Three of the four candidates running for Wyoming House District 46 recently faced off in a digital debate forum.
The forum was held on July 23 via Zoom and was hosted by the League of Women Voters. University of Wyoming College of Business professor and director for the Energy Economic and Public Policies Center Robert Godby moderated the forum.
The HD46 seat is currently held by Rep. Bill Haley, R-Centennial, who is retiring after four years in office. There are four candidates in the race, two Democrats (Tim Chesnut and Lawrence Struempf) and two Republicans (Ocean Andrew and James Jackson).
Andrew was the only candidate unable to participate in the forum on July 23.
The primary election is Aug. 18, with absentee voting underway now The general election is Nov. 3.
Since the forum didn’t feature opening and closing statements, the first question of the evening allowed the House candidates to explain their qualification for the state office.
Chesnut cited his five terms as an Albany County commissioner (three of which he spent as chairman) as one of his reasons for wanting to move on to the state level. He also mentioned that his work covering the Legislature for the Laramie Boomerang provided knowledge about the ins-and-outs of the political system.
“I think a lot of legislators, when they come out of a city council or commission role, they forget about where they came from,” Chesnut said.
Struempf is a small business owner and a college professor who cited his work with businesses, nonprofits and education in Laramie to help make the community better. He also noted that he was skilled at working with people across party lines for the greater good.
“I research and use scientific data and facts to address and resolve problems,” he said. “I’m going to work hard to address our health care problems, our education shortfall and our equality in our state.”
Jackson is a 20-year Marine veteran and is currently a student at the University of Wyoming. Although he hasn’t lived in Wyoming his entire life, he wants to represent the community, adding that he was running a no-cost campaign.
“I want to simply represent individuals the best way I possibly can and make sure they have a voice in the state,” he said.
Budget shortfallStruempf believed that the way to address the shortfall was to build new industries while supporting the existing ones in the state.
Jackson countered that Wyoming’s infrastructure was especially important and that the state should look into recruiting businesses and individuals to support the infrastructure.
Chesnut said Wyoming has had Draconian cuts since 2008 and that the key was to have Democrats and Republicans coming together to find a way to increase revenue.
Education spendingAll three of the candidates agreed Wyoming’s education system shouldn’t be the focus of budget cuts. However, they did admit that there could be some ways to make the system run more efficiently.
Jackson pointed to the example of rural schools spending large amounts to bus in students from rural areas. He noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that students are able to attend school online, which should be looked into as an option.
“The kids being educated here aren’t staying here and we need to find out why,” he said. “The education here is great, but it’s because the money put into the education system is well-deserved.”
Chesnut suggested looking into a way to increase property taxes in various counties across the state to help fund education and that he was more interested in expanding the education system rather than cutting anything from it.
“We can’t take a step back,” he said.
As an educator, Struempf didn’t believe teachers or their salaries should be considered for cuts. However, he did think there were places in the state that were “top-heavy” in their administrations.
“I’ve heard some theories about combining rural school areas,” he said. “There are some areas where cuts could be logical or appropriate, but we have to be careful not to harm the system.”
University of Wyoming
All three of the men had high praise for the University of Wyoming, with only a few minor criticisms.
Chesnut believed the university was currently doing a great job with its COVID-19 guidelines, but also with its goal to provide a quality education for students.
Struempf said he was a big advocate of the university, but there were likely a few opportunities to be a little more fiscally responsible.
As a current student at UW, Jackson believed the key was to find a way to recruit more students from across the country.
Struempf supported Medicaid expansion, noting that health care was a critical issue for the state. He added that it would be not only helpful for uninsured Wyomingites, but also financially beneficial.
“It’s really sad Wyoming is one of the states that hasn’t done Medicaid expansion,” he said.
Jackson deferred to the citizens of Albany County, saying he would rather get their opinion. Since he receives insurance due to his military service, he felt he couldn’t relate to the issue as well as his constituents would.
Chesnut said Albany County was fortunate to have an abundance of health care providers, but has work to do with access to mental health services. He also discussed broadband in the state, which would be beneficial for health care to allow more telehealth options.
He also was in favor of Medicaid expansion.
Occidental land purchase
Struempf said he wanted more transparency from state officials regarding the purchase, but believed it would ultimately benefit the state as an investment, which could be used for education and other services in Wyoming.
Chesnut disagreed, saying there wasn’t much of a plan on it and that the state didn’t have the money for it.
“The government never does a great job with selling leases or minerals, it’s better left in private hands on that,” he said.
Jackson’s audio was unclear during his response.
Note: The forum also included the three candidates running for Senate District 10, Jackie Grimes, Dan Furphy and Craig Malmstrom. The Laramie Boomerang will have coverage of that forum in an upcoming edition.
Ellen Fike is a freelance writer living in Cheyenne. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @EllenLFike.