In a presidential election year that’s already proven historic on many levels, people are on edge and emotionally raw awaiting final word on a handful of key states to decide the president of the United States for the next four years.
The race between Republican President Donald Trump and his challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat, remained too close to call as of press time Friday morning. Biden had overtaken Trump in Georgia and Pennsylvania, states key to Trump’s reelection effort.
As the nation has spent the last few days watching results trickle in, there may be more uncertainty with Campbell County residents about what will happen outside the White House over the next four years.
What is clear from the tight race is that a deep social division in America has only grown since Election Day. Whether that will change, one way or the other, is a growing concern for many.
A small business owner
Lacey Osborne, 28, has owned The Local, a coffee shop and restaurant in downtown Gillette, for about three years. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, she said her business has been mostly stable.
“Thankfully, I have been blessed with good business still,” Osborne said Thursday. “Unfortunately, it’s been hard keeping staff going, so I have the demand of business but falling short on staff when they get sick.”
While business has been good so far, Osborne said she fears the potential economic repercussions of a Biden presidency on an energy-dependent town like Gillette.
“Obviously, a Republican is a more industry-forward person, so Trump would benefit our local economy,” she said. “I just fear what kind of taxes will be implemented if a Democrat is elected.”
Throughout his presidential campaign, Biden has been vocal about his opposition to thermal coal, a mineral that while on the decline in terms of production and usage, has been the cornerstone of the state and local economies for decades.
“I don’t think it would help our economy being against all the production here,” she said.
The slow-burning nature of counting ballots, along with the COVID-19 pandemic, has not quelled the divisive rhetoric and unrest that came to a boil earlier this year and has been roiling since.
“I don’t see the division getting any better,” Osborne said. “I just hope it gets better.”
Democrats and coal
Before trying her hand at politics as a Democratic candidate who lost the race Tuesday for state House District 32, Lynne Huskinson spent 39 years as a coal miner.
During those years in the mines, Huskinson said she was “woefully oblivious to the impact that it’s having on our climate.”
Her background in coal may make her an unlikely Democrat, considering the ramifications Biden’s proposed clean energy plan could have on Wyoming’s oil and coal industries.
In a nutshell, Biden stands for investing in clean energy production while divesting from less eco-friendly sources of energy, especially fossil fuels.
Although he said that mass investment in alternative energy industries could produce new jobs and bolster the nation’s economy, that could happen at the cost of thousands of Campbell County oil and coal jobs.
“I really believe Biden could win and we’re going to have to deal with the fallout,” she said. “Especially in a place like this.”
On Wednesday, with the outcome far from decided, Huskinson was confident in a Biden victory.
How that would be received in Gillette is less difficult to predict.
There is a sense among some in the country that regardless of the outcome, more protests and unrest may ensue.
With prevalent speculation over the legitimacy of mail-in ballots and cries of voter fraud from Trump, anticipating the fallout that could come once either candidate is elected may be as suspenseful as the wait for the razor-thin vote margins.
“People, they hear what the president said and they have a tendency just to believe,” Huskinson said. “I don’t know if it’s because they want to believe because they put so much time and energy being for Trump, but I’m going to stick with the Democrats who really want to take care of people.”
Teacher puts election in historical context
Becky Buell has been following the election results like it’s her job. That’s because, in part, it is.
Buell teaches U.S. government and history at Campbell County High School, and in election years especially, her classes become highly focused on current events. Some of those events will be historic, like the fact that the winner of this year’s presidential election will set a record for most votes for the office, breaking President Barack Obama’s record of 69,498,516 votes.
“This year has been more strenuous than years past,” Buell said. “I taught in 2016 when we had our last presidential election. This has been more strenuous and a little bit more stressful. It’s taking more class time because we don’t have a defined next president.
“What’s happening is it’s costing us more class time because it’s our job as educators to help kids through this process as we ourselves are working through it. There’s a little bit more stress, or a little bit more anxiety, for me because I’m trying to constantly stay on top of this so I can be, hopefully, a conduit of information.”
