Green River Star -

By David Martin
Editor 

H.D. 60 candidates discuss issues

 

David Martin

John Freeman, incumbent Democrat running for his House District 60 seat, speaks to an audience at the Sweetwater County Library's political forum Wednesday night.

Candidates vying for the House District 60 seat in the Wyoming Legislature spoke about the issues Wyoming faces Wednesday night.

Speaking at a political forum hosted by the Sweetwater County Library System, incumbent Democrat John Freeman and Republican challenger Bill Hooley discussed involving the Bureau of Land Management, Wyoming Game and Fish, the state lottery and same-sex marriage.

Freeman has represented H.D. 60 for the past four years and said education is one of the issues close to him. Freeman worked as an educator for 33 years, 23 of which were spent in alternative high schools. When Freeman first arrived in Cheyenne, he said it was tough to be a teacher in Wyoming because education was severely scrutinized by legislators.

"I found it was not very nice," he said.

Freeman said he supports fewer tests and has worked to help lift a moratorium on alternative high schools and help the state's community colleges.

Hooley originally came to Wyoming from Utah, saying he fell in love with the area after moving here. Hooley's major concern is with government growth, which in Wyoming he claims has increased by 300 percent, while the state population has increased at a much lower rate. He believes the state needs to increase its private sector growth.

Hooley also said he tried to contact Freeman during a previous legislative session through email and phone calls, but never received a response from him.

"We need legislators that listen to their constituents," he said.

While discussing if the state or federal government was better at controlling infectious diseases, Hooley said the state was better equipped to deal with diseases than the federal government. He said local control of those situations is better and a response would start at the local level, because locals are better motivated than federal officials.

"Our state is better equipped to do that," he said.

Freeman said partnerships between the federal government and state and local governments would be key in preventing the a disease from spreading. Using Ebola as an example, Freeman said local health officials have no training in dealing with the disease and would need support from the Centers for Disease Control in answering a challenge presented by Ebola.

The two also discussed if BLM management of horses is on target, where Freeman said that while he isn't a biologist, he agrees that there are a large number of horses on the range. He said while a court order to remove some of the horses is in effect, it doesn't address the issue of there the horses should go. He also criticized using the horses for meat, saying the idea of making them steaks on the dinner plate bothers him.

Hooley, a former BLM employee, said the organization has good programs and bad programs. He admits the herds in the Wamsutter area have gotten huge and said horse adoption is one option, but other options for dealing with the horse population do need to be explored.

The candidates were also asked when they felt it would be time to tap into the state's rainy-day funds and which programs could use the funding. Freeman said a problem exists with the rainy-day account in that it was created through a budget amendment that doesn't specify how the funds would be used. On July 1, 2014, $200 million was placed into the account without legislative action, though Freeman said the state departments took a 16 percent budget cut during the last budget session. Freeman said the money is kept as cash reserves and isn't invested, unlike the Permanent Mineral Trust fund which generates approximately $100 million a year in interest. Freeman said the rainy-day account needs to be reformed with language specifying when and how the money is used.

Hooley said the state utilizes a lot of federal funding, but expects the funding to begin decreasing or being cut completely. He said he thinks the state should build reserves to fund two full budgetary cycles that would fund the state at its current expenditure levels.

In regards to same-sex marriage, Hooley said same sex couples shouldn't be allowed to marry as its a religious institution specifically between a man and a woman. Freeman said the state may not have a say in the issue if the federal government takes a stand on the issue. He does believe there should be economic equality for same sex couples.

When asked how their past experience would benefit them in Cheyenne, Freeman said he has lots of experience in working with people to achieve goals. One such example he used is getting the Greenbelt built in Green River. He also said he has a reputation for being a legislator who listens to both sides of the aisle, not just one party, as well as finding common ground between the two.

Hooley said he takes great pride in being able to help people and is willing to serve. Being involved in both the Boy Scouts and activities through his church, he has strong experience in helping out.

"Serving means listening," Hooley said.

When asked if the state lottery should be expanded to cover scratch tickets, Hooley said he isn't a fan of the lottery, believing it to have grown government larger.

Freeman utilized an old quote when talking about the lottery, saying he voted against it before voting for it. He said the initial bill presented to him didn't specify where funding would go. After his initial vote against it, he said he went to the Golden Hour Senior Center, where he received criticism for not supporting the bill. The following session, Freeman told lotto supporters he would vote for it if it specified where the funds generated would go. In regards to scratch tickets specifically, he said he would support it.

Green River resident Gary Pope asked how the two would vote if an issue came up that they personally were against but their constituents supported. Freeman said the issue is the million dollar question, saying they're elected to represent but also for their core values. Freeman said sometimes information is made available to legislators that their constituents might not know. He said he would support the constituents' views unless totally against a bill.

Hooley said legislators are there to represent the people in their districts, saying the government should be a bottom-up system where the constituents' views are brought to the government. He said some portions of a bill might not make it worth voting for, but stressed the need for communication between a legislator and constituents to keep them abreast of what is going on during the session.

Muley Fanatic Foundation CEO Josh Coursey asked if federal lands should be transferred to the state. Hooley said locals can manage the lands better than federal government employees, but said Wyoming wasn't guaranteed lands like Utah was. Hooley also said it would transfer more burden to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Freeman said regardless of who has the lands, the Endangered Species Act would still need to be followed regardless of who oversaw the land. He said the large amounts of state lands in Wyoming have resulted in challenges to mixed uses and said expenses to oversee the lands would be higher. He said the state would just add to the problems regarding public use because the state doesn't have the resources available that the federal government does.

Regarding Coursey's other question about if the Wyoming Game and Fish Department should be privatized, Freeman said it shouldn't because the department has saved the state many times. He said research conducted by the department has resulted in keeping sage grouse off the Endangered Species List, which has allowed drilling to continue in Wyoming. He said he doesn't want to see the department politicized because he said many people, including sportsmen, have a lot of respect for what the department does.

Hooley said he believes portions can be privatized, such as its program raising game birds, which could ultimately save money. He criticized the department for keeping its budget away from public scrutiny, a claim Freeman disagreed with by saying it's looked at by multiple legislative committees and said the process is public.

Kathy Luzmoor, asked if either candidate would be in favor of expanding Medicaid coverage to 17,000 Wyoming residents. Hooley said he wouldn't be in favor of the expansion, saying it would kick approximately 6,000 workers off their employer's insurance and called the program an extremely expensive one that does not work.

David Martin

Bill Hooley, responds to a question asked by an audience member at the Sweetwater County Library System's political forum Wednesday night.

Freeman said many of the concerns regarding expansion can be addressed when the state negotiates expansion. He asked if its right to allow 17,000 people to not have insurance, calling the issue a moral question. Freeman said Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County loses $20 million a year to indigent care and recognized that the Affordable Healthcare Act needs improved.

Resident Ted Barney asked what their stances are on the decriminalization of marijuana. Freeman said he's seen pot used as a gateway drug while he worked as a teacher, but does know medicinal marijuana has its benefits. He also acknowledged Washington and Colorado having unanticipated revenue from their legalization of the drug, but noted they both have problems associated with it as well. Freeman said he wouldn't support decriminalization until more data was available to Wyoming on the subject.

Hooley said he gets a lot of emails about that question, saying its already available in pill form for specific uses, but said he wouldn't support decriminalization.

 

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