Will Wyoming Get a New Governor – and Conservatives a New Superstar?
Harriet Hageman, running for governor of Wyoming, began learning to drive when she was four years old. She would steer the family pickup across open ranchland, avoiding holes, bumps, and ditches, while her dad stood in the back, throwing out bales of hay for the cattle.
Hageman grew up differently from how most Americans did. Her childhood had more freedom, more responsibility, and more hard work. It harks back to an earlier century. These are real Wyoming credentials. They are also values the country needs, and needs badly.
Hageman's belt is notched with victories fighting the feds on behalf of the little guy. As a land and water rights lawyer going up against EPA and Forest Service overreach, she won precedent-setting victories for embattled ranchers, farmers, and businesses, protecting their rights over their own private property. Now she is aiming for political victory as a principled conservative going up against overspending and overregulation.
Wyoming is a peculiar state. It is one of the largest states in the nation, the emptiest and most wild – and most regulated. Half the state is owned by the federal government – Forest Service, BLM, and national parks. Mining and ranching, the mainstays of the economy, require federal permission of some kind for much of what they do.
Wyoming is the kind of flyover country the elites ignore but couldn't survive without. It is one of the top ten states crucial for our national prosperity. Wyoming is our number-two energy powerhouse, right behind Texas. It produces more coal than the next six coal-mining states combined. Wyoming's Powder River Basin is one of the greatest coal fields in the world, but Americans have never heard of it. If Wyoming stopped producing coal, natural gas, and uranium, 30 states would go dark.
America needs Wyoming's voice. It needs to hear from Wyoming on energy, on how to win free from federal overregulation, on Wyoming's lived principles of helping neighbors and taking care of one's own family. America needs more of Wyoming's old-fashioned individualism. Hageman has the potential to be that voice on the national stage.
Her message is based on solid underpinnings from the life she has lived. She knows that less control and more freedom and responsibility are as necessary to good government as they are to a good life. These Wyoming values are central to every person in her audience.
I heard Harriet give her pitch last summer, before it was official, and came away excited that the Republican Party was about to get another spine implant from a political outsider.
Hageman is smart – really smart, not ordinary smart. Even more important, she is a fighter. When she stood up to the EPA, she won by going on offense instead of defense. She was famous for her unconventional warfare – surprise attacks on the shadow government of left-wing environmental groups. She forced them to play by the rules, and she won her cases.
Hageman is exceptionally tough and hardworking, evidence of her ranch childhood. Since announcing she is running for governor, she has been a human dynamo across the state, talking to pillars of the community, to miners and ranchers, to small businessmen who need capital to grow, to people with problems they want her to know about – problems with health insurance, elderly parents, addiction, education, jobs – problems that existing government programs are just making worse.
While she has not run for office before, Harriet is not exactly a political neophyte. Her father served for 24 years in the state legislature, and as a water and land rights lawyer, she has advised and won cases for individuals, cities, and counties across the state. Everywhere she goes on the campaign trail, she is known and appreciated.
Hageman is an attractive woman with a million-watt smile, with a signature look of stunning Indian jewelry. She is not self-conscious about being a powerful personality or having a brilliant mind – her focus is on the job to be done. She expects her audience to share this attitude of rolling up your sleeves to get down to the hard work of drilling into the problems before us.
This approach was lighting up the audience the evening I heard her speak. Hageman was racing through a 61-slide presentation packed with hard-hitting statistics, as she lectured on what she calls "Regulation without Representation." The audience was nodding and at times groaning or laughing out loud.
You can easily see her as a formidable opponent. You wouldn't guess Hageman grew up outside a town of 350 people a hundred miles north of Cheyenne. Her family met the normal challenges of ranch life – a mountain lion killing stock, her father bucked off his horse and breaking his back. In other ways, her family was exceptional. Hageman tells me:
[My parents] sent all six of their children to college, they adopted or took legal guardianship of three other children, and they took in over 40 foster children over a 25-year period. They believed in public service and instilled their beliefs in all of us.
I'm eternally hopeful and optimistic. We can solve these problems if Wyoming can pull our constitutional rights back from the feds to control our own destiny. My message – why launder money through D.C. when we can improve things right here at home for our own citizens? Washington does not have Wyoming citizens' interests in mind. If we could keep even 30% of the money Washington takes from our state in taxes and fees, we could do a better job than the feds. We have to get away from a central planning model.
It remains an open question if Hageman is savvy enough to learn how to play and win in the dirty arena of politics. She's good at fighting bad laws and bad government in the courts. Can she put across a compelling message of what to fight for? If the answer proves yes, Wyoming could end up with a great conservative governor, and America with a new political leader.
The Republican field for governor of Wyoming is wide open at the moment. No one is blocking Hageman's way to the statehouse. This is one to keep an eye on.