CASPER – Gov. Mark Gordon is weighing into a competitive Republican primary race in Senate District 6 after a campaign mailer alleged one of his former staffers – who is challenging incumbent Sen. Anthony Bouchard for the seat – was fired from his office for “incompetence” and “unethical behavior” on the job.
In a mailer sent to Cheyenne voters earlier this week, Bouchard’s campaign accused Erin Johnson – a well-known lobbyist and a former member of Gordon’s policy staff – of unnamed, improper conduct during her brief tenure as Gordon’s health and human services adviser that led to her allegedly being fired from the job, according to a copy of the mailer provided to the Star-Tribune.
“I don’t understand why Governor Gordon would want to keep his personnel problems a secret and I don’t know what insider-lobbyist deals Erin has worked out with him, but the well-known facts are that she was forced out of her cushy political appointment, that means she was fired,” Bouchard wrote in an emailed statement. “The problem with Erin Johnson is she is trying to deceive voters and the truth is catching up to her.”
Johnson denied those charges, writing in an email “as far as I can tell, the only rumors about me were spread by Anthony himself.”
“My message of common-sense conservative values is resonating with the people in Senate District 6, and Anthony Bouchard knows that,” Johnson said in a statement to the Star-Tribune. “As a result, Anthony has been peddling half-truths, misinformation and has now resorted to flat out lies in a desperate attempt to defame me. Anthony Bouchard clearly has a problem with the truth, and his slanderous and unethical behavior should disqualify him from representing the good people in Senate District 6.”
While Gordon’s office has never publicly acknowledged the reasons behind her departure, and the circumstances surrounding her departure are little-known in most political circles, Bouchard proceeded to use the claim in an official piece of campaign correspondence, citing anonymous “executive office staff” as his source.
“Fabricating her actual job experience to trick voters, she won’t admit to being a contract lobbyist by trade nor that she was fired by Governor Gordon after only a few months on the job because of her incompetence and unethical behavior,” the mailer read.
In a phone interview, Bouchard declined to respond on the record whether he had actually spoken with anyone in the governor’s office regarding Johnson’s departure.
Shortly after news of the mailer became public, however, Gordon’s office quickly dismissed the claims in a statement Tuesday morning.
“While I cannot comment on a personnel matter, a recent campaign flyer for Senator Bouchard makes accusations about Erin Johnson’s time in the Governor’s office that are incorrect,” Gordon said in a statement. “Erin was a valued member of our team. I hope voters will make their decisions based on issues, not careless insinuation.”
A spokesman for Gordon’s office declined further comment.
Tuesday’s letter signifies a rare foray into politics for Gordon this campaign cycle. It could be significant, however: with Bouchard winning his seat by a razor-thin margin in the 2016 primary and general elections, Senate District 6 is already seen as one of Wyoming’s most competitive seats this year.
While Democrat Britney Wallesch has been coalescing support on the other side of the ticket, both Bouchard and Johnson have received substantial amounts of support from around the state: Bouchard, from conservative political action committees like Wyoming Gun Owners, and Johnson, from figures like Senate Vice President Ogden Driskill and former Republican Gov. Matt Mead, who endorsed her candidacy on Tuesday.