Fremont County race a key Democrat-Republican battle in Wyoming

2012-10-28T00:00:00Z 2013-03-21T11:56:11Z Fremont County race a key Democrat-Republican battle in WyomingBy KYLE ROERINK Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
October 28, 2012 12:00 am  • 

CASPER, Wyo. — House District 33 is a key battleground for Democrats hoping to hold on to what power they have in the state Legislature.

Republicans, who already vastly outnumber Democrats in the House and Senate, will have control of the Fremont County House and Senate seats if former legislator Jim Allen ousts incumbent Rep. Patrick Goggles, D-Ethete. Goggles is campaigning for his fifth term and is the House minority leader.

There is a “vast difference” for freshman representatives because of “the learning curve of the Legislature,” Goggles said in reference to his experience.

“It takes two years,” he said.

Allen isn’t new to the Legislature, though. He represented HD 33 for eight months as an appointee after Rep. Harry Tipton died while in office in April 2004. Goggles ousted Allen from the seat in the 2004 general election.

Before his position as minority leader, Goggles was the minority whip. He served on more than 40 committees before becoming minority leader. The list includes the House Revenue and Leadership committees, Education Committee, Tribal Relations Committee and Federal Reserve Management Subcommittee.

“That’s all well and good, but there are only 10 Democrats,” Allen said in regard to Goggles’ leadership role in the House.

Goggles earned 55 percent of the vote in the 2004 election and won by 19 votes in 2010. The Wind River Indian Reservation is in HD 33 and the American Indian population would have no tribal representation in the Legislature if Goggles loses. Allen believes Goggles caters to the Indian population more than others in the district. Only some of the people are “represented” in HD 33, Allen said. “It’s time to represent all of the people.”

Allen said he asks constituents one question on the campaign trail: “What has he done?”

“People don’t think he’s accomplished much in his eight years," Allen said. "It’s time for fresh leadership.”

The attacks on the incumbent are a “sign of Allen’s inexperience,” Goggles said.

“In the House we park our politics at the door and work for the benefit of Wyoming,” he added.

The Legislature excused Goggles from much of his fourth term, when two of his children died and his wife battled cancer. He still co-sponsored 12 bills and amendments in the House in his last term. Four were made into law. Goggles sponsored two bills and co-sponsored more than 25 bills and amendments in 2009 and 2010. He didn’t miss one budgetary vote in his first three terms.

“What they’re saying is that I’ve done nothing to promote the Republican platform. But I’ve done plenty to promote the Democratic platform," he said.

Goggles represents not only a minority political view but also a minority ethnic group, one whose voice was being stifled in Fremont County, a federal court ruled recently. The county violated the 15th Amendment with its at-large voting system for county commission districts until a district court required single-member districts in 2011. Gary Collins, a plaintiff in the case, said losing Goggles in the Legislature would put the American Indian community "at a disadvantage."

The state receives millions in taxes from energy producers on the reservation, and it is imperative that someone from the tribes monitors how the oil, gas and uranium money is spent by legislators, Collins said.

It’s a Democratic platitude to claim “only certain minorities can represent certain minorities,” said John Birbari, chairman of the Fremont County Republican Party.

“A Native person wants what all of us want: low taxes and a way to get ahead in the community,” Birbari said. “And the fact is their representative has not done a good job for them.”

A legislator who looks out for the interest of minorities is “good for the House,” said Ruth Urbigkeit, chairwoman of the Fremont County Democrats.

Goggles championed education and social issues during his four terms. He supported legislation for Hathaway scholarships and recently voted against a bill that transfers levied school taxes from Fremont County to other schools in the state. He voted in favor of laws to curb bullying in schools and for programs that train adult caretakers. He co-sponsored a bill that consolidated the state departments of Employment and Workforce Services so legislators could disburse and allocate funds for adult education — “not earmark them,” Goggles said.

“His civil-rights record is unbelievable,” Urbigkeit said.

The incumbent voted against laws that prevented some U.S. citizens from obtaining IDs and prohibited gay marriage and abortion. Goggles said he fought for those issues because those citizens “pay taxes just like Jim Allen does.”

He co-sponsored a bill to increase wages for tipped employees and fought for health care benefits for working poor who are 200 percent below the poverty threshold.

Rep. Del McOmie, R-Lander, worked closely with Goggles on the Tribal Relations Committee. Fremont County is “fortunate” to have him, McOmie said. “He’s done a very good job.”

A big issue in the county is water. Allen wants a new system for irrigation and thinks the county should develop a private system that serves tribal and nontribal needs. He said the present system is a quagmire with its cracks, leaks and loss of water for farmers.

“Patrick has been asked to look into it and he hasn’t,” Allen said.

Allen is an outfitter who lives on the reservation and owns the Diamond 4 Ranch.

“You have to watch every nickel to make a profit in that business,” Birbari said.

He added that Allen will help cut wasteful spending and will help eliminate regulations that are killing jobs in the county.

“We're losing jobs right now to North Dakota because of state and federal regulations,” Allen said.

The former legislator has served on two county commission boards and is a past president of the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association. His family has been in Wyoming since the 19th century and he said he knows the “culture, economy and diversity” of the state.

Allen’s experience as an outfitter and his support for harvesting energy on public lands in Fremont County will be beneficial to the state, said Scott Harnsberger, Fremont County treasurer.

Goggles is a legislator that is "often forgotten," Urbigkeit said.

She said he is liked on both sides of the aisle and is not "beholden to an interest group or industry."

"The party isn't as important as the man in this case," Urbigkeit said.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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