Rex Rammell, a conservative Republican running for Wyoming governor this year, poses for a portrait at the Wyoming Tribune Eagle on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, in Cheyenne. Rammell, of Rock Springs, has been unsuccessful in previous attempts to gain elected office in both Idaho and Wyoming. Jacob Byk/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – Conservative firebrand Rex Rammell of Rock Springs officially announced his candidacy to become Wyoming’s next governor during stops in Casper and Cheyenne on Wednesday.

Rammell joins a Republican primary race that is starting to heat up. Only Bill Dahlin, a political newcomer from Sheridan, had announced his intent to run in 2017. But 2018 started off with Rammell declaring and Cheyenne attorney Harriet Hageman confirming Tuesday she will make an official announcement Jan. 16 that she intends the run.

Speculation continues about whether more established candidates such as State Treasurer Mark Gordon and Secretary of State Ed Murray will enter the race.

When asked this week whether they’d made a firm decision, Gordon said in a text message he was focused on the upcoming budget session of the Wyoming Legislature.

A spokesman for Murray didn’t respond with an answer before deadline Wednesday.

Rammell was a perennial Republican candidate in his home state of Idaho, where he lost races for the state House in 2002 and 2004, a run for U.S. Senate in 2008 and a run for governor in 2010. In his last run in Idaho, Rammell received just fewer than 43,000 votes in the Republican gubernatorial primary, accounting for 26 percent of the vote. And he said he did that spending only $100,000, with far more conservative policy positions than his opponent, C.L. “Butch” Otter, currently the state’s top executive.

Considering the odds stacked against him, Rammell said the number of votes he garnered is significant.

“If people think I’m a joke, ask them to try to get 43,000 votes,” he said.

In 2012, Rammell moved to Wyoming under the assumption he would not run for office again. However, when former U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, a Wyoming Republican, decided not to seek another term in 2016, Rammell was compelled to re-enter public life in another state. The Republican primary was crowded, with now-U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., a clear frontrunner. Rammell exchanged jabs with Cheney over whether one or the other was a carpetbagger (Cheney moved to Wyoming from Virginia in 2012). Rammell withdrew from the race after the official ballots were printed, but still received 890 votes, compared to Cheney’s 35,043.

Rammell said he assumed after that race was over he would not run again. But from where he sits in his home in Rock Springs, he said he thinks Wyoming is in for unending economic woes and doesn’t see anyone coming up with a solution.

Wyoming is still feeling the effects of an economic downturn from a drop in mineral commodity prices in late 2014. Mineral extraction comprises around 70 percent of the state’s revenue. Rammell said – and economists agree – that another mineral extraction boom is unlikely, given the circumstances.

ENDOW – which stands for Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming – is Gov. Matt Mead’s initiative to diversify the economy in the next 20 years. But Rammell said he thinks it’s a “small effort – not a game-changer.”

Rather than attract other sectors to create a more diverse economic base, Rammell is sticking to his perpetual signature issue: transferring federal lands to state control. In that scenario, he said Wyoming could double down on mineral extraction and save its economy.

“Wyoming is a natural resource state,” Rammell said. “I think rather than find an alternative to that 70 percent, I think we’ve got to play our cards on minerals. That’s why I think the solution to the problem – and I’ve believed it for 10 years now – I think we need to get this land back.”

And Rammell’s approach is anything but orthodox. If he’s elected, Rammell said he would go to President Donald Trump not to ask, but to tell him the negotiations for the land transfer must begin. Should Trump refuse, Rammell said he would sign an executive order directing state law enforcement officials to arrest federal agents overseeing public lands.

As to what crime Rammell would order the federal employees arrested for, he said that’s yet to be determined. But he has no doubts about his intentions.

“There’s going to be some federal officers sweating bullets (if I’m elected),” Rammell said.

While he appreciates that Hageman is a reputable conservative, he said what separates him from her is his no-holds-barred commitment to land transfer. Hageman, he said, would only address federal land transfer if she’s “forced” to do so, such as in a debate. And while Rammell said he expects Hageman would support the concept, he expects she would litigate, rather than force the issue.

When it comes to Gordon, Rammell said he doubts he supports a federal land transfer to state control. Gordon, Rammell said, might as well run as a Democrat.

Rammell said he knows his style is unorthodox, and he has been told in the past he might do better in political campaigns if he tampered his tone. But given the audacity of political figures such as Trump, Rammell said he thinks 2018 could be the year that turns the establishment on its head, finally clearing the way for his unapologetic style of conservatism.

“I just want them to give me a chance and listen to me,” Rammell said of the electorate. “I’m not crazy; I’m probably the smartest guy in Wyoming.”

Joel Funk is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at jfunk@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @jmacfunk.

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