, Rep. Liz Cheney, who is nearing the end of her first term in office. Helm, who specialized in immigration law, announced his candidacy at the Albany County Democratic Party convention in Laramie two weeks ago. He is the only Democrat in the race.

“There’s a lot of people who feel like someone with Wyoming credentials who was born and raised in Wyoming should be repping us in D.C.,” Helm said in a not-too-subtle dig at Cheney, who despite her family’s roots in the state, was born in Wisconsin and has largely lived outside of Wyoming.

Helm said his campaign will focus on maintaining access to public lands and improving health care. He supports the concept of a nationwide single-payer option, similar to the Medicare for All legislation being promoted by Bernie Sanders, and believes the Legislature should expand Medicaid.

“People can’t afford insurance here,” Helm said. “We’re one of the least affordable states for insurance.”

Helm said immigration reform is also one of his priorities. After graduating from the University of Wyoming law school and realizing there were few immigration lawyers in the state, Helm opened a firm of his own in Laramie. He said he has seen the effect that poor immigration policy has on families in Wyoming that are composed of both American citizens and undocumented immigrants.

“I have issues with the way a lot of laws are being interpreted and enforced and the impact it’s having on U.S. families — even if we want to discount the humanity of these individuals who are immigrants,” Helm said.

He specifically pointed to a Clinton-era law that imposes a 10-year ban on individuals who have entered United States illegally if they leave the country. Helm said that effectively stops undocumented immigrants from applying for legal status and incentivizes them to stay in the country illegally.

“It’s just locking people in here and it’s not allowing people who want to get right to get right,” he said.

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Helm said he has traveled to Washington, D.C., and lobbied Wyoming’s U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi on immigration reform through the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

According to his website biography, Helm worked with the International Human Rights Clinic and ACLU of Wyoming during law school to allow recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in the state to sit for driver’s license exams.

Helm, who worked at the Sinclair refinery near Rawlins before law school, said he also wants to help boost tourism in Wyoming and diversify the state’s economy.

Cheney cruised to an easy victory over Democratic challenger Ryan Greene in 2016, after the seat was vacated by Republican Cynthia Lummis. A Democrat has not been elected to the U.S. House from Wyoming since 1976.

Republican Rod Miller is running against Cheney in the GOP primary.

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