Via the Wyoming Tribune Eagle
As we enter the homestretch of the 2018 campaign season, some voters already have their minds made up and have cast their ballots.
Yet many others are taking a wait-and-see approach. They’re looking forward to upcoming debates and candidate forums to help inform their choices in the Nov. 6 general election.
Here at the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, we work hard to help inform voters about the candidates (through announcement stories and coverage of the aforementioned debates/forums) and their positions on key issues (via charts that will be published daily starting later this week, and, as time allows, through video interviews with the newspaper’s editorial board). We even make a few recommendations on these pages that voters can factor into their decision-making process as they wish (despite what some have said through the years, we’re not trying to tell anyone how to vote; we’re just offering our recommendation).
This year, the editorial board has focused mainly on the important race to replace Republican Matt Mead as Wyoming governor.
It hasn’t been easy (though it rarely is, and, frankly, it shouldn’t be). While the Democrats offered one main option, a crowded Republican primary field featured several solid choices. For the general election, voters will see four names on the ballot, but, for us, the decision comes down to which of the two major-party candidates voters believe can best lead the state in the next four years.
Though both bring a solid list of qualifications and ideas to the table, we have to give the edge to Republican Mark Gordon over Democrat Mary Throne.
First, though, let’s talk about the two minor-party candidates.
Rex Rammell, a Rock Springs veterinarian who represents the Constitution Party, calls himself the only “true conservative” candidate on the ballot. But his platform comes down to two main ideas, neither of which are reasonable: having the state take over ownership and management of federal public lands, and pulling all state money out of the stock market and creating a “state bank,” which would loan the money to entrepreneurs so they can diversify the economy. (Mr. Rammell points to North Dakota as a model for the latter idea.)
Mr. Rammell has been peddling the suggestion that the state should have authority over federal lands since his first run for office a decade ago. Following that failed attempt to represent Idaho in the U.S. Senate, he has run for Idaho governor (2010) and the U.S. House in Wyoming (2016, against Liz Cheney). He told us he has thought about running for the state Legislature, but his ideas “are too grandiose for that level.” That’s one way of putting it.
University of Wyoming professor Lawrence Struempf of Laramie calls himself a “modern Libertarian,” which means he thinks government should continue to fund essential services like highways and other infrastructure, as well as maintain national parks and other public lands. With an employment background that also includes stints as a truck driver, school bus driver, network systems analyst and high school teacher, he brings a variety of experience to the race.
Unfortunately, Mr. Streumpf doesn’t have much of a vision for the state beyond “helping it maintain its beauty and wonder.” He believes technology will help the state diversify its economy, and he’s a firm believer that Wyoming should become one of the main locations in the country for data centers. But that’s simply not enough. Plus, he doesn’t think well on his feet, which is a critical skill for a leader at this level.
Which brings us to Democrat Mary Throne, a Cheyenne natural resources attorney who spent 10 years in the state House of Representatives. There is much to like about Ms. Throne’s candidacy. But the main reason to support her is that while she understands the importance of the energy sector to the state’s economy, she knows Wyoming must find a way to break free of the boom-and-bust cycles that have plagued it for generations in order to thrive.
What’s missing is a specific plan for how to do that. When we asked her what sectors of the economy the state should focus on, she said “lots of little things,” before mentioning a couple of outdoor recreation and tourism success stories. She added that the technology and health-care sectors, as well as improving broadband infrastructure, are important. But like most other politicians at the state level, we get a sense she has no clear plan for leading the state on this key issue.
Ms. Throne also seems to believe that her decade of experience as a state lawmaker will translate into instant success with her legislative agenda. We hate to dampen her enthusiasm, but we fail to see how she will be able to get Medicaid expansion passed, for example, when the current Republican governor couldn’t do so in several tries.
We like that Ms. Throne says she isn’t beholden to any party, and she will exercise independent judgment to make the best decisions possible for the state’s future. But as a Democrat trying to work with a nearly all-Republican legislature, there exists a strong potential for stalemate.
When asked about her leadership style, Ms. Throne mentioned the servant model and said she believes collaboration, not top-down leadership, is more successful. We also liked her comment that, “Leadership isn’t telling people what they want to hear, it’s telling them what needs to be said.”
Before the primary, of the two remaining candidates, we felt Ms. Throne articulated the stronger vision for Wyoming’s future. But during her second interview, she spoke in generalities such as “creating opportunities across the state” and “taking advantage of existing opportunities,” as well as making sure we have “strong, bold communities,” rather than offering specifics.
Ms. Throne did mention some goals that make supporting her appealing, including: implementing some of what the ENDOW economic diversification group recommends right away, rather than continuing to do studies and putting them on a shelf; finding a stable funding mechanism for local governments so they don’t have to beg the Legislature for money; ensuring a quality K-12 education system isn’t eroded by budget cuts; offering a state budget that all people can understand; and building the economy and tax structure of the future.
Yet with all that Ms. Throne brings to the table, it wasn’t enough to overcome the years of experience Republican Mark Gordon already has in the state’s executive branch. As the current state treasurer, he has increased transparency and changed the structure of state investments, including successfully advocating for a 2016 constitutional amendment to let the Legislature authorize putting more state funds in the stock market.
Mr. Gordon also serves as a member of the State Loan and Investment Board, which means he has a strong connection to the state’s current economic development efforts. But that doesn’t mean he’s satisfied with what’s happening. When asked about the ENDOW work, for example, he said he would continue it, since it’s “already in the budget.” And while he said it has done some “great work so far,” he believes it hasn’t reached down as deep into local communities as it should to have a lasting impact. He also said he thinks there’s no need for the state’s economic development organizations to overlap as much as they currently do.
Mr. Gordon realizes he will need to use “the bully pulpit” of the governor’s office to be the best recruiter possible, working hard to attract new industries to the state. He also knows the governor must get out and attract more venture capital, and he wants to reduce regulations to make Wyoming the “easiest, most efficient place to do business.”
Mr. Gordon knows there are other important issues that need to be addressed, as well, including: reducing the cost of health care and health insurance (though he doesn’t support Medicaid expansion); maintaining and expanding education funding (he’s a former Johnson County school board member); building more accountability into the state’s budget process, along with looking for more efficiencies; increasing transparency in how the state spends its money; and making sure adequate resources are going to local communities.
In terms of leadership, Mr. Gordon says he brings “quiet, very effective leadership,” and his focus is on building consensus. But we know he also isn’t afraid to shake things up when needed, as evidenced by his May 2016 lawsuit against the group overseeing the state Capitol renovation because he believed it violated the state’s constitution by bypassing his office when approving contracts for the work.
Mr. Gordon also would bring his experience working in agriculture, tourism and the oil industry with him to the governor’s office. All of this would help inform some of the challenging decisions he would almost certainly face in the coming years.
Earlier, we said this year’s endorsement process has been difficult. That’s because each candidate has some flaws – some more significant than others. In particular, we’re concerned none has articulated a strong enough vision to help maintain our existing quality of life while adding job opportunities and amenities that will attract and retain the next generation of Wyoming’s workforce.
But given the choices in front of us, we believe Mark Gordon has the best experience and potential, which is why he has our support.