By Mike Koshmrl
Jackson Hole News&Guide
Via Wyoming News Exchange
JACKSON — The crowded field of candidates vying for Wyoming governor gathered in Jackson last week to send a message of steadfast support to a roomful of mining executives.
A call for decreased environmental regulation was nearly unanimous among the eight-person Wyoming Mining Association panel, dominated by Republicans and limited-government-leaning candidates hoping to fill the seat being vacated by the term-limited Gov. Matt Mead.
Candidates like Laramie physician Taylor Haynes came out firing when asked how they’d fix Wyoming’s finances without increasing royalties on extractive industries. All new wealth, he said, is going to come out of the ground.
“When we take over management of all federal lands we’re going to open this whole deal up,” Haynes told a ballroom, filled with convention attendees, at Snow King Hotel. “There will be more mining, and there will be more logging. There will be more natural resource revenue coming into our state. We don’t need more taxes; we need better management.”
Constitution Party candidate Rex Rammell, who proudly pointed out a mountain in the Tetons bearing his name, saw it similarly. The path forward is reducing bureaucracy and regulation, he said, not diversifying the economy.
“It’d solve so many problems, simply to remove all the federal red tape, regulations, the lawsuits, the EPA,” Rammell said. “It’s beyond ridiculous, and it’s gone on for so many decades that it’s time we had a governor that would actually say, ‘You know what, the state should be running all this, and we’re going to excuse you from our state.’”
Others, like Mary Throne, the lone Democrat on the candidate panel, said diversification was the answer.
“We can’t build an economy of the future on the tax structure of the past,” Throne said. “Seventy percent of our revenue coming from you folks is not going to work.
“I won’t look to the mineral industry for new taxes,” she said.
The candidates didn’t delve into detail, having just a minute or two to speak on each topic. However, some candidates did refer to specific policy changes or past accomplishments to demonstrate how they would govern.
Mark Gordon, Wyoming’s treasurer, pointed to his work reforming the workers compensation fund.
“I want to take that experience — an experience you can ground-truth — and I want to take that and lead this state as your governor,” he said.
Gordon added that local governments should be able to better leverage bonding so they’re not so dependent on state coffers.
Jackson billionaire investor and philanthropist Foster Friess said fixing Wyoming’s finances would require going through each line item in the budget and asking: “Is it necessary, or is it nice?”
He suggested his self-created wealth was a qualification for the governorship during closing statements.
“I’ve been here a quarter of a century and, during that time, the $2 billion that I arrived with has turned into almost $15 billion, with no advertising,” Friess said. “I would love to be able to sell … maybe we could make Wyoming a national brand.”
Although talk of dismantling regulation for the benefit of industrial development consumed much of the hourlong panel discussion, some candidates said privately afterward that they see merit in keeping mines and drilling rigs out of some places.
Rammell, who eyes a takeover of Wyoming’s 30 million acres of federal property, said that if the state somehow gains land management jurisdiction under his guidance the landscape will be kept “pristine and beautiful.” He supports the state-run Department of Environmental Quality but not the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
“People don’t understand that conservative people like me, we like beauty, too,” Rammell said. “We like the pristine environment.”
Friess also said he sees some merit in regulatory safeguards meant to ensure clean water and air.
“You have to have environmental regulations,” he said in an interview.
Wyoming’s sage grouse conservation plan, Friess said, is an example of a framework that works.
Another wealthy businessman vying for the governorship, Cheyenne resident Sam Galeotos, said that extractive industries are well suited to police themselves when asked about the role of environmental regulation.
“I think that they’re fairly responsible in their attitude and what they do,” Galeotos said in an interview. “It needs to be a responsibility that comes with the territory, and I think it does.”
Candidates Bill Dahlin and Harriet Hageman also participated in the Wyoming Mining Association panel.