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1954 Wyoming gubernatorial election

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Wyoming gubernatorial election, 1954

← 1950 November 2, 1954 (1954-11-02) 1958 →
No image.svg
Nominee Milward Simpson William M. Jack
Party Republican Democratic
Popular vote 56,275 55,163
Percentage 50.5% 49.5%

Governor before election

Clifford Joy Rogers

Elected Governor

Milward Simpson

The Wyoming gubernatorial election of 1954 took place on November 2, 1954. Incumbent Republican Governor Clifford Joy Rogers ran for a full term as Governor of Wyoming after Frank A. Barrett was elected to the U.S. Senate, but lost the nomination to former State Representative Milward Simpson. Simpson narrowly defeated Democratic former Secretary of State William Jack in the general election.

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A Wyoming U.S. Senator commits suicide in office. A true story of politics and fear, next on "Wyoming Chronicle." ¶ Hello, I'm Richard Ager. Welcome to "Wyoming Chronicle." When politicians become corrupt, they often destroy those around them and there is no more poignant an example of that than Lester Hunt, U.S. Senator from Wyoming. When Hunt took on the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy back in the '50s, he didn't know he would end up caught in what the Senate website calls one of the foulest attempts at blackmail in modern political history. It cost Hunt his life and it's the subject of a new book, Dying for the Sins of Joseph McCarthy. Lester Hunt first came to public attention as a baseball player. He was recruited from Illinois to pitch for a team in Lander. Here he married and eventually became a dentist. In 1932, he began a long political career as a Democrat Legislator, Secretary of State, and Governor. In 1948, Lester Hunt was elected to the U.S. Senate. He brought his family to Washington, including his son Lester Jr., also known as Buddy. The Cold War was beginning and so was the career of another U.S. Senator -- Republican Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. McCarthy became infamous for his accusations, often unfounded, of communists working for the federal government. Lester Hunt didn't like McCarthy or his tactics and the two became enemies. The historic question addressed by author Roger McDaniel is: "Were Senator Joe McCarthy and two other Senators -- Herman Welker of Idaho and Styles Bridges of New Hampshire, involved in the death of Lester Hunt?" A series of mock trials using community actors has argued that question. All rise. Please be seated. At the end of the trial, you must find the defendant not guilty unless the State has proved to you beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant has committed the offenses that he is charged with. That man over there, he was a little Senator from a little bitty state and this was a way for him to gain publicity for himself. He's quite a showman and so once he started this campaign to find communists, then he decided to also pick on people of the homosexual persuasion and that became a personal vendetta on his part, and of course, that's where it got involved with Lester Hunt Jr. And I need to be more direct so the jury understands just how awful this was in 1954. What was Buddy charged with being and doing that night? Essentially, it would involve homosexual acts. And in 1954, how did that come across to the general public? Because of that man right there he had made a national campaign, a major part of the red scare was not only against communists but was also against homosexuals. This man and his minions, he developed this set of hearings called the Army McCarthy Hearings and the whole point was to expose people in our government who were homosexual because he believed that people who had homosexual tendencies didn't have the moral fiber and moral strength to stand up to someone who would try to come and convert him into being a spy. You're a traitor to your country, Drew Pearson! Because he wouldn't resign, Styles Bridges and Herman Welker, who were both on the District of Columbia committee in the Senate, so they had a tremendous amount of power over all aspects of the District of Columbia, so they were able to get the charges reinstated. So Doc and Maddy had to endure what Doc told me later was the worst two weeks of his life and that was a trial where a judge was vicious and they convicted his son and he told me that -- he used the term bludgeoned. He felt that he had been bludgeoned because there was nowhere to turn. He was boxed in and he had to sit there. He and Maddy went to the trial every day for two weeks and he truly was never the same again after that. It was an evil, evil... and there's the mastermind right there, that man right there was the mastermind. So while we don't say this was not a tragic event and we don't say that Mr. McCarthy had the nicest record in the United States Senate, in this case, the state has not proven that he had anything to do with this suicide, so we would ask you to respect what this country is about and look past paper waving and ask, where's the evidence? Thank you. RICHARD: While the jury deliberated, the author sold a few more books. Every mock trial has a different jury, and the jury on this evening found insufficient evidence to convict Senator Joseph McCarthy and his cohorts. Senator, there seems to be a slight split between Congress and the President in the case of the right wing of the Republican party, and I refer to Senator McCarthy and the President over this issue of communists in the government. Do you feel that this is going to be the big issue again in the coming November elections? No I don't. I think that people are going and are perhaps now getting a little tired of dragging across the front pages of the paper the names of those supposedly communists in our government who have been dead for several years. Five months after this interview, Senator Lester Hunt ended his life. Joining me in the studio is Roger McDaniel, author of Dying for the