Former elk rancher will seek to reclaim Wyoming’s public lands, he says
A figure of some controversy, the political activist who came to the public eye after two flamboyant campaigns for governor and the U.S. Senate in Idaho has now thrown his hat in the ring for Cynthia Lummis’ U.S. Congress seat here in Wyoming.
Rex Rammell aims to finish what he started, he says: to pick up the fight to reclaim the west’s public lands and natural resources and, through this, solve some of the issues the state is facing right now.
The west didn’t get its land back from the federal government as states to the east did, he says of his political ambitions. Half the state and three quarters of its mineral rights are still under federal control.
“When we get the title back to the ground, then we won’t have the EPA leaning over the coal industry,” he says. “Wyoming will have control over its own destiny with its natural resources.”
There’ll be no need for hunters and recreationists to lose access, he continues, while the logging industry will receive a boost, oil and coal will benefit from less red tape in permitting and the Endangered Species Act will also have less impact.
Rammell is the ag candidate, he says, hoping that the people of Crook County will appreciate his background as showing him to be the ideal person to represent them. He notes that, though he has spent most of his life straddling the border between Wyoming and Idaho, he has never left the west and has a longstanding interest in public land issues across the western states.
What set Rammell on the path to seeking office was what also made him a recognizable face.
“I’ve been in politics for about 20 years. I actually grew up in the Jackson Hole area, with some of the most beautiful mountains in the world,” he says.
Just over the top of the mountains is the Teton Valley, on the Idaho border. Here, after migrating from England to join the Mormon church, is where Rammell’s family made a living in farming and ranching back in 1898.
“What has happened to the west in my lifetime, my father’s and my grandfather’s, is that more and more of the land has been turned into parks and recreation areas for wealthy people from the east and west coasts,” he says. “Teton National Park is where my grandfather used to hunt.”
After a childhood of hunting and processing meat, Rammell developed a love for elk. When elk ranching became a novel and legal industry in Idaho in 1994, he says, he decided to open his own.
This was also the moment that politics began to play an important part in his life.
“I raised these beautiful elk and also became a veterinarian,” he says.
“I merged my two loves: animal husbandry and veterinary medicine with wildlife and hunting.”
Rammell raised bull elk for hunters for 12 years, until the herd escaped through the fence.
“They’re really hard to capture because they’re not wild animals, but they’re not cattle either. Their instincts kick in and you can’t just go herd them,” he says.
Rammell successfully caught around 40 of them over the next couple of weeks, until the governor of Idaho issued an extermination order on every animal still beyond the fences.
“They killed 43 and scattered the rest of them to the wind. It put me out of business and I was very, very upset, as you can imagine,” he says.
“I had been fighting over the regulations – now I was fighting for my existence.”
An elk rancher with no elk, Rammell was forced to sell the business. He decided to run for the U.S. Senate against the governor who had signed the order.
He was ultimately unsuccessful, but decided to use the momentum he had built up to run for governor in Idaho, he says. He received 26 percent of the vote, but not enough to beat the incumbent.
“After making a valiant run for high office to try to change things, I gave up and came over to Wyoming to practice veterinary medicine,” he nods.
While living and working in Jackson Hole last year, he read an article about legislation regarding federal public land transfer – the very issue he had based his campaigns around.
“In my generation, I’m the author of it,” he claims.
“Other people have picked up on the idea and it’s become a multi-western state issue.”
When he read the article, he says, his heart started to beat again. Perhaps all the time and money he had spent campaigning had had an impact after all.
Having made an agreement with his wife that his failed gubernatorial run would be his last foray into politics, Rammell put down the article and moved on with his life, soon moving to Gillette to accept a veterinary job.
Until, that was, Rep. Lummis announced her retirement. Rammell heard the news on the last day of December and, on January 2, handed in his resignation to run for Congress.
“What my wife and I agreed was that we started the transfer bill, let’s finish it,” he says.
“It’s my main issue – I was convinced back in 2008 that it was the solution to the west’s problems.”
Public lands may be Rammell’s main focus, but he has also announced policies including repeal of Obamacare, replacing it with portable free market solutions like Health Savings Accounts, and abolishment of federal departments for education, energy and commerce.
He would also like to see the federal income tax system replaced with a sales tax rate no greater than eight percent and an exemption for food; and a flat tax of ten percent on individuals and 15 percent on corporations.
“Since Wyoming only has one Congressional seat, isn’t it important to get somebody who actually knows something about Wyoming and represents its values?” he says.
“Look deep, see who the people are in this race and who really represents your values.”