By Leo Wolfson, State Political Reporter
The three candidates running for Wyoming governor gave their perspectives on how they believe elections in the state should be altered moving forward during a Wyoming PBS debate Thursday night.
Libertarian Jared Baldes said increasing voter confidence should be a priority above all else, which he believes could be achieved by banning absentee ballot drop boxes.
“I think if removing those drop boxes is going to make Wyoming voters more, giving them more confidence in their voting, then it’s something we may look at,” he said. “Our elections is what defines us. That is where all of our confidence comes from.”
Absentee ballot drop boxes have been a highly contentious topic of late in Wyoming. There are seven counties with the boxes for the general election, down from nine in 2020. All are under 24-hour surveillance.
The boxes came under fire during the recent secretary of state primary race, with GOP winner state Rep. Chuck Gray of Casper vowing that he will ban them if elected. Interim Secretary of State Karl Allred sent a letter to the state’s county clerks last week asking that they consider removing them for the general election.
Gov. Mark Gordon said he would support county clerks making their own decisions on drop boxes. He said he finds Wyoming’s elections secure and mentioned the voter ID bill he signed into law in 2021 and efforts he took with former Secretary of State Ed Buchanan to strengthen Wyoming’s absentee balloting process.
“There’s always ways we can improve what we do, but I think as we look at major revamps in the way we do elections, we should do that very carefully and thoughtfully because there are outside consequences on the other side,” he said.
Democrat Theresa Livingston also said she is confident in the state’s elections, mentioning her experience working as an election judge. She said she would support mailing ballots to all legal voters, a law in effect in neighboring Colorado. In that state, anyone with a driver’s license age 18 or older is automatically registered to vote.
“Half the people in this state don’t vote,” she said. “A lot of the younger generation don’t vote. To me, it’s more important to get people to vote and find easier ways to do it that are very secure.”
Baldes said he also would consider supporting open primaries.
Sources Of Revenue
Gordon expressed confidence that diversification is happening with Wyoming’s energy-dependent economy.
Baldes said he would support one consideration being made by the Legislature’s Revenue Committee to build a gaming facility on state-owned school trust land to help with educational funding, drawing a comparison to those who apply for a hunting tag.
“As far as gambling goes, it’s an individual liberty,” he said.
Gordon said he would oppose the proposal. He mentioned his education initiative that has studied schooling in Wyoming and said more time needs to be spent on the matter.
Livingston said she’s unsure on the issue. She expressed concern about the $14 million combined cost to operate three new charter schools opening in the state next year. Livingston described the curriculum offered by the institutions as “very bothersome” and said the schools will have a negative effect on public education.
Baldes disagreed, saying more school choice options the better.
Gordon said the system for setting up charter schools in Wyoming is “currently flawed.” He said school choice is important and charter schools have a role to play, but the current laws for setting them up can be improved.
A former BLM employee, Livingston expressed gratitude multiple times for the money Wyoming receives from the federal government. She said Wyoming should consider becoming more liberal, with more attention given to the needs of the state’s younger generations.
Baldes said that “for some reason” the state is pushing away from the coal industry, which he sees as a trend brought on by national pressure. Gordon said he supports carbon capture and making all energy industries as efficient as possible to effectively fight climate change.
Gordon said Wyoming could do a better job with its spending, but commended his administration for having the leanest budget in a decade.
Livingston said the state needs to implement a corporate income tax, but “then again, I’m a Democrat and we always want to have more taxes.”
“We need to be brave enough to trying something new, so why not?” she questioned.
Gordon took credit for diversifying Wyoming’s economy and making the state a better place to live.
Livingston said that “it’s never time to quit” worrying about COVID-19 in Wyoming. Baldes and Gordon agreed, but said it should not constrain the state’s progress.
Livingston said the state should decriminalize marijuana and cannabis products.
“There’s a lot of people in jail and we wouldn’t have to pay for them being in jail,” she said, describing medical marijuana favorably.
Baldes said 80% of Wyoming residents want decriminalization of marijuana and that he would support it if elected governor. He said enforcing marijuana laws puts police in danger.
Gordon said he is personally opposed to decriminalization, but would consider any legislation passed on the matter.
Medicaid Expansion, Mental Health
Baldes is opposed to the state approving Medicaid expansion because he said it ties Wyoming to the federal government. Gordon agreed, saying the state is hung out to dry when federal funding stops on matching programs like Medicaid expansion.
Livingston supports Medicaid expansion and said it would improve the state’s mental health as a whole. Wyoming has had the highest suicide rate in the nation for the last few years.
She also said there needs to be more mental health care workers in Wyoming’s schools.
“To let them know they’re OK and we need to accept everybody for who they are,” she said.
Baldes said he wants to see more community involvement in supporting mental health and counties.
“But if we don’t have the funding, Wyoming cannot afford to continue spending,” he said.
Gordon said the state can do more to collaborate on facilitating better mental health.
“We can do a better job targeting the resources we have for the best use,” he said.
Gordon also mentioned “dilapidated and failing” water and sewer infrastructure and outdated agriculture infrastructure in many Wyoming communities.
At one point in the debate, PBS abruptly cut to a montage of nautical scenes, played over smooth jazz in the background. At another instance, the audio cut out for about five seconds while Baldes was speaking. It was the second debate this election season that Wyoming PBS has experienced technical difficulties.
“I want to apologize to our viewers, I understand we’ve had some brief technical problems,” said host Craig Blumenshine.
There were no further hiccups.