Wyoming House District 7 hopeful and political newcomer Democrat Jordan Evans told voters in Cheyenne during a Wednesday night League of Women Voters forum that he would bring a new focus for problem solving to the Wyoming Legislature.
Incumbent Republican and Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Nicholas said he would bring the money.
The candidates both agree that expanding Medicaid coverage in the state would be a good idea. They were cool to a property tax relief bill proposed by the Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee.
Evans likes the idea of open primaries where voters are not required to be affiliated with a specific party. Nicholas said there’s nothing wrong with Wyoming’s current voting system.
What They Bring To The Table
Evans is a lifelong Cheyenne resident who does mapping for local governments and utilities. He said what inspired him to run for the Legislature was to bring a sense of kindness and thoughtfulness to legislating.
“I hear a lot of sorting of issues into simple issues, partisan issues from the current legislative body, and I would really like to focus on regarding every single issue as the complicated nuanced thing that it is,” Evans said. “I’m going to look at everything completely on its own merit and not try to shove it into one ideological box or another.”
Nicholas is “basically retired” from practicing law, which gives the 12-year veteran Wyoming lawmaker time to concentrate on that work. Nicholas said his seniority and position have helped him bring Cheyenne and the state some needed improvements. He listed Carey Junior High School, Capitol renovations and dorms for Laramie County Community College as projects in which he played a large role.
“That is the kind of assistance that I can bring to Laramie County as being chair of Appropriations and having a tenure with the Legislature and being in the leadership for the last six years,” said Nicholas. “I have several other projects in mind that I will be working on, and so I hope to be able to carry on the work that I’ve done in the past.”
Nicholas said he’s supported Medicaid expansion for a long time and will continue to support it. The House passed it twice and he believes it will again.
“That will add close to $60-$70 million a year directly into our general fund,” Nicholas said. “It would pay for itself and would actually then pay for other services. It would just be a tremendous boon to the state of Wyoming.”
He said it would be foolish if “we didn’t join the group” and that expanding Medicaid also would benefit Wyoming’s rural hospitals.
Evans said expanding Medicaid makes sense from a fairness and other perspectives.
“We pay federal taxes and that money is going to other states to benefit other states, and I would like to take advantage of that money for our own citizens,” Evans said. “It makes fiscal sense. We operate at a deficit most of the time. Our revenues are volatile and unpredictable and we need money we can recoup from our taxpayers.
“And it makes sense from a kindness perspective. It is kind to care for your neighbors and allow them to access health care.”
The League of Women Voters asked the candidates about their positions on the Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee residential property tax relief bill that would prevent taxing the first $50,000 of assessed value of a home.
Evans said he would need to learn more about the bill before he could take a position, but in general it is important to preserve the funding in place for local communities “rather than continuing to let them take a hit.”
He likes the idea of length of residency requirements for property tax relief and said there are probably other ways to accomplish the tax relief goal.
Nicholas said some property tax relief is appropriate, but the current bill is “a long way from being perfect.”
He said that if the Legislature is going to pass a property tax relief bill there should be a test on the income of residents and a residency requirement.
This type of solution, Nicholas said, should be worked out and implemented in a “stepped-up” proceeding so the impact can be measured. He said if the country isn’t already in a recession, one is likely and this will impact Wyoming residents, but also for the state’s operating dollars for education where most of people’s property taxes go.
Evans believes open primaries would benefit the state. He said closed primaries that are party-specific use public money to do the business of private parties.
“The parties, if they would like to pick their own representative without any influence from someone outside of the party, then they should be spending their money to do so,” he said. “Since we fund these elections to occur, we should be able to vote for whoever we want.”
Evans’ preferred primary election would be to have all candidates enter and the top two vote-getters proceed to the general election, “much like we do non-partisan municipal elections.”
“In a lot of situations, you would have two people of the same party. And I think that’s fair. If someone from another party or a third party can’t even get into the top two then they were not likely to win that election anyway,” Evans said.
Nicholas said there isn’t anything wrong with the way Wyoming now conducts elections.
“I’m a strong supporter of our current system,” he said.
Nicholas said Wyoming’s general operation of government funding is balanced, but future losses of revenue from coal, oil and natural gas make preparation now very important.
“What we have to do is prepare ourselves for the future to find substitute revenues just to simply provide the services that we do provide,” he said.
He said expansion of Medicaid and increasing the rate of return on the state’s investment dollars, something he’s been working on for several years, could help.
Evans said the top issue he hears about while campaigning is cost-of-living adjustments for Wyoming pensioners. Many people who receive pensions are near poverty level throughout the state.
He said in order to qualify for a cost-of-living adjustment, the pension fund needs to be 100% funded after disbursement for a year. Evans said there was not a risk to pension accounts when the requirement was 90% and he would favor going back to that.
In lieu of that, he would support a 13th paycheck every year for pension recipients.
Evans also said it’s important for state government to provide for and listen to local governments.
“A lot of the issues we face are better solved by local government,” Evans said. “When we provide funding that has no strings to the people that are professional and closest to the voters that they represent, then we are doing the greatest service that we can to solving some of these hyper-local municipal and county-level problems.”
Evans said he hears from voters who are tired of the rancor in politics. He complimented Nicholas for not being part of that, but said the national mood affects Wyoming.
“It’s very important to me to not dismiss people before I hear what they have to say,” Evans said. “I think far too much of that is happening and I think very many people who live in this district are really sick of it.”
Nicholas said there is a divisiveness in the country, but fortunately there isn’t very much of that in the Wyoming Legislature.
“There are differences of opinion, but we treat everybody with respect and dignity for the most part,” Nicholas said. “I hope that continues and we are a shining star and a beacon for other states on how state governments should operate.”
Wyoming House District 7 is in northwest Cheyenne. It’s a newly-formed district that encompasses some of what was House District 8.