Gubernatorial candidates spar in televised debate
CHEYENNE — Three of the four candidates vying to be Wyoming’s next governor appeared on Cheyenne television Saturday night to lay out their vision for the state’s economy. By the end, two of the candidates were exchanging accusations of lies and distortions of records.
Republican Mark Gordon, Democrat Mary Throne and the Constitution Party’s Rex Rammell all participated in the hourlong event that centered primarily on the state’s fiscal outlook, including economic development, possible changes to the tax code and how to fund the state’s obligations within the confines of a tightening budget.
Libertarian Lawrence Struempf didn’t take part in the event.
Gordon, the current state treasurer, said Wyoming had to grow its economy while at the same time learning to live within its means to deal with its financial situation. He said the state needed to trim waste, but now isn’t the time to talk about potential tax increases or other drastic changes to how the state takes in revenue.
“There’s no need for us to be out there talking about tax increases. We do need to spend some time figuring out what our priorities are, getting our spending in line. And we have opportunities to make a sustainable stab at our fiscal situation going forward,” Gordon said. “Does that mean over time the state might want to consider some conversation about taxes? We’ve done it in the past, and we’ll probably do it in the future.”
Rammell, a veterinarian, continued to expound on the fact he had taken a pledge not to raise taxes at all and tried to hammer both Gordon and Throne for not doing the same. Rammell said the state needs to substantially shrink its government and expand the economy to deal with its fiscal situation. He proposed using the state’s investment funds to provide small-business loans as a way of pumping millions into the state economy.
“I’m the only one who has pledged not to raise taxes out of the three of us,” Rammell said. “And if the tax question comes up, [Gordon] is always going to say ‘I don’t want to talk about it right now.’ Because, I believe, in his heart, he’s willing to do it. The truth is out here. There’s one candidate who will not raise taxes, and that’s Rex Rammell, and I have pledged that.”
Throne, the former minority leader in the state House, said she was the only candidate being honest with voters about the state’s fiscal situation. She said reports show the state’s current tax structure is unsustainable and too many important programs like education face cuts. That was why she wanted to look at ways to change the tax system in the future.
“I didn’t get into this race to tell people what they want to hear. I got into this race to tell people what they need to know. And the simple fact of the matter is our future is bleak if we don’t tackle the tax issue,” Throne said. “I have said throughout this campaign that I would not advocate for a state income tax. I think the problem is we get hung up on finding that one magic solution. The truth of the matter is if we do not broaden our economy at the same time we diversify it, we won’t solve our fiscal crisis.”
Both Gordon and Throne said they’d sign a bill giving local governments more power to increase taxes, while Rammell said he would veto any measure that had to do with taxes.
Taxes weren’t the only issue where Rammell tried to take the fight to Gordon. Rammell took multiple opportunities to attack Gordon’s record, especially when it came to the energy sector. During a discussion on a federal judge’s decision to stop a planned grizzly bear hunt in Wyoming, which all three candidates disagreed with, Rammell started a line of attack he continued to come back to that Gordon opposed the energy industry because he had donated money to environmental groups and at one point was part of the Sierra Club.
“These environmental groups are coming into the state of Wyoming and wreaking havoc. And Mr. Gordon has been a strong supporter of nearly every radical environment, are you going to deny this, every radical environment group in the West,” Rammell said.
Gordon said he did sit on the board of the Sierra Club in the 1980s, a fact he pointed out had been discussed during the Republican primary.
“I was working to put Wyoming’s agricultural interests first, and I have worked diligently to make sure Wyoming and our agricultural interests are first and foremost,” Gordon said. “I was part of the Sierra Club way before the Beyond Coal campaign, and I resigned from the Sierra Club before the Beyond Coal campaign. Quit throwing out that stupid stuff.”