In their first public forum before the Aug. 21 primary election, House District 25 candidates Dave Blevins, Steve Walker, Billy A. Greaham and David Kellett expressed varying perspectives on issues facing the state, and each Republican described himself differently.
Kellett, who owns a computer business, described himself as the local Tea Party’s endorsed candidate and said Park County has a problem with “Republicans in Name Only” or “RINOs.”
Walker, who teaches at Northwest College, said he’s a traditional, moderate Republican. He said groups like the Tea Party have determined what it means to be a conservative, “and if you don’t pass their particular litmus test, well you’re not eligible to be a Republican, and I fight against that idea.”
Blevins, a State Farm insurance agent, classified himself as an Abraham Lincoln Republican.
“He was a man of diversity. He saved our country as we know it,” Blevins said.
Greaham, a retired middle school teacher, called himself a conservative Republican and said Americans need to be more sensitive to the needs of the people instead of the parties.
“Whether we have a RINO problem or what, I think we have a political party problem. I think political parties are starting to lose touch with reality and with the society and culture in general,” he said.
The Republicans addressed a variety of issues during Wednesday’s forum, co-sponsored by the radio station KODI-AM, the NWC radio and television stations and the Tribune.
Walker, Greaham and Blevins all stressed the importance of diversifying the economy.
“Unlike a lot of states, we’re really fortunate that we have the resources to bring new industries here and to develop economically,” Walker said. “One of the things we have to do is start to think outside the box a little bit.”
He disucussed marketing Wyoming’s beef in South Korea. He has served as an adviser to the Korean city of Incheon and said he brings a global perspective.
Walker also said it’s important to save some funds in reserves, but the state also needs to invest its resources in education, roads and infrastructure for economic expansion.
“We’ve socked it away in the rainy day fund. When you do that, to the extent that we have, you increase the chances of having a rainy day,” Walker said.
Greaham also said Wyoming can’t rely solely on minerals.
“It’s just wise business to diversify,” he said, adding he would like to see new businesses and technology that help keep young people in the state. He added that he wants to maintain Wyoming’s quality of life.
Blevins said he understands how important small businesses are and also advocated investing in education, solid infrastructure and telecommunications to encourage economic growth.
“I’d rather put our money into Wyoming so we can grow it that way,” Blevins said.
Kellett advocated removing the barriers of EPA regulations that stifle industries.
“The state’s job should be getting in the way of the federal government and protecting our rights and making sure that our businesses are allowed to grow at their own pace,” he said.
He said Wyoming needs to focus on helping its current industries grow, and that will attract other businesses and people.
Responsibility to the poor
Each candidate agreed society has a responsibility to low-income residents, but differed on what that should look like.
Greaham said he believes individuals who receive aid also should be involved on some level. He cited the example of Habitat for Humanity, where individuals must contribute toward their home.
“Free handouts are not the answer,” Greaham said, adding, “We will help you, but we want you to help yourselves.”
Kellett said state government aid should only be available after an individual, his neighbors, churches and the county aren’t able to assist.
“It’s the individual’s responsibility to take care of himself first and foremost,” he said.
State aid should only be used as a last resort, he said, and help should never go any further than the state.
Walker said the state has an obligation to help, but said Wyoming needs to find a balance between helping without making residents dependent on welfare.
“I think the state has a role to create a social safety net, but that’s what it should be — a safety net. It’s not something that people should rely on for their livelihood,” he said.
Blevins said he has worked 28 years for the local Council of Community Services, providing help for people in “very desperate situations.” The group raises money to help those in need. “I’ve had some experience in that, and I have a passion.”
When it comes to same-sex marriage, candidates have mixed views.
State law defines marriage as between one man and one woman, and Walker said he believes that is the will of the Wyoming people.
“I do think we have a real problem with hypocrisy, however, with this statute on the books. We call ourselves the Equality State, and if you read through our constitution, it reads that way ...
“I take great pride in that, and I think most Wyomingites do, but this statute is a black mark on that. We’re saying everybody is equal except for these people. Well, that’s not equality. I think it’s hypocritical of us,” he said.