She’s not immune to the breathlessness of the news cycle, simultaneously rapid, incredibly drawn out and compounded by social media. They also become lessons of analysis in her class.
Buell walks a fine line as she talks about this year’s election with her classes, susceptible to criticism for perceived bias, even when stating facts like the number of electoral votes needed for a candidate to win the presidency.
“When I was talking about the potential pathways (to the presidency) with my history class and a kid said, ‘Well, it kind of sounds like you’re pro-Biden,’” Buell said. “‘Well, I’m not going to tell you if I’m pro-Biden or pro-Trump. That’s not my intention. My intention is, ‘These are the facts.’”
But unlike many people dealing with the sometimes raw emotions surrounding the election, Buell has a benefit that comes with being a history and government teacher: historical context.
“This is going to sound kind of hokey,” she said. “I believe in the system. Because I have it from a historical perspective, I believe in the system and I believe the system works. I know the system is not perfect, and I know we’re going to have issues with mail-in ballots because it’s such an overwhelming amount versus what we’ve dealt with in the past.
“But I know the system well enough, (and) because I teach it and I live it and I breathe it, I believe in it. So when I start to feel overwhelmed or anxious or like, ‘Oh my gosh, what’s going to happen?’ I just reflect back on that.”
Casting his first ballot
This year’s highly contested presidential election was the first 18-year-old Logan Reed has voted in.
“It’s really close and I thought Trump was just going to blow him out of the water, but that’s what happens I guess when you live in a Republican state,” Reed said the day after the election.
Reed voted for Trump, but he said he only did so after educating himself on the candidates and coming to his own decision rather than just voting for whomever his family and friends support.
Without a clear winner Tuesday night, Reed said his gut told him that regardless of the eventual outcome, there may be turmoil to follow.
“He (Trump) will probably say some things that people don’t like,” Reed said. “With that kind of person in office, or if Biden got in office too, either way there will be a lot of controversy. I don’t know if it will be better or worse.
“It could keep up that same pattern of just getting worse.”
Putting a damper on casting his first ballot, Reed also is keenly aware of another major influence on how people live their lives today. Reed is taking some time away from his senior year at Campbell County High School and his part-time job at Universal Athletic to quarantine after his mother tested positive for COVID-19.
It’s a poetic and sad indicator of the topsy-turvy year that 2020 has been so far, Reed said, adding that despite the final outcome, “I feel like something good is not going to happen either way.”
Skeptical of mail-in results
Gillette residents Jack and Susan Clary are representative of many local people worried about the future of Campbell County.
The way the presidential race is playing out in the days after Tuesday’s general election hasn’t done much to alleviate their concerns.
Jack said he is disgusted with how the elections process has turned out this week, especially with how huge volumes of mail-in ballots are being counted differently in crucial swing states.
“It’s going to skew the election,” he said of the process that’s taking days to complete.
He also feels that if Democratic nominee Joe Biden should come out the winner over President Donald Trump, that a Biden presidency will be bad news for Campbell County.
Jack Clary said he has a neighbor who works in the oil and gas industry who told him he’s afraid he could lose his job if there is a change in administration because of Biden’s promises to promote renewable energy at the expense of legacy industries like coal, and oil and gas.
The high voter turnout in Campbell County at Tuesday’s general election was in large part because people here understand what is at stake, he said.
On the flip side, if Trump is reelected, the county and local economy will flourish, people’s retirement accounts will soar, unemployment will drop and Trump will ensure that law enforcement will continue to be funded, he said.
What could mitigate the potential negative impact from a Biden presidency, in Clary’s opinion, would be the Republicans keeping a majority in the U.S. Senate. That would ensure that far left ideas — like court packing and a Green New Deal, as well as laws to abolish fracking and carbon emissions — are unlikely to be enacted.
But this year’s election is more than just people having a difference of opinion on political issues.
“This whole election was not about Trump or Biden, it was a referendum on Trump’s personality,” Jack Clary said.
