ROCK SPRINGS — Abortion rights, medicinal marijuana, education funding, voting rights and public lands were just a few of the topics addressed Tuesday afternoon in a Legislative forum held at Western Wyoming Community College.
The Rock Springs Chamber of Commerce hosted the event that featured candidates in four House races and one Senate race.
The most spirited debates were shared between the Republicans and Libertarians vying for House Districts 39 and 18.
House District 39
Libertarian Marshall Burt is running for a second term against first-time Republican candidate Cody Wylie. The two strongly differed in their opinions about Wyoming’s economy.
Wylie said Wyoming needs to invest more money into its infrastructure to bolster the private sector and make the state more attractive to outside businesses. But Burt cited several examples where merely improving infrastructure alone doesn’t entice businesses to move here.
“We can bring more businesses by reducing regulations,” Burt said. “As a private business, whenever you have to compete with the open checkbook of the government, which is the taxpayers dollars, you’re going to lose.”
Wylie also asked Burt to clarify a motion he made while a member of the House Corporations Committee (CC) this year about creating a third-party agency to oversee state elections. The motion passed and now the Legislative Service Office will draft a bill that will go back to the CC which will vote on whether it goes to floor for consideration.
“Marshall, no offense, but I wouldn’t touch that with a ten-foot pole,” Wylie said. “We’re not only talking about undermining the Secretary of State of Wyoming, but we’re talking about taking away the power of the public vote. And that needs to be the most sanctified thing we have in our form of government.”
Burt said he made the motion primarily due to concerns about then-Representative Chuck Gray’s intentions to suppress voting rights in Wyoming. Gray won his primary election for Secretary of State over Tara Nethercott in August and is likely going to win the General Election in November.
Burt says he’s concerned that Gray is proposing to remove ballot boxes around the state making it more difficult for residents in rural areas to vote. He’s also sponsored a bill that would equalize the voting method and positions on the ballot for all parties including independents.
“Chuck Gray decided to vote against that in order to protect party over the individual candidate,” he said. “He’s also pushing that we will have election fraud in our 2024 election, and we have yet to get through the 2022 election.”
He said no evidence exists that there was any fraud in the 2020 election, “so with no fraud, what are we actually basing his determination on, and why he wants to remove some of these items.”
House District 18
Republican incumbent Scott Heiner and Libertarian challenger Dennis Laughlin differed in their opinions about individuals wanting to make their own medical decisions.
Heiner said he supports individual liberties as long as they don’t impact others. He cited abortions as an example.
“I do not believe abortions are victimless,” Heiner said. “They have sonograms that show babies screaming and pulling away from that procedure. Do our liberties allow us to kill someone? Absolutely not.”
But Laughlin said he doesn’t believe it should be “up to me or anyone else to dictate your medical decisions.” He used medical marijuana as an example that no one should go to jail for treating a chronic illness like arthritis, cancer, or multiple sclerosis.
Heiner said his research shows that crime in Oregon is on the rise since its legislature passed a law legalizing many drugs including marijuana. He fears the Libertarian agenda could create a similar situation in Wyoming.
Laughlin countered that about 80 percent of Wyomingites favor medical marijuana and 37 states have already passed such legislation.
He added that if elected he’d work on a bill that would establish freedom for end-of-life decisions “so that no one would be forced to spend their life savings only to die a slow, painful and undignified death because of someone else’s overreaching moral superiority.”
Heiner turned the conversation back to the abortion issue saying Wyoming’s trigger bill was designed to promote the health and morality of citizens by “protecting these unborn children from being murdered which is essentially what happens during an abortion.”
Laughlin argued that Article 138 of the Wyoming Constitution was passed back in 2012 and stated that competent adults are free to make their own healthcare decisions “which puts us in direct conflict with the trigger law you pushed.”
“I’m a staunch believer and advocate in self-determination and personal responsibility,” Laughlin said. “I believe the best government is a limited government…executed with judicious, fiscal responsibility that also fosters, rather than encroaches on civil liberties.”
Heiner said during his tenure the Legislature has reduced government by 15 percent, and he wants to continue working toward the goal of less government in his constituents’ lives.
Several other forums took place yesterday including HD-48 between incumbent Republican Clark Stith and Libertarian challenger Misty Morris. Democrat incumbent Chad Banks debated with first-time Republican candidate J.T. Larson in HD-17, and first-time candidates Stacy Jones (R) and Leesa Kuhlmann (D) are challenging each other in Senate District 13.
The General Election will be held across the country on Tuesday, November 8. Early voting has already begun in Sweetwater County.