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JACKSON —Republican Jim McCollum was floored.

Sitting in a booth at Sidewinders American Grill around 10 p.m. Tuesday night, he was staring incredulously at his phone when the News&Guide approached. He not only lost his race against Democrat Mike Yin, he received fewer votes in the general election than in his uncontested primary. McCollum couldn’t believe it.

“How did this happen?” he asked. “I’m not moderate enough, probably, for what our population wants.”

McCollum was not alone Tuesday night. Up and down the ballot, Teton County voters rejected Republican candidates.

While uncontested Republican county officials like Clerk Maureen Murphy and Treasurer Katie Smits won reelection, Democrats and independents wiped out Republicans everywhere they challenged them.

Democrats cemented their hold on the Teton County Board of County Commissioners, where Democrats now hold a 4-1 majority thanks to Wes Gardner’s Tuesday win — and incumbents Mark Newcomb’s and Luther Propst’s electoral tenacity. The only commissioner who will not be a Democrat on the board come January, when new officials are sworn in, is Greg Epstein, an independent who changed his affiliation after being elected twice as a Democrat.

But Democrats also cleaned house elsewhere, beating Republican candidates for legislative office in Teton County.

In Senate District 17, Democratic incumbent Mike Gierau beat Republican challenger Steve Duerr by a 2-to-1 margin, with Libertarian Amanda Padilla placing third.

In House District 16, Yin whacked McCollum 2,477 to 869.

In the race for House District 23, Democrat Liz Storer beat Republican Paul Vogelheim by 163 votes.

Republican Andrew Byron, who ultimately won the House District 22 race because of an outpouring of support in Lincoln County, also lost to independent Bob Strobel in Teton County.

While specific purpose excise tax measures were not directly affiliated with any party, Teton County voters also approved a roughly $160 million raft of government spending. They supported all 15 measures on the ballot.

Pat Chadwick, vice chair of the Teton County Democrats, said he was “surprised, given the national narrative,” that Democrats did so well.

Given the rampant inflation facing the country, pollsters have been predicting that Democrats would lose the U.S. House of Representatives and rating the fate of the U.S. Senate as “a tossup.”

By press time Tuesday, votes were still being counted in races that will decide the balance of power in Congress.

Chadwick pointed to the roughly $150,000 the Teton County GOP sunk into local races, calling it ineffective.

“Money is less important than messaging,” Chadwick said. “We have one of the most educated electorates in the country, and they’re not going to fall for YouTube ads that are repeated over and over again.”

Mary Martin, the chair of the Teton County GOP, was upset with her party’s loss.

But she disputed Chadwick’s take on the result.

“I don’t think money has anything to do with it,” Martin said. “We had a message that we needed to try to get out. And we still have work to do. I think people chose the status quo.

“Apparently,” Martin said, “there’s plenty of housing and they have the solutions they need.”

Storer clinched a narrow victory over Vogelheim in the biggest nail-biter of the night. While Storer watched the results roll in from home because of a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, Vogelheim and his allies watched the results from the county commissioners’ chambers. When the second-to-last batch of results came in, showing him narrowly behind, with only Alta left to go, Vogelheim left the room, hugging supporters on the way out.

Storer credited her success, in part, with being “clear on reproductive rights.” Throughout the campaign, Storer pointed to what she felt were inconsistencies in Vogelheim’s positions on abortion.

But she said Democrats as a whole probably did well because “Teton County votes democratically.”

And, because housing is such a huge issue, Storer thought endorsements from the 501(c)(4) housing advocacy group Shelter JH probably helped her and other candidates along.

“I expected it to be a close race,” Storer said. “Paul’s a formidable candidate.”

Vogelheim, meanwhile, said “the voters have spoken” but that he was “disappointed.” He thanked the people who canvassed neighborhoods with him, and the 70-plus people who donated to his campaign.

But, Vogelheim said, a strong Democratic turnout on election day probably helped Storer.