“He lost it on his personality,” added his wife, Susan. “In the first (presidential) debate, (Trump) really hurt himself. A lot of undecided people decided then they didn’t want to watch the second debate.”
Jack also admits that Trump’s personality can be a turn-off for some and that perhaps he could choose his words more wisely, especially on Twitter.
“(But) let’s face it, he’s a businessman. He’s a contractor and that’s why we are where we are today,” he said. “He understands what the people wanted. He just had a different way of messaging it. That kind of turned people’s ears the wrong way. But he loves the American people and he loves this country. That’s it.”
Some people say the presidential election, at least in part, is a referendum on the COVID-19 pandemic response, but Jack Clary doesn’t subscribe to that.
The disease hasn’t gone away, but the publicity about the novel coronavirus is going to eventually go on the back burner in some people’s minds, especially on a national level, he said.
He’s also confident there will be a vaccine for COVID-19 by the end of the calendar year because Trump said so.
Susan said Democrats have used the pandemic to try and “boobytrap” the president, which is consistent with tactics they have used in other cases to undermine the president such as their attempt to impeach him over alleged Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election.
Regardless of what happens with this year’s election, the country is deeply divided. The question is how and when that divide can close.
“I think if the leaders showed respect to each other that would really make a big difference, but they fuel the flames with their inflammatory comments,” Susan said.
Jack Clary believes unification will happen over time, but it is unlikely to be in the near future.
“If we expect something to happen in the next four years regardless of who’s president, it’s wishful thinking,” he said. “There’s a lot of deep scars for a lot of various reasons.”
‘The world is not going to come to an end’
This year’s presidential election process has concerned many Gillette residents like Doug Camblin.
“I would agree with President Trump that it really appears that there are some underhanded things going on,” he said regarding the vote counting and mail-in ballots across the country. “Voting by mail is ripe with fraud. (At) the very least it leaves the opportunity for fraud and I believe it is happening.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if the election is decided by the Supreme Court.”
A Joe Biden victory would have an adverse effect on Campbell County because of his anti-fossil fuel comments. If he wins, Biden’s administration would create regulations that would hurt the industries of not only Campbell County, but the state of Wyoming as they are “our lifeblood,” Camblin said.
Trump, on the other hand, Camblin believes, has shown himself to be a friend of the energy industry. For example, he has reduced regulations and streamlined the oil well permitting process.
“It would benefit Campbell County and Wyoming if he is victorious in this election,” he said.
A negative thing about the president is his rhetoric, which is “horrendous” and shows a lack of respect especially when he does name-calling on Twitter, Camblin said.
The name-calling has become more prevalent across the country, including Wyoming where some people feel it is OK because it is politics, he said.
“He’s a good man,” Camblin said about Trump. “He’s the best negotiator in the world, but I think he could lose the New York attitude and just be a good gentleman. (If) he claims to be a Christian, then quit calling people names and being so offensive. Soften up.”
Despite the tense schism and bickering going on across the country, Camblin does not believe that Armageddon is near.
The media is painting a picture of a Doomsday scenario because fear motivates people, he said.
“They are instituting fear. That is the opposite of my faith in Jesus Christ,” Camblin said. “I’m a hope-filled person. I believe both sides would sit down and talk and believe in compromise.
“Our founding fathers created a tremendous republic, a constitutional republic. We will have bad presidents again and the country will survive because of the system that has been put in place. The three branches of government, when it is operating correctly, has its checks and balances.”
Camblin does not want to wake up and learn that Biden has become president because he does not think he is qualified.
“But that said, the sun is still going to come up. I’m still going to feed cows,” he said. “The world is not going to come to an end. It’s a positive world. We’re very blessed to be in the country.
“We will enjoy life.”
The Gillette City Council may have a slightly different makeup come January, but those who were elected this week and the rest of the council say they have one goal: Keep the city moving forward.
Former councilman Shay Lundvall will return to serve Ward 3 while write-in candidate Eric Hanson will be a new Ward 1 representative after beating incumbent Bruce Brown on Election Day.
