GOP candidates for Wyoming governor and treasurer debate on PBSAugust 12, 2014 By Gregory Nickerson
For further analysis of the debates, read the companion piece: Wyoming GOP Debates for Governor and Treasurer analyzed.
Gov. Matt Mead faced off against GOP primary challengers Taylor Haynes and Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill in a live debate that aired on Wyoming PBS last night.
During the hour-long program, the three conservative candidates showed a lot of common ground, but differed in their approaches to Medicaid expansion, economic development, the EPA-reservation boundary dispute, and resisting the federal government.
The debate was moderated by Geoff O’Gara, with Stephanie Joyce of Wyoming Public Radio as guest journalist. The winner of the August 19 primary will face Democratic candidate Pete Gosar of Laramie.
After opening remarks by O’Gara, Haynes listed his qualifications as primarily educational, noting his experience in private enterprise, electric power distribution, and medicine.
Hill’s opening took the approach of being a champion for individual and state rights, and against Mead.”Four years ago had you known that your current governor would take away your vote …increase taxes, and bring Common Core to Wyoming — federalizing education — as well as giving money to out of state companies, would you have voted for him?” Hill asked. “I don’t think so.”
In response, Mead touted his record on the economy, which he has often stated ranks first or second in the nation in several indicators.
The debate moved to the topic of optional Medicaid expansion, which the state and Mead have declined to accept. According to estimates by the Equality State Policy Center, that decision has kept upwards of $69 million in federal money out of Wyoming’s healthcare economy to date, while leaving some 17,600 low income people unable to qualify for Medicaid or subsidies on the federal health insurance exchange.
Mead, who opposes the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion, explained his recent move to enter discussions with the federal government about expanding Medicaid. “The obligation for me and the legislature is to see if we can get a pilot project going in Wyoming that fits Wyoming’s needs,” Mead said. “We can’t stick our head in the sand.”
In a move that might surprise some supporters of Medicaid expansion, Hill said she would not oppose expansion outright without getting more information. “I don’t trust the (Medicaid gap) numbers from the Dept. of Health,” Hill said, saying she would need more details about the particular needs of those in the Medicaid gap before deciding to support or oppose expansion. “I would not make a decision as the governor has, to just say no.”
Haynes opposed the ACA, saying it is unconstitutional and that he would not support expanding Medicaid to able-bodied people.
When it came to social issues, the three candidates were largely in agreement. All opposed raising the minimum wage, medical marijuana, and same-sex marriage, while all supported open carry gun laws.
On the environment, all three said they support fracking, but that it must be done properly and according to best practices. All three said they would seek to support Wyoming’s coal industry.
At one point Hill noted some people believe organizing a state militia is one way of pushing back against the federal government, a concept she does not dismiss out of hand. “We have to carefully weigh and measure these decisions, and then make certain we are always constitutionally-minded when we determine our best actions,” she said of organizing a militia.
Mead dismissed the idea of militias as a way to take action against the federal government. “No one I know likes all federal laws, including myself,” Mead said. “The way that we handle that in this country is not to have an armed revolt against the federal government. We handle that in the court system. We handle that by who we elect in Congress, and who we elect as president,” he said.
Hill and Haynes seemed to advocate a softer approach to resolving the EPA boundary dispute between the Wind River Reservation and the town of Riverton. Hill said “There hasn’t been a conversation,” while Haynes said he’d met with tribal leaders and agreed to work on a conflict resolution process.
Mead responded that the state is opposing the EPA — not the tribes — in its lawsuit over the reservation boundary. He also said his office has a history of working with the tribes, while acknowledging that they don’t agree on every issue.
Haynes and Hill both said they disagreed in principle with using public funds to support businesses for economic development. “Giving money to an out-of-state business to move to Wyoming is not economic development,” Hill said. “It is fictitious prosperity.” Haynes said a very limited amount of state money should be used to promote private businesses.
Mead countered by saying he believes in the work of the Wyoming Business Council in attracting businesses to the state, as well as economic development investments in local infrastructure, broadband networks, and the University of Wyoming engineering program.
In closing statements, Mead described his approach as one of pragmatism. “We have an obligation to continue to move this state forward,” Mead said. “That doesn’t happen by pipe dreams and fantasy. You have to live in the real world.”
While Mead didn’t elaborate, that may have been a jab aimed at Haynes, who aims to pursue constitutional arguments to transfer federal lands to the state, and thus increase Wyoming’s mineral revenues by “orders of magnitude.”
“A lot of my campaign has caused concern because I talk about removing federal management of the lands,” Haynes said. “That’s been done by many states. … In 1983 the legislature passed the legislation I need to act on as governor,” he said, referencing Wyoming Statute found in Title 36 Chapter 12, which sets up a process for the state to manage federal lands. He did not explain why the state has not successfully acted on that law after more than 30 years.
Hill closed by saying she believes Wyoming is at a defining moment of its history. “It is time for us to set a course of correction,” Hill said. “It is time for us to go back to the seven words in the opening of the Wyoming Constitution: ‘all power is inherent in the people.'”
For more on the race for governor read this WyoFile feature: Conservatives challenge Mead in 2014 Wyoming governors’s race.
Following the governor’s debate, state Treasurer Mark Gordon debated GOP challenger Ron Redo of Cheyenne. Gordon, who assumed office after the death of former Treasurer Joe Meyer in 2012, touted his record on managing the state’s investments, which have grown from $15.59 billion to $18.69 billion under his watch.
Redo has worked in state government in California, where he was an auditor under Governor Ronald Reagan more than forty years ago. More recently he worked in Wyoming’s workers compensation program. “A lot of my experience is extremely dated,” he noted in his closing remarks.
The debate was amiable, with Gordon and Redo agreeing on many points. At several moments Redo stopped speaking in mid-sentence due to the sound of the timer running out, prompting O’Gara to explain that candidates have the option to wrap up their thoughts after the buzzer.
Gordon said he is working to develop a proposal that would allow Wyoming to invest its temporary savings accounts and General Funds in stocks, rather than just bonds. Currently the Wyoming Constitution prohibits state funds from being invested in stocks, with the exception of permanent funds. Gordon said he is looking to propose the constitutional change to the voters in the 2016 election.
Like Haynes and Hill, Redo said he opposes giving state funds to private businesses for economic development. “I personally don’t believe in the Wyoming Business Council picking which corporations to give money to,” he said.
When asked if he would support using state funds to initiate a large industrial project like the Heartland oil refining and chemical production complex near Edmonton, Alberta, Gordon said he would need more information. “For years we have talked about building big institutional things, and it never seems to happen,” he said.
Redo said he would consider putting some of Wyoming’s investments under the advisement of a company like Charles Schwab, as opposed to the institutional investment companies that manage much of Wyoming’s wealth. “I’d like to see clear, effective auditing of the investment managers,” Redo said, noting managers are only required to make reports quarterly.
Gordon also said the state’s investments need to be accessible to the public. But he disagreed with the idea of using an investment adviser like Schwab.
“Institutional investing is very different from individual investing,” Gordon said. “We are in the number 57 spot in the world for sovereign wealth funds, in the range of Abu Dhabi. We really do need to have top-notch investment advisers.”Click here to see the full schedule of Wyoming PBS debates from August 11-14. — Gregory Nickerson is the government and policy reporter for WyoFile. He writes the Capitol Beat blog. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on twitter @GregNickersonWY.
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