Personal politics surface as three names head to Wyoming Governor Freudenthal

If former Wyoming state treasurer Cynthia LummisCynthia Marie LummisNext Congress expected to have record diversity Republican Cynthia Lummis wins Wyoming Senate election Chamber of Commerce endorses McSally for reelection MORE is to become the newest senator, she’ll have to hope Gov. Dave Freudenthal doesn’t hold political grudges.

With the fate of three Republican potential senators now in the hands of the Democratic governor, the state’s unusual appointment process is causing old political battles to bubble to the surface. And Lummis figures to be holding the short stick.

Lummis’s public interactions with Freudenthal when both served as statewide officials were often testy, most notably when she accused him two years ago of threatening to cut off her head.

The other two candidates, state Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight Senate advances energy regulator nominees despite uncertainty of floor vote Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee MORE and former Assistant U.S. Attorney General Tom Sansonetti, have enjoyed relatively non-confrontational relationships with the governor, but both have been at odds with him at times as well.

Freudenthal’s office said politics will not play into his decision and that he will choose the most qualified candidate.

He has five days to select the new senator from the three, who were chosen from a 28-candidate field on Tuesday by the Republican state central committee. He sent a letter to each of the three candidates yesterday inviting them to interview with him and listing dozens of issues he would like to discuss.

The appointee will replace Sen. Craig Thomas (R), who died earlier this month after losing a battle with leukemia.

In June 2005, Lummis confirmed a colleague’s account of a 2002 meeting with Freudenthal, in which Lummis said Freudenthal threatened her and three other statewide officials — all Republicans.

“If you cross me, I’ll cut your head off and you won’t know it till it hits the ground,” Freudenthal said, according to the version Lummis told the Associated Press.

Freudenthal did not deny making the comment, but said that if he did, it must have been in jest.

Lummis told the AP, “I felt it was a threat, and that it was pointed and directed at all four of us.”

One state Democratic source said Lummis was seen as the ringleader of three statewide officials who often picked political fights with the Democrats and Freudenthal.

Lummis and the others also fought with Freudenthal over how much control they had over their budgets, hiring and lawyers. They accused Freudenthal of changing his stance on the issue.

Lummis chaired the campaign of Freudenthal’s opponent in his reelection bid last year. In announcing her role in the campaign, Lummis took a shot at Freudenthal by saying the state needed “mature, responsible and wise leadership.”

State Republicans acknowledged the rocky past but expressed optimism that Freudenthal will make the decision based on the candidates’ qualifications and experience.

“Their relationship had some pitfalls to it,” state party Chairman Fred Parady acknowledged. “But I really believe the governor will be looking at the big picture in terms of their service to Wyoming.”

Lummis echoed that sentiment after the voting was finished Tuesday but did not return calls to her office and cell phone yesterday.

A spokeswoman for the governor said he would indeed disregard personal issues.

“The governor sees it as a job interview,” spokeswoman Cara Eastwood said. “The politics is over. He sees it as: The GOP central committee did their part of the process, and he’s going to do his.”

Barrasso and Sansonetti have not had to work with Freudenthal as much as Lummis, but in such a sparsely populated state, their paths have crossed.

Barrasso, a surgeon, has worked with the governor on healthcare issues while in the state Senate. Freudenthal vetoed one of his bills in March, but the situation did not devolve into a public spat like some of Lummis’s have.

Sansonetti’s and Freudenthal’s terms as state party chairmen overlapped in the 1980s. Sansonetti maintains that, while they battled, it was never personal. In recent years, they have worked together on environmental issues — Sansonetti’s area of
focus at the Justice Department.

Sansonetti, the top vote-getter throughout the day on Tuesday, called theirs “a working relationship.”

As chairmen, Sansonetti said, “Sure [there were clashes]. He did his best for the Democratic Party and I did my best for the Republican Party. You bet.”

Another possible consideration for Freudenthal is electoral viability. If he has any designs on the seat himself or wants his party to win it next year, appointing a weak candidate could help.

The final four years of the term go to the winner of a special election in November 2008. Freudenthal has denied interest in the seat, but he is term-limited in 2010 and hasn’t completely ruled out a bid.

Lummis won statewide twice, garnering 63 percent of the vote in her first treasurer race in 1998 and running unopposed in 2002.

Barrasso narrowly fell to now-Sen. Mike Enzi (R) in a primary in 1996 and might have the highest name ID, as he appears regularly on a local TV health segment and also has hosted the Jerry Lewis Telethon in the area.

Sansonetti has never run for elective public office.

Parady said they would all make “tremendous” candidates in 2008. All three have indicated they intend to seek the seat and pledged Tuesday to avoid a divisive primary.

Other GOP insiders say that Lummis is the top potential candidate and that Sansonetti might struggle as somebody with no campaign experience who has spent a lot of time outside of the state.

A political science professor at the University of Wyoming, James King, said Freudenthal’s clashes with the Bush administration on recent environmental issues could also cause him to shy away from choosing a Bush appointee like Sansonetti.

“Which leaves us with Barrasso, more as a process of elimination than as someone who has an array of strengths,” King handicapped. “It’s maybe more the weaknesses of the other candidates that make me think that he might be the selection.”