As the saying goes in Jackson, you’re just a 30-minute drive from Wyoming.
Teton County has long been thought of as a social and political island separated from the economies and politics of the rest of the State. Mary Martin has lived in Teton County since 1975, so she understands the joke well.
“We are an enigma in Wyoming,” she said. “Some communities haven’t had a new person moving to them for a very long time. And in Jackson, about a third of our population is new every two to three years.”
Martin said that turnover is accelerating with the ability for people to work remotely, as well as the growth of the tourism economy. And those trends have changed the local political composition rather quickly. The number of registered Democrats in Teton County overtook the number of registered Republicans in October 2020, and the gap continues to widen, according to the Wyoming Department of State. Martin, who was recently elected as the new chair of the Teton County GOP, said changing demographics has been a challenge for her party.
“Really at the local level, I’m not going to be able to do much more than to pray. It’s going to take divine intervention to help us,” she said.
More than 67 percent of Teton County residents voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the 2020 presidential election, and left-leaning candidates also swept Town Council and County Commission seats. The rest of the state, however, pushed further right, with the GOP picking up more statehouse seats across Wyoming. Maggie Hunt was recently elected chair of the Teton County Democratic Party, and she said she was disappointed with those results.
“I was aware that the state was moving further right in terms of elected statewide elected officials, and I just couldn’t believe my eyes and ears with what was happening in Cheyenne,” Hunt said.
Hunt has been volunteering with the local Democratic party since 1999. She said she hopes to turn the funding and enthusiasm for progressive issues in Teton County into policymaking in Cheyenne. She also wants more regular participation from community members, which can be a challenge given the lack of competitive races here.
“Our voting record here is solidly Democratic. And I think that people kind of look at the issues on the state level, think, ‘well, we can’t do anything about it.’ And I would like to see at least people try to do something about it,” Hunt said.
Martin faces the opposite challenge of trying to motivate people to think locally, rather than resting on their laurels in Cheyenne. But just like the Democrats, Republicans also want to motivate young people who share their values to get into leadership.
“I think the Republicans just kind of lost their unity somehow. There are those in my age group that are just kind of tired,” she said. “The younger folks that come in, I think, tend to go towards more of the Democratic mainstream—what the media’s telling them.”
Martin ran an unsuccessful campaign herself for County Commissioner 4 years ago, and also worked on several failed campaigns in 2020. Still, she said the GOP has been honing a message that she believes will appeal to more people in 2022.
“We have three pillars here at the Teton Republican Party that we adopted in 2020. And those are fiscal responsibility and private sector solutions. The second one is conservation and responsible stewardship. And our third one is respect and compassion for individual freedoms,” Martin said.
Martin adds that she’s an avid supporter of law enforcement and responsible taxation. Hunt and the Democrats hope to find ways to improve local healthcare and education systems.
“I think taxes are basically a luxury that, if you make enough money to be taxed, you should be taxed. Because I think we need to raise all boats, and we need to have a community that’s healthy and well educated,” she said.
Hunt is also an avid supporter of Planned Parenthood, ranked-choice voting, and increasing the local minimum wage. And she’s hoping that in-person events over the coming months sponsored by the local Democratic party will create more enthusiasm and engagement in the community.
“I’d like to see us volunteer at Habitat. I’d like to see us volunteer at Whole Food Rescue and just kind of really walk the walk—not just talk the talk,” she said.
Martin also likes to showcase her values by working with local families. She actually used to be a Democrat before switching in the 1970s and never looking back. Now, she’s a full-blown Republican, and she believes her party should still be in power nationally.
“I believe Trump won the election. We won. We did well,” Martin said.
That claim did not hold up in courts across the country, and several GOP leaders, including Congresswoman Liz Cheney, have accepted Biden’s victory. Martin was one of three Teton County Republican party members who decided against censuring Cheney for her impeachment vote against former president Donald Trump for his role in the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. But, she still believes Cheney was in the wrong.
“I had intended to censure Liz Cheney when I went. I think she was double-speaking us,” Martin said. “President Trump has constitutional rights just like she does. I don’t think all the facts were out.”
But in the end, she decided that censuring, and “humiliating” someone, was not the best course of action. Martin said she’ll consider supporting another candidate for Wyoming’s sole congressional seat in the 2022 primary.
Hunt said she’s not sure if the Democrats will encourage people to change parties to support a more moderate candidate, as some locals have done in the past. But either way, she thinks it’s going to be a long shot to unseat a member of national GOP leadership.
“My totally personal belief is that no one’s going to be able to beat Liz Cheney,” she said. “Republican or Democrat.”
Several local seats will be up for reelection in 2022 as well, and both the local Republican and Democratic parties will be using an injection of new leadership to try and gain more power.
“We are going to give the people of Teton County a good choice, and then it ultimately comes down to the individual’s responsibility to vote and to be accepting the results of the majority,” Martin said.
“I think, once we can all start gathering again, there’ll be more and more activity,” Hunt said. “More people who’ve seen firsthand what happens when you don’t have a good healthcare system. People who’ve seen that our education system could be improved.”
But despite their new responsibilities, both Martin and Hunt said their most important role in the community will continue to be as advocates for what they believe in.