CASPER, Wyo. — Thermopolis resident Mike Gular grows his own food or gets it from neighbors, eliminating weekly trip to the grocery store.
Once a month, Pinedale resident Sarah Hunt shops at her local Walmart — in Rock Springs, 1 ½ hours away. The rest of the time, she shops in Pinedale. If the small businesses go under, Pinedale’s whole economy is rocked, she said.
Life in Wyoming’s small, rural towns differs from that of Wyoming’s largest city, Cheyenne, home to all three candidates for governor: Gov. Matt Mead, Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill and Cheyenne physician and rancher Taylor Haynes.
Gular and Hunt said the candidates need to understand the lives of rural Wyomingites as they travel the campaign trail, shake hands and kiss babies. Cheyenne is a different world, Hunt said, with a commercial airport, plenty of shopping that doesn’t require burning a tank of gas to reach and enough population to remain anonymous.
Small towns, on the other hand, are places where everyone knows everyone else’s business, Hunt said. Community is all-important. People make sacrifices to live in small towns. When Hunt wants to catch a flight, she drives to Jackson or Rock Springs.
Most of the state is dotted with small towns, Hunt said.
“I think it is kind of a problem,” Hunt said about the candidates calling Wyoming’s capital city home. “Cheyenne in no way, shape or form is definitive of Wyoming.”
Gular said many residents in Thermopolis may not even know the candidates.
“We don’t have the noise of all the media,” Gular said. “We just don’t have it. You have to actively learn about the candidates.”
Laramie County is one of two metropolitan areas in Wyoming, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. With 95,809 residents as of July 1, Laramie County accounts for 16.4 percent of the state’s entire population. The other metro area is Natrona County.
Both Haynes and the campaign manager for Mead said they have deep connections to rural life, both owning ranches.
The Star-Tribune tried contacting Hill on Monday and Tuesday. Her voice mailbox was full. The newspaper sent text messages both days, but she did not respond.
Mead has traveled to each county several times in the past three years he has been governor, said his campaign manager, Gale Geringer. During his re-election campaign, his volunteers throughout the state have been acting as additional eyes and ears.
“Matt has strong ties to his family and their (ranching) operation in Teton County,” she said. “He and Carol (his wife) own a ranch in Albany County and also a working farm in Goshen County. He served as a county prosecutor in Gillette.”
Mead supported a new rule that requires oil and natural gas operators to get baseline tests of groundwater prior to drilling, which can offer rural Wyomingites assurance their water is safe, Geringer said.
Rural Wyomingites are concerned about the economy, and Mead assures them that with a 4.2 percent unemployment rate, the lowest since 2008, Wyoming’s is strong, Geringer said.
Haynes believes the economy is important to people in rural Wyoming. He said he’s been traveling throughout the state. He’s active in the Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming.
“I’m living the same problems as the small ranchers, you know, 200-300 cows,” he said.
Haynes and his wife own a health care company in Worland. Many of the clients are small employers in rural Wyoming, he said.
“In the small towns, especially in the really popular tourist areas like Cody, what you hear it’s wonderful to have any kind of job in the wintertime,” he said.
Rural Wyomingites believe the federal government, since it owns so much land in the state, stifles local economies, he said.
Haynes will soon be an ex-Cheyenne resident, as construction on a house on his Albany County ranch is finishing soon.
None of the three gubernatorial candidates has made a campaign stop in Hot Springs County yet, said Gular, the Thermopolis resident. All three gubernatorial candidates are Republican, and Hot Springs County has only about 2,000 registered Republicans. Gular hopes the candidates won’t leave the area in the dust.
Fi Brewer, Haynes’ campaign manager, said the candidate will meet Thermopolis residents in a town hall-style meeting and take their questions May 13 or May 14, with the date still being worked out.
Geringer, Mead’s campaign manager, said he doesn’t have a Thermopolis trip scheduled at the moment.
“He’s been to Hot Springs County several times, and he definitely will be back,” she said.