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 Senate District 10 and House Districts 13 and 46 took place Sept. 30. It was posted to YouTube for public viewing last week.
Senate District 10Republican Dan Furphy is running against Democrat Jackie Grimes to replace retiring Sen. Glenn Moniz. The district includes all of Albany County outside of Laramie itself and not including the Rock River area.
Furphy said he’s qualified for the job because of experience that includes being CEO of a multi-state bank, two terms in the Wyoming House, experience managing bond portfolios and extensive involvement on community boards.
Grimes described herself as a wife, mother and school psychologist with experience managing grants and coming up with solutions.
“All these skills make me qualified to be a senator for Wyoming,” she said.
Grimes said she would consider dipping into Wyoming’s “rainy day fund” to make up some of the state’s projected budget shortfall closing in on $1 billion during the next biennium. She’s also consider taxes on Wyoming’s highest earners.
“We have more wiggle room than a lot of our legislators are willing to consider,” she said. “That difference in wiggle room means job, and I’m not willing to lose jobs.”
Grimes also said she wouldn’t support any cuts to state services.
“We have a rainy day fund, and if we didn’t have it for this specific reason, I don’t know why we’re holding onto that money,” she said.
Furphy said cutting more out of the state’s budget wouldn’t make up the shortfall, and diversifying revenue streams and adding new revenue streams were necessary, such as taxes on cigarettes and alcohol.
“Non-smokers in our state are subsidizing smokers to the tune of $400 million a year,” he said.
He said the state could save a little money with strategic cuts to the government’s operations, but otherwise he wouldn’t support further budget restrictions.
“I’m not in favor of further cuts to cities, or the counties, or to the University of Wyoming,” he said. “We should look at revenue increased rather than cuts there.”
Regarding declining state revenue from the energy industry, Furphy said Wyoming’s minerals still have value when the right technology is applied. State revenue could also come from block chain technology and alternative energy.
“What we need to focus on is the technology that we’re coming up with,” he said.
Grimes said the state has spent decades talking about declining energy revenue and should start enacting some of the ideas in place, such as the ENDOW plan for economic diversity.
“We need to start using some of the plans that we’ve already put together,” she said.
In considering whether state should be involved in issues under jurisdictions of local government, such as aquifer protection, Grimes said the state should be willing to step in where necessary.
“We have this valuable thing here in Albany County that can last us for generations if we take care of it,” she said. “We’re not a county that can afford to import water. We can’t do it.”
Furphy said the state should absolutely be involved if necessary. He said a plan is underway in collaboration between Albany County and Wyoming Department of Transportation to protect the aquifer along Interstate 80, but it needs to happen soon.
“I’ve made it clear that if it doesn’t get done fairly soon, that’s something I want to work on,” he said. “We’ve got to protect our aquifer in this community.”
House District 13
Democrat Cathy Connolly is running unopposed for to represent House District 13, a seat she has held since 2009. The district includes a swath of central Laramie.
Connolly said her vision for Wyoming’s future includes good education opportunities, high-quality health care, solid infrastructure and a diverse economy.
“I want our families to stay here and thrive,” she said.
Connolly said she opposes more cuts to the state budget and instead wants to promote diverse revenue streams including a tiered income tax and possible increase in sales taxes. She also supports Medicaid expansion, alternatives to incarceration and early childhood education as investments that will save the state money.
“I’m not in favor of cutting services that go to our most vulnerable or in Laramie or Albany County,” she said. “We are one of the poorest counties in the state, and we are down to the bone.”
House District 46
Republican Ocean Andrew is running against Democrat Tim Chesnut to represent House District 14, currently held by the retiring Bill Haley. The district covers most of southern Albany County. Andrew did not attend the forum.
Chesnut said he would bring 20 years of experience on the Albany County Board of Commissioners to the position. He described himself as a moderate Democrat and fiscal conservative.
“I will be a champion for cities, counties and towns in Wyoming,” he said “A lot of legislators forget where they’re from when they get there.”
Regarding the looming budget deficit, Chesnut said revenue from increasing the sales and use tax and alcohol tax would be necessary. He was not in favor of additional cuts.
“We really need to be thinking about enhanced revenues rather than cuts,” he said. “They’re draconian, and we’ve cut as far to the bone as we can.”
Chesnut said protecting the Casper Aquifer should be a priority at all levels of government. Cuts the Department of Environmental Quality, for example, have limited the number of inspectors available statewide.
“If we don’t protect what we have, we’re going to fail our future,” he said. “Our clean water and our clean air is the future, and it’s what Wyoming has to offer for all our citizens.”