GOP considers Murray replacement with election looming

By Michael Illiano

The Sheridan Press

Via Wyoming News Exchange

SHERIDAN — When Ed Murray resigned as Secretary of State after two women accused him of sexual misconduct, the governor notified the Wyoming Republican Party it will have 15 days to nominate candidates to fill Murray’s vacancy.

In Wyoming, vacancies are filled by appointment. The law states that the political party of the most recent incumbent chooses three candidates for the seat, and the governor appoints one of those candidates to the position. The Wyoming Republican Party has until Feb. 24 to choose its three nominees.

Deputy Secretary of State Karen Wheeler will serve in Murray’s place until the governor makes his appointment.

Filling Murray’s seat will have added weight because the position will be on the ballot in November. According to Dr. Jim King, a University of Wyoming political science professor, the appointee selected will have a significant advantage in the coming election.

“[The appointee] likely will get favorable publicity in an office that gets little attention,” King said. “Other Republicans in the primary will find it difficult to get comparable attention. General elections for offices that receive little attention typically result in party-line voting, since party affiliation is one of the few things most voters know about the candidates.”

When U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas died in office in 2007, U.S. Sen. John Barrasso was appointed to fill the vacancy and was re-elected in 2008.

And when State Treasurer Joe Meyer’s death left a vacancy in 2012, Mark Gordon was appointed as his replacement and subsequently re-elected in 2014.

However, Bryan Miller, the state committeeman for the Sheridan County Republican Party, said he expects the committee will focus on candidates’ fitness to assume the role right away, rather than how they will fare in the coming election.

“In the end, every time a vacancy occurs, our goal is to put the best qualified person in that position,” Miller said. “Because whether they are in it for a short time or a long time, it is important they do the right thing for the state.”

David Bush, the communications director for the Governor’s office, did not comment on whether November’s election will factor in to the Governor’s decision, saying only that the Governor will use a “thoughtful, deliberative process” to select Murray’s replacement.

The Wyoming Republican Party State Central Committee will meet in Cheyenne Feb. 24 to consider applications and select its three nominees. That meeting will be open to the public. Under Wyoming law, any Wyoming resident who is over the age of 25 and registered as a Republican can apply for the Secretary of State position.

Wyoming Republican Party Executive Director Kristi Wallin said the committee has only received one application so far, from former state Rep. Pete Illoway of Cheyenne, but expects several more. State Sen. Leland Christensen, R-Alta, announced he would run for Secretary of State last week, before Murray’s resignation. Wallin estimates the committee considered 25 candidates for Thomas’s vacated senate seat in 2007 and roughly nine applications for the state treasurer role in 2012.