CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The near wipeout of the Wyoming Democratic Party in the general election, coupled with the surprising showing of an independent write-in candidate for governor, is an opportunity for voters to look at third parties, old and perhaps new ones, political activists say.
One of the surprises of the Nov. 2 general election was the write-in campaign of Taylor Haynes, a Tea Party member who also had the support of the Wyoming Constitution Party.
Haynes, a Laramie County rancher and retired physician, received nearly 14,000 votes to come in third in the Nov. 2 general election for governor.
With 7 percent of the vote, Haynes outpolled Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Mike Wheeler of Casper, who received 5,362 votes.
Wyoming Libertarians say there is talk of more third-party movements in the state, including the loosely knit Tea Party.
The Tea Party movement was particularly evident in Laramie County, where eight out of 10 candidates it supported were elected to state and local government positions.
M. Lee Hasenauer, a spokesman, said the Tea Party does not endorse candidates but gives them a platform for their campaign messages.
At the state level, the party supported successful Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Cindy Hill as well as a number of successful legislative candidates.
The party also supported unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron Micheli in the primary election and Haynes in the general election.
The Tea Party, he said, encourages people who are concerned over loss of their constitutional rights to get involved in politics. The party is against national health care and growth of government, and is anti-tax and supports strengthening the marriage act.
Hasenauer said there are some “hardcore” people in the Tea Party movement who want to take it to the third political-party level.
“Me personally, I want to do what Ronald Reagan did — fix the Republican Party,” he said.
He said he is a “constitutional Republican” who opposes going the third-party route.
“It's like the Republican Party is on probation,” he said. “We're trying to weed out those RINOs (Republicans in name only).”
The Republicans in the general election captured all five of the top state elected positions and control the Wyoming Senate 26-4.
Wheeler, the unsuccessful Libertarian Party candidate for governor, said last week that he expects several members of the party's executive board to “jump ship” amid talk about starting a new party in Wyoming.
The Wyoming Libertarian Party suffers because the national Libertarian Party has such a stigma for its positions on legalizing drugs. National party members, he said, are considered “anarchists.”
A discouraging sign, he said, was the loss of Nicholas DeLaat of Gillette, a Libertarian Party candidate for the Wyoming House.
“He ran a very professional, well-organized campaign and he still got only 15 percent of the vote,” Wheeler said.
As for himself, Wheeler said if he runs for elected office again it will be on the Libertarian Party ticket.
“At least it's not bought and paid for by big business and Wall Street,” he said. “You can't tell the difference between the two major parties.”
Don Wills of Cheyenne, the chairman of the Wyoming Libertarian Party, noted the current “turmoil in political alignments” as the result of the Democratic election losses and the emergence of the Tea Party movement.
This period of political realignment will give people an opportunity to look at third parties — Libertarian or Constitution — or to become political activists who ignore the parties.
Wills said he believes the “old guard” nationally and in Wyoming is losing control.
He said he will continue as chairman of the Libertarian Party next year but will not seek re-election.
The party, he said, has ballot access, which is very valuable and must be protected.
The Wyoming Constitution Party, meanwhile, is moving ahead after falling 388 signatures short of getting on the ballot this year. Regardless of the setback, the national party at a recent meeting in Fort Worth, Texas, voted to accept Wyoming as an affiliate because the state party has a plan, said the state chairman, Rex Fritzler, who lives near Glendo.
Fritzler said the party organization is in place at the state level and is being developed in the counties. In Goshen County, for example, all the elected positions have been filled.
The next step is to recruit volunteers for precinct positions by the party's meeting in Riverton in mid-March.
On April 1 the Constitution Party will begin another petition drive to get on the ballot for the 2012 elections.
The party officials, he said, will review the rules for petition gathering to avoid mistakes made last time, like too many signers from out of state.
“Our position is we're looking at the candidate, not the party,” Fritzler said. “If a person is a constitutionalist, we would consider endorsing that person instead of running our own candidate.”
The party, he said, endorsed Haynes before the rancher received the support of the Tea Party.
“I don't know where Taylor heads from here,” he said.
Haynes, he said, is “godly” and will seek guidance from a higher power.
Contact Joan Barron at email@example.com or 307-632-1244.