GILLETTE – On Tuesday night, the long-awaited fate of Gillette College was decided.
With a margin of 4,160 to 1,724, Campbell County’s voters overwhelmingly voted to separate the college from the Northern Wyoming Community College District.
The Gillette Community College District becomes the eighth district in Wyoming.
Seven trustees were also elected to form the new district’s first board of trustees.
“I moved to this town in 1983 and that was an issue then,” said Senator Jeff Wasserburger, R-Gillette. “We have never passed an independent Gillette college. After 40 years it is really nice to see that we have our own agency, our own board. “
“I can’t wait to see what we will do as a new independent community college,” he said. “I’m just curious to see where we stand and our future, how we will develop our economy and diversify our workforce. It’s just overwhelming to me. “
When the special election results became known on Tuesday night, a contingent of yes-vote supporters gathered at Grinners Bar and Liquor to await the future of Gillette College.
With each update of the voting list, the crowd became more and more optimistic. Satisfied with the growing lead for the new district before the final figures were known, Wasserburger was presented with a bottle of champagne to celebrate the win. He popped it open and tossed something on the head of newly elected District Administrator Josh McGrath as the crowd cheered.
“We have an obligation to get out of this community better than we found it,” McGrath told the crowd. “We did that today.”
McGrath’s mother, Sherry, was a longtime Gillette College supporter who was last there nearly 30 years ago when the county voted on a new district.
“My mother lived for it and died for it,” he said.
Gillette Mayor Louise Carter-King was not shy about her support for the Independent District. Without them, Gillette’s future is in doubt.
“How could we have told the industry and the people who wanted to move here that we are a progressive, forward-thinking city if we weren’t even voting for college?” She said.
The road to Tuesday’s election began in June 2020 when NWCCD unexpectedly cut sports programs at Gillette and Sheridan Colleges. The county then formed a task force to work to create an independent county around Gillette College.
That path went through the Wyoming Community College Commission and the Wyoming Legislature before it finally came to a public vote.
“Thank you Sheridan College for stopping our exercise programs because if you hadn’t, we wouldn’t be here tonight,” Carter-King said.
The total of 5,884 ballots counted are down slightly compared to the 2017 special election, in which 6,083 ballots were cast.
On Tuesday, 2,412 people voted and 60% or 1,458 of them supported the college district while 954 voted against.
About 3,142 people voted early, and 2,464 of them – or 78% – supported the college district.
And on Tuesday, 330 ballots were sent or cast to the polling station, and 238 of them, 72%, were for the college while 92 were against.
A total of 3,472 people voted early or absent, which corresponds to 59% of all ballots cast, while 41% cast their votes on Tuesday.
The special election had a turnout of 29.7%. Historically, special elections have had a low turnout compared to regular elections.
A total of 5,924 ballots were cast, but there were 39 ballots that had a under-vote, meaning that the voter did not vote for either option. And one person voted for both options. Two more ballot papers were turned blank.
These results are unofficial and will remain unofficial until the advertising committee meets later this week to confirm the results.
The last special election in 2017 involved a quarter-cent excise tax for economic development, and a total of 6,083 votes were cast. This tax was rejected by 3,730 people, or 61%, who voted against the tax. 39 percent or 2,353 people voted for it. This election had a turnout of 32.4%.
Jacob Dalby, one of the leading voices against the tax, said he believed there was better turnout on the “no” side.
“It was a bad turnout. They pushed it with the special elections, but they like to do that with taxes, ”he said, adding that“ the Liberals had a good boost ”and a lot of money.
“Money always wins,” he says.
Our Community, Our College PAC raised $ 170,000, compared to about $ 6,000 raised by Dalby’s Anti Tax Coalition.
Most voters were misled by the college district campaign, Dalby said.
“The yes side was definitely a bunch of liberals. And the whole board … they’re all liberals, everyone knows, “said Dalby.
But the truth will come out soon enough, he added.
“It won’t be long before everyone realizes those assholes lied to us,” he said.
Nello Williams, who was elected one of seven trustees on Tuesday evening, was not surprised by the vote, although opponents of the up to four million taxes that the Board of Trustees will soon impose are taking action against it.
“They did what they thought was best,” Williams said of the non-voters. “Thank goodness there weren’t many who supported what was best for them. It’s over. They did their best; We did a lot better. “
As an astronomer, Williams looked up at the smoky, red moon that shone over the celebration Tuesday night after the dust settled and the vote decided.
“If you have a moon in the first quarter and you vote for something, it will always go your way,” Williams said.
What about the other side of the vote?
“You don’t understand the moons of the first quarter,” he added.
Dalby, who was also a candidate for the college’s board of trustees, received 640 votes and his mother, Kimberly Glass Dalby, received 712 votes.
She said the fact that they got so many votes was a bit comforting.
“It makes me feel, OK, there is hope, there are conservatives out there so we have them here,” she said.
Dalby said he will keep a close eye on the college board when it starts.
“I’ll probably sit down for board meetings when all is said and done to see how much corruption they have right away,” he said.
If the Dalbys had made it to the seven-member board, McGrath said the board could still function well.
“These are not bad people,” he said of the non-voters. “I understand why you chose that way. I would have loved to work with them. I appreciate their attitude, they have been educated about why they are adopting this attitude. Although I disagreed with it, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t legitimate. “
Jason Linduska, who was one of 16 trustee candidates who did not make it to the board, also attended the election night meeting.
“From day one people think: do you think you have a chance? It’s not about having a chance, ”he said. “It’s about supporting and showing support on another level. It’s about getting your name out there and showing people that you can be part of this process. “
As a local educator, he said that with the college now under local control, he looks forward to advocating more opportunities for his high school students to continue their education at Gillette.
“It was always very important to me to stand up for the common people being well,” said Linduska.
Tracy Wasserburger was taking lessons at Gillette College back when her college classroom was just a modular trailer behind the hospital. After being elected as trustee of the district board of directors, she said she was excited about the opportunities that an independent Gillette College in Campbell County can offer.
“Our community has to take our credit,” said Wasserburger. “In Campbell County, we need to acknowledge what we’ve done. And we don’t have to be checked by anyone else 100 miles away. “