The Saratoga Sun -

Whistle-stopping Wyoming

 


Ryan Greene, the 33-year-old Rock Springs businessman and Democratic candidate for Wyoming’s U.S. congressional district introduced himself by saying, “I’m a pipe-welder by trade.” Perhaps that’s because few career politicians would have taken the odds offered Greene in his first run for elected office. Greene discussed his bid in an Oct. 3 interview with the Saratoga Sun.

Long Odds

The last Democrat to represent Wyoming in Congress was Rep. Teno Roncalio in 1978. Following Roncalio’s retirement, the then relatively political unknown, Dick Cheney became the first of four consecutive Republicans to represent Wyoming over the next 38 years.

As Greene has discovered, the Cheney family legacy continues to be potent in the Cowboy State. Liz Cheney, the daughter of the man who started a 38-year span of Republican representation, is Greene’s opponent in the general election, and she is outgunning the political neophyte on many fronts.

Liz Cheney already cleared a nine-person G.O.P. primary field that arose after Rep. Cynthia Lummis announced her retirement last November. In his primary, Greene bested Charlie Hardy 58 percent to 42.

In the G.O.P. primary, Cheney beat her closest competitor by 18 points, receiving 40 percent of the vote. She capitalized on statewide name recognition, a divided field of opponents and unparalleled fundraising. In that race, Cheney raised about ten times more money than her top three competitors combined.

Contributions

Recognition and resources also define Greene’s race with Cheney. Reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) show Green’s campaign raised just over $98,000 ($53,400 in loans) by July 27. Asked if he was being assisted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Greene said: “Not a bit.”.

In the same period, FEC files show Cheney raised over $1,462,000. Of that, Cheney had well-over $500,000 cash on hand to Greene’s $3,126.

Greene said about 96 percent of his donations come from Wyoming but over 90 percent of Cheney’s come from out of state. According to Reuters, Cheney donors include, both former Presidents Bush, former Secretary of State James Baker, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Karl Rove.

The funding imbalance has necessitated two different breeds of campaigns. Priced out of the media buys Cheney has access to, Greene has fallen back on a sort of retail-politicking that defined a bygone era.

Tailgating and Talking

Thus far, Greene’s signature campaign event has been what he calls his “tailgate tour.” The tour features signs that read, “I’m Ryan Greene and I’m running against Liz Cheney–Let’s talk,” and has already added 70,000 miles to Greene’s truck.

“We go to the busiest intersections of big cities and stand there for six to eight hours,” Greene explained. By Oct. 3, the tour had passed through 16 cities, and Greene promised he would continue until election day. “It’s an open invitation for folks to come and talk to us,” Greene said, describing the tour’s three goals as meeting voters, listening to voters and talking about Wyoming issues.

Perhaps because he will need many Republican cross-over votes to win, the word “Democrat” is conspicuously absent from Greene’s tailgate signage. Greene has printed “Republicans for Ryan Greene” yard signs and calls himself a “Wyoming Democrat,” willing to buck his party. “I’m pro-energy, pro-Second Amendment–I mean, this is Wyoming, this is who we are,” Greene explained.

Greene said he also connects with voters at almost daily public events, and that last week’s schedule included talks with college voters in Laramie, a public lands meeting in Lander, a forum in Sundance and a meet-and-greet in Casper.

The candidate criticized Cheney for missing numerous public forums, including one in Saratoga, and for declining to address University of Wyoming student political clubs.

Public Land Access

One of Greene’s most prominent campaign commitments is to “keep public lands in public hands,” an issue he said “Ms. Cheney and I are completely opposite on.” A proposal backed by Cheney transfers control of federal land to the cash-strapped State of Wyoming, and Greene worried this would result in accessible areas being sold to developers. “Basically we’d flip our hunting grounds into private homes, and I completely oppose that,” Greene said.

Greene pointed to Idaho, where the public had recently lost access to over 1.7 million acres, as an example of how the policy could damage. “Where there used to be a trail there’s now a gate. So no more snowmobiling, no more hiking, no more hunting for the locals,” he said.

A Plan to Expand

Greene, whose 250-employee business services the energy industry, also laid out a plan for diversifying Wyoming’s economy. “During this last bust, I had to bring some good people into my office and tell them that because of the economy they no longer had a job,” Greene said.

He recalled having to let a friend go and then going to coach the man’s son at little league that night, an episode that troubled Greene. “The repercussions of the boom-and-bust cycle aren’t numbers on a screen. It’s family, it’s friends, it’s neighbors,” Greene said.

“We will never drive the demand for energy products. But we can sell them what we have to offer. We have coal, we have natural gas, we have wind and solar. Whatever they’re buying, we should be selling.”

Another facet of Greene’s economic plan is creating a partnership to act as a conduit for funding requests to move from local government to the state and federal levels. “(Eastern states) Successfully brought their tax dollars back into their states for things like infrastructure, manufacturing, technology, healthcare, marketing and exports,” Greene said. The candidate said slow internet and few hospitals were disincentives to invest, but the partnership he envisions could direct taxes to projects like widening Interstate 80 or building a monorail in Yellowstone.

Cooperative Future

The mark of a red-state Democrat (or blue-state Republican) is eagerness to find middle ground, and as the son of a Trump-backing dad and a Clinton mom, Greene knows compromise. He calls former Governors Dave Freudenthal and Mike Sullivan political mentors and expressed confidently, “Wyoming will elect Democrats–it just has to be the right person, the right Democrat.”

A would-be freshman congressman, Greene was careful not to over-promise. With that caveat, he said, “The legislative solutions are only going to come from those who are willing to work together.”

Airtime and Flapjacks

Unable to match Cheney’s advertising, Greene’s campaign has pushed hard for other forms of airtime. In August, Greene challenged Cheney to five debates. Cheney declined all but one, Oct. 20, in Casper. With her towering financial backing and strong brand, the debates would likely be more helpful to her less-known, less-funded rival.

A campaign encounter illustrates the race dynamics nicely. In Greene’s recounting, he arrived at an Evanston breakfast at 8 a.m. and had spent 90 minutes working the crowd when Cheney arrived at 9:30. Cheney sat at a table of Greene supporters and told Greene she was trying to convince them to vote for her.

“I was just teasing her, but I said, let’s have a pancake eating contest, you and me, winner takes the seat!” Greene said. “She declined that! So I said, no debates, no pancake eating contest, what are we going to get?”

Wyoming will answer that question at the polls next month.

 

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