GOP candidates debate in Cody

Posted 6/24/10

“Wyoming does have challenges — and we'll talk about them here today — but let's not forget we have a great state,” said Mead in his opening remarks, adding the state needs to move forward.

Like the other candidates, Mead …

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GOP candidates debate in Cody


Three of the front-runners for the Republican nomination for governor agreed on many issues — small government, limited regulations and pushing against the federal government — at a forum in Cody on Monday.Matt Mead, a rancher and former U.S. Attorney from Cheyenne; Ron Micheli, a rancher and former state legislator and state agricultural department director from Fort Bridger; and Colin Simpson of Cody, an attorney and the current Speaker of the House, squared off in a two-hour event hosted by the Park County Republican Party.

“Wyoming does have challenges — and we'll talk about them here today — but let's not forget we have a great state,” said Mead in his opening remarks, adding the state needs to move forward.

Like the other candidates, Mead said the state needs to promote agriculture and energy development, along with open spaces. He also said the state should focus on improving technology across the state.

Mead touted his experience as a federal prosecutor. He cited an instance where he recused himself from participating in legal action detrimental to the state.

In the debate, one area he highlighted was the importance of maintaining state and local infrastructure. Mead said the state should provide financial support to local governments so they can maintain their “hard assets” like water and sewer systems.

“Deferring maintainance on those type of projects ... is not a savings,” he said.

Mead said he would support looking at increasing the state fuel tax to pay for road work; he noted that around half of fuel taxes are paid by out-of-state residents.

In his remarks, Simpson pointed to his work in the Legislature on issues like energy development — including working toward clean energy technology — and his efforts to allow Wyoming residents to purchase insurance across state lines.

Simpson said he would focus on keeping government out of people's lives and also on taking care of the least fortunate individuals in society, such as those developmental disabilities and through programs like Medicaid. He also said improving education is a priority.

“I cannot think of a better economic development tool than to say in Wyoming we have the best education system in America,” he said.

Micheli described himself as an “unrepentant, unabashed and unashamed Ronald Reagan conservative,” quoting the former president in saying that “government is the problem.”

Like his opponents, Micheli said the government needs to allow the free market to work.

Micheli said voters need to “stop the ship of state from taking a hard left towards socialism.” The upcoming election, he said, may be the most important in the country's history.

GOP candidate Rita Meyer was unable to attend the forum because of her duties as state auditor, but sent a letter.

Candidate Alan Kousoulos of Cody had to withdraw due to family emergencies, while John Self of Sheridan and Tom Ubben of Laramie chose not to attend.

The debate began with harsh criticism of the federal health care act.

Micheli said “Obamacare” “may be the greatest intrusion of states' rights in my lifetime.”

He said he would join other states currently suing the federal government over the bill “in about one tenth of a nanosecond.”

“We should not only be a part of that lawsuit, we should be leading that lawsuit,” he said.

Democractic Gov. Dave Freudenthal has so far declined to join it.

Mead said the state should have shown leadership in opposing the bill before it was passed by Congress.

“I think maybe we would have changed the vote,” he said.

Mead also said he supports joining the lawsuit because he believes it illegally benefits non-American citizens.

Simpson similarly said he would join the suit. He pointed to a resolution he sponsored in the Wyoming Legislature this year in support of states' rights.

The trio of candidates also said they supported Arizona's recently-passed bill requiring police to question people if there's reason to believe they're in the country illegally.

Micheli said it's no different than being asked to show documentation when you're stopped for speeding.

“Did you ever think that that was racist? Or profiling?” asked Micheli, adding, “That seems to me to be perfectly normal procedure.”

Simpson and Mead also both said the current federal laws on the books need to be enforced.

“If and until we secure the border, we as a country, and we as Wyoming, won't be able to stem the tide,” said Mead.

“I'm all for high fences and wide gates,” said Simpson. “Let's have good, legal immigration in this country.”

Wyoming's wolf management plan also found support from all three candidates.

Micheli called the wolf situation “the greatest tragedy of wildlife management since the 19th century, when we wiped out the buffalo herds.”

He said the Endangered Species Act was the problem.

Simpson said the federal government's use of the act has been “irresponsible.”

The main disagreement came on a question asking if the state's budget was too large.

“I say it's about right right now,” said Simpson.

Micheli, however, was critical. He said the state's budget tripled between 2002 and 2009, from $1.3 billion to $4.9 billion.

“This is not fiscally responsible and it is not sustainable,” said Micheli.

He said he would support zero-based budgeting, create incentives to save money and appoint fiscally conservative department heads.

Simpson took issue with Micheli's numbers, saying they weren't a valid comparison.

Simpson said that when reserves and federal dollars are excluded, the general budget was $2.9 billion this past year. When inflation and the new medium-security prison in Torrington and inflation are factored in, the totals are closer, Simpson said.

Micheli defended his figures, but said it was a waste of time arguing over whether the budget had doubled or tripled, with the main point being that it significantly increased.

Simpson has proposed creating a “Sunset Advisory Commission” to identify unnecessary spending in state government.

Mead said he supported major new projects the state has undertaken in recent years, such as the Hathaway scholarship program for Wyoming students and the construction of the Torrington prison, and he noted that the state's population has grown.

However, he said it was important for government to adjust to the economic situation of the private sector.

Micheli said funding for local governments would be a priority in his administration, criticizing the cuts proposed by Freudenthal and later passed by the Legislature in the past budget session. He said the state has a “moral responsibility” to reimburse local governments for the revenue they lost when food purchases were exempted from the state sales tax. Micheli also said he would support increasing funding to community colleges.

However, said Simpson, “You can't cut (spending) and allow increases without making major changes somewhere else.”