Democratic Senate candidates face off in virtual forum

Tom Coulter with the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, from the Wyoming News Exchange

Three Democrats seeking the U.S. Senate seat now held by U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi faced off in a virtual forum Monday night. The candidates taking part were, from left to right, Nathan Wendt, Merav Ben-David and Yana Ludwig. (Courtesy photos)

Democratic Senate candidates face off in virtual forum


By Tom Coulter

Wyoming Tribune Eagle

Via Wyoming News Exchange


CHEYENNE — Three candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in Wyoming's U.S. Senate race discussed some of their differences on health care, foreign policy and environmental issues during a virtual forum Monday night.

The candidates - University of Wyoming ecology professor Merav Ben-David, Laramie community organizer Yana Ludwig and Jackson global affairs consultant Nathan Wendt - all met a threshold to qualify for the forum, which was put on by the Wyoming Democratic Party.

The trio had already discussed some of their priorities during a July 23 debate in Riverton, but the forum Monday gave them another chance to expand on some of their different stances.


--Health care--


While Ludwig and Ben-David have backed a public, single-payer system, Wendt has offered his support for a "Medicare for All who want it"-style approach.

During the forum Monday, Wendt maintained that market forces need to be harnessed to arrive at a better health care system.

"The idea is if anybody doesn't have insurance is automatically enrolled (in Medicare) ... and anybody who wants to keep what they have, it's totally up to you," Wendt said.

Wendt added his proposal could avoid creating a "humungous political battle" in Congress, compared to single-payer proposals.

"It just lets the market decide, and that's also what people want to do in Wyoming," Wendt said.

Ludwig, in response, compared her opponent's proposal to discussions about the Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law in 2010.

"A lot of our Democratic leadership, as well as Republican leadership, are in the pockets of these big insurance companies, and the U.S. spends the most money for some of the worst outcomes," Ludwig said. "That is what the market has given us."

A single-payer system, Ludwig argued, would remove the "gatekeeping" over which doctors a person can see under private insurance plans.

Ben-David, who also supports a single-payer setup, questioned how efficiently a "Medicare for All who want it"-style system could be implemented.

"When you look at how you devise a health care system, if we have two systems running in parallel, our ability to negotiate drug prices, our ability to actually create a system where we support rural hospitals, where we come up with plans to attain health professionals, these are issues that are really important in Wyoming," Ben-David said.

Wendt agreed that exorbitant drug prices and lobbyist influence were issues that needed to be addressed, but he drew a line between himself and his opponents.

"I think where I disagree with Yana is that we've never introduced the public option pathway, so we've never seen if this works before," Wendt said. "So (my plan) is what I think is ultimately going to get us there, because we've never tried it."


--Income inequality--


The candidates also discussed how they would address wage inequality, which has grown substantially in recent decades in the U.S.

Ludwig, who has made labor issues a priority in her campaign, backed a $15 federal minimum wage with living wage adjustments, and she advocated for eliminating several minimum-wage exemptions.

"We also need to be lowering the ceiling, and ... I'd actually like to see a cap on CEO wages, where a CEO can't make more than 20 times the lowest-paid person in the company, which is about what it was in 1950 when we actually had a middle class," Ludwig said.

Wendt largely agreed, advocating for an approach that would give businesses an earned income tax credit to reach the $15 hourly threshold for their employees. Ludwig pushed back on the idea, arguing the annual tax credits wouldn't help Americans cover expenses over a calendar year.

Ben-David tied the discussion to health care, stating a single-payer system would help to drive down businesses' other expenses and allow them to provide higher wages.

The UW professor also mentioned student debt as a huge economic barrier for younger people. She pointed to Wyoming's setup, with high per-capita spending and solid scholarship options for students, as a model that should be expanded.


--Environmental policy--


Ben-David and Ludwig both mentioned their support for the Citizens Climate Lobby's proposal for a carbon fee and dividend, pointing to the potential job creation that studies have found could come from such a policy.

Ludwig also tied the country's environmental practices to its foreign policy, noting the U.S. military is one of the largest carbon contributors in the world. A partial solution, she argued, is to reduce the country's worldwide military presence.

"I don't think that means we get rid of military personnel," she said. "I think it means we bring them home and put them to work as a well-trained ... group of people."

Wendt, meanwhile, emphasized the state's vast potential for wind energy, and he said Wyoming needs to build out "the renewable energy supply chain" to create new job and business opportunities in related manufacturing.

He also said carbon capture, which involves trapping carbon dioxide emissions through various technologies being explored, is "a ripe area for Wyoming to lead."

"If we created a carbon capture national lab (in northeastern Wyoming), we create thousands of jobs that stimulate the local economy, and we would support that community for decades to come," Wendt said. "That's something that a U.S. senator would be able to do, and probably only a U.S. senator."

Ben-David pushed back in response to the idea, stating carbon capture technology has yet to be proven as reliable.

"If our intent is to provide high-quality jobs for Wyomingites, what we need to do is to think of ourselves beyond an energy-producing state ... we can offer much, much more to workers in Wyoming, and that's what we need to strive for," said Ben-David, mentioning robotics and artificial intelligence as a few examples.

While early and absentee voting is already underway, the primary election will be held Aug. 18. Local election officials have advised residents who are voting absentee to mail their ballots by Friday, Aug. 7, to ensure they are counted.

With longtime U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi retiring at the end of the year, the ultimate winner in the Nov. 3 general election will be Wyoming's first newcomer in the Senate since 2007.


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