“There was really a surge of voters coming in today that made a difference,” Vogelheim said.

Yin cruised to victory, while McCollum admitted that his position on abortion — he said he’s both pro-choice and pro-life, and that women who have multiple abortions should be “sterilized” — could have cost him the race.

Asked how he thought that impacted things, McCollum said “probably a lot.”

As an advocate for the real estate transfer tax and other progressive measures, Yin said after winning his race that unanimity from Teton County’s delegation to Cheyenne was key.

Jackson Hole Democrats and independents have been some of the only left-leaning politicians in the Wyoming House and Senate.

“It feels like a good reminder that the community and I stand together,” Yin said. “It’s impossible to align with everybody but I’m ready to go back to Cheyenne and represent that Jackson speaks with a united voice.”

But Teton County’s legislative delegation won’t be united on all fronts.

Byron does not support a real estate transfer tax, which Teton County officials have long sought as a way to tax real estate sales and fund affordable housing projects. That breaks a years-long tradition of support from the four primary members of the county’s delegation. Yin, Gierau and Storer all support the levy.

Though he lost Teton County, Byron beat Strobel in the race for House District 22, which covers parts of Teton and Lincoln counties. Lincoln County voted for him convincingly, offsetting Byron’s loss in Teton County, where he lives. Strobel, an Etna resident, called Byron to concede late Tuesday night.

“I’ve said this many times, ‘If I won, it would be a blessing, if I didn’t win it would be a blessing,’” Strobel told the News&Guide, adding that he had “nothing but gratitude for the districts and the people of Wyoming.

“Congratulations to Andrew, and I think he’ll do great,” Strobel said.

Byron lost Teton County to Strobel by 65 votes. In 2020, independent Jim Roscoe beat Republican Bill Winney by 635 votes in Teton County. Byron said the difference shows that “there are people in the middle.

“There’s always work to be done. I have a lot of constituents that I have to answer to,” Byron said on the porch of Sidewinders on Tuesday night. “So I think I can leave it at that — I have a lot of work to do.”

At the polls, voters were mixed on who they supported as legislators.

In Wilson, where Roscoe lives, voters were skeptical of Byron. Some said they knew him and liked him but weren’t clear where he fell politically. His decision to fill out a GOP “platform pledge” that said he supported life “from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death” brought his pro-choice stance into question.

“I was advised not to vote for him because of his politics,” said Sal Thorkildsen, 81.

But, at the Teton County Weed and Pest building in Hoback, where Byron lives, voters supported him.

“Byron is on the fire department with my husband, station three. And I’ve known him since he was 19,” said Karin Sieber, 44. “He’s a good human.”

Sieber said she trusted Byron’s insistence that he is pro-choice.

On Election Day at the Teton County Library, a handful of voters said they cast ballots for Republican Steve Duerr. One knew Duerr personally and liked his character. Another wanted change. Rachael Miller said she voted for “anybody who is not currently in office.”

“I’m all about shaking up everything in this town,” Miller said. “We need some good Wyoming people in our Legislature. We need God back in our country.”

Republicans, meanwhile, continued reeling from their loss. McCollum lamented that he would not be able to champion other housing solutions, like levying a 3% tax on ski lift tickets to fund affordable housing projects.

“I’m disappointed that I’m not going to have that opportunity to help the community that I love,” he said.

Martin questioned whether Teton County voters’ preference for the status quo would serve them.

“Are you for the government being the provider of all your solutions, or are you for free enterprise?” Martin said. “Teton County voters need to move to China, where there’s plenty of free housing built by the government. Everyone can have a house or a closet to live in.”

For now, Martin said she doesn’t know what the GOP’s next moves are.

This story was published on Nov. 9, 2022.

(2) comments

Ka12

The really smart move for republicans would be to Dump Trump, stop trying to overthrow democracy, accept election loses, and govern for the majority of the country.

Cap'n Bumbleguts

Yet we know they'll just double down on the worst possible candidates, and continue to offer no solutions.

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