More Jackson Democrats Enter Local, State Races

By on April 21, 2018

Candidates stepped up at Teton County Democratic Convention, and in recent weeks

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Is a blue wind blowing across Wyoming? According to Chairman of the Wyoming Democratic Party Joe Barbuto and U.S. Senate hopeful Gary Trauner, the answer is yes. They spoke Saturday at the Teton County Democratic convention where Rep. Mike Gierau-D, Jackson, Michael Yin and Jessica Sell-Chambers joined the growing number of local Democrats running for office.

Rep. Mike Gierau

Gierau is running for Republican Sen. Leland Christensen’s seat. The state senator announced his bid for Secretary of State in February. Then in March, he declared a bid for Treasurer instead. The Democratic candidate who Christensen would have faced in the race for Secretary of State was in Jackson Saturday.

Rep. James Byrd–D, Cheyenne, traveled to the convention to deliver an address that hinted at his renegade roots. Byrd’s mother, Harriet Elizabeth Byrd, was the first African-American to serve in the Wyoming Legislature from 1980 to 1988.

“I don’t want you to be a plain Democrat,” he told about 60 people at the Senior Center. “I want you to be a leader as a Democrat—for young people, for those who don’t vote.”

His message drew boisterous applause. The audience’s enthusiasm mirrored the Democratic energy building in once reliably red districts across the nation.

The numbers tell a similar story. A 25 percent gap between registered Republican and Democratic voters in Teton County has shrunk to just 1 percent. Since 2006, the number of registered Democrats jumped 13 points from 24 to 37 percent. Meanwhile, the number of registered Republicans has decreased just as many points from 51 to 38 percent.

 ‘Extreme’ Antics

For Gierau, it was the Senate’s “extreme agenda” in the recent legislative session that compelled him to run. He pointed to its refusal to expand Medicaid and several tax bills that could have funded education and social services. Those bills died on the Senate floor without discussion.

“When we talk about things like local option taxes, what we’re talking about is saving money so we can fund schools, so we can have help for developmentally disabled kids, suicide prevention,” he told Planet Jackson Hole.

Several Senate bills were also “anti-Teton County,” he said. One such bill—that died in the Joint Appropriations Committee—would have exacerbated Teton County’s housing crisis by limiting its affordable housing program. Under the bill, municipalities would lose the ability to set affordable housing mitigation rates.

Just three of the Senate’s 30 seats are occupied by Democrats and Gierau is the first to announce a bid for Christensen’s seat. His political counterpart Rep. Andy Schwartz will be seeking re-election for his seat in House District 23, a representative for Schwartz said.

Michael Yin

Meanwhile, Yin, vice chair of the Teton County Democrats and a software engineer, said he will run for Gierau’s seat in House District 16. The son of immigrants, Yin delivered a message of inclusivity.

“I want Wyoming to become a more welcoming community for all types of people, immigrants, everyone.”

An Atlanta, Georgia, native, Yin said he has planted roots in the valley and wants to raise a family in Jackson. “To make sure it’s a place that I want to do that, I need to participate in the community and I think this is the way I can best serve Jackson and Wyoming.”

Talk of the Town

Two seats on the four-seat non-partisan race for Jackson Town Council are up for election this year, those of Councilors Don Frank and Bob Lenz, who is stepping down after 12 years. During Saturday’s convention, Frank reaffirmed his bid to seek re-election. The incumbent first declared his intent to run in January.

The “Democratic republic is unraveling,” he said, and local government is the only hope to strengthen it.

“Just a rookie” when he was appointed to Melissa Turley’s seat in 2013 and re-elected in 2014, Frank said his most fulfilling moments are when citizens come to town chambers for the first time. “When we hear from the unheard, that’s democracy in action.”

Jessica Sell-Chambers

Sell-Chambers, a national committeewoman for the Wyoming Democratic National Committee, echoed the notion of representing the unheard when she announced her candidacy for Jackson Town Council on Saturday. “I see a future Jackson that is whole, complete and compassionate,” she said. That means taking care of working-class people and providing social services “for the most vulnerable.”

After the death of her parents, Sell-Chambers said she wouldn’t have won custody of her brothers without the help of the community. Now, some of the same folks who offered her support have been forced to leave the valley or soon will. They are victims of the housing crisis, she said.

“We’re watching as our community is fading away. These people are at risk of being pushed out. Some people say, ‘Not everyone can afford to live here.’ But we cannot afford to have these people pushed out.”

Sell-Chambers ran an unsuccessful bid for Town Council in 2016. She was among four candidates who won the primary election but came in last in the general election behind Judd Grossman and Councilors Hailey Morton-Levinson and Jim Stanford.

She, Frank and Zach Padilla, owner/CEO of The Bomb Sommelier and The Bomb Beverage, are among the first to announce their candidacy for town council.

On the county side, Teton County Commissioner Mark Newcomb said he will seek re-election on the five-seat Teton County Board of County Commissioners, but still has not “officially stepped up.” When he does, he will join Democrats Luther Propst, a longtime valley advocate and conservationist, and Seadar Rose-Davis, a musician and START Bus board member who announced her candidacy April 18. During the convention, she stressed resilience and creating “a community for all.”

Seadar Rose-Davis

She described carving out a welcoming place for people across the spectrum, from her developmentally disabled co-worker at Vertical Harvest to folks at the Senior Center. The first person in her family to obtain a college degree, Rose-Davis said her experiences on the road touring as a musician exposed her to diverse people that will help inform her ability to lead and adapt.

Three seats are up for election on the BCC, which, unlike Jackson Town Council, is a partisan race. In addition to Newcomb’s seat, Commissioner Smokey Rhea’s seat is also open. The sole Republican on the board, Commissioner Paul Vogelheim, announced on April 18 he will not seek re-election.

Candidates who have announced their intent to run did so ahead of the official filing period which begins May 17.

Blue Wind, Red Wind

Among the folks who might refute a blue wind blowing across the Cowgirl State is millionaire Jackson Republican Foster Friess. The Teton County Democratic convention comes on the heels of his announcement to run for governor, which turned heads across the country on April 20.

In 2012, the conservative Christian character amassed national notoriety for his comments on birth control when he suggested women use “Bayer aspirin for contraception.”

He told MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell: “The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.”

Friess has also made a name for himself in the national GOP, funding former Sen. Rick Santorum’s presidential efforts. In 2012, Friess’s net worth was $530 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Friess, 78, is running against six Republicans—Wyoming Treasurer Mark Gordon, business owners Sam Galeotos and Bill Dahlin, attorney Harriet Hageman, former surgeon and rancher Taylor Haynes and Rex Rammell, a veterinarian who told the Casper Star-Tribune he is “Wyoming’s Donald Trump.”

The sole Democratic challenger is former Wyoming legislator Mary Throne, a Cheyenne attorney who drew Barbuto’s praises during the convention.

About Robyn Vincent

Robyn is the editor of Planet Jackson Hole and Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine. When she's not sweating deadlines, she likes to travel the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow her on Twitter @TheNomadicHeart

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