Lovell, Greybull and other Big Horn County communities in Wyoming Senate District 19 will likely have a new senator representing them in Cheyenne next legislative session as retired school teacher RJ Kost defeated incumbent Senator Ray Peterson in Tuesday’s primary election.
Barring a write-in nomination by a Democratic challenger, Kost will be unopposed in the general election in November. There was no candidate for the Senate on the Democratic ballot.
Rep. Jamie Flitner, R-Shell, was unopposed for the Republican nomination Tuesday, receiving 1,961 votes in House District 26. She has no challenger in November, barring a write-in nomination.
Peterson won his home county of Big Horn with 1,253 votes to 873 for Kost, but Kost carried his home county, Park, by a wider margin, garnering 1,373 votes in Park County to 668 for Peterson.
In the final tally Kost received 53.9 percent of the vote – 2,246 votes – to 46.1 percent for Peterson – 1,921 votes.
In Big Horn County Peterson carried seven of the eight precincts in the senate district, but the vote was close in some precincts. For instance, Peterson
carried Greybull, but only by 36 votes: 300-264. He also narrowly carried Deaver, 25-22.
Peterson’s largest margin came in Lovell, where he won 528-283, and he also carried his hometown of Cowley 172-107, Byron 81-65, Frannie 44-19 and Emblem 28-16. Kost carried Shell 97-75.
Contacted late Tuesday evening, Peterson was disappointed but philosophical, saying, “The people have spoken and felt it was time for a change.”
He also said Kost is “a nice guy and he has integrity,” though he warned, “He’ll have a lot of catching up to do and will be a junior senator,” adding, “He’ll spend the first four or five years learning the ropes.”
What Peterson said he feels bad about is the seat losing the clout it was assuming with his seniority, noting that the Senate leadership spoke to him about being chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and running for Majority Floor Leader, which would later lead to being the Senate President, a position he believes has never been held by a Big Horn County senator.
“We’ve just set our seat back by about 13 years,” Peterson said, the length of time he has represented District 19. “This was a lost opportunity for Big Horn County to be put on the map.”
He said the Wyoming Education Association came after him aggressively since he was asked by the Senate leadership last session to carry the bill that reduced education funding due to revenue woes the state has been experiencing.
“If they think they’ve gotten rid of public enemy number one, they’ll realize the issue is much bigger than I am,” he said. “I couldn’t overcome the misinformation they were putting out. RJ will find out in a hurry that it (funding education) is a huge, huge problem. The deficit we’re facing is bigger than any one candidate.”
Peterson said his 27 years of public service may be coming to an end. He served six years on the Cowley Town Council, eight years on the Big Horn County Commission and 13 years in the Senate after being appointed to fill the unexpired term of Sen. Laness Northrup of Powell after Northrup died in 2005. He is completing his third full term in the Senate.
Peterson pointed out that his loss leaves Big Horn County without a senator for the first time in many years, whereas Park County has two – one each in Powell and Cody.
“There’s a big hole between Park County and Hot Springs County,” he said, noting that neither Big Horn County nor Washakie County will have a resident senator.
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By David Peck