What would an administration led by Gov. Pete Gosar look like?
Well, one thing is certain — Wyoming would expand its Medicaid program, so thousands of working people who now fall into a gap with no health insurance would finally be covered.
Our state wouldn’t be filing dozens of costly lawsuits against the federal government, many of which are doomed before the ink is dry.
If state lawmakers tried to do something foolish like block new science standards for public education, their action would be vetoed.
The state of Wyoming would no longer be fighting a lawsuit to keep its ban on same-sex marriage intact.
Physicians would be able to write prescriptions for medical marijuana for patients who need it.
The Wyoming Game & Fish Department would receive long-term funding to meet the needs of the agency, including its added responsibilities for protecting endangered species.
In general, more people would likely be smiling — and not just the ones with pot prescriptions.
A gubernatorial debate featuring the four candidates held at Casper College Thursday night provided these insights into Democrat Pete Gosar’s plans should he upset Republican Gov. Matt Mead in the Nov. 4 election. Independent candidate Don Wills and Libertarian Dee Cozzens also had the opportunity to explain their disagreements with Mead, even though as minority party hopefuls they don’t have even a remote chance to win.
However, the governor got the final word, and he used it to call two of his three opponents “cynical” for alleging he’s part of the state’s “good ol’ boy network (GOBN).”
Mead said he’s faced challenges and made some mistakes, but defended his overall record, stressing the state’s economy and business climate almost every time it was his turn to speak during the 90-minute debate. The event was sponsored by Casper College and the Casper Star-Tribune.
“The fact of the matter is, the state is in good shape,” he asserted. He ticked off the numbers: Wyoming has the second fastest growing GDP in the country; it ranks second in the nation for being business friendly; it has the lowest poverty rate for children; and unemployment is down to only 4 percent.
“We’ve been recognized for the last four years by [the magazine] ’24/7 Wall Street’ as the first or second best-run state in the country,” Mead said.
“We’ve been conservative and we’ve been able to build Wyoming,” the governor added. “And I’m proud of that record.”
But Gosar vigorously disagreed wth many of Mead’s views. Meanwhile, even though their opinions differed sharply on most issues, Wills lumped Gosar and Mead together as part of the good ol’ boy network and claimed they essentially have the same view of state government.
At one point Wills alleged that Gosar, a state pilot whose job includes flying the governor wherever he needs to go, was rewarded by Mead a few years ago with an appointment to the Wyoming Board of Education. Gosar had already given his closing statement, and Mead didn’t address the charge during his final opportunity to speak. Gosar has taken a leave of absence from his job during his campaign for governor.
Cozzens took a few shots of his own at Mead’s administration, but the Libertarian candidate mostly provided comic relief during the debate as he made a few jokes. He also gave some answers and had questions of his own that left many in the audience wondering exactly what he was talking about. This included Cozzens’ statement as the debate wound down that the event should have included everyone reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer, which was followed by an awkward pause as he waited, but nobody did anything to appease him.
Cozzens also said medical marijuana is already available in Wyoming. It isn’t.
Gosar didn’t miss any opportunities to bash Mead’s record during his first term. In his opening statement, the Democrat said the state is “sorely lacking in leadership today.” He added that a real leader “would never put ideology over integrity, expediency over decency.”
“There are two sets of rules in Wyoming today: one for the well connected, and the other for the rest of us,” Gosar said.
Wills said he agreed with Gosar that there are two classes of people in the state. “There’s the good ol’ boy network and then there’s the rest of us,” he said.
Gosar honed in on the lack of an adequate, permanent funding source for the Game & Fish Department.
“We have the resources available to adequately fund Game & Fish. It’s the backbone of our No. 2 industry,” Gosar said, referring to tourism.
But state lawmakers’ refusal to raise hunting and fishing license fees to help fund Game & Fish operations has forced the department to cut back on research, access, habitat and education. Gosar said it’s the governor’s responsibility to provide leadership on this issue and persuade legislators that the agency must have a long-term source of revenue to meet its needs, especially since the state is socking away millions of dollars in savings while mandating budget cuts.
Gosar said he supports marriage equality, a position Cozzens agrees with but Mead and Wills oppose. “There are no second-class citizens in this country, and in this state,” Gosar said.
The Democrat said Mead has focused too much on filing lawsuits against the federal government, especially the Environmental Protection Agency. “I do believe we’re overly litigious. We’re involved in a lawsuit in Idaho that the state of Idaho’s not involved in,” Gosar said. “We need a cost-benefit analysis — what are we getting for what we’re spending?”
Gosar said that if he’s elected, he would try to negotiate with others to avoid lawsuits. “The courts need to be your last option, not your first,” he said.
He said the state should not take away doctors’ ability to prescribe medical marijuana because it would greatly benefit some patients who have cancer or suffer from chronic pain. Gosar noted patients don’t want to break the law and try marijuana on their own.
“When we don’t look at people or situations, and we continue to go by old wives’ tales and things from the past, we make bad decisions,” he said. Later, he noted any time there’s a discussion involving people struggling to survive, Mead automatically changes topics and talks about business and money.
In Wills’ final statement, he described himself as “a complete outsider.” He said both Gosar and Mead are “progressives who want to continue spending more money.” Wills said no matter which one wins the election, Wyoming will have both Common Core standards and Medicaid expansion.
He urged Republicans who voted for losing GOP primary gubernatorial candidates Taylor Haynes and Cindy Hill to vote for him. “I will be frugal, I will be conservative, and I will be answerable to the ‘NOT good ol’ boy network,'” he concluded.
The independent railed against the federal government more than he did any of his three opponents.
Wills said the recent timing of a federal judge’s decision overturning Wyoming’s wolf management plan was suspicious, since it was the day before trophy wolf status in the state was supposed to start.
“We need to defy that black-robed judge in Washington, D.C., and start the wolf hunt tomorrow,” he said enthusiastically.
In his closing statement, Cozzens told the crowd, “We can do better than the federal government does for us. They are grossly, grossly overstaffed.”
He finished with remarks that were serious but disjointed and unclear. “If you haven’t noticed, folks, we’re at war. People are getting killed. If you don’t think it’s happening, think again.” He said there are “questionable characters coming through [our state] every day,” and he made a pitch to fill the 36 positions that are now open at the Wyoming Highway Patrol.
‘We must be supportive of the people we elect, but those people we elect must live by the test of conscience,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mead seemed to take the criticism of his administration personally. In his final two minutes at the microphone, the governor said Gosar and Wills are cynical “about people involved in Wyoming, where we are and where we’re going.” He accused both opponents of engaging in “class warfare.”
“You can see where that’s gotten Washington, D.C., and you can see where it’s gotten the current president. Wyoming is better than that,” Mead said. “In some ways we’re like a family. We agree to disagree. We recognize that the strength of Wyoming isn’t just some of us, it’s all of us. … We only have 580,000 people, and we can’t throw up these bars that prevent us from working together.”
The governor’s call for unity contained some stirring sentiments. But it would mean much more if those words were spoken by a chief executive who didn’t keep more than 17,000 of the working poor from having health insurance, and who didn’t choose to keep fighting for a same-sex marriage ban that prevents Wyoming’s gay and lesbian residents from having the same rights as other citizens.
That’s working together? It seems much more like throwing part of our Wyoming “family” under the bus.