HomeTop StoriesRepublican newcomer eyes Olsen's seat in the House of Representatives

Republican newcomer eyes Olsen’s seat in the House of Representatives

April 18—CHEYENNE — 31-year-old Seth Ulvestad, new to Cheyenne but not in the Wyoming Legislature, is running for the House District 11 seat and says he aligns his views with the Wyoming Caucus.

After the formation of the Wyoming Freedom Caucus began gaining members in the state’s House of Representatives, Republican lawmakers whose views did not align with the ultraconservative group formed their own Republican group, the Wyoming Caucus.

Of the two, Ulvestad said his own political views aligned with the latter, but added that he is open and eager to work with the body as a whole.

“I have always been someone in government that believes compromise is not a bad word,” Ulvestad told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. “I am willing to talk to anyone about any kind of problem. If you come in thinking you may not agree, but you’re willing to talk about certain things…those are some important things you need to bring to the Legislature.”

A window of opportunity

Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, currently holds this seat but recently announced his campaign for Senate District 8 after Republican Cheyenne Sen. Affie Ellis announced her impending retirement from the Legislature last month.

Ulvestad is one of the youngest candidates to run for a seat in the House of Representatives this year, but the age demographic hasn’t deterred him. He recruited Rep. Then ZwonitzerR-Cheyenne, who would serve as campaign treasurer, who was just 23 years old when he first ran for a seat in the House of Representatives. With a nearly two-decade career as a state lawmaker, Zwonitzer said he helped Ulvestad find funding sources for his campaign and provided tips on how to run it successfully.

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The Cheyenne representative first met Ulvestad years ago when he was working for the Legislature as a high school intern. Zwonitzer said Ulvestad was an “excellent high school intern” and could tell he was excited about state politics.

He encouraged Ulvestad to become involved in former Governor Matthew Mead’s campaign, and the two often met at conventions. Since then, they have always managed to stay in touch, Zwonitzer said.

Once Olsen officially announced his run for Ellis’ Senate seat, Ulvestad said Zwonitzer encouraged him to “throw my hat in the ring.”

“It’s encouraging – Rep. Zwonitzer has a lot of experience in the Legislature,” Ulvestad said, noting that Zwonitzer is one of the longest-serving elected lawmakers. “When someone like that encourages you to run, it feels like it’s a real possibility.”

Ulvestad is no stranger to the Capitol, where he often attends legislative meetings and speaks with lawmakers. As a policy and planning analyst in the communications and government affairs department of Enterprise Technology Services, which provides IT support to all government agencies in the executive branch, part of the job description includes presenting material to the legislature.

Zwonitzer said it is critical to have solid connections with lawmakers to have an effective first term as a freshman lawmaker.

“Having a strong working relationship where many legislators know and trust you is paramount to being effective when you come in,” Zwonitzer said.

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He noted that Ulvestad has successfully secured this connection with several lawmakers through his role in the executive branch. His background at ETS, Zwonitzer added, puts him well ahead of most other freshman lawmakers, should he be elected.

“Normally we say it takes four to six years to really understand the whole process,” Zwonitzer said. “With Seth’s background, he will pick it up and hit the ground running much more effectively than almost any other first-time candidate.”

Campaign focuses

Ulvestad said one of his campaign’s three priorities is providing adequate funding to the state’s K-12 public education system, including school facilities.

“Facilities have been a pretty big problem for our local school district,” Ulvestad said, adding that some elementary schools in Cheyenne are “a little run down and need some TLC.”

Students at Arp Elementary School, located in the South Triad, have spent a year in a swing room at Eastridge Elementary, waiting for a new school to be built. Both county and state officials are in discussions about identifying school facility projects in Laramie County District 1 with funding from the state.

Ulvestad also said it is important that public education teachers are paid well and that school boards are supported to make their own decisions at the local level.

“They know their district best, they know their students,” Ulvestad said.

Another campaign priority, he said, is diversifying the economy and providing state support to local businesses, especially since downtown Cheyenne is in House District 11. His third priority (although not in any particular order of importance) is to continue studying the best way to address rising property taxes without reducing revenues for local counties.

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Nearly two dozen bills related to property taxes were introduced during the 2024 budget session — some sponsored by a committee and others introduced by individual lawmakers. Of these bills, five were passed by the Legislature and four were signed by the Governor.

Ulvestad said this shows promising momentum in the Legislature to address the problem, which has caused financial hardship for many Wyoming residents across the state. It’s important that lawmakers continue this work, Ulvestad said.

He worked for the Sheridan Recreation District for eight years and served as director for five years. This is a special district that operates with a mill levy from the county’s property taxes. It was this experience that highlighted the importance of this issue, he said.

“I know how important that funding is to the local districts that provide these services,” Ulvestad said. “We can make an informed decision about how to offset this (a property tax cap) and how not to overtax people, but also how to support the local districts that need that money.”

Hannah Shields is a state government reporter for the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. She can be reached at 307-633-3167 or hshields@wyomingnews.com. You can follow her on X @happyfeet004.

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