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CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The Wyoming Democratic Party suffered its worst loss in 90 years in Tuesday's general election.

The Republicans swept all five state elected offices: governor, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer and state superintendent of public instruction.

They also augmented their control of the Wyoming House and Senate.

Voters elected only 14 Democrats for 90 legislative seats, according to unofficial returns.

The new Senate count is 26 Republicans and four Democrats.

In the House the lineup is 50 Republicans and 10 Democrats.

A recount, however, is pending in House District 15 in Rawlins where Democrat state Rep. George Bagby trailed Republican Donald Burkhart by only 10 votes.

The outcome of the recount may not be available until next week.

Putting the losses into historical perspective, University of Wyoming history professor Phil Roberts said the Democrats haven't been in this bad of shape since the 1921 legislative session.

That year, the House had only one Democratic member; the Senate only two.

One of the first jobs for the Democratic legislators is to figure out how to handle assignments on 12 standing committees in the House and Senate.

 

Seeing 'red'

Meanwhile, Bill Luckett, director of the Wyoming Democratic Party, said the state's voters were caught up in the national Republican wave that swept the country election day.

It was, he said, a terrible time for Democrats.

"It's unfortunate that none of our statewide candidates got a foothold," Luckett said. "It's sad because voters overlooked some really good people."

The party, he said, has had a hard time finding volunteers and candidates motivated to work.

It needs to do a better job of communicating with people in the state, he added.

The retirements of a number of Democratic legislators handicapped the party, Luckett said.

And the Republicans, he said, nominated some good candidates.

After a couple of years of one-party rule, however, Wyoming voters may ballot differently in the next election, Luckett said.

UW political science professor Jim King said the Republican sweep was more than a movement.

"It is a continuation of a trend we've seen since 1994," King said Wednesday.

"The Democrats have had a harder time being competitive in legislative races. When you lose a few that you do have, it really puts you in hole," he added.

"You didn't see Republican incumbents getting beaten. It is dissatisfaction more with Democrats than with Republicans, generally."

Absent from the Democratic party now is a type of progression from local offices like city council and county commission to state-level elected positions.

Today many Democrats holding local government positions don't take the next step to become part of a pool of Democratic candidates for higher office.

"We knew going in that there were going to be a majority of seats taken by Republicans. The biggest thing is that the Democrats haven't been competing in so many districts," King said.

Roberts, meanwhile, said he is not particularly concerned about the future of the Wyoming Democratic Party.

"It's part of the ebb and flow of the political scene," he said.

After pounding the Democrats in the 1920 election, voters elected a Democrat, Frank Ross, as governor two years later.

After Ross died, voters elected his wife, Nellie Tayloe Ross, as governor.

In 1934, in the depths of the Great Depression, Democrats swept two of the three congressional offices, all five elected state offices and both houses of the Legislature.

Voters even elected Democrats from Park and Niobrara Counties, Roberts said.

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Committee assignments

Green River state Sen. John Hastert, who will be the senior Democrat in the Senate, said the Democrats will have the option to put two members on a couple of committees.

"I think the best thing for us to do is to focus our energy on a couple of areas," Hastert said Wednesday.

He said he will talk with other Senate Democrats before deciding what areas they should focus on.

It's possible the Senate Democrats will give up any seats on the agriculture and revenue committees and focus more on the labor, health and social services committee because of the health care issues that will come up.

The House and Senate Democrats will hold their public caucus Nov. 14 in Rawlins to decide committee assignments.

The Republicans will hold their private caucus Nov. 13 in Casper to decide their committee assignments.

Senate President John Hines made a commitment to inform the Democrats of the Republican committee actions right away, Hastert said.

Sen. John Schiffer of Kaycee recalled the difficulty in determining the committee assignments when he was Senate President in 2007-2008 and there were nine Democrats in the 30-member Senate.

One problem is that some of the committees meet at the same time.

Another is the possibility of spreading the Democrats too thin and giving them too much work individually.

"I wanted at least one Democrat on every committee," Schiffer said of 2007-08. He worked with then-Senate Minority Leader Rae Lynn Job on the assignments.

"It's not written down anywhere. It's kind of making it work," Schiffer said.

"It's doable but it's gong to be tough," he added.

Contact Joan Barron at joan.barron@trib.com or 307 632-1244.

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