Wyoming recently got a reminder of why it’s sometimes a blessing that our small state tends to stay out of the national spotlight.
In recent weeks, Blackwater founder Erik Prince and billionaire investor Foster Friess indicated they may run against Sen. John Barrasso in next year’s Republican primary.
Prince and Friess reportedly have a mutual backer: Steve Bannon, former chief strategist for President Donald Trump and chairman of Breitbart News. Bannon has recently talked with both men about running for Barrasso’s seat in the Senate.
The meddling in our politics from national interests is unwelcome.
Wyoming shouldn’t be a pawn in Bannon’s anti-establishment scheme — nor in anyone else’s. Our rural state may have the smallest number of voters electing senators, but that doesn’t mean our votes are available to just anyone.
A political campaign here should stem from a desire to represent Wyoming, not to join an inter-party war.
“This whole thing is offensive,” Dave Freudenthal, former Wyoming governor, told WyoFile last week. “I would hope if somebody wants to service Wyoming they would be motivated by what’s going on in Wyoming.”
We feel the same way. If Prince and Friess are so interested in serving the state, why not start out by running for the school board, city council, county commission or Wyoming Legislature? Both Sens. Barrasso and Mike Enzi advanced to the U.S. Senate after many years of working in Wyoming and serving at the local level. That’s what we expect: Leaders who understand our rural state, know the people who live here and actually serve Wyoming’s interests, not those of Washington, D.C.
We previously voiced similar concern about now-Rep. Liz Cheney’s bid for Congress, but she differed in that she could draw from her family’s long history of public service to Wyoming.
Prince — who like Friess has been speaking with national media outlets rather than local ones — told the Washington Examiner last week that he identifies with Wyoming and loves the state.
“It’s a fantastic state — people that live in rugged conditions and who make their living doing things in the outdoors,” Prince said. “I can relate to ranchers and roughnecks and professional game guides and farmers and house makers.”
We have to wonder how many folks in Wyoming feel like they can relate to Prince.
Prince, a former Navy SEAL, is best known for founding Blackwater, a private military company that provided protective services in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. His sister, Betsy DeVos, serves as the U.S. secretary of education. She put Wapiti — where their family owns a ranch — in the national spotlight earlier this year. That’s when DeVos brought up the community’s small school during her confirmation hearing, saying that she could imagine there’s “probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.”
Meanwhile, Friess also has a long way to go in establishing connections with Wyoming residents and communities outside of Jackson Hole. An avid supporter of conservative causes, Friess has given generously to political campaigns for former presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and others. As a philanthropist, he has given millions of dollars to various Christian organizations and other charities.
While both Prince and Friess have lived in Wyoming and own high-end properties here, they need to do more around the state if they’re going to try to represent us in D.C.
Matt Micheli, former chairman of the Wyoming Republican Party, summed it up perfectly:
“Wyoming is not for sale, regardless of what political operatives may assume or think,” Micheli wrote in an email to WyoFile. “What they don’t understand is that because we are small in population, we expect more, we look our folks in the eye and we take measure of them.”
In a state known as a small town with long streets, Wyomingites want their politicians to travel along our roads — and not see them as easy path to Washington, D.C.