State candidates spar over secrecy, wolves
Three candidates say property taxes top priority.
By Noah Brenner, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
October 8, 2008
Candidates for state Legislature seats representing portions of Jackson Hole debated key Wyoming issues, including open government, wildlife management and health care, Saturday at a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters.
Republican challenger Joe Schloss debated against incumbent Democrat Pete Jorgensen in the contest for the House District 16 seat, which covers much of northern Jackson and Teton Village.
Democrat Jim Roscoe of Wilson squared off against Republican Charles Stough of Boulder, as they vied for the House District 22 seat that was left open when incumbent Rep. Monte Olsen decided not to run for re-election.
The first few questions of the debate focused on open government, including whether votes on the floor should be recorded electronically and whether the state’s open-meeting law should apply to the Legislature.
Jorgensen and Roscoe endorsed both measures, saying nothing should come between the public and legislators’ votes and deliberations on issues.
Schloss was skeptical of both measures, saying that he supported them at first glance but thought there may be reasons why some things should be kept private that he did not know about yet.
Stough said he thought some meetings should remain private but endorsed recording votes electronically.
“I am in favor of any system, technically or manually done, which increases accountability and openness in the legislative process,” he said. “If I am fortunate enough to go to the Legislature, you may not like how I vote on every issue, but it is your right to know how I vote.”
Jorgensen and Schloss split on whether to push for reform of the state’s lodging tax statutes that might allow Teton County to use proceeds from the tax more creatively. Because the proceeds must be used for tourism and promotion, Teton County is one of the only counties that does not levy such a tax.
“We need to remove the restrictions on how it’s used,” Jorgensen said. “It’s very awkward in Cheyenne to ask for money for Teton County when we are not using other revenue sources available to us.”
Schloss said hotel owners are against the tax and know best how it would affect them.
“We should pay very close attention to the people closest to this industry and know what prices can be sustained,” he said. “There are other forms of tax, and we have to stop and ask ourselves: Is this tax necessary?”
Both Stough and Roscoe said they thought the tax should be amended to allow more flexibility.
The two split, however, on how Wyoming should handle wolf delisting.
Stough said the state should continue to defend its current wolf plan, which allows unregulated hunting in most of Wyoming, against legal challenges.
Roscoe said he favors state control but the best way to get there was to classify wolves as trophy game statewide and regulate hunting.
“I can see that we could strike a balance between ranching and wolves and that would happen if Wyoming had control,” he said. “There should be trophy status [statewide] under any new policy.”
The candidates’ health-care plans all differed in their details.
Jorgensen said the only programs currently working were those run through the government, including Medicare, Medicaid and veterans health care. A first step should include increasing reimbursements for doctors under existing programs, increasing the threshold for Medicaid to cover more families, and giving the state greater oversight over insurance companies.
Schloss said he supported allowing pooling the population base of Idaho and Montana to make the region more attractive to insurance companies.
“Collectively, we would have about 3 million people,” he said, “and that would provide a larger population base to attract an insurance carrier.”
Stough said the state needs to continue to offer scholarships for doctors willing to work in rural areas after graduation. Roscoe said he had hoped the federal government would address the issue but it was now time for the state to get involved.
All of the candidates except Jorgensen said their first goal, if elected to office, would be to push for reform of the state’s property-tax system. Jorgensen was not asked about what he would like to do if re-elected and instead was asked to detail his accomplishments in six years in the House. He pointed to his seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, as well as his efforts on education and health-care issues.