ROCK SPRINGS — Candidates from two contested state races in Sweetwater County received questions from a panel at the White Mountain Library in Rock Springs on Monday evening.
Rep. JoAnn Dayton, D-Rock Springs, and Traci Cipiela are vying for the House District 17 seat, while Sen. John Hastert, D-Green River, is being challenged by Republican Tom James and Independent Ted Barney in Senate District 13.
James did not attend the forum, but he issued a statement highlighting his reasons to run, which includes his desire to continue his service to his community.
“Becoming a senator will allow me to continue my service and I will treat it with the upmost respect and integrity,” James said in a written statement.
The other candidates addressed a myriad of issues ranging from whether they support Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming to grizzly bears.
Dayton and Cipiela were asked what their priority would be as a Sweetwater County legislator.
Dayton said it would be to represent everyone equally. For example, she said the state needs to be fair in its assessment of mineral extraction industries.
She said she would be supportive of looking at changing the tax structure, but not at the expense of losing some of the mineral industries.
Cipiela said her priorities would be to focus attention on the Bitter Creek floodplain project and maintain businesses and the economic base “in order to maintain our population base and economic base around here.”
All four candidates said they support ENDOW.
Dayton said she would like to see whoever is elected governor continue with it. She said ENDOW addresses different subjects ranging from education to economic diversity, which could help keep young people in the state.
Cipiela said the state needs to be able to not only improve its broadband connectivity, but continue promoting its tourism. ENDOW could bring more races like the Race on the Rock Triathlon to the state, she said.
Barney said he supports it because it could attract manufacturing companies that would help mineral industries. Industries need to start building stuff with those minerals and attracting companies to the area would help with a step in the production process.
Dayton and Cipiela said more research needs to be done before the state should consider legalizing medical marijuana or THC.
“We need to have a conversation to make sure we are prepared for what happens,” Cipiela said.
Dayton said that she would consider a law to allow medical marijuana if the substance was distributed by licensed physicians who would oversee how much and how its used.
However, “I agree with Traci, Wyoming is not ready,” she said.
Dayton added that she does not see an immediate answer for it but is willing to have a conversation.
All the candidates were asked if U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen’s decision to restore federal protections for more than 700 bruins in and around Yellowstone National Park was a good one.
Dayton argued it would help bring more tourism revenue to the state.
Cipiela said she would like to see if the bear attacks are on an increase before “we get off that ledge.”
Barney said he does not know how to answer it because he did not read the case briefs or judge’s decision.
Hastert said while grizzly bear hunting is not for him, but he didn’t believe the judge should have overturned the delisting.
He said it’s a select quota, it’s a small number; it’s not a rampant killing of bears.
Cipiela and Dayton were asked if they supported carbon capture as a means to prolong the lives of coal-fired plants.
Cipiela said she did not and was in favor of planting trees rather than capping carbon “at this point.”
Dayton said she supports carbon capture to keep coal in Wyoming and supported Cipiela’s suggestion of planting trees.
Both would “keep us going as a state,” Dayton said.
OTHER REVENUE ENHANCERS
With the state showing a willingness to tighten its belt, Hastert and Barney were asked at what point do they think taxes, fees or other revenue enhancers should be considered in Cheyenne.
Both sides said they would oppose tax increases or a state income tax.
Hastert said the state should look at reallocating funds, while Barney said Wyoming should be creative. For example, Barney suggested a bill to authorize all-terrain vehicles from driving roads with a minimum speed limit, which would help with tourism.
Dayton said something needs to be done to get money back into the School Foundation Program fund rather than the state continue to use money from its reserves. The solution would be for more revenue to come in, she said.
Cipiela said the state should not use funds to hire an unnecessary position at the University of Wyoming and reallocate it to community colleges that need it.
“I don’t see a need for a diversity officer at UW,” she said.
The money that would be saved could produce two faculty positions at another college, Cipiela added.
Barney said it is not so much about the funding as it’s about the focus.
“We need to educate our children,” he said.
Hastert said it goes back to the state needing to tap into its resources and funnel some of the money toward education.
Hastert and Barney were asked what is the biggest issue facing the Legislature aside from education and revenue.
Hastert said it is to provide funding for career and workforce training because it will help create jobs.
“Providing an education for those people will be critical,” he said.
Barney said it is about working with semantics in some of the state statutes, how they’re worded, and how can they be fixed and better the communities.
For example, the state legalized industrial hemp, but does not allow for it to be transported by anyone but the provider because it has THC.
Audience members asked Hastert and Barney if the Legislature can decrease health costs while increasing the quality of health care and if they supported Medicaid expansion.
“We could, but it would be expensive and I don’t think Wyoming has the means to do so,” Barney said.
Hastert said the state should have looked into implementing Medicaid expansion in Wyoming in recent sessions because it would have improved the quality of care and driven costs down.
As for expansion, Barney said he supports it.
“I think Medicaid expansion is important,” he said.
Barney added that it does not affect him personally, but it affects people he lives and works with and people “I don’t know and do know.”