Wyoming Republicans Back Libertarian Over Fellow Party Member In Statehouse Race

Bethany Baldes

Bethany Baldes

From the Casper Star-Tribune on September 24, 2020:

A group of high-profile Fremont County Republicans are backing a Libertarian over their own party’s candidate in the race for Riverton’s House District 55 — an eyebrow-raising development in a year that has split the state’s Republicans into two warring factions ahead of the 2020 election.

Libertarian candidate Bethany Baldes recently sent out mailers touting endorsements from Riverton Mayor Rich Gard and Reps. Tim Salazar and David Miller in her bid for the House of Representatives against Republican nominee and local attorney Ember Oakley in her bid for the statehouse this fall.

Baldes said in a Facebook message Wednesday she was preparing for a forum on Thursday night and was not immediately available for comment.

Though well behind Oakley in endorsements from prominent conservatives — Oakley’s endorsements include some of the state’s most prominent and respected Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Tara Nethercott, Riverton Sen. Eli Bebout, Senate President Ogden Driskill and former U.S. Senator Al Simpson — Baldes’ support presents voters with a choice between two types of conservative candidates, the choice that seemed to define this year’s primary election season for the party.

“If Salazar or Rep. Miller want to vote for who they want to, that’s their business,” Bebout said Wednesday. “But they were elected by Republicans. Republicans put them in office. To stick their noses up at the Republican Party here in Fremont County is just wrong.”

“If they don’t like her, they should have run another candidate and had a Republican primary,” he added. “If they don’t want to support Republicans, then why are they running as Republicans?”

Intending to caucus with the Republicans if elected, Baldes — a lifelong Riverton resident — has already established credibility in the community with positions on numerous municipal boards as well as community organizations like the Rotary Club.

She has actively lobbied to keep a hospital in Riverton after threats by new management to take it away, and has been published in publications like WyoFile and the Star-Tribune railing against perceived government overreach in the form of vaping bans and Congress’ support of “forever wars” in the Middle East — an opinion forged by six years in the Wyoming Army National Guard.

And though she lacks the credentials of her opponent, has already convinced a fair share of Riverton that she’s ready to lead: In 2018, she lost to Miller in his reelection bid by just 53 votes and, when she sought his endorsement this fall, she ultimately got it.

“Her political philosophy and things like that are a lot similar to mine,” Miller — who said Oakley never sought his endorsement — told the Star-Tribune on Tuesday. “I told her numerous times to run as a Republican if she wants to win, but she’s sticking to her guns. I’ve got to give her credit for not changing her political affiliation to get elected, which is what a lot of people do on both sides of the ticket.”

Both candidates enter this November’s election with conservative platforms in what could be one of the state’s tightest races this cycle. But one key issue divides the two and ultimately convinced both Salazar — one of the state’s most vocal Second Amendment advocates — and Miller to shed their party allegiances and cross over: Wyoming’s controversial “stand your ground” bill, which allows individuals to use deadly force when they reasonably believe it’s necessary to defend themselves from serious crimes.

While Baldes is supportive of the law, Oakley — who works as a prosecutor — expressed some misgivings about an immunity provision in the bill at the time of its passage in 2018 that many believe could allow those protected under the law to avoid detention unless the state could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they did not act in self-defense. Even if they confessed to the crime, Oakley said at the time, the law would not be able to touch that person, potentially giving them time to escape the law.

The immunity provision ultimately failed. However, Oakley’s opposition to that provision has come back to haunt her.

Since then, Oakley has been targeted by groups like Wyoming Gun Owners, a hard-line gun rights organization that earlier this summer was instrumental in ousting numerous Republican incumbents in a wave year for the state’s far right. Since Aug. 21, the organization has posted about Oakley six separate times on its Facebook page to its nearly 32,000 followers, leaving Oakley to defend a nuanced position against one of the state’s most virulent gun-rights organizations.

And now, several members of her own party are actively supporting her opponent.

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Click here to view Bethany’s campaign website:   BaldesForLiberty.com