All four challengers for retiring Sen. Hank Coe’s state Senate seat took the stage Wednesday to explain to those in City Park and those watching online why they would be the best successor.
Challengers include current HD 50 Rep. David Northrup, longtime Cody School Board trustee Stefanie Bell, former longtime county commissioner Tim French, and city and county planning and zoning board member Richard Jones.
They were joined by Ed Cooper, one of three candidates for Senate District 20, which covers Meeteetse. He remarked early on that the only person there who could vote for him was Ten Sleep small business owner David Bayert, the HD 28 candidate who left the stage in the prior forum.
Still he, like Bayert, stayed to make his point heard along with the others in the Park County Republican Women’s candidate forum.
Many spoke of their roots in the state, and all pointed to decades of experience in and out of public service.
Following are a handful of the questions asked and how each candidate answered.
What would be the effect of a state or corporate income tax in Wyoming?
While none of the candidates spoke in favor of a state income tax, reactions to the corporate tax were more mixed.
Bell said while she opposes the income tax, the corporate tax is more complicated. “When it comes to big box stores, what they already have budgeted for corporate taxes they can pay to Wyoming,” she said, adding she’d be open to the tax as long as it looked out for local businesses.
Jones said being the only state without either an income or corporate tax was a major selling point for the state and it should stay that way.
“Corporate taxes affect all businesses,” he said. “It’s a disincentive for people to come here – right now we don’t have to offer many special deals (to attract businesses).”
French said he was against any new taxes and asked what families would have to give up to afford a state income tax. As for the corporate income tax, he said it would have a big negative effect.
“Wyoming is having a hard time now attracting new businesses,” he said.
Northrup likewise said he was opposed to the personal income tax and a new corporate tax, saying corporations are already taxed.
“We need to attract new business instead of penalizing them for being here,” he said. “We don’t need to tax more than what we already have.”
Cooper said increasing corporate taxes would be detrimental to the economy and instead the state should do a better job promoting the low taxes.
Do you support armed personnel in the schools, eliminating gun free zones?
Jones said while school shootings are very rare, those that involve a subject breaking in are even rarer, thus armed teachers are better than hardening schools.
“If I’m an employee, I have a right to defend myself,” he said. “And a gun-free zone, that’s a shooting zone.”
French likewise said he supports schools including armed staff, as it could alter the outcome of many of the school shootings over the years. He also approved of eliminating gun-free zones.
“Gun-free zones are a big advertisement for anybody with ill intent,” he said. “Why would you advertise that?”
Northrup, who co-sponsored the bill that allowed schools such as Cody to start the process for permitting certain trained staff to carry concealed firearms, said he supports the ability for schools to decide how they want to be protected, whether with school resource officers or staff or both.
“Local decisions are the best decisions,” he said.
Bell, who initially voted against the Cody Schools armed staff policy, chuckled and said it must have been a question for her. She said based on rule changes, her thoughts on armed teachers have changed.
“Policy CKA has been revised; now it’s a much better policy than two years ago,” she said. “I will be voting in affirmative and I suspect it will be unanimous. And I have supported the board with the rule since its passage.”
Cooper said that, as gun-free zones in every sense are an infringement on the Second Amendment, he could not support it.
Do you support Medicaid expansion?
French said he was against expansion as other states have had problems with it and it’s not in Wyoming’s best interest.
“Utah has a problem financially with it,” he said. “In Ohio it’s crippled the state economy.”
Northrup, too, said he would support having the program cover a certain population.
“In the House, I voted to look into special ed expansion for Medicaid,” he said, adding it could cut a chunk of expenses from schools as the federal government would take it on in terms of assisting with special needs students.
Bell said the question was a complex one and legislators would need to look at the issue of rural hospitals and how to keep them operational.
“I would consider Medicaid expansion in a very restrictive sense,” she said. “It’s offering low income people who are working a chance to have insurance.”
Jones said it is tricky, since the state still has to kick in a certain portion of funds in Medicaid expansion.
“How do you pay that from the state?“ he said. “What kind of coverage is it? I’m not in favor of it.”
Cooper said as someone who has spent the last 48 years in oil and gas, he has seen the worst of communism in the Soviet Union and the worst of socialism in Venezuela and said he doesn’t want to do something that is another step toward a socialist state.