Running for governor as a Democrat is difficult in any year, and is usually a pretty thankless task. Republicans outnumber Democrats by a ratio of 3:1 in voter registration. Taking on an incumbent governor, who has the ability to raise far more money than any challenger, is particularly tough. In recent history, incumbents always win.
At least this year, there is reason to believe that the real issues facing Wyoming will be addressed now that Democrat Pete Gosar is in the race.
Without a credible Democrat campaigning statewide, Wyoming Republican voters would have effectively selected the next governor during the party’s Aug. 19 primary. That race is likely to focus mostly on the controversy between Gov. Matt Mead and Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill and the Legislature’s power grab of the latter’s authority to run the Department of Education, and the incumbent’s role in the conflict.
While the Republican candidates squabble among themselves over control of our education system, Gosar has been on the forefront of the need to support modern standards in Wyoming’s education system. As a member of the Wyoming Board of Education, he supports the Next Generation Science Standards, which teach that man-caused climate change is a fact. The Legislature and Mead not only directed the board not to approve the NGSS, they said it couldn’t even discuss the matter.
Shutting off debate on science standards in Wyoming that have not been updated for more than a decade is not the responsible action to take, but it’s the decision Mead and other Republicans made. “Politics is playing a prominent role in Wyoming education in the past several years, and it hasn’t been positive, quite honestly,” Gosar recently told WyoFile. “The school kids who are supposed to be educated to compete in this world have been lost in this conversation.”
Gosar, a state pilot who runs an aviation business with his brother, has a great opportunity to address the biggest shame of the past legislative budget session. Mead and most of the GOP lawmakers treated the estimated 17,600 low-income, childless adults who would have received Medicaid for the first time with callous indifference by refusing to expand the health program under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
In his campaign announcement, Gosar explained one of his major motivations in seeking the office was meeting people who were kept off the Medicaid program because of the state’s decision to exclude those who desperately need health care coverage. If Republicans had chosen to expand Medicaid, the state would have saved about $43 million a year for the first three years, then picked up only 10 percent of the tab.
“When there’s no good reason for bad public policy, someone has to answer for that,” Gosar said. “The governor deserves some blame for that. There’s no doubt that if the governor would have come out in favor of some sort of Medicaid expansion that it would have passed.”
During his campaign, Gosar would serve the state well by being an effective voice for helping the least fortunate among us. Not to stereotype the GOP, but that’s never been the strength of many of their candidates. They like to talk about tax breaks for industries so they either stay or are enticed to come here, but the struggle of working people to keep their homes and cars in an economy that hasn’t recovered for a lot of people — not so much, if at all.
The Legislature went home without addressing some of the most important issues the state is facing. It didn’t discuss ways to improve Wyoming’s terrible worker fatality rate, which has been among the worst in the nation for the past decade. The gender wage gap in our “Equality State” is the largest in the country, as Wyoming women make only 64 cents for every dollar a man does, but the issue was ignored.
Early childhood education, which is so critical to our children’s future, as well as the state’s, was once again placed on the back-burner until the waning days of the budget session, when the Legislature finally passed an inadequate grant program on a pilot basis. It was another half-hearted effort on issues that need every legislator’s attention, and the lack of leadership and direction started in the governor’s office.
Gosar made a good decision in stepping down as chairman of the Wyoming Democratic Party so he can bring these issues and others that benefit the working poor to the forefront of the governor’s race. There’s a chance that Republicans will emerge from this year’s gubernatorial primary a divided party, but even that prospect shouldn’t lift the hopes of Democrats into thinking they have much of a shot at recapturing the governor’s office. Low numbers and a lack of money are extremely difficult to overcome in politics.
The best thing Gosar and other Democrats on the ticket can do is advance the humane positions of the party on social and fiscal issues to let people know there are other possibilities, and they don’t just have to accept the limited choices the Republican candidates offer. If Democrats are ever going to build their registration numbers in Wyoming so they can legitimately compete in statewide races, Gosar’s campaign is the best place to start this uphill battle in earnest.