2012 Wyoming Primary Election: House District 20

2012-08-18T12:15:00Z 2012 Wyoming Primary Election: House District 20 Casper Star-Tribune Online
August 18, 2012 12:15 pm


Seat previously held by Kathy Davison.


Albert Sommers

Age: 53.

Home: Sublette County.

Occupation: Cattle rancher.

Education: B.S., Electrical Engineering, University of Wyoming.

Family: Married, no children.

Political Experience: Have been appointed to multiple boards, task forces and commissions. First time seeking public office.

1. What is the most important issue currently facing the Wyoming Legislature and how would you address it?

The most important issue facing the Wyoming Legislature is declining state revenues and a federal government that is fiscally broke and functionally broken. When the federal government finally faces the nation's massive debt, the resulting realignment is likely to include fewer dollars for states. Funding issues related to highways, Medicaid, and post-secondary education all result from declining state revenues, and would be further impacted by declining federal dollars. I believe Wyoming is on the right course by examining a 2013/14 supplemental budget requiring an 8-percent reduction across all agencies. We need to examine the effects of those agency cuts to determine where the most harm to the state is likely to occur, and then make adjustments between programs if necessary. The larger programs like highways, Medicaid, and post-secondary education must be looked at individually, and options to fund these programs need to be vetted, or programs reduced.

2. What further steps need to be taken to ensure Wyoming's significant investment in K-12 education is leading to the best student performance possible?

The federal No Child Left Behind mandate and the Wyoming Accountability in Education Act seem to strip local school districts of their autonomy, and in the process move decisions involving education away from the parents and local school districts, where a child's education actually happens. We have become entrenched in the idea that we need standardized tests for children throughout the K-12 system. The result is children are taught to excel on these standardized tests, and are not necessarily receiving a balanced education. Perhaps individual school districts need more freedom to use their own strengths and opportunities to find solutions to some of these challenges. This is not a simple problem, however, and Wyoming does need a graduation curriculum (vocational or academic) that better prepares its students for post-secondary education.

3. Which options should be considered to increase funding for highway repairs and construction?

Highways are the lifeblood for commerce and social interaction in the state of Wyoming. We routinely travel a hundred miles to see a doctor, visit a relative, and shop. Wyoming is sparsely populated, which means most of what we produce is transported long distances to out-of-state markets, and most of the supplies which fuel our businesses are transported long distances into the state. We have a magnificent landscape, and require good highways to show that landscape off to tourists from around the world. We need to examine every option to ensure a funding structure that provides long-term stability for Wyoming's highways, but at the same time does not overburden the Wyoming taxpayer. The bulk of the funding should be generated from those industries and vehicles that place the most wear and tear on the roads.

4. Describe measures you would introduce or support to enhance economic development and diversity in Wyoming.

Wyoming has had, and for the foreseeable future will retain, a natural-resource-based economy, dependent upon mineral extraction, ranching, and tourism. Wyomingites value their independence, rural lifestyle, and natural beauty. A natural-resource-based economy, when properly balanced, is compatible with these values, but often carries the penalty of a boom-bust cycle. Economic development that expands Wyoming's economic diversity could smooth out the troughs Wyoming suffers during our boom and bust cycles. However, we should support economic development for enterprises that are compatible with our Wyoming character, whether those businesses enhance existing industries or are entirely new styles of enterprise. Improving Wyoming's information and transportation infrastructure is key to providing new businesses an environment that fosters success. Wyoming needs to ensure reliable high speed Internet throughout the state, and maintain and improve our highways and airports. We need to seek private/public partnerships in developing economic diversity.

5. What does Wyoming need to do with the Affordable Care Act Medicaid expansion?

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that Medicaid expansion will save lives, which is what medicine is all about. However, Wyoming must balance Medicaid expansion with fiscal realities. Wyoming is facing declining revenues, and a federal government that must face up to its debt. Wyoming's long term responsibility to Medicaid expansion is supposed to be only 10 percent of the program, but history has shown that the federal government tends to push more fiscal responsibility for shared programs, including Medicaid, onto states over time. Wyoming should evaluate Medicaid expansion as part of a broader look at health care in Wyoming, and then choose those alternatives that make sense for Wyoming. We should not use the decision regarding Medicaid expansion as a bully pulpit for commentary on the Affordable Care Act, but evaluate Medicaid expansion on its own merits.


Jim S. Mickelson

The Big Piney resident did not respond to the Star-Tribune's questionnaire.




No one filed for the seat.

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