Lundvall and Hanson join Billy Montgomery (Ward 2) and Nathan McLeland (Ward 3), who successfully retained their seats amid stiff opposition from write-ins, as well as councilmen Gregory Schreurs and Tim Carsrud, and Mayor Louise Carter-King, who weren’t up for election this year.
The vote was the culmination of months of unrest, protests and calls for the mayor and sitting council members to resign. The vocal opposition was spurred by the June resignation of Lundvall, which many felt was forced by Carter-King and the council in response to his liking some potentially violent, racist and sexist social media posts.
“I don’t know if I was surprised,” Carter-King said about the election results. “I was ready for anything, I guess.”
The mayor and Carsrud called Hanson to congratulate him on his win.
“I’m totally for working with everybody and I’m not coming in guns a’blazing,” said Hanson, who ran as a write-in seeking change on the council. “I believe we can find common ground and work toward the betterment of the city.”
He was one of four successful write-in candidates to advance from August’s primary. The others were Mark Junek in Ward 2, and Laura Chapman and Bob Vomhof in Ward 3.
“We have a lot to work on and I am looking forward to working with all the other councilmen going forward,” Hanson said. “I’m definitely going to be the freshman councilman, if you want to call me that. I’ll definitely sit back and try to learn and absorb as much as I can.”
As for Lundvall, he served as councilman from 2016 until June and reclaimed his seat now filled by Chapman, who was appointed after his resignation.
“I’m not going to have any problems at all with Shay,” Carsrud said about having Lundvall back on the council. “I honestly like Shay. I don’t anticipate any drama whatsoever. Shay’s a good man and I know he means good and we’re going to hit the ground running and continue to move forward with the work we need to move forward.”
A wake-up call
Ward 2 write-in candidate Junek said that while he was disappointed to not win, he is happy for Lundvall and Hanson.
Their wins and Junek and Vomhof’s solid showings at Tuesday’s general election “should show everyone how seriously people have looked at things that were going on in the city government,” Junek said.
After Lundvall stepped down in June, many Lundvall supporters and other residents protested at City Council meetings asking Carter-King and the rest of the council to resign. Vomhof soon emerged as a leader of the movement and won the most write-in votes in the primary to challenge McLeland in Ward 3.
Junek hopes the election results will be a wake-up call for the mayor and current council members.
“We’ll all still be paying more attention to local government, cheering on Eric and Shay and perhaps speak up when we can,” he said.
“I think the people out there wanted their voices to be heard and they wanted the council to listen,” Carsrud said. “I believe they accomplished what they wanted to accomplish and I don’t see any issues moving forward.”
The protests helped galvanize interest in local politics, which helped Lundvall and Hanson in their election wins.
Initially, however, January’s swearing-in ceremony may be a little uncomfortable for some people.
“I think there will be a little bit of tension, maybe, but hopefully we’ll be able to get over that,” Hanson said.
Lundvall said he’s ready and that as a group, the council members “need to make Gillette great again,” Lundvall said.
“I think there’s going to have to be some conversations about everything as a whole and what it’s going to look like,” he said. “We need to have some honest dialogues.
“It’s OK to disagree. It’s OK to not have the same thoughts and opinions. Hopefully, then the goal is the same and it’s to move the city forward in a way with good stewardship.”
McLeland said that while he is happy with the win, the city is going to have to come together and work through whatever differences there are.
“I think everyone understands that we have to work hard and keep the city moving ahead,” McLeland said.
Carter-King said she thinks Hanson will be fine fit and that she and Lundvall have the same goals for the city, which is to see it succeed.
“It seems we’re all on the same page with moving the city forward,” she said. “I really don’t expect any awkwardness.”
Carsrud feels confident of the same.
“I honestly put it in God’s hands,” he said. “I’m one of those guys that say things happen for a reason. I know God has this whole situation under control.
“In the grand scheme of things, we have to run the city. We have to make sure public works are taken care of, the fire and police departments are funded and doing their jobs. Ultimately, we still have to run the city. We’re going to have to figure it out.”