CHEYENNE — Over the years I have written dozens of stories and columns lamenting the shortage of women in the Wyoming Legislature.
Moreover, I have participated in any number of panels and discussions on how to get more women to run for elected office.
The suggestions included encouraging women to start by taking leadership positions in civic groups, for example, graduating to a contest for a town or city council seat and then a legislative seat.
We examined the many barriers for women, particularly those with children. I don’t think we ever had a solution to that problem other than it was an individual decision. Some families could and did make it work.
The panels and discussions were propelled by the state’s dismal showing nationally in its proportion of women legislators.
What we omitted from our list of suggestions was a big caveat: Do not run for the Wyoming Legislature as a Democrat.
That bit of advice is apparently critical given the results of the Republican sweep in the general election earlier this month.
I counted 11 women who ran on the Democratic ticket for seats in the House and Senate and were defeated in the election. The toll included two incumbents.
One was Sara Burlingame of Cheyenne who was seeking a second term from House District 44 in west Cheyenne, which is my district.
She had a good television spot during the campaign. It ended with Burlingame hauling out a 12-gauge Beretta shotgun, deftly handling it as she aimed at the sky and fired.
I thought at the time this was a great idea and should be used by all women candidates to demonstrate their skill and fondness for firearms and the Second Amendment.
Yet, Burlingame lost the election by 48 votes to Republican John Romero. Romero was a candidate for the House seat in 2016 but lost to then Democratic incumbent Jim Byrd.
My legislative districts, HD 44 in Senate District 8, were solid Democratic strongholds for more than 20 years and perhaps longer.
Often, the long term incumbent, Floyd Esquibel, would run unopposed, first in the House, then in the Senate.
Republican Affie Ellis broke the tradition in 2016 when she beat Esquibel for the SD 8 berth. Ellis was re-elected this year.
At one time, Laramie County was a bellwether county, one of only five in the country to consistently vote for the winner of the national presidential election.
The first election I covered here as a reporter also drew several pollsters and national political party workers. They interviewed precinct reps, local pols and the guy on the street in their job of picking a national presidential winner.
In the 1964 presidential campaign between Democrat Lyndon Johnson and Republican Barry Goldwater, the New York Times gave generously of space to Laramie County Wyoming voters.
“Most of the Laramie County votes are in Cheyenne, the state capital. It has 45,000 of the county’s 60,000 residents,” The Times story reads.
“The city is the center of labor union strength in the sparsely settled state. Unions have 5,000 members here, including many railroad and oil industry employees.”
In the primary elections a month earlier, a record total of 9,549 county voters cast Democratic ballots. Republicans votes totaled only 6,467.
The county clerk’s records show that 443 Republicans had changed their registration to Democratic while 119 Democrats shifted to Republican registration.
Before those changes, the county registration was 41.4 percent Democratic, 34.2 percent Republican and 24.4 nonpartisan.
Johnson carried Laramie County and the state that year.
Today, Laramie County has 27,524 registered Republicans and 9,769 Democrats. The Democrats now have the same number as 1964 while the Republican registrations have soared.
1964 was the last year Wyoming voted for a Democratic presidential candidate. And Laramie County lost its bellwether status later in the 1970’s as the demographics and voter registration grew and shifted.
That shift shows no sign of reversing direction. Unless there are some serious alterations in the voter patterns, the best bet for women candidates from anywhere in the state except Albany or Teton Counties is to run as Republicans.
Joan Barron is a former longtime capitol bureau reporter. Contact her at 307-632-2534 or email@example.com
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