Jim McCollum, the father of Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum, the 20-year-old U.S. Marine of Jackson who was killed during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan last August, announced his candidacy to represent Jackson in the Wyoming State House of Representatives Tuesday. The carpenter and poet is running against incumbent Democratic Rep. Mike Yin, who has represented House District 16 since 2018.
The district boundaries encompass much of the Town of Jackson.
“I didn’t seek this. I wasn’t looking for this. It’s not like [I thought], ‘This what I need to do.’ It just found me,” McCollum said. “It’s like, ‘You know what? This kind of makes sense. Maybe I can make a difference.’”
McCollum is running as a Republican and has never sought elected office before. When asked about politics in general, he said he’s been opposed to the atmosphere it creates for more than a decade. However, McCollum decided to throw his hat in the ring after his son was killed along with 12 other U.S. service members and dozens of Afghan civilians by a suicide bombing attack at the Kabul airport on Aug. 26, 2021.
Local Republicans also pushed for McCollum to run in the aftermath of the attack, he told KHOL Wednesday.
“Coming home and seeing that parade [to honor the return of Rylee’s remains to Jackson], that lit a fire in me. It lit a fire in me that I can do something different,” he said. “After Rylee’s death, there’s a reason this happened. There’s something for me that I need to do in my life going forward.”
A lifelong Jackson resident, McCollum said he considers his political views to land right of center, and he described the U.S. Constitution as “the best document ever written.” McCollum also said housing, the environment and transparency in government spending are some of the major issues he hopes to address in Cheyenne.
“I’m unfiltered. I’m very raw. Sometimes, I’m abrasive. But you know where I stand. I don’t ride the fence. You know what I say is what I mean,” McCollum said. “But I’m also intelligent enough to know, ‘Hey, you know, my view can change.’ We can have this conversation.”
McCollum will face a tough race against Rep. Yin, who has been an ambitious voice for Teton County in advocating for workforce housing, a real estate transfer tax, marijuana decriminalization and more inclusive social policies. A bill Yin co-sponsored that facilitates property tax refunds for longtime residents also passed this year, and the representative has also spoken in favor of hate crime bills and juvenile justice reform.
“It has been truly an honor to serve you, and I hope I am worthy to continue doing so for another two years,” Yin wrote in his reelection campaign announcement last month.
Jackson is also a Democratic stronghold in an otherwise bright-red Wyoming. Yin ran unopposed in 2020 but handily beat his Republican opponent in 2018. Teton County also voted for President Joe Biden by a 37-point margin last election cycle.
“The ‘R’ behind my name, don’t let that scare you,” McCollum said. “Respect and responsibility. Think of it that way.”
McCollum gained national media attention upon his son’s death after he appeared on FoxNews to criticize Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. His son’s wife was expecting a baby when she got the news, and hundreds gathered in Jackson to watch a police-escorted procession of his remains through town. McCollum said he’s running his campaign in part to be a voice for the voiceless, just as he feels his son did through his military service.
“Rylee wanted to come home. Go to school. Be an English teacher, and come back to Jackson to be a wrestling coach. That was his dream once he got out of the Marines,” he said. “But he knew he’d never be able to come here and live.”
McCollum has been building custom log cabins since 1987. Despite the steady work, he said he’s lived paycheck to paycheck and so he understands the struggles folks in his community have gone through as Jackson Hole has gotten increasingly expensive.
“Almost all the politicians in Wyoming are sitting on a pretty cushiony bank account. And they say they understand our problems and they [say], you know, ‘We’re going to fix this,’” McCollum said. “I don’t have a cushion bank account. Born and raised here, I’ve been through the highs and the lows of [the] Jackson economy, [the] Wyoming economy and [the] U.S. economy.”
The next steps for McCollum’s campaign include organizing a political team and starting to knock on doors. As of press time, he does not face a Republican challenger in the Aug. 16 primary.