When Rep. Andy Schwartz (D-Jackson) looks out his window in the morning, he has a sweeping view of the National Elk Refuge, a wildlife destination that attracts visitors from all over the world.
“Every day it is beautiful,” Schwartz said. “In the winter it is especially spectacular because there are 5,000 elk out the window.”
Such vistas help drive Teton County’s tourism economy and create a strong culture of preserving natural resources, rather than using them up, Schwartz said.
He acknowledges that attitude may make his county somewhat different than other parts of Wyoming. Yet, as a former board member on the Wyoming County Commissioners Association he’s also tuned-in to statewide perspectives.
“It is hard to explain to people the importance of energy extraction to the state of Wyoming, and its benefits to Teton County,” he said. “That’s why we are wealthy, and it is not because of tourism. Wyoming schools have benefitted hugely from coal.”
Schwartz grew up outside of Washington D.C. in Virginia, and attended Oberlin College in Ohio. He said he moved to Jackson in 1976 “for the obvious reason that it is preferable to northern Virginia.”
After waiting tables and working other jobs for several years, Schwartz and his wife opened a children’s toy and clothing store on Jackson’s Town Square. Later they focused on women’s clothing retail. They sold the business in April, in part so he could concentrate on legislative work.
Schwartz’s public service began in 1992 when he joined the town planning council and helped to revise the comprehensive plan. He later served on the county planning board, then ran for Teton County commissioner in 2000.
During his three terms as commissioner Schwartz focused on land planning and many other issues. He helped create a group called Systems of Care, which coordinates social service organizations so they don’t duplicate efforts. He stepped down in 2012, then decided to run for the Wyoming House seat vacated by former Rep. Keith Gingery (R-Jackson) last year.
Schwartz’s parents were Democrats, and he’s maintained the affiliation his whole life, despite suggestions from friends that he should switch to the GOP to vote in the Wyoming primaries. In the Legislature, Schwartz is one of just 13 in the minority party, compared to 77 in the GOP.
“[One] of my takeaways was since I am a Democrat, I am not going to be rising in leadership,” he said.
Instead, Schwartz hopes to contribute by becoming an expert on the issue of healthcare. He was granted his request to serve on the Labor, Health, and Social Services Committee. He also serves on the Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee.
Schwartz was disappointed that Medicaid expansion didn’t pass in the 2015 session, he said. He later voted for a successful bill granting $2 million to hospitals to help with uncompensated care, though he didn’t see it as a long-term way to handle the issue.
“All you are doing is mitigating the problem,” he said. “You are not doing anything to solve it.”
Looking to the 2016 budget session, Schwartz said Wyoming is lucky to have nearly $20 billion in permanent and short-term savings, especially with the downturn in mineral prices.
“In a lot of states, that happens and you are slashing budgets,” he said. “We are going to have issues. It will be tight, but we are going to have money.”
To Schwartz, money is “a wonderful thing,” particularly in government.
“If you’ve got it you can do things,” he said. “If you don’t, it is hard to do things to help the people, and that is our job.”