Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal said Thursday he will not seek re-election, ending speculation that the popular Democrat might try to overturn a state law that would have prohibited him from pursuing a third term.
Freudenthal, 59, said he began the process of deciding not to run after his wife Nancy Freudenthal and he spent the Christmas holiday with their grown children. He said none of them thought he should run again.
"I don't have a terribly intellectual explanation, as much as a sense that it's the right decision, both in a personal and a professional sense, for myself and for Nancy and for the state," Freudenthal said.
Freudenthal, whose office door in the state Capitol bears the painted sign "Gov. Dave," has enjoyed considerable popularity since narrowly winning his first election in 2002. He won re-election in 2006 with 70 percent of the vote even though registered Republicans in the state outnumbered Democrats by more than 2 to 1.
That ratio remains unchanged, presenting an enormous challenge for any Democrat with gubernatorial aspirations. So far, none has stepped forward -- or even expressed interest in running.
Freudenthal won two elections as a Democrat by taking his no-nonsense, conservative message door-to-door across the state, a proven strategy in sparsely populated Wyoming.
"It is an incredible honor to be governor, particularly in a state like this where you get to know the people," Freudenthal said. "And for better or for worse, all 533,000 of them have got an opinion."
Freudenthal said he wasn't worried about the prospect of challenging the state's term limit law. The Wyoming Supreme Court already has held that the law was unconstitutional for state legislators.
While several prominent Wyoming Republicans have announced they will seek their party's nomination to run for governor this fall, Democrats in the state have been waiting to see what Freudenthal would decide.
"I've certainly communicated to them over time that they shouldn't be counting on me running," Freudenthal said of the state Democratic Party. "And I'm hopeful that they'll find qualified candidates.
Freudenthal, a lawyer, served as U.S. Attorney for Wyoming during the Clinton administration. He said he hasn't considered running for any other public office.
The Wyoming Republican Party last summer criticized Freudenthal for suggesting his wife, a corporate attorney in Cheyenne, to the White House as one of three candidates for an open federal judgeship in Cheyenne.
President Barack Obama nominated Nancy Freudenthal for the judgeship in December and the Senate Judiciary Committee in January indicated it was satisfied with her qualifications. No date for a full Senate vote on her nomination has been set.
Freudenthal supported Obama in the 2008 election, and Republicans said Nancy Freudenthal's nomination smacked of payback for the support.
Gov. Freudenthal denied any impropriety, and said the prospect of his wife serving on the federal court wasn't the determining factor in his decision not to run again. He said she was prepared to support any decision he made.
Freudenthal has butted heads frequently with the federal government. His administration has mounted lawsuits against federal agencies over issues of wildlife management, environmental regulation and gun control.
Freudenthal also has clashed with industry, recently calling on state lawmakers to impose a tax on wind generation and take other steps to regulate the fast-growing wind energy industry. The Legislature responded by passing the bills.
Freudenthal's tenure as governor brackets the most recent energy boom that started fizzling out nearly two years ago. While he presided over record revenue surpluses earlier in his term, last year he directed state agencies to cut spending by 10 percent as energy revenues started to sag.
Freudenthal said it's too early for him to think about what he will do when he leaves office, saying he'll focus on being governor through the end of the year.
"I don't know what comes next, but I'm sure looking forward to it, and it will be exciting whatever it is," Freudenthal said.