A Profile of Wyoming's New Senator

Meet John Barrasso. He's the new Republican senator from Wyoming — named by the state's Democratic governor to replace the late Republican Craig Thomas. Under state law, the new senator must be from the same party as his late predecessor.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

The U.S. Senate has a new member - Wyoming Republican John Barrasso. He's a surgeon and former state senator. Wyoming's governor appointed Barrasso yesterday to replace Craig Thomas who died earlier this month. The appointment does not change the balance of power in the Senate because Thomas was also a Republican.

Reporter Elsa Heidorn has this profile of the new senator.

ELSA HEIDORN: John Barrasso is known to many as that doctor you see on local TV dispensing health tips. Earlier this week, he was among 28 Republican hopefuls auditioning to a committee of the state GOP to become Craig Thomas' successor. Even though the governor is a Democrat, he must choose a successor from the same party as the previous senator. It's the job of the state committee to widdle the list down to three. The trim 54-year-old Barrasso got some laughs as he bounced around the stage and touted his credentials.

Senator JOHN BARRASSO (Republican, Wyoming): I mean, I'm somebody that has a lot of energy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. BARRASSO: And I don't sit still very well.

HEIDORN: Barrasso told the committee what he's been telling other party members at Pancake Breakfasts around the state.

Sen. BARRASSO: And what I do is talk about Republican values, less government, lower taxes, secure borders, a strong defense. I have worked through our party for the last 20-some years working hard. And, you know, we win when we win working together.

HEIDORN: Indeed, after Barrasso lost in a tough primary to now Senator Mike Enzi in 1996, he threw his support behind Enzi and became the finance director for his campaign. And as Barrasso becomes the junior senator from the nation's biggest coal producer, he'll take his cues from Enzi when it comes to energy policy and climate change. Barrasso says the answer to the nation's energy woes is clean coal from Wyoming.

Sen. BARRASSO: The whole future, I think, of Wyoming and the economy has to do with coal and our clean coal technology, and we're going to have the ability here in Wyoming to deal with all of the things of this so-called climate change. But I think you need really pure science in there, people that know what they're doing, looking at it closely, and I don't buy this Al Gore rhetoric.

Professor JIM KING (Department of Political Science, University of Wyoming): Any United States senator from Wyoming is going to press for environmental laws that are friendly to Wyoming coal and gas industries.

HEIDORN: That's Jim King, a political scientist at the University of Wyoming.

Prof. KING: He is conservative. He is pretty much mainline Republican Wyoming values. If you compare it to the state's population as a whole, more conservative, a little bit, but we're not talking about someone who is out on, I don't think, the far extreme right of the Republican Party.

HEIDORN: Barrasso is strongly anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage. He also sponsored a state bill three years in a row that would make it a double homicide to kill a pregnant woman. That bill was seen by many as a backdoor way to get anti-abortion language into state law.

But Barrasso's values are not too conservative for Scott Dickerson(ph), a Wyoming Republican from the Southwest corner of the state. Dickerson works in the trona industry. That's a mineral used in baking soda, and he says Barrasso will probably represent him well.

Mr. SCOTT DICKERSON (Resident, Wyoming): I'm happy that the governor picked the Republican that sort of in my camp, a conservative Republican. So from that standpoint, I feel pretty good.

HEIDORN: Not everyone approves of Barrasso's social politics but everyone will be watching him closely. Barrasso will try to keep the Senate seat in 2008 but he's likely to have challengers. Some even speculate that Wyoming's popular Democratic Governor Dave Freudenthal may run against the very senator he just appointed.

For NPR News, I'm Elsa Heidorn in Laramie, Wyoming.

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