Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal Friday appointed Dr. John Barrasso to fill Wyoming’s U.S. Senate seat, which had been vacant since the death of Sen. Craig Thomas earlier this month.
The Casper-based orthopedic surgeon was selected over the other two candidates chosen by the state’s Republican party – former Department of Justice official Tom Sansonetti and former treasurer Cynthia Lummis.
“I look forward to working with John Barrasso as he assumes his duties as the interim senator for Wyoming,” Freudenthal said in a Friday press release. “I pledge my cooperation to do all that I can to make sure he is a successful senator.”
“There are many factors that went into this decision, and it was the sum of these factors that led me to this choice,” the Governor 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.”
Barrasso’s appointment is effective today. The formal Certificate of Appointment has been forwarded to Nancy Erickson, Secretary of the United States Senate. The governor had until Monday to make his choice.
Barrasso called a press conference Friday afternoon, marveling that the son of a cement finisher could serve in the U.S. Senate.
He relayed that he’d received a phone call from Democratic Governor Dave Freudenthal at 9:15 a.m., informing him that he’d been selected as Wyoming’s new senator. Barrasso declined to say what else he and the governor spoke about this morning, but noted that he soon received a phone call from Max Maxfield, the secretary of state, confirming that documents confirming Barrasso’s appointment had been signed and sent to the secretary of the U.S. Senate.
The governor was not available for further comment Friday, said Robert Black, a policy analyst in the governor’s office. “He’s traveling to Sheridan today,” Black said.
The governor had interviewed all three candidates on Thursday, Black said, and the announcement was emailed from the governor’s press office at 9:42 a.m. this morning.
Black said he’s assuming that Dr. Barrasso was informed of the decision by Governor Freudenthal himself.
Barrasso, 54, has spent almost five years in the Wyoming Senate, where he has worked on both on medically progressive and deeply conservative legislation.
He is widely known around the state, thanks to a weekly column about health issues, as well as radio and television public health promotions. Barrasso is also a regular on the special event and political party event circuit around the state – especially at health fairs and Lincoln Day dinners.
His most notable achievement in the 2006 legislative session was passage of an amendment to exempt food from the state sales tax for two years – a measure that saw equally fervent support in the House by Representative Ann Robinson, D-Casper.
The exemption has since been made permanent.
Also in line with his focus on public health issues, Barrasso has supported a bill to ban smoking in public places throughout the state.
On the controversial issue of abortion, Barrasso has said he doesn’t believe in telling physicians what to do, and that he believes that abortion should be a decision between a woman and her doctor. He contributed to a political action committee in 1994 that opposed a constitutional amendment to ban most abortions.
Yet he’s also quite adamant that federal funds should not be used to pay for abortions. Dr. Barrasso has also sponsored bills to increase the penalty for killing a pregnant woman, noting that two lives are lost. At the Tuesday meeting of the Republican Central Committee, Barrasso said he’d crafted the bill in response to the widely-publicized murder of Laci Peterson and her unborn son.
Abortion foes and proponents alike have viewed similar bills as a way to set the stage for outlawing abortion. Although Barrasso’s bill passed the Legislature last year, it was vetoed by Gov. Freudenthal on constitutional grounds and fears it would stir up an acrimonious debate in Wyoming about abortion.
In his written application to succeed the late Sen. Craig Thomas, Barrasso wrote that “I believe in limited government, lower taxes, less spending, traditional family values, local control and a strong national defense.” He also noted an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, plus votes for prayer in schools and against gay marriage.
Before the Central Committee, Barrasso emphasized his belief in party unity. He noted that he’d lost to Mike Enzi by a single percentage point in a Senate primary race, then signed on as Enzi’s finance chairman.
He also emphasized the need for the United States to support the troops in the war on terror, noting that he’s visited amputees at Walter Reed Army Hospital. Barrasso warned that the war could last a long time.
In response to a question about global warming, Barrasso said he didn’t support “Gore rhetoric,” referring to Vice-President Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” Barrasso said that when he was in college, scientists were worried about a new ice age on the horizon. He said Wyoming is rich in energy and that technology would find the answers in converting Wyoming coal to gas and liquid fuels.
Asked about Chinese competition with Wyoming’s trona exports, Barrasso said he believed in free trade, if it is also fair trade. He said Americans can out-compete anyone on a level playing field. “We need fair trade on all our products, agricultural or mineral,” he said.
Rep. Barbara Cubin released a statement, welcoming Dr. Barrasso to Washington. She said, “I extend my warmest congratulations to Dr. Barrasso and welcome him to Wyoming’s Congressional Delegation as Wyoming’s next Senator. I look forward to working along side him to serve the people of Wyoming, and I stand ready to assist him in any way possible. John has served Natrona County well in the State Senate and will take that excellent work ethic to the floor of the U.S. Senate.”
Bill Luckett, spokesman for the Wyoming Democratic Party, said Barrasso “deserves an opportunity to show what he’s all about in Congress. We’ve seen him in the legislature.”
Luckett noted that Wyoming will have two U.S. Senate seats up for election in November 2008. Sen. Mike Enzi’s seat will be up for a six-year term, while Barrasso’s seat will be up for a four year term – the balance of what Sen. Craig Thomas won in reelection last November.