Just more than a week remains until Wyoming voters will have the last chance to cast their votes in the 2018 primary election. Early voting is underway at the Albany County Courthouse and through mailed absentee ballots, which must be received by 7 p.m. on primary Election Day, Aug. 21, to be counted.
We want to emphasize the importance of voters taking the time to explore the candidates they’ll be asked to choose between. The Laramie Boomerang Aug. 5 print edition included the Primary Election Voter Guide that gives Albany County electors a look into the candidates’ backgrounds and policy positions. Plenty of voter guides are still available for free at various locations around town, including at the Boomerang office, 320 Grand Ave. It is also available for free online at to www.laramieboomerang.com, finding the drop-down menu under the home icon and going to “Special Sections.” We hope everyone will read through it, as it contains valuable information.
A few weeks ago, we wrote about the importance of understanding races for local government positions. With so much going on at the statewide level, however, we can’t help but address the governor’s race.
The Boomerang has a long tradition of not endorsing individual candidates, which we will uphold, and instead give our opinions on some of the issues that have become most prevalent during the campaign.
The 2018 primary is perhaps uniquely consequential in the history of Wyoming’s elections of a new top executive. Wyoming entered a significant economic bust after energy prices started falling in late 2014. Since then, there’s been some degree of recovery, but most economists and state leaders have given no indication they see another boom.
So, given our economic circumstances, the state’s next top elected official will play a significant role in how we move forward. Gov. Matt Mead has seen success in pushing his economic diversification mandate, ENDOW, forward. But there’s no guarantee future legislatures will support the measures, no guarantee the measures will work and no guarantee his successor will even carry on with the initiative. Mead has said it will need to be sustained through multiple administrations — some have already said they would not be supportive if elected.
The positions of candidates, whether based on experience or new ideas, should be understood and considered by the voters.
There are several avenues to go about doing that. We mentioned the voter guide — and voters can always look at candidates’ websites — but we think the debates, available for free online, that came out of Sheridan, Cheyenne, Casper and Riverton are an exceptional resource. It carries a different weight to actually see how the candidates explain their positions without knowing the question ahead of time. There’s been plenty of solid reporting in newspapers, as well as public radio and television, on important issues, as well.
Most candidates on both sides of the aisle have provided insight on where they’d go with ENDOW, but there’s been less detail on the GOP side with the issue of taxes. The Joint Revenue Committee received a report recently telling us that Wyoming’s tax structure couldn’t support economic diversification — something many of us already knew. The state relies on fossil fuels for around 70 percent of its revenue, and unless we broaden our tax base to bring in more revenue from other areas, we’ll be bound to booms and busts.
Even some of the Legislature’s conservative leaders have taken measures to seriously start that work, including proposing a statewide lodging tax increase, an increase on the tobacco tax and measures that would increase the burden on top earning corporations. Yet, we see GOP candidates signing no-tax pledges and saying there’s no reason to raise taxes on any sector. We’re not taking a position on tax structure today, but it seems disingenuous for them to say they wouldn’t even consider adjustments in that area. We maintain that these candidates are in effect saying they will not do their job if that is what becomes necessary. Such a stance seems to bind their hands in a way that may be turned on its head if things don’t go their way. Voters should look at what the state is facing, what candidates have to say and decide whether those promises are realistic.
Another area we think remains ambiguous is whether more cuts will be made to the state’s budget. We frequently hear that Wyoming has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. If that’s what a candidate thinks, fine, but it’s on them to say where spending should be reduced before asking us for our votes.
Bills with changes to gun-free zones are likely coming in the Legislature in coming years. Most GOP candidates have indicated they would go about as far as the trail ends with gun rights. If they would really sign a bill to repeal gun-free zones in all of Wyoming’s schools, local government meetings, the state Capitol and beyond, then say so.
There are two other troubling aspects of the current campaigns.
For one, we think candidates tying themselves to national political figures doesn’t do much for Wyoming voters other than stir up emotional responses. And touting close ties to figures in Washington does little to address our issues at home. It’s more important to know Wyoming’s government, have connections with our state’s elected leaders and to be familiar with all that makes us Wyoming, and letting that inform decisions going forward.
Second, we feared negative campaigning would come in a hard-fought GOP primary. It’s not the kind of campaigning that we like, especially to make one’s finish line platform focused on how other candidates are deceiving voters with their messages. Instead, it should be about one candidate’s message prevailing over another, not picking fights in order to point out who, in one candidate’s view, really has Wyoming’s best interests in mind. We assume they all have Wyoming’s interests in mind; it’s a matter of deciding whose message, vision and character resonates the most.
In conclusion, we are looking forward to the primary results. The GOP primary this year is exceptionally important for the governor’s race and so it was our focus. We think the Democrats’ leading contender has put forth an earnest effort, and that’s laudable, but it’s our opinion that whoever wins the Republican primary in 2018 will likely be the next governor. Sure, three of the last five governors in Wyoming have been Democrats, but that happening this year doesn’t seem plausible given the day’s political climate.
As such, we hope to see record-breaking participation in the primary so that the prevailing candidate is truly representative of the electorate’s preference. Succinctly said, do your homework and vote.