Sins of Joseph McCarthy. Welcome to the studio. Good evening, good to be here. Roger, you served in the Wyoming legislature, you worked years as a trial lawyer, you spent many years administrating the mental health system for the state of Wyoming, now you're an ordained minister, a lot of background you've got going there and I think appropriate for a complex book like this. As you begin this book, you paraphrase the book of Job in which God agrees with Satan to visit undeserved sufferings "on my servant Lester." That's quite a foreshadowing. Well, it is and in my mind after spending the time I did getting to know Lester Hunt all these years after his death, it was a Job-like story. This really was a good, decent man upon whom undeserved suffering was visited in the last year of his life and came to define his life, unfortunately. In any other era it would seem, you know, that the dimensions of this story -- a U.S. Senator committing suicide in office -- it would be more well known. Why is it so little known? There are a lot of reasons. One is the nature of journalism in 1954 was altogether different than it is today, there wasn't the 24/7 news cycle. Journalists took a different approach to covering personal life situations than they do today and there was this sort of conspiracy, if you will, between Lester Hunt's family, who didn't want the story told and retold for obvious personal reasons, and of course the bad guys who didn't want this story told. And the first time that Drew Pearson tried to tell this story -- Well known columnist. A well-known columnist at the time who had a nationwide syndicated program and column -- they came down on him with a ton of bricks, lawsuits, got sponsors to drop him, and so for the most part, other journalists stood back. Interestingly, one journalist who knew the story was a fellow named Allen Drury. Allen Drury was a United Press International Correspondent covering the Senate, and instead of telling the story of Lester Hunt, he wrote a fictionalized version called Advice and Consent, which was a best-selling book and a Pulitzer Prize winner, later became a very popular movie, but for decades, people stayed away from the story. You know, in the first place, why did Lester Hunt get into such a feud with Senator McCarthy who was known for dirty politics? Well, you know, think about Wyoming and the kind of people that come out of this state. This is an altogether different world than back in Washington. Lester Hunt grew up in Lander, politically he grew up in Cheyenne. You didn't have the same kind of press corps, you certainly didn't have the same kind of partisanship, so somebody like Joe McCarthy would have been unfathomable to a Lester Hunt, and almost immediately after Hunt went to Washington as a Senator, he tangled with Joe McCarthy during what are called the Malmedy Hearings which were hearings conducted by the U.S. Senate investigating Nazi war crimes at the Battle of the Bulge, and he got to know what kind of person McCarthy was and immediately the two of them began to become adversaries and that only grew over the years. Lester Hunt introduced legislation to allow citizens to sue McCarthy for liable and slander because of the accusations he made. He openly called McCarthy a liar and a drunk. Hunt and his family had a home, the backyard of which overlooked an apartment building where Joe McCarthy had an apartment and a patio and he talked about how he could look out his window and watch McCarthy drinking and converting with women and he didn't like Joe McCarthy, he just wasn't his kind of guy. We'll get into exactly what happened in just a bit, but I'm wondering, with this book, did you also set out, not to just tell the story, but to sort of rescue the totality of Lester Hunt's life and have him remembered more than just that sort of line where, as you said, the official historian T.A. Larson has said simply that he had committed suicide. Well, I did and what drew me to Lester Hunt's story, of course, was the nature of his death, but after I got to looking at him and looking at his history, I became more intrigued in what I think is the fact that he was one of the giants in Wyoming political history in the 20th century. I have a dear friend in Cheyenne whose family was very political. His aunt was on Senator Hunt's staff in Washington and he said to me after he read the book, he said, you know, I was young when all this happened, but I remember a time in our household where we always talked about Lester Hunt, and he said, then there came a day where we never talked about him again. And I think that says it all, the nature of his death and the stigma surrounding suicide and homosexuality covered up his life and all of his accomplishments. So he's not remembered, for example, as you pointed out, as Secretary of State responsible for putting the bucking bronco on our license plates. Yeah, that's a pretty significant thing in Wyoming history. We wonder what that symbol means to the state and it was Lester Hunt who created the design and put that on the license plate and he was the Governor during World War II and as a wartime governor, had enormous responsibilities, he became a United States Senator following the war and during the early years of the Cold War, was involved in all of the major national issues of the day -- everything from healthcare reform, to Civil Rights, to the early days of the war in Vietnam. Now one interesting thing I found that he wanted to do was he, early on, his mother was very involved in the Temperance Movement so he was pro-temperance basically all of his life. He got involved in the issue of drunk driving before it was really an issue and he wanted to issue giant license plates to identify those who were convicted. Yeah, he did. Actually as Secretary of State, he became very well known for a safe driving campaign and part of it was the fight against drunk driving. He wanted those who had been convicted to serve long sentences, he wanted them to be well identified so people would know to stay away from them and