The Natrona County Commission chose Casper businessman Joe MacGuire to fill the vacancy for House District 35 in east Casper and Evansville during a special meeting Tuesday.

MacGuire replaces Rep. Kendell Kroeker, who announced his resignation Dec. 22.

The commissioners complimented MacGuire and the other two finalists, Ed Opella and Bruce Sell, for putting their names forward for consideration.

But they said they were swayed by MacGuire's responses to their questions and his recognition of the state's budget woes.

"What is going to be before the Legislature, there's not any easy decisions coming up," Commission Chairman Forrest Chadwick said.

"This is going to be some of the hardest sessions this Legislature, any Legislature has seen for a very long time," Chadwick said.

For example, the state faces a budget shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars, and the Legislature faces tough choices especially about education funding.

Wyoming spends more per student than any other state without apparent significant academic performance, he said. A disproportionate amount of money seems to be on the school district administration level, MacGuire added.

"I think we need to drill down and we need to talk not just to the superintendent of schools, but we need to drill down to the principal and maybe even the instructor level and ask some tough questions," MacGuire said.

"We should spend a huge amount of money because education is so important, but there also has to be some results with that," he said.

MacGuire also favors consolidation of some of the school districts in the state, he said.

The commissioners' action to appoint MacGuire needed to be fast, because Kroeker announced his resignation three weeks before the Legislature convenes Jan. 10.

That started the process in which the Natrona County Republican Party received applications and submitted them to the five-member commission. The commissioners narrowed the field to three.

Opella is a former commissioner and former Casper City Council member, was the only candidate who held elective office.

Neither MacGuire nor Sell, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church, have held elective office.

However, MacGuire grew up in a political household, he said. His mother, Mary MacGuire, was in the state Senate in the early 1990s, and he remembers walking door-to-door with her when she would campaign for candidates.

The Casper native also been a ward coordinator, election judge, poll watcher, and a seven-year member of the Natrona County Republican Party's executive committee, he said.

MacGuire, 54, holds the Wyoming franchise for the business broker Murphy Merger & Acquisition Advisors. He also earned a law degree at the University of Wyoming and practiced law for five years.