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Wyoming Gov. Freudenthal won't seek third term

Ben Neary

Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal said Thursday he will not seek re-election, ending speculation that the popular Democrat might try to overturn a state law that would have prohibited him from pursuing a third term.

The decision by Freudenthal, 59, opens the seat in a heavily Republican state. While several prominent Republicans have announced they will seek their party's nomination for governor this fall, Democrats in the state have been waiting to see what Freudenthal would decide.

"I've certainly communicated to them over time that they shouldn't be counting on me running," Freudenthal said of the state Democratic Party. "And I'm hopeful that they'll find qualified candidates."

Freudenthal won two elections as a Democrat by taking his no-nonsense, conservative message door-to-door across the state, a proven strategy in sparsely populated Wyoming. He said he started the process of deciding not to run over the Christmas holiday, and his wife and grown children agreed with his choice.

"I don't have a terribly intellectual explanation, as much as a sense that it's the right decision, both in a personal and a professional sense, for myself and for Nancy and for the state," Freudenthal said.

Freudenthal said he wasn't worried about the prospect of challenging the state's term limit law. The Wyoming Supreme Court already has held that the law was unconstitutional for state legislators.

Freudenthal, whose office door in the state Capitol bears the painted sign "Gov. Dave," has enjoyed considerable popularity since narrowly winning his first election in 2002. He won re-election in 2006 with 70 percent of the vote even though registered Republicans in the state outnumbered Democrats by more than 2 to 1.

That ratio remains unchanged, presenting an enormous challenge for any Democrat with gubernatorial aspirations. So far, none has stepped forward — or even expressed interest in running.

Freudenthal's decision means Republicans probably will reclaim the governor's office, said Jim King, a political science professor at the University of Wyoming. Wyoming's primary election is Aug. 17.

Freudenthal started campaigning well over a year before winning the governor's office in 2002, King said. Any Democrat who hasn't started preparing will have a lot of work to do.

"It will be very difficult for a Democrat now to catch up," he said.

Matt Mead, a former Wyoming U.S. Attorney and one of three Republicans seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination, said he expects Wyoming Democrats to field a strong candidate.

"There were Republicans who supported Gov. Freudenthal, and now those Republicans who supported him will be looking at the three of us who are in the primary race and making a decision who they think will be the next best leader for Wyoming," Mead said.

Also running for the Republican nomination are Rita Meyer, the state auditor, and Ron Micheli, a former state legislator and former head of the state agricultural department. Wyoming House Speaker Colin Simpson, R-Cody, has formed an exploratory committee but hasn't announced his candidacy.

Freudenthal, a lawyer, served as U.S. Attorney for Wyoming during the Clinton administration. He said he hasn't considered running for any other public office, and said it's too early to think about what he'll do when he leaves office.

The Wyoming Republican Party last summer criticized Freudenthal for suggesting his wife, a corporate attorney in Cheyenne, to the White House as one of three candidates for an open federal judgeship in Cheyenne.

President Barack Obama nominated Nancy Freudenthal for the judgeship in December and the Senate Judiciary Committee in January indicated it was satisfied with her qualifications. Freudenthal had supported Obama in the 2008 election, and Republicans said the nomination smacked of payback for the support.

No date for a full Senate vote on her nomination has been set.

Gov. Freudenthal denied any impropriety, and said the prospect of his wife serving on the federal court wasn't the determining factor in his decision not to run again.

Freudenthal's administration has butted heads frequently with the federal government, mounting lawsuits against federal agencies over issues of wildlife management, environmental regulation and gun control.

Freudenthal also has clashed with industry, recently calling on state lawmakers to impose a tax on wind generation and take other steps to regulate the fast-growing wind energy industry. The Legislature responded by passing the bills.

Freudenthal's tenure as governor brackets the most recent energy boom that started fizzling out nearly two years ago. While he presided over record revenue surpluses earlier in his term, last year he directed state agencies to cut spending by 10 percent as energy revenues started to sag.

State Sen. Kathryn Sessions, a Cheyenne Democrat and Senate minority floor leader, said she's sad to see Freudenthal depart when Wyoming faces increasing pressure from energy development.

"He has done his best to balance industry and development in our state against those things that makes our state unique, and that includes our open spaces, our wildlife, our streams, our mountains," she said.

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Associated Press Writer Mead Gruver contributed to this report.

The Associated Press
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