When the Wyoming Legislature convenes early next year, it will face significant challenges.
The state is enduring a downturn in the energy sector that may well turn out to be unlike any other it has ever seen. Markets for Wyoming fuels are changing – maybe permanently. In the short term, that has put the state in financial straits. In the long term, since energy revenues support much of the state’s government spending, the situation means Wyoming is overdue for a serious conversation about its future.
It is as important, then, as it has ever been for Wyoming voters to send true leaders to Cheyenne to navigate this problem boldly, creatively and thoughtfully.
Fortunately, some of the candidates vying to represent Natrona County residents in the state House of Representatives are ready to shoulder that responsibility.
In House District 35, that candidate is Brett Governanti. In House District 36, it’s Debbie Bovee. In House District 37, it’s Steve Harshman.
In HD35, Governanti, a Democrat, is challenging Republican Rep. Kendell Kroeker. Governanti would be more effective than Kroeker for a few reasons: First, his views align with those of most Wyomingites on key issues such as federal public lands — he strongly supports keeping them under federal control to ensure access. Second, Kroeker has signed a pledge promising he wouldn’t vote for a net tax increase, while Governanti refused to do so.
Such pledges are shortsighted and often circumvent true governing. They also demonstrate a lawmaker’s loyalty to a special interest group rather than his constituents. Legislators should walk into the House chambers early next year prepared to consider all the options to make Wyoming as vibrant a state as possible, and in HD35, only Governanti has demonstrated he is willing and able to do that.
In HD36, Democratic challenger Bovee is the clear choice over Republican Rep. