Petersen touts history in local, state offices
Opponent Gosar lacks formal political experience, she says.
By Thomas Dewell, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
July 21, 2010
Leslie Petersen’s main advantage over her closest opponent in the race to be the Democratic nominee in the Wyoming gubernatorial race is her long history in state and local government, she said Monday.
Petersen, 69, of Wilson, said during a campaign stop in Jackson that she is working hard to defeat Laramie resident Pete Gosar in the Aug. 17 primary election. Petersen has served in Cheyenne as a governor’s liaison to the Wyoming Legislature and locally as a Teton County commissioner.
Gosar, who pilots state airplanes, runs his own business and went from a walk-on to starter on the University of Wyoming football team, has never held public office.
“He doesn’t have any real experience in government,” Petersen said of Gosar, who has been campaigning statewide.
“I’m not taking my opponent for granted,” Petersen said. She said she understands Gosar’s ties to UW make him popular among young people in the state.
Along with Gosar, Petersen will face fellow primary contenders Al Hamburg, of Torrington, and Chris L. Zachary and Rex Wilde, both of Cheyenne.
Petersen served as a Teton County commissioner from mid-1983 through 1988 and for eight years on the Wyoming Water Development Commission.
She worked as Gov. Ed Herschler’s legislative liaison in the 1981 and 1982 legislative sessions. She ran unsuccessfully for Wyoming secretary of state in 1982 against Thyra Thompson, although she garnered more than 46 percent of the vote.
Petersen moved to Jackson in 1975. Her husband of 34 years, Jackson attorney Henry “Hank” Phibbs, grew up in Casper, serves as a Teton County commissioner and is running for re-election to that post.
Decades ago, she worked on a citizen’s lobby to strengthen the state’s environmental quality act and with others helped establish a permitting process for coal mines that set the benchmark for years to come, she said.
Her background in conservation and environmental issues and her understanding of how important the energy industry is to the state distinguishes her, she said. She would be able to balance the need for jobs with protecting open space and wildlife herds.
“I would be closer to the middle than any of my opponents,” Petersen said.
Through her travels around the state and while visiting residents door to door, people remain focused on how the global recession is hurting Wyoming, she said.
“They mostly are still concerned about the economy and whether we are coming out of the recession and whether jobs are going to be more plentiful again,” she said. “The governor’s first obligation is to really pay attention to the economy.”
The Wyoming economy does have bright spots such as Eleutian Technology, which is hiring state residents to teach Koreans to speak English through the Internet. Other promising projects are a supercomputer, a coal gasification plant and oil shale and wind energy development, Petersen said.
The governor can help the economy by providing leadership and negotiating agreements that lead to similar projects starting in the state.
“That’s one place where the governor does play a role,” Petersen said.
Tourism remains an important part of the state economy and Petersen said she is pleased with Wyoming Travel & Tourism marketing efforts.
As for agriculture, Petersen recognizes that it has shrunk to 4 percent to 5 percent of the state economy, but along with providing food, the open spaces farmers and ranchers protect help sustain wildlife.
Plus, the farming and ranching lifestyle is enmeshed in the state’s character.
“The expression of old-time Wyoming values is vitally important,” Petersen said.
That means the state has to help farmers and ranchers.
“Whatever it is, you have to be there for them,” she said.
Petersen’s own rural background, growing up on the CM Ranch in Dubois as the daughter of the first president of the Wyoming Outfitter’s Association, will allay the fears of those who think she might be a Democrat from Teton County who wants to take their guns away.
“People in Wyoming are not likely to take me as an anti-gun Democrat,” she said.