After breezing through the Republican primary election unopposed, House District 50 candidate Rachel Rodriguez-Williams has a challenger for November’s general election, as independent …
After breezing through the Republican primary election unopposed, House District 50 candidate Rachel Rodriguez-Williams has a challenger for November’s general election, as independent candidate Cindy Johnson Bennett has entered the race.
Bennett gathered more than 100 signatures to qualify for the general election ballot back in early August and the Cody photographer and artist formally announced her campaign Thursday.
“I think it’s the right time for independence,” she said in an interview.
“There’s so much partisanship, and I just don’t see, with the kind of problems that we’re facing ... I just don’t see the partisanship as being helpful,” said Bennett, 63. Rather, she said Wyoming’s issues should be looked at in terms of pragmatic problem solving.
For instance, she noted research showing that Wyoming residents receive services worth multiple times the amount of taxes they pay.
Wyoming has relied on taxes from mineral extraction to pay many of its bills, but the industry is currently down, Bennett noted; meanwhile, the Wyoming Constitution requires a balanced budget and lays out certain requirements for funding public education.
“This isn’t a political attitude, it’s math,” Bennett said. She said the Legislature needs to pull together and gather input from voters to “figure out how to make that math work the best.”
Her platform calls for making the state government more efficient, finding ways to “enhance revenue” and diversifying the state’s economic base. She noted that state budget cuts — totaling about 10% — are already in progress.
“People are going to feel those cuts, unfortunately,” Bennett said, adding, “I think the people of Wyoming would rather get ahead of it, if they can, and start looking at what kinds of solutions, what kinds of cuts, what kinds of expenditures could be reduced, and ones that can’t.”
Other parts of her platform include supporting rural values — including local businesses, ranches and farmers — and conscientious stewardship of the public lands that draw in and keep people here in Park County; Bennett said local citizens should have a voice in how those important lands are leased, sold or used.
Up until June, Bennett was registered as a Democrat — and she could have remained a Democrat while running as an independent — but she decided to switch her voter registration to unaffiliated. As things have become more and more partisan in recent years, “that’s just not for me,” Bennett said. “I really feel like it’s … better being independent, and then you can put voter over party. And I think that’s what the times require for me.”
She got into the House District 50 race after looking at Rodriguez-Williams’ platform and feeling it was “really partisan and much more ideological than it is about actual issues.” It “mirrors the Republican [Party] platform,” Bennett said.
On her website, Rodriguez-Williams lists her core values as supporting gun rights, pro-life positions, school choice, the oil and gas industry, first responders, and veterans while opposing new taxes and the legalization of marijuana. Rodriguez-Williams’ site also describes her as a conservative who will work to keep Wyoming from treading down the same paths as “other states drowning in the murky swamps of far-left ideologies.”
“I adhere to the [Republican Party] platform, and I also have a Christian belief system and I’m not going to sway from my belief system by any means,” Rodriguez-Williams said in a Friday interview.
However, she said she also has a long history of working on solutions to community issues — such as suicide prevention and mental health efforts — and of listening to and respecting people who hold different opinions.
“I can agree to disagree with folks and still maintain a friendship or a working relationship. I think that’s a strong quality of mine,” she said. “I’d realize that when I go to Cheyenne, I will be representing all of House District 50 — and that means people of different faiths, people of different colors, people of different sexual orientations, people with lots of different mindsets, different values.”
Though “obviously the policies that she [Bennett] stands for will differ from mine,” Rodriguez-Williams commended her opponent for putting her name out there for voters.
The Republican candidate added that, even when it appeared she might go unopposed, she continued seeking out conversations with constituents and campaigning. Rodriguez-Williams raised more than $4,900 and spent almost $3,400 through Aug. 18.
Her campaign was slowed in early August after she contracted COVID-19, but she has since made a full recovery. She received 2,139 votes in the Republican primary, with only 62 write-ins cast against her.
Rodriguez-Williams holds a master’s degree in criminal justice and served as a police officer for seven years in California, moving to Park County 13 years ago. She is currently the executive director of Serenity Pregnancy Resource Center and co-owner of a garage door business with her husband. She previously worked as a community prevention professional, and she’s been involved in numerous community organizations. That includes leadership positions with the Park County Republican Party, Park County Republican Women and Powell Economic Partnership, plus volunteering with 4-H and youth hockey.
As for Bennett’s background, she was born in Hawaii and spent a part of her childhood in Alaska before her father — a Navy pilot and doctor — settled the family in Cody in 1970. Bennett graduated from Cody High School in 1976.
She went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Colorado College, followed by bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine art from the University of Colorado and the Maryland Institute of Art in Baltimore, respectively.
She and her husband lived in the Washington, D.C., area for a time and then Los Angeles, where she worked as an artist and he as a cinematographer.
“It’s just where we had to be to make money,” she said. “But all my artwork is about Wyoming — all of it.”
The couple had long planned to return to Cody and after her husband died in 2002, Bennett moved back in 2010. She rejoined numerous family members who live in the Cody and Meeteetse areas.
“It’s been really great to be back here,” she said, adding, “I love being in Wyoming.”
Bennett works out of a studio in the Sage Creek area east of Cody and has taught English as a second language, served as a case manager for people with special needs, volunteered for the Cody Medical Foundation and Friends of a Legacy and started a nonprofit to help people keep their pets at home in emergencies.
As of Aug. 18, Bennett had raised nearly $1,800 for her campaign and spent about $600.
Rodriguez-Williams and Bennett are seeking to replace Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, who’s represented House District 50 since 2013. Rather than seek re-election to a fifth term, Northrup ran for the state Senate and came up short in a four-way Republican primary to former Park County Commissioner Tim French.
House District 50 includes the eastern part of the City of Cody, Clark, Sunlight, Crandall, Ralston, Heart Mountain and the Willwood area south of Powell.