Mary Throne

Rep. Mary Throne, who served in the Wyoming Legislature, is pictured outside her Cheyenne office. Throne is the biggest name to announce her intention to run for Wyoming governor in 2018.

File, Star-Tribune

Her website calls on voters to choose “Mary for Governor: Because Wyoming Matters.”

Mary Throne is your neighbor; she grew up on a ranch in Campbell County and went away for law school but returned just as soon as she was able, according to her campaign biography.

She “tired of politics as usual” and ran for the Wyoming Legislature in 2006, serving until losing her seat last year.

Throne wants to increase economic diversity and retain the state’s younger generation, visitors to the site will learn. They can watch a campaign video featuring sweeping vistas of Wyoming. A pumpjack sitting on the open prairie is the focal point.

So far, so Wyoming.

One thing absent from the website? Party affiliation.

And that’s where the candidacy of Throne, a Democrat, departs from typical Cowboy State fare. Nearly 70 percent of voters went for Republican Donald Trump in last year’s presidential election, the GOP holds every statewide office and Democrats hold just a handful of seats in the Legislature.

“I'm not hiding the fact that I’m a Democrat,” Throne said. “I’m not running away from that. But I’m a Wyoming Democrat.”

Despite its conservative tendencies, Wyoming has a history of electing Democratic governors. Gov. Matt Mead’s predecessor, Dave Freudenthal, was a wildly popular Democrat who served two terms, and just two out of the last five governors have been Republicans.

Throne has secured the support of the Democratic establishment in Wyoming, including Senate Minority Leader Chris Rothfuss and former U.S. House candidate Ryan Greene, both of whose names were floated as possible candidates.

But in an increasingly polarized political climate, she may face a sharp uphill battle as a statewide candidate with a “D” next to her name on the ballot.

Casper GOP operative Bill Cubin said it is hard to imagine a Democrat winning the governor’s race next year, regardless of who the candidate is, because the nationwide political division has led to tribalism even on the local level.

“It’s pretty brutal out there,” he said. “I have a hard time seeing any Democrat winning unless the Republicans just totally implode.”

Touting bipartisan background

Throne has a slightly different background than the state’s last two Democratic governors. Freudenthal was elected after serving as U.S. Attorney for Wyoming. Mike Sullivan, who served from 1987 until 1995, was elected as a political novice.

But Throne said her experience in the Legislature is an asset for any gubernatorial candidate and perhaps especially for a Democrat running in the current political cycle.

“My ability to build coalitions demonstrates that I’m capable of pulling people together and working with Republicans,” she said.

Throne, who served as House Minority Leader, cited her work across the aisle on property tax reform, carbon capture legislature and assorted revenue issues.

She added that she disagreed with the national Democratic party on energy issues and is more skeptical of federal intervention on the state level.

“I differed sharply with a lot of the energy policy of the last administration,” Throne said. “I didn't feel like they really understood Wyoming.”

“We know how to take care of ourselves,” she added.

Still, Throne acknowledged that the state is becoming more partisan and lamented the increasing influence that national politics seem to have on which candidate Wyoming voters select, even for state offices.

Throne lost her legislative seat in Cheyenne last year by less than 100 votes in a race that featured an attack mailer with a photoshopped image of Throne next to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. In the original image, Throne had been posing with then-Rep. Rosie Berger, a Republican.

Throne declined to speculate on whether she believed increasing partisanship led to her defeat.

“I’m not going to psychoanalyze that race,” she said, noting that she had won the district several times despite it being composed of more Republican than Democratic voters.

Longtime political observer and League of Women Voters lobbyist Marguerite Herman said that Throne’s legislative loss will have little bearing on her ability to win a statewide contest. In fact, it could benefit her.

Herman said Throne may have been too slow to respond to attacks on her record during the race, a mistake she's unlikely to repeat.

“Incumbents can tend to figure, ‘Well, everybody knows me, everybody knows the truth,’” Herman said. “But I think we found out no.”

'Nobody knows' Throne

While no major Republican candidates have officially entered the governor’s race, both Secretary of State Ed Murray and Treasurer Mark Gordon have said they are considering running.

Throne may have more difficulty differentiating herself in the race if the Republican candidate comes in the mold of Mead, who originally appointed Gordon, a conservative on energy issues and federal oversight while relatively moderate on other issues like Medicaid expansion and taxation.

Throne, though, said that she is less concerned with setting herself apart than in presenting an affirmative message to voters about her vision for the state. And she has the advantage of starting her campaigning far earlier than any big-name Republican.

Gordon has said he is unlikely to make a decision until March or later. Murray has not set a timetable for deciding.

The head start is significant because, Cubin said, Throne has a lot of catching up to do. Both Murray and Gordon have won statewide office already and have experience campaigning across Wyoming.

“Nobody knows who she is,” Cubin said. “Nobody has ever heard of her except for a few people in the district she represented.”

Throne said she has not gone into full campaign mode but has been doing some traveling to meet with people in different corners of the state. She remains hopeful that the race for governor in a small state like Wyoming, where residents have far more access to elected officials, remains more about person than party.

“When it comes to governor, there’s much more of a personal connection,” Throne said. “I just don't think it's healthy for Wyoming to have these kind of nationalized races because then we don't focus on what we need to do in Wyoming.”

 

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