A Republican primary forum Wednesday served to display some of the differences among area state House candidates.
The forum was put on by the Park County Republican Women and reflected the times due to COVID-19. It was outside at City Park, some people wore masks and a candidate was absent due to quarantine. While few showed up to watch in person, hundreds watched online.
Two of three candidates for House 24 attended – incumbent Sandy Newsome and challenger Nina Webber. Former representative Scott Court was absent.
House 25 Rep. Dan Laursen of Powell spoke, along with write-in challenger Justine Larsen.
Then there was David Bayert of Basin, challenging incumbent House 28 Rep. John Winter of Thermopolis, whose district covers Meeteetse.
Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, running unopposed in House District 50, had prepared a letter to let people know she would not be attending due to having tested positive for COVID-19 to lay out her pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, mental health focus.
The candidates addressed a number of issues, agreeing on some and splitting sharply on others, such as how closely to follow the state GOP platform.
School budget cuts?
Webber said she was against cutting teachers and others who work directly with students, but said administrators could handle pay cuts and districts could do better if not paying for multiple superintendents at once, as the Cody School District has done with buying out the contract of former superintendent Ray Schulte.
“We cannot afford any more payments, period,” she said.
Newsome said school districts and the state could do a better job listening to efficiency experts. She said one easy way to cut costs would be to get many of the state’s special education students who are eligible to have Medicaid pay for instruction instead the state.
“That’s a pretty low hanging fruit,” she said.
Larsen, a paraprofessional at the Powell School District, said any cuts would be tough.
Laursen, who has been in the legislature for six years said while their job is mostly to give school boards money to dole out, they could give more guidance, such as cutting administrator salaries.
Bayert, who called himself an old oil field hand, said after many layoffs and pay cuts, he knows Wyoming is a boom or bust economy and, when we’re in a bust, cuts need to come “top to bottom.”
Require voter ID?
Webber said she has campaigned extensively and of all the people she has talked to, voter ID is one of the top issues on people’s minds. She said a state ID only costs $10 so it’s well worth it to safeguard elections.
“The people want it and our state wants it,” she said.
Newsome said she supports voter ID but did not support a bill in the legislature on the matter as it did not specify appropriate IDs to use. She said she would happily support a voter ID bill with clear language on an acceptable ID, and no cost to get a state ID.
“In all my public life, I’ve never seen a person who would not vote if given the opportunity,” she said.
Laursen said he’s for a voter ID and has always voted in favor of bills to establish a requirement.
Larsen said she doesn’t feel adding another layer of paperwork would be good.
Bayert said he’s voted absentee for 40 years and never had an issue, so until there’s a problem with voter fraud in the state, the matter should be left alone.
Areas of the state Republican platform you disagree with?
Webber said she believes completely in the platform and would sign the Park County pledge to vote with the party at least 80% of the time.
“I support all of those platforms,” she said. “As a Republican, you should too.”
Newsome said the platform is an important document but that it includes a lot of debate and difference of opinions.
“I support 90% of it, but the 10% are things that, given discussion, we could come to an agreement on,” she said.
Laursen said, as one of the three party chairs helping to lead creation of the state platform that he’s behind it 100%.
Larsen is not interested in percentages and said every document is fluid.
Bayert disagreed with every document being fluid as he held up a large Bible and said, “This is the truth.” He said he’s a Republican because he believes in the Biblical principles and said the GOP party aligns most closely with those principles.