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Wyoming Republican candidates for governor out positions at Torrington forum

June 21, 2018 GMT

TORRINGTON — With the primary election two months away, the Goshen County Republicans hosted a gubernatorial forum at the Eastern Wyoming College Fine Arts Auditorium June 19.

All six Republican candidates attended: former independent nominee and surgeon Dr. Taylor Haynes, Wyoming state treasurer Mark Gordon, Goshen County native and attorney Harriet Hageman, and businessmen Foster Friess, Bill Dahlin and Sam Galeotos.

Herb Doby, the vice-chairman of the Goshen County Republicans, said the group likes to hold forums for competitive elections. Each time the group holds a forum, someone on the committee — Doby this time — contacts all the candidates and invites them to the forum.

“It’s not required, it’s purely voluntary,” he said. “Most of them want to come, because Wyoming is a big state and they do a lot of traveling and this is an opportunity to come and speak their peace.”

The questions, read by forum moderator Shane Viktorin, are generated by another committee made up of members with no connections to any of the campaigns, which are kept hidden from the candidates.

“I think there are some forums where they may know in advance what the questions are going to be,” Doby said, “but they don’t here. They’re answering them cold.”

The questions covered a variety of topics, including candidate’s definition of a conservative Republican, each candidate’s opinions regarding the party’s platform, the state’s structural deficit, and water rights.

Haynes, a self-proclaimed constitutionalist, centered his answers around the U.S. Constitution and Wyoming’s state constitution. Most of the problems facing Wyoming, he said, were the result of not giving proper respect due to the Constitution. He was particularly concerned with other states and politicians attempting to amend it.

“We are all equal under the law and we are all equally protected under the law,” he said. “We’re not seeing that play out on the national stage, but when I’m governor, we’ll see that play out in Wyoming.”

Friess pointed to his success as a businessman and connections both in and outside of the state. He also argued for a need for citizens to treat each other better. In response to a question about the creation of special classes, particularly transgender people, he pointed out that it’s possible to disagree with someone without making them an enemy.

“How do we keep our society kind?” he said. “We have an opportunity to reflect kindness to the whole nation. You look around these small towns and they get along fairly well. I believe that’s something that we can take to the rest of the country.”

Dahlin, the only candidate with a direct connection to the energy industry through his coal sales and mines pushed for diversifying the economy, especially in light of Wyoming’s growing losses in the energy industry and credit rating dropping from AAA to AA. He particularly pointed to growing industrial hemp as a cash crop as one possibility.

“We need to start thinking differently,” he said. “None of us can do it ourselves, but there’s nothing we can’t do together, and that starts with our thinking. If we start to think differently, we can accomplish great things for the state of Wyoming.”

Hageman, who has 20 years experience dealing with water and natural resource laws and compacts, argued that she was the best possible candidate for dealing with water rights, particularly for the future. She also said, during a question regarding the 10th amendment, that Wyoming will need to take back its responsibilities from the federal government. That was, in fact, the reason she chose to run.

“We have been stockpiling more and more and more power back in Washington, D.C., over the last 30-40 years, and we’ve seen a real degregation in our society because of that,” she said. “The only way we’re going to get real reform is if the states are the ones to take power and start asserting their authority.”

Gordon pointed to his years as state treasurer as evidence of his ability to work with the state’s legislature. When discussing the structural debt, he pointed out that the government can’t simply turn it off like a light switch. He also said that he and other state treasurers in fighting against a provision in an early draft of a federal tax reform bill that would have allowed the federal government to tax state sovereign funds.

“We can make a difference,” he said. “It’s going to come from having a governor who understands how to work with others, it’s going to come from standing firm, and I think there’s things we can push for.”

Galeotos emphasized economic growth, particularly through travel, tourism, and technology. Too much of Wyoming’s future has been placed on the energy industry, he argued. He also pointed to the 5,500 students who graduated from high school, and the need to keep as many as possible in the state and their need to be prepared for the new job market.

“We need to make sure that our kids are passing through an education system that prepares them for those jobs,” he said. “Technology is going to rapidly change our state and our nation over the next 10 years, and we need to be prepared to take advantage of what’s going to happen as far as where the new economy is going to be.”

A full video of the forum will be available on the Goshen County Republicans Facebook page.

mark.gaschler@starherald.com