By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily
A Republican gubernatorial candidate forum featuring Gov. Mark Gordon, Rex Rammell and Brent Bien brought some division in Casper Wednesday night over Gordon’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What Mark did when he shut down the state, I think, was an impeachable event,” candidate Rammell said, accusing Gordon of disappearing on the issue. “You don’t shut down people’s livelihood.”
Gordon tried to turn focus away from his early response to the pandemic and highlight his ability to completely open Wyoming’s schools by the start of the 2020/21 school year.
“We stood to ensure we had those freedoms,” he said. “I will put our track record up against anyone’s.”
Rammell questioned whether the governor had the authority to enact any health restrictions or stay-at-home orders.
“You were wrong Mark and you’re blaming it on everybody else,” Rammell said. “You need to take responsibility for your actions.”
This statement drew an inaudible verbal response from Gordon.
When it comes to initiating government shutdowns in future pandemics, Gordon said “we will never do what we did again.”
Taylor Haynes, a 2018 gubernatorial candidate who finished fifth in the Republican primary, has endorsed Rammell in his campaign. Rammell attempted to leverage this endorsement during the debate, saying if elected, he will make Haynes, a fellow physician, his senior advisor.
“I think we won’t have to consult with too many people on this,” said Rammell, a veterinarian, about how he would handle future pandemics, saying he would never initiate mandates that would infringe on personal freedoms. “What I would do is stand in front of the bully pulpit and tell you to be careful.”
Despite the Secretary of State being the unofficial lieutenant governor in Wyoming, Rammell gave Haynes a vice president-like status during the debate, asking the audience to elect himself and Haynes into the office of the governor.
Rammell and Gordon also got a little contentious on the issue of property taxes.
Rammell said he would remove all residential property taxes for those 65-years or older and see if he could eliminate all property tax.
“You shouldn’t lose your home because you can’t pay your property taxes. That’s about the most un-American thing I’ve ever heard of,” Rammell said. “I think we can eliminate it; I really do. This is a very wealthy state.”
There is a constitutional requirement in Wyoming that a property tax be enacted.
“I hope my friend here reads the Wyoming Constitution because it’s kind of an important document,” Gordon said, referring to Rammell.
Gordon said he is pursuing enactment of a lower property tax rate for those who need it.
“I am the only governor’s candidate that has a proven track record, standing up for your rights, cutting your taxes, lowering the budget, and has an action plan on how to lower property taxes moving forward,” he said.
Bien said he would support altering property taxes to a system based on the original purchase price of the home.
Rammell said if elected, on the first day he is in office, he will return all 30 million acres of federal land in Wyoming to the counties.
Bien said he would also support this federal land grab but would advocate for a more measured approach than Rammell. Bien said he would make a change to the Wyoming Constitution and pursue other legislative avenues over an extended period to achieve this goal.
“We start pursuing this and get this down the road because we haven’t pursued it in the past,” he said.
Rammell said he is the only gubernatorial candidate strong enough to change the negative direction the state is heading in. He would like to replace property tax revenue with new income sourced from the federal lands he plans to seize and an increased fossil fuel tax revenue. It’s a healthy portion of the state’s budget he hopes to grow further, but he provided no concrete solutions on how he will do so.
“Until we can make sage brush profitable, we better stick with energy,” Rammell said.
Gordon criticized a recent private-to-public land swap of the Marton Ranch in Natrona and Carbon counties by the BLM. The state was not consulted in this transaction and is now appealing. Gordon claimed Natrona County had never been consulted about the swap, but Natrona County Commissioner Rob Hendry said in an earlier Cowboy State Daily interview he had been informed of the purchase about two weeks before it was finalized.
Gordon is demanding a one-for-one land transfer on the Marton land for an equivalent amount of public land to become private in a different part of the state.
Energy and business
Gordon has joined other Republican governors in opposing President Joe Biden’s energy policies. Gordon cited the executive order and successful lobbying he initiated against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to allow the continued use of a coal-burning unit at the Jim Bridger power plant in Sweetwater County.
“We threatened to sue, and we ended up winning and we have jobs continuing in Rock Springs,” he said.
Bien spoke out against a nuclear plant being built in Kemmerer, while Gordon offered support.
“Why we need that nuclear plant is because we need to make sure we get our uranium business back off the ground,” Gordon said. “There’s no reason we should depend on Russia.”
Gordon said he will work to ensure people who recently were laid off at a refinery in Rawlins can be set up with small businesses.
He also brought up the value provided by alternative energy approaches such as carbon capture and sequestration and wind energy.
“That’s a great thing, but it isn’t going to power our nation alone,” he said. “What is going to power our nation is a mix of energy, every single one of which we have here in Wyoming.”
Bien said he supports market-driven green energy but does not support subsidizing these industries.
Gordon pointed out that he has been able to cut spending while in office. Although Gordon’s budget may be $400 million slimmer than when he took office, that is mostly supported by the $334 million federal American Rescue Plan Act funds that were used to supplement spending in this year’s budget.
Bien said he wants to move to a cash-based investment system for the state.
Gordon also brought up immigration, one of his most conservative platform planks, and said he is working with a few governors like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to secure the Southern border.
“Because we have Fentanyl coming in this state and we need to stop it now,” he said.
The Drug Enforcement Administration reports that most Fentanyl is smuggled into the country from Mexico and China.
Gordon also touted his efforts addressing suicide prevention, mentioning how he was moved by the passing of his minister’s son, who committed suicide.
“We need to do stuff right now,” he said. “We need DA (district attorney) resources. We need to make sure that our mental health system here in Wyoming is responsible and available.”
A 24/7 suicide hotline based in Wyoming was recently set up with funds apportioned by the state legislature.
Rammell tied suicide prevention to the need for a strong economy.
“I have always been told that work is the best health care there is,” he said. “People who are actively progressing and working toward their goals, people have hope.”