he was the person who drafted the first open container law. Wow, so well ahead of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Not a perfect person, of course, one of his less attractive aspects was his involvement with the Eugenics Movement. As a state rep, he actually introduced a bill to sterilize the mentally handicapped at the state's school. He did, and putting that in context, he was, first of all, a legislator from Lander where the state training school was and he had constituents who were concerned about the fact that there were generational residents at the training school and Eugenics was a very popular movement before Adolf Hitler. Before Adolf Hitler, 30 states had enacted Eugenics laws and so there was a popular outcry across the country. And then along comes the Second World War and all of the abuses of the Nazis and that turned the corner, so that today we look back on that term with a far more negative connotation than it had when Lester Hunt introduced the legislation. Now, interesting thing you pointed out was he got involved in politics to begin with as a result of the bone grafts that he had donated to his son, and he couldn't stand up beside his dentist chair -- he was a dentist -- and he couldn't stand up that well after those grafts. His son had a bad accident and had multiple fractures of his leg and initially the doctor said the leg should be amputated and Senator Hunt and his wife said no way, and they took him to the Mayo Clinic where they recommended these bone grafts and his father was the donor. There were five operations before it finally succeeded, and after each one, the dentist Lester Hunt, could not stand and be a dentist so he needed to find another career. So instead of standing, he ran for office? (chuckling) So instead, he gave up the toothaches of dentistry for the headaches of politics. Well, you know, you wrote in your book that demagogues don't define their times. The question on that -- many people refer to it as the McCarthy era because of the effect it had on people. It had a huge effect and one of the really, I think, forgotten aspects of it is that in the final analysis, I believe that the McCarthy witch hunts had a lot more to do with targeting homosexuals than with communists. Yeah, because most have heard of the red scare. The lavender scare is something that's less discussed, but the fact is that prior to Joe McCarthy, homosexuals in this country, while they suffered a great deal of discrimination, also, particularly in the larger cities, were widely accepted. They weren't targeted for discharge from government jobs, they were allowed to have social lives in their community, but along comes McCarthy and McCarthy, in the early days, couldn't really provide evidence of all these communists he claimed to be in government, but the state department admitted that there were homosexuals working and McCarthy believed that they were security risks and literally overnight, the country turned on homosexuals. It was the early days of the Cold War, the Russians had just acquired the atomic bomb through espionage, people were afraid, and McCarthy successfully convinced them that homosexuals were, per se, the kind of people who would spy for the Russians, and so overnight, they became the targets. Thousands of homosexuals and people rumored to be homosexuals lost their jobs. Bars that catered to homosexuals were shut down, their licenses taken away. Criminal statutes were passed all over the country, and in my view, the McCarthy era set back the quest for gay rights by three or four decades. Yeah, as you put it, there was a full scale purge of federal agencies. Some went so far as to use lie detectors to find homosexuals. So with all of that as the background, even local police in Washington were getting involved in targeting homosexuals. One, in Lafayette Park on June 9, 1953, Lester Hunt Jr., the Senator's son, was walking... Why don't you take it from there? Well, McCarthy and Senator Styles Bridges and others were convinced that the District of Columbia should do more to arrest homosexuals because they wanted them identified so that if they were government employees, they could be removed from office and so of course the Congress controls the District of Columbia budget and they put a great deal of pressure on the police department and in response, the Metropolitan Police Department created a task force, if you will, called the Pervert Elimination Squad, and it was hundreds of undercover police officers who worked the bars, the restaurants, and the parks in Washington, hoping to make eye contact with homosexuals and to... Was there an otherwise low crime rate, I mean, putting hundreds of officers on that kind of duty? Well, there wasn't an otherwise low crime rate, but there was a huge emphasis coming down from Congress on the District of Columbia to identify people who might be homosexuals and so the District of Columbia poured a massive amount of resources into responding to the Senators who wanted to make sure that that happened. And it picked up one Senator's son. And that night, it was this group of undercover agents in Lafayette Park who arrested Lester Hunt's son. The aftermath of that of course is what led through to the tragedy of all of this for the Hunt family. Essentially, the police weren't demand on making much of it, but that wasn't good enough for Senator McCarthy and his, as some call them, McCarthy's confederates, Senator Herman Welker and Senator Styles Bridges. Yeah, the initial decision by the U.S. Attorney's Office was to dismiss the charge. Young Hunt was a seminary and this was his first offense. He was a good, decent young guy and so they dismissed the charge. When Senators Bridges and Welker heard about that, they used their influence to get the charges reinstated after threatening Senator Hunt. They told Senator Hunt, through a mediator in Wyoming, that if he would resign, they would let it go. If he refused to resign, they would use their influence to get the charges reinstated. Now that would've flipped control of the Senate because it was 47/47? 38/47 -- 38 Democrats, 47 Republicans, one Independent and you had out in Wyoming, in Republican Wyoming, you had this Democrat, Lester Hunt, standing in the way of the Republican control of the Senate, so when they learned that Senator Hunt's son had been arrested, they believed they had enough leverage to force Hunt to resign. He refused to resign and so they did get the charges reinstated and young Hunt was tried and convicted in October of 1953, but that didn't end the threats. The threats continued because Lester Hunt had declared that he was going to run again for reelection that year and that's when the threats began anew, didn't they? Well, from October '53 through spring of '54, the threats continued. Somebody broke into Senator and Mrs. Hunt's home in Washington over Christmas, ransacked it obviously looking for something. You can imagine how disconcerting that would have been to Mr. and Mrs. Hunt, but by the spring of 1954, Hunt had a poll that showed he would be easily reelected in Wyoming. He was willing to put up a fight, but he did say that if the Republicans used his son in the campaign, he would withdraw from the race. But he never did, and we have just a few minutes left here, but as a result of all of this, he, in essence, was left with nowhere to go, because you pointed out he was trying to protect his wife's feelings, Wyoming media had not really picked up on it, any kind of campaign was going to be obviously very, very ugly. And the Eisenhower administration, the president, had offered him a job, President Eisenhower. So there's the carrot as opposed to the stick, right? Well, it was both. He said that the President sent somebody to say if you'll resign from the Senate and let the Republican Governor in Wyoming appoint a Republican to replace you, we'll give you a job as the head of the Federal Tariff Commission. Hunt wanted to do that because the pressure was just overwhelming. But his wife and his staff talked him out of it and said, how would you explain to the people back in Wyoming that you got this big job and the Republicans got control of the Senate, and so he turned that down, but by then, the walls had really closed in. And then on the day before he committed suicide is the key to McCarthy's involvement, is a press conference he held that Friday afternoon and announced that he intended opening an investigation against a Democratic member of the Senate who had been involved in a bribe and that connected Hunt to charges that were made eight or nine months earlier by the Republicans that the police officer who initially dismissed the charges had taken a bribe and the next morning after the McCarthy press conference, Senator Hunt took his life. You know, when you talk about lessons to be learned from this, you ask, could this happen again? Obviously attitudes towards gays are changing rapidly around the nation, so that sort of blackmail doesn't seem tenable anymore. I think it'd be more difficult today I think because of the nature of journalism. Drew Pearson knew about this blackmail almost from the beginning. Tracy McCraken, who owned many of the newspapers in Wyoming, knew about it. A lot of people knew about it, nobody wanted to talk about it, and Senator Hunt didn't want anybody to talk about it. So you think the lid would just not stay on? I don't think the lid would stay on. I think it would be impossible to create the environment, it'd be difficult to create the environment where that sort of political blackmail exists. That having been said though, there's always this want in American politics to target some group. In the 1950s, it was the homosexuals, today it's the Muslims. There's always a group at the whim of those who are willing to be demagogues and Americans are too often willing to be led by their fears. It may or may not lead to the kind of tragedy that we had in the Hunt case, but it leads to a lot of personal tragedies that ought to be avoided in a mature democracy. You know, just before we got to the verdict in the mock trial that we saw in the earlier piece criticized Senator McCarthy but did not convict him of contributing to the death of Lester Hunt due to insufficient evidence. Well the interesting thing about that, in an actual court trial, the jury would have been advised that circumstantial evidence is every bit as strong as direct evidence. I think the jury here in Lander was troubled with the fact that against McCarthy, the evidence is circumstantial but any public defender in town will tell you how many of their clients are in a prison cell based entirely on circumstantial evidence and the circumstantial evidence against McCarthy is very strong. And I'm sure as you continue to present this, you'll expect a different result with different juries. That's going to have to be your last word for now because Dying for the Sins of Joe McCarthy is an amazing read, remarkable story. I highly recommend it. Thanks for joining us. We'll see you next time on "Wyoming Chronicle."


Republican primary


Republican primary results[1]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Milward Simpson 17,089 37.79
Republican Clifford Joy Rogers (inc.) 12,797 28.30
Republican Frank C. Mockler 5,271 11.66
Republican Floyd W. Bartling 4,388 9.70
Republican Marvin Bishop 3,919 8.67
Republican Wardell Clinger 1,757 3.89
Total votes 45,221 100

Democratic primary


Democratic primary results[2]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic William M. Jack 26,283 80.05
Democratic D. Dexter 6,550 19.95
Total votes 32,833 100


Wyoming gubernatorial election, 1954[3]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Republican Milward Simpson 56,275 50.50
Democratic William M. Jack 55,163 49.50
Total votes 111,438 100


  1. ^ "WY Governor - R Primary". Our Campaigns. Retrieved January 8, 2018.
  2. ^ "WY Governor - D Primary". Our Campaigns. Retrieved January 8, 2018.
  3. ^ "WY Governor - General Election". Our Campaigns. Retrieved January 8, 2018.
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