At first glance, Levi Shinkle does not look like your typical candidate for House District 28.
Leaning to the left in one of the state’s most conservative districts, the Hot Springs County Democratic Party chairman, political organizer and dinosaur museum employee already stands out in the area’s recent electoral history. No non-Republican there has managed to win more than 25 percent of the vote in a general election in the last decade.
For those who have emerged victorious, their politics have typically been further to the right of the ideological spectrum once they’ve arrived in the Legislature.
Shinkle’s age distinguishes him as well, the candidate coming into the race at just 32 years old and running to represent one of the state’s oldest districts. (More than a quarter of the county’s population, according to U.S. Census data, is 65 years or older.)
But in that way, the lifelong Thermopolis resident could also be a perfect representation of his district, a young person who — as he built his own life in Wyoming — watched many people his age leave the state and never come back.
For Shinkle — whose policy goals include bolstering the state’s tourism industry, enacting a nondiscrimination law and diversifying the state’s revenue streams — being heard as a young person in Wyoming isn’t just about some aspiration for a more progressive Legislature. It’s also about the survival of his community into the decades ahead.
“I think that is going to be key to all of these smaller communities to stay viable as we move forward,” he said Thursday. “It’s hard in Wyoming, it seems, for younger professionals to be able to stay close to home if they want to, to find good-paying jobs within their communities. I mean, I’ve been I’ve been incredibly lucky in being able to find a job that pays me well that allows me to stay in a community that I grew up in, that I love to be in, you know? I want to be able to give other young Wyomingites the kind of opportunities that I’ve been afforded.”
Creating those opportunities, he argued, means a willingness to embrace new ideas: a broader openness to renewable energy development, for one, without needing to sacrifice the future for the state’s extractive industries, and a more involved role for the state’s economic development think tank, Endow, in shaping policy at the state and local level, using its ideas to create an environment tailored to the desires of modern business without sacrificing what makes Wyoming special.
Shinkle said he believes members of his community believe in those ideas as well. It’s just going to take some time to get people on board with his ideas, he said.
“It’s definitely going to be an uphill battle. But I don’t feel like the things that I want to see are going to be that radically different from what people on the other side of the aisle want to see. We all have the same goal in mind. We want to see Thermopolis thrive, we want to see it grow and become better in the future. We want our community to be around for another hundred years. I just feel we might have different ways of going about that.”
With no primary opponent likely, Shinkle has plenty of time to stand up his campaign against incumbent Republican Rep. John Winter, even as the coronavirus pandemic has all but eliminated the traditional shoe-leather campaign strategies that have traditionally predicated success in Wyoming politics. Shinkle is already established in the community, and, as leader of its Democratic Party, already has the networks needed to help spread the word and campaign by telephone, even as the most effective tools he has — the ability to talk with people face-to-face — are no longer available.
He just hopes the current methods available are enough to get his message across, and to assure his prospective constituents that the future he wants closely matches their own.
“You know, I think we all want the same things, and we’re all looking for the same outcome. So it’ll just be finding the right way forward to achieve that outcome. And then where we don’t see the same outcome, we’ll be trying to find a middle ground where we can both agree on something that is good for House District 28.”
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