In a country that often seems cleaved in two, Jim Roscoe challenged the hyper-partisan divide to become Wyoming’s second independent state legislator, and the first in 40 years.
Roscoe, the next representative for House District 22, which covers parts of Teton, Sublette and Lincoln counties, said that “in Wyoming you used to be able to think for yourself.”
After two terms representing the district as a Democrat a decade ago, he chose to forgo party support this time in hopes his nonpartisan approach would appeal to voters.
“It worked out just as I had hoped,” he said. “I think people were receptive to that. Going door to door there was a very negative response to our divided country because of party politics and being put into a box.”
On the list of independents in the state Legislature, Roscoe is preceded only by William Holland, who represented Johnson County from 1971 to 1978, back when legislators were elected by county.
Roscoe trailed his opponent, three-time incumbent Marti Halverson, in Lincoln and Sublette counties. But he clobbered her in Teton County, drawing nearly three times more votes in his home county — the highest percentage margin of any race. All told, the Wilsonite won 2,495 to 1,983.
Even in the other two counties, Roscoe held his own, trailing 179 to Halverson’s 204 in Sublette and 935 to 1,269 in Lincoln.
He has lived in both Teton and Sublette counties for years, and owns a construction business with offices in both. But in Lincoln County, Roscoe didn’t have many connections, so he made an effort to campaign in the area, visiting towns like Star Valley Ranch and Freedom.
“I did a lot of work down there,” he said.
Roscoe believes the flagship issues he ran on, public lands and education, won him the race. He said his objection to transferring federal lands to the state, along with his desire to modernize Wyoming’s education revenue stream, resonated with voters throughout the district.
He sees certain natural resources, like lithium and trona, as viable options to fund schools at the current level. He added that such development must be done responsibly “on our own terms and environmentally sound.”
“I think there’s a lot we can do on the minerals front,” he said, “and on the energy front.”
He also said he supports Medicaid expansion and believes counties should have authority over whether to collect lodging taxes and how to distribute them.
He said he respects Halverson’s service over the past six years, particularly on mental health issues, for which he hopes to “carry the torch.”
With the election behind him, Roscoe plans to do some hunting and prepare for office again after a six-year break. As an independent, he faces new dilemmas this time around.
For example, he said, both the Republican and Democratic parties have invited him to caucus with them, though he isn’t sure which he’ll choose.
He also has to figure out which committees he will sit on. Membership is generally balanced between Democrats and Republicans to the extent possible, and the state tries to include both parties on every committee. But as the only legislator without a party, he’s unsure how he’ll fit in.
“Where,” he said, “do you put this odd duck of an independent?”