Off and running: Challengers pack local races in big election year

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SHERIDAN — This election year will be a lively one — and not just at the national level.

Filing closed on May 27 and the ballots promise to be lengthy. Challengers from both sides of the aisle have packed local races, with the fervor of the presidential race trickling down to elections in local government.

Last presidential election year, all four state representatives from Sheridan County ran unopposed in the primary, and just one Republican sought to unseat incumbent state Sen. John Schiffer, R-Kaycee, who died in 2014. No Democrats from Sheridan County filed for state House or Senate in 2012.

This year looks different.

Challengers have entered every local House race, with a Democrat and Republican seeking to unseat the incumbent Republican in each.

In House District 51, Rep. Rosie Berger, R-Big Horn, faces Republican challenger Bo Biteman and Democrat Hollis Hackman.

If re-elected, Berger has said she would run for Speaker of the House, an office that has not been held by a woman since Verda James served in the role in 1970.

To keep his seat in House District 40, Rep. Mike Madden, R-Buffalo, must overcome Republican challenger Alfred Weeden and Democrat Greg Haas.

Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan, faces Republican challenger Gail Symmons and Democrat Val Burgess in the race for House District 30.

Rep. Mark Kinner, R-Sheridan, was appointed to fill John Patton’s House District 29 seat when Patton died in April 2015. In the August primary, he faces Republican challenger Steven Cain. In the general election, Democrat Sandra Kingsley will seek the seat.

Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, will run unopposed.

The heightened activity includes city and county races as well.

Five people have filed for the open mayor’s seat, after outgoing Mayor John Heath announced he would not seek another term. (Heath was appointed to the position in 2014 after then-mayor Kinskey was tapped to fill John Schiffer’s state senate seat.) Robert Webster, Alex Lee, Jacob Martin, Roger Miller and Karl Mattlage are all running for mayor.

Two incumbent county commissioners, Tom Ringley and Mike Nickel, face challengers Dennis Fox, a Republican, and Vicki Taylor, a Democrat.

On the Sheridan City Council, incumbents Shelleen Smith, Thayer Shafer and Kristin Kelly are running alongside one challenger, Rich Bridger, for the three at-large seats.

And of course, an open race for Wyoming’s sole seat in the U.S. House of Representatives has drawn a whopping 13 candidates, with nine Republicans, two Democrats, 1 Libertarian and 1 Constitution Party member in the running. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, a Republican, announced in November that she would not seek re-election.

The last election year that saw this type of activity was 2004, when nine candidates filed for a U.S. House seat up for election that year.

This primary season is different statewide. In 2012, the last presidential election year, 149 candidates filed to run for state House or Senate seats in Wyoming primaries, according to Secretary of State Ed Murray’s office. This year, that number is 183.

“There has been incredible interest nationally,” said Kai Schon, state elections director. Schon said many voters seem dissatisfied with current officeholders at various levels of government and that could be prompting more to file as candidates.

“And so some people are taking that step and saying, ‘I can do something,’” he said.

Also different this year is the fact that the Libertarian and Constitution parties have filed with the Sheridan County Elections Office. While no one from these parties has filed for any of the local partisan offices, there are the two candidates for Congress as well as two Constitution Party candidates for state representative — one from Lovell and the other from Guernsey.

Absentee voting for the Aug. 16 primary begins in July. Same-day registration is available, provided the voter brings proper photo identification. Voters can also change their party affiliation on election day. For more information, call the Sheridan County Elections Office at 674-2515.

By |Jun. 6, 2016|

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