CHEYENNE – Nearly 20 years ago, Nathan Wendt was traveling Interstate 80 when a snowstorm left him stuck overnight in the town of Wamsutter.
Immediately, residents of the town opened their arms to Wendt and others who were stranded, offering the local gym for them to sleep in. They even showed “Shrek.”
“That just always stuck with me, like this is an amazing community, and there’s just tons of those around Wyoming,” Wendt said. “I think that those communities, because of the economic situation, they’re being hollowed out, so we need to start figuring out how to rebuild Wyoming in a way that can work for Wyoming.”
Wendt, who grew up in Jackson, wants to help start that rebuild while working from the U.S. Senate. This week, the 39-year-old announced his plans to run as a Democrat for the seat being vacated by the retiring U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.
Wendt has spent the past few years working as vice president of the Jackson Hole Center for Global Affairs, a bipartisan think tank focused on business and the environment. That time spent discussing big issues with people from all over the world helped Wendt develop some of his own campaign proposals.
A few top issues of Wendt’s campaign are climate change and economic diversification. Some of his proposals, such as a carbon-capture lab, aim to tackle both issues simultaneously.
“Something that Wyoming absolutely is primed for, particularly up in sort of the Campbell County area, would be a carbon-capture national lab, because something like that could employ thousands of people,” Wendt said. “That’s an example of sort of a community-led diversification strategy which could make a big, big difference.”
Wendt also mentioned wind energy as a sector the state needed to invest in, both for energy production and equipment manufacturing. From his view, the rise of renewable energy offers a window of opportunity to Wyoming.
“Making sure that Wyoming continues to retain our leadership role as the place that powers America, doing that by moving into clean energy, that’s going to be the way to assure our status in that regard,” Wendt said.
He also hopes to address health care woes in Wyoming and across the country. The COVID-19 pandemic has also made it “blindingly clear” that many lack access to affordable and adequate health care, Wendt said. He added that he supports a nationwide “Medicare for All” plan, but with a more phased approach.
“People like their current insurance option? Well, great,” he said. “But (under my plan), there’s a new option out there that’s nonprofit, government run, and we need to know the answer, because this could make a huge difference in providing people with health care that they need.”
Wendt joins five other Democratic candidates who have filed to run for the Senate seat. With the primary election set for Aug. 18, Wendt said he hopes to reach as many people as possible before then, an effort made difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the Jackson native hopes he can prove himself worthy of helping lead a new generation of state leadership.
“I really strongly believe that the old playbook, it’s been great in a lot of ways, but we need to start some new ideas and some new energy and get started with the next generation,” he said.