GOP picks 3 for superintendent of public instruction

CASPER — The Wyoming Republican State Central Committee selected three candidates Saturday to fill the state superintendent spot left vacant by Jillian Balow’s resignation earlier this month. 

In a landslide, the committee chose Thomas Kelly, with 67 votes, Marti Halverson, with 56 votes, and Brian Schroeder, with 52. 

The central committee, which is made up of three Republicans — a chairman, a committeewoman and a committeeman — from each county, voted on 11 candidates at a Saturday meeting in Douglas. 

The fourth-place candidate, Megan Degenfelder, the former chief policy officer for the Wyoming Department of Education, received only 19 votes. 

There were a total of 73 ballots cast, and central committee members had to list three candidates for their ballots to be counted. They could not vote for the same person three times. All three winning candidates received over two-thirds of the vote. 

Kelly is currently serving as the chair of the Political and Military Science Department at American Military University, according to his resume. 

He and his family left Colorado for Wyoming in part because “the schools were teaching climate change, multiple genders, and white privilege to grammar school children,” he wrote in his cover letter. They moved to Sheridan in 2019. 

Halverson is far-right former state representative and chairman of the Lincoln County GOP, making her a part of the state central committee. She told the Star-Tribune and the committee that she did not vote despite being a part of the panel. 

Schroeder, who moved to Wyoming recently, possesses extensive experience in school administration, as a K-12 teacher and as a youth counselor. 

The 11 candidates were given a short time to give a general speech about themselves and what they would bring to the office. Next, there was a question and answer session in which the three candidates answered the same three questions:  What is the role of the state superintendent and school boards in COVID masking policies and vaccine mandates in schools;  How would you have voted on Senate File 104 (a law from 2013 that stripped away power from the state superintendent but was later overturned);  The Wyoming Department of Education gave $215,000 to Panorama Education Services, which was founded by Attorney General Merrick Garland’s son-in-law. Do you support this expenditure?

“Masks became like the liberal MAGA hat,” Kelly said during the question and answer session, adding that masks in schools aren’t useful because kids don’t wear the right ones, and if they don’t want to wear them, “put them under their chins.” 

Halverson said she stands with whatever parents want to decide for their children regarding masks and vaccines and added that she voted against Senate File 104 while she was in office. 

One central committee member, former Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau, raised concerns before the meeting that the process of selecting the candidate was unconstitutional because it does not comply with the “one man-one vote principle.” 

“Considering the extreme differences in population among Wyoming’s 23 counties, any vote on a county basis would disenfranchise voters in the more populated counties and would constitute a violation of constitutional principles,” Lubnau’s letter to GOP leadership read. 

An attorney for Lubnau told the Star-Tribune that a lawsuit on the matter was expected to be filed Tuesday. 

Frank Eathorne, the state party chairman, said he was advised to move ahead with the process by two lawyers, Brian Shuck and Mitch Edwards, the current and former legal counsel for the state party. 

Gov. Mark Gordon is now responsible for choosing a replacement to fill out Balow’s term, which ends in January 2023. He said he hopes to interview them all in person. Gordon is statutorily required to make a decision within five days.