“I think right now it’s the will of the people — I’m not sure it will be the will of the people forever,” Walker added.
“It is a difficult issue for Wyomingites, but I do agree with Mr. Walker that it does display a level of hypocrisy that we can’t live with indefinitely,” Blevins said. “I would not favor a change in the constitution.” He said he would favor, at the appropriate time, a law that “would reflect what our favorite son said, Dick Cheney: ‘Freedom means freedom for everyone.’ And I think we need to work toward that goal.”
Greaham said he does not support same-sex marriages.
“I believe we have to stand behind scripture, and scripture doesn’t recognize marriage other than between a man and a woman, and I’m going to say that’s where my position is going to be,” he said. “I’m going to stand with the Lord.”
“I’m going to stand with Mr. Greaham and the Lord on this one,” Kellett said. “There is no way the law could be construed as it currently reads to deprive anyone of their rights. It does not prevent homosexuals from being represented correctly or equally in court, nor does it prevent them from the freedom to do what they want in the state of Wyoming.”
Candidates differed on whether they are pro-life in all situations and if they consider abortion to be murder.
“I am of the belief that there are situations which ... it may be considered. In my personal life, I abhor abortion. I would not condone it in my family, but there are situations in which families are faced with that may cause them to think otherwise,” Blevins said.
He said ethics and morals need to be taught in churches and at home.
Greaham said he’s “definitely pro-life. I do think that abortion is murder.”
One of his children is adopted, so Greaham said the issue is especially important to him.
Kellett asked when adoption stopped being an option.
“Killing babies is murder,” Kellett said, adding, “It’s an absolutely horrifying fact that we have it today.”
Walker said he does not think abortion is murder. As a small government Republican, Walker said he doesn’t think the government should tell men or women what they should do with their bodies.
“I believe that women have sovereignty over their own bodies,” Walker said. “If we don’t have sovereignty over our own bodies, how can we possibly have sovereignty over private property? That is ridiculous.”
He added that he respects people’s religious views, but “please don’t try to impose them on everyone.”
“Abortion is a terrible thing … it’s a very personal issue. But it’s not one that government should be legislating,” Walker added.
Blevins, Greaham and Kellett all said they would support legislation requiring pregnant women to view an ultrasound before they had an abortion.
Walker said he would not, adding he didn’t think “we should shame women” for doing something that’s legal.
“I didn’t realize we were making it public,” Kellett interjected. “When they passed the law, it doesn’t say everybody on the planet got to see the ultrasound — it only said the mother gets to see it. That’s not embarrassing or shameful.”
“Oh, you don’t think so?” Walker asked.
“Well, I’m sorry, we’re going to disagree on this,” Kellett said.
Local control is important in education, candidates agreed, and they mostly praised Wyoming’s schools.
As a retired teacher, Greaham said one of his concerns is that “we are becoming more attune with teaching to a test … rather than educating the child in the broadest sense and making sure they get a well-rounded education.”
Kellett said, “We homeschool because the schools aren’t teaching well enough and the environment in a lot of schools isn’t really conducive to education.” He said he supports a voucher system “so the schools are forced to compete.” Kellett said later that his family “did it for $300 last year. Give us a voucher, how much money could we save.”
Walker said teachers in Wyoming do a good job, and “we can always do better.”
Walker, who teaches at NWC, said there should be more focus on the other two-thirds of a day, when kids are at home. He said it’s important to “address the other parts of the puzzle, which are parents and students.”
Blevins said there needs to be better assessment of teachers, and suggested principals rotate in the classrooms so they have a better understanding. Blevins has served on the local school board.
Airline subsidies drew differing opinions.
Walker said he does not support them, and said the Republican Party is built on the idea of free markets.
“If we are meant to have air service between Cody and Cheyenne, the market would provide that,” he said.
Kellett agreed. “If the industry isn’t doing it, then it’s not viable,” he said.
Blevins and Greaham both said they do support airline subsidies, and it’s worth the investment.
“We live in a isolated area, and it’s either that or not have them at all,” Greaham said.