The League of Women Voters of Wyoming has been leading candidate forums for political races in Albany County during the last several weeks. Forums take place virtually and are not open to the public. At a later date, they’re posted on the league’s YouTube page, youtube.com/user/WYLWV.
A forum featuring candidates for Wyoming House Districts 14, 45 and 47 took place Oct. 1. It was posted to YouTube for public viewing last week.
House District 14Republican Matt Burkhardt and Democrat Trey Sherwood are running for House District 14, which is being vacated by Republican Dan Furphy as he runs for the State Senate. The district covers the northeastern portion of Laramie as well as most of the northeastern portion of Albany County.
Burkhardt is an electrical engineer who said he wants to legislate using reason and facts to find solutions to Wyoming’s problems.
“My desire is that my children and those in the community have an opportunity for their families to continue to live in this wonderful state that we have,” he said.
Sherwood is the executive director of the Laramie Main Street Alliance. She said she has a track record of public service and creative problem-solving.
“I want to lead with compassion and provide a bright future for all of Wyoming’s residents,” she said.
As candidates discussed state budget cuts, Sherwood said she doesn’t support cuts to state funding of education and would instead look to generate more state revenue through changes to the tax structure.
“I don’t believe we can cut our way out of this crisis,” she said.
Sherwood suggested increases to the sales and use tax, the tax on services and property taxes. She supported lifting restrictions on cities and towns generating more revenue on their own. She also supported using some of Wyoming’s “rainy day fund” to support essential services.
“Efforts to diversify our economy will be unsuccessful without tax reform that is equitable and transparent,” she said.
Burkhardt said he’d look to boost state revenue by diversifying the energy economy into areas such as green gas technologies, low-emissions gas, rare earth deposits and renewable energy.
“Revenue for the state of Wyoming should come from diversification and looking at where we can put our existing workforce to work in light of the mineral industry downturn, rather than first seeking to raise taxes,” he said.
Burkhardt said any cuts to education should be made in the bureaucratic ranks rather than the classrooms, and he’d scrutinize state spending before looking to raise taxes.
“We cannot afford to impose an income tax on our citizens without first spending funds efficiently and being a just steward of those funds already entrusted to us,” he said.
Regarding the state’s role in mitigating economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Burkhardt said the state should support workforce development and reduce regulations that hinder growth.
“We need to reduce regulations and allow business owners to expand in the ways they feel they should,” he said. “They’re in the best position to know how to expand.”
Sherwood said the state should “double-down” on supporting small businesses to build a resilient economy.
“I believe that local entrepreneurs are best poised to identify solutions to community challenges and build businesses and job opportunities to solve them,” she said.
As the candidates discussed Wyoming’s energy economy, Sherwood said a priority of hers would be to help the state stop “bailing out a failing industry” and invest instead in areas of growth, such as tourism, local foods, information technology and renewable energy.
“This is one of the reasons why I’m running,” she said. “I believe Wyoming needs strong leadership to move us away from this declining industry while continuing to invest in actions that will keep young people in Wyoming.”
Burkhardt said a changing energy economy presents opportunities for growth. Wyoming should continue to seek markets for its coal while developing technology to meet new demands.
“We also need a balanced and diverse energy portfolio,” he said. “We’ve long been an energy provider for the nation, and we can continue to do that with solar and wind generation.”
House District 45
Republican Roxie Hensley and Democrat Karlee Provenza are running to represent House District 45, which had been occupied by Democrat Charles Pelkey. The district includes downtown Laramie, the West Side neighborhood and West Laramie.
Hensley did not attend the forum, citing a family health issue, and instead sent a statement. She described herself as a life-long Wyoming resident, business owner, lawyer, advocate for children and active community member who wants to help all Wyomingites succeed.
“If we can construct the framework through education and opportunity for a vibrant and respectful society, we’ll have the necessary tools to successfully tackle the other issues confronting us,” she said.
Hensley said she was skeptical of suggestions to raise taxes to offset budget problems and instead would look to spend available funds carefully with an eye to growing the economy.
“Taxation of a weak economy only further weakens it,” she said.
Provenza, who co-founded Albany County for Proper Policing said she would be a voice in Cheyenne representing working-class residents.
“I can bring the power of the people in my district to the State Legislature to make sure they hear us, to make they hear what people in the working class want,” she said.
Provenza said any cuts to state services would only cost the state more money over time.
“When we cut things like public education, we have problems in the long run, with increased crime rates, and that burdens the criminal justice system,” she said.
She said corporations and wealthy residents should “pay their fair share,” to help balance the budget.
“I don’t want to hurt people who are already struggling to get by,” she said. “I think there are other places to look.”
Regarding the state’s role in mitigating COVID-19 impacts, Provenza said the state should support small businesses trying to stay afloat and transitioning to online arenas.
“Investing in the people of Wyoming and investing in our small businesses is going to pay off. The money is going to come back,” she said.
Provenza said the mineral industry “has been dying for a while now,” and the state needs to move toward a more diverse economy and tax structure.
“No one wants to buy our coal,” she said. “We have got to find a way to get jobs to these people in these industries so they have somewhere to go.”
She said she would support creating accountability boards to oversee policing while equipping law enforcement officers with the right tools.
“I believe in transparency and accountability. A lot of good governing comes from being transparent and accountable to the people we serve,” she said.
House District 47
Libertarian Lela Konecny is trying to unseat Republican incumbent Jerry Paxton in House District 47, which Paxton has represented since 2013. The district is one of the largest in the country and covers about 10,000 square miles across western Albany County, Carbon County and Sweetwater County. Paxton did not attend the forum.
Konecny said she’s a mother of six who isn’t obligated to party affiliation and understands the challenges in her district.
“I’ve come up with some amazing ways to bring a balance to my budget within a household, and I know that I can bring some sanity to our fiscal situation in Cheyenne,” she said.
She said she would oppose any state cuts to education funding but would support more school specialization and choice.
“It bothers me to the core to thinking of taking anything away from our students and their education,” she said.
She would work to stabilize and diversify Wyoming’s economy by seeking out companies that are “natural fits” for Wyoming.
“We need to bring in industries that are less prone to boom and bust cycles,” she said.
Konecny said the state should mitigate COVID-19 impacts by supporting innovative companies and not hindering business growth.
“We should be meeting with industry heads, finding out what they need and what would help them, and letting them be free to innovate within their industries,” she said.