Sen. John Barrasso (R)
Elected: Appointed June 2007, term expires 2014, 1st full term.
Born: July 21, 1952, Reading, PA .
Education: Georgetown U., B.A. 1974, M.D. 1978.
Family: Married (Bobbi); 3 children.
Elected office: WY Senate, 2002-07.
Professional Career: Orthopedic surgeon 1983-2007; RNC Committeeman, 1992-96; Chief of staff, WY Medical Center, 2003-05.
Republican John Barrasso, the junior senator from Wyoming, was appointed in June 2007 after Republican Sen. Craig Thomas died of leukemia. Barrasso was then elected in November 2008 to fill the remaining four years of Craig’s unexpired term.
|John Barrasso (R)||183,063||(73%)||($1,981,441)|
|Nick Carter (D)||66,202||(27%)||($273,688)|
|John Barrasso (R)||Unopposed|
Barrasso (bah-RAH-soh) and grew up in Reading, Penn., the son of a World War II veteran who made a living as a cement finisher and who took his family to Washington every four years for the president’s inauguration. John Barrasso got his undergraduate and medical degrees from Georgetown University, then moved to Wyoming in the 1980s and set up practice as an orthopedic surgeon in Casper. Barrasso quickly made his name in local Republican politics, serving as a Republican national committeeman and state party treasurer. He also was a local radio and television personality, dispensing practical medical advice on news programs and in public service announcements. He also hosted the annual Jerry Lewis telethon for muscular dystrophy.
In 1996, he ran for the U.S. Senate when Republican Alan Simpson retired. He faced then-state Sen. Mike Enzi in a crowded GOP primary where the abortion issue played a key role. Running as a moderate, Barrasso favored abortion rights and had opposed a 1994 constitutional amendment to ban most abortions. Enzi, who had support from social conservatives, opposed abortion rights and narrowly edged Barrasso 32% to 30%. The two then joined forces for the general election, with Barrasso serving as Enzi’s finance chairman in the fall.
In 2002, Barrasso won election to the state Senate, where he worked on health care issues and chaired the Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee. He sponsored a bill to increase the criminal penalty for killing a pregnant woman, but Democratic Gov. Dave Freudenthal vetoed it. He occasionally crossed the political aisle to join with Democrats, backing a bill to exempt food from the state sales tax and supporting a ban on smoking in public buildings. He also sponsored a law enabling physicians to talk freely with patients about medical complications, without the risk that the conversations would be used against them in a lawsuit.
After Thomas died on June 4, 2007, the state Republican Central Committee had 15 days to select three candidates to fill the vacancy, from which the governor was required to pick the successor under Wyoming law. That triggered a scramble by 31 candidates who applied for consideration. They conducted a week-long beauty pageant among the 71 members of the party committee. The roster of applicants included state Rep. Colin Simpson, the son of former U.S. Sen. Simpson, and numerous state legislators, attorneys, ranchers, and other professionals. Barrasso emphasized his strong conservative credentials, saying in a statement to the committee, “I believe in limited government, lower taxes, less spending, traditional family values, local control, and a strong national defense.” He noted he had an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association and had voted for prayer in public schools, opposed gay marriage and sponsored legislation “to protect the sanctity of life.”
At a June 19 meeting, the Republican committee named three finalists: Barrasso, Cynthia Lummis, who served 14 years in the Legislature and two terms as state treasurer, and Tom Sansonetti, who had been Thomas’ chief of staff and an assistant attorney general in the Bush administration. Freudenthal met the three candidates in private interviews. Barrasso’s competitors had drawbacks: Lummis reportedly was not on good terms with the governor, and Sansonetti had been a lobbyist for mining, energy and ranching interests at a time lobbyists were unpopular with the public after a series of bribery and influence-peddling scandals involving lobbyists and members of Congress. By contrast, Barrasso had worked with the governor on health care issues in the Legislature. In announcing his selection of Barrasso on June 22, Freudenthal said, “While I don’t intend to indulge the speculation on why I made this decision, I will say that I hope I made the right choice.”
In the Senate, Barrasso was appointed to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where Wyoming has had a senator continuously since 1899. He also joined the Foreign Relations, Environment and Public Works and the Indian Affairs committees. Barrasso quickly became involved on issues of energy and public lands. In 2008, he opposed legislation by Virginia Democrat John Warner and Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman on climate change, which sought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2050. Barrasso said the bill would harm Wyoming’s coal industry, and he sought amendments to increase funding for states to implement the new standards and also to allow more types of coal to qualify for program incentives, benefiting Wyoming coal plants. On a bill to ban the exportation of elemental mercury, Barrasso got an exemption for mercury found in coal, again to protect the state’s coal industry.
Continuing work on an issue that was dear to Thomas’ heart, Barrasso pushed for more protection of Wyoming wilderness and wildlife. He proposed legislation to protect undeveloped areas of the Wyoming range from oil and gas development and to preserve 387 miles around the Snake River. Barrasso also supported removing gray wolves from the Endangered Species List because of the danger they pose to livestock. He told the Associated Press, “This is a Wyoming concern that requires a Wyoming solution. It does not require interference from Washington.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service eventually removed gray wolves from the list. Against the wishes of the Bush administration, Barrasso and Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana sponsored a bill to give livestock owners federal compensation after their animals are killed by wolves. Barrasso’s protections for Wyoming lands around the Snake River and wolf compensation bill became law as part of a larger land management bill in March 2009.
On national issues, Barrasso’s voting record has been in line with conservative Republicans. National Journal’s 2008 vote ratings put him in a four-way tie as the most conservative member of the Senate. He opposed both the 2008 government rescue of financial services firms and President Barack Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus bill in early 2009. Although he opposed the Democratic proposal to extend the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, he successfully included a provision in the bill to benefit rural doctors and hospitals. Among his first bills was a proposal to withhold 10% of highway funds from states that issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.
In 2008, Barrasso was unopposed in the Republican primary, and his eventual Democratic challenger was Gillette attorney Nick Carter, a political newcomer. Barrasso stressed his many years in public service in Wyoming and highlighted his early successes in the Senate. Carter tried to tie Barrasso to national Republicans and corporate special interests, but the assertions didn’t stick. Barrasso vastly outspent Carter, with $2 million compared to Carter’s $273,000. Barraso won easily 73%-27%, carrying every county. He faces re-election in 2012.