Will Wyoming's Governor Buck Term Limits?

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By Chris Cillizza And Ben Pershing
Monday, February 16, 2009

When Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) won reelection in 2006 with a whopping 70 percent of the vote, most political observers -- The Fix included -- assumed that he would be the last Democrat to hold the office for quite some time.

After all, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) carried the Equality State with 65 percent of the vote in the 2008 presidential election and Freudenthal was banned by state law from running for a third term.

Or not.

It now appears that Freudenthal may well seek a third term in 2010 -- thanks to a series of legal and political maneuvers that began more than two decades ago.

After Democratic Gov. Ed Herschler served three consecutive terms into the mid-1980s, the state legislature passed a bill limiting Wyoming's chief executives to two terms. Then, in 1992, voters passed a ballot initiative that brought term limits to the state legislature in the finest "If it's good for the goose, it's good for the gander" tradition.

Fast-forward 12 years to a lawsuit brought by two term-limited legislators -- a Democrat and a Republican -- challenging the constitutionality of such limits. The state Supreme Court unanimously agreed that the term limits could not be imposed by ballot initiative, ruling that an amendment to the state constitution would be required.

While that decision did not apply to Wyoming's five statewide offices -- including governor -- there is a strong sense that if Freudenthal challenged the constitutionality of his own term limits, it would be a slam-dunk victory for the incumbent.

Asked about the possibility that Freudenthal would seek a third term, his spokeswoman Cara Eastwood said only: "When the governor has something to announce, he will announce it."

Nick Ayers, executive director of the Republican Governors Association, was less circumspect -- saying he believes that Freudenthal has long been planning a third term.

"Freudenthal's plan for slighting Wyoming's term limits makes him about as trustworthy as the carnival worker who gives kids the bent-barrel BB gun to shoot the balloons with," Ayers said. "The fix is in, and voters who overwhelmingly approved term limits are being deceived."

Whether Freudenthal runs for a third term is not an insignificant matter. He is immensely popular in the state and would almost certainly be reelected. If he doesn't run, the Democrats' bench strength is virtually nonexistent and Republicans would be heavily favored to pick up the seat next year.

Democratic Optimism for 2010

Election Day 2010 may be more than 20 months away, but for the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, it's never too early to start spinning. So it came to pass last week that Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.) sat down with reporters for what he admitted was a very early look at what he believes will be a favorable playing field for the party.


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