By Kristine Galloway
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE — The Republican candidates for Wyoming governor can agree on many issues, but that doesn’t mean they are friendly to each other.
Wyoming PBS and Wyoming Public Media hosted a Republican gubernatorial debate Thursday at the Wyoming National Guard Joint Forces Readiness Center.
During the debate, candidate Harriet Hageman spent her closing statement explaining that she cares about Wyoming and why she believes opponents Mark Gordon and Sam Galeotos don’t.
“I have always – and will always – put Wyoming first, but I do not believe that the same can be said of my opponents,” Hageman said.
Among other examples, she said she protected ranchers from wolves, while Gordon brought them to Wyoming and that Green House Data, a company for which Galeotos sits on the board, is against coal and ranching.
Gordon responded, “You know that’s nonsense. You know that’s nonsense, and it’s disingenuous.” He said he never funded wolves and is a sheep rancher himself.
Galeotos explained that Green House Data purchases renewable energy, as do many nationwide companies. He said Hageman’s comments show a lack of understanding of business and the private sector.
The sponsors split the debate into two one-hour debates. Craig Blumenshine, public affairs producer for Wyoming PBS, said they split the candidates into groups of three based on a University of Wyoming poll.
The first debate included Galeotos, Gordon and Hageman. The second debate featured Bill Dahlin, Foster Friess and Taylor Haynes.
Outside that one thorny moment at the end of the first debate, many times the candidates fell on similar ground.
Asked about the state’s liquor licensing system, candidates Haynes, Friess and Dahlin all agreed the system should be deregulated. Friess said, “It would allow more opportunities for restaurants and bars to thrive.”
Galeotos, Gordon and Hageman all support the University of Wyoming’s new slogan, “The World Needs More Cowboys.” Gordon and Hageman even joined the audience in applauding the slogan.
Gordon, Galeotos and Hageman all said they wouldn’t support a state law to address discrimination against the state’s LGBTQ population.
Gordon said, “I think our state’s constitution speaks very broadly about the fact that no one should be discriminated against, and I believe very strongly that if we see discrimination in Wyoming, we have the tools to be able to protect those people.”
Hageman said the state doesn’t need specific equality laws for specific people, and she said states that have such laws don’t perform as well economically as states that do not have them.
All six Republican candidates support the Second Amendment and do not support gun-free zones, such as the UW campus.
In the second debate of the evening, all three candidates mostly agreed that the governor should not meddle in the affairs of the Native American Tribes on the Wind River Reservation.
Asked how the governor could help improve the judicial and law enforcement system on the Wind River reservation, Friess said the governor had no business at all sticking his nose in the tribes’ business.
“I think they have the capacity to solve those problems,” he said.
Haynes said he planned to build a relationship with the tribal councils for both sovereign tribes on the reservation and show them that he wants to help any way he can.
In other areas, they agreed on needs but not methods.
Asked about mental health care in Wyoming, Gordon said it should be one of the state’s biggest priorities. He said he served on a mental health board in northern Wyoming, and he believes in investing money into mental health care in the state’s towns.
Hageman agreed that mental health issues must take precedence in the state. She said she heard concerns about mental health care at every stop she’s made in the state.
“One of the challenges that we have in Wyoming is that we simply don’t have the providers,” she said.
“One of the very first things I’d like to do as governor is convene a summit and bring people together for days on end, if that’s what it’s going to take, to sit down and find some real solutions to provide those services in our rural communities.”
Some of the candidates differed greatly on their ideas for economic diversification in Wyoming. Haynes said he plans to “kill ENDOW.” ENDOW – Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming – is Gov. Matt Mead’s economic diversity effort, which launched in 2017.
“We have to get government out of the business of trying to stimulate the economy,” Haynes said.
Dahlin said he would like to look into why the state spent $1 billion over 20 years on the Wyoming Business Council, which he said was founded specifically to diversify the state and hasn’t shown much in the way of results. He agreed that ENDOW should be dismantled.
However, Dahlin also said he believes in economic diversity. “I’m an energy guy. I actually bought a coal mine that was out of business, and I turned it into a multi-level diversified business,” he said.
“I can tell you that if we put all our eggs in one basket, as a businessman dealing in that sector, I’m not comfortable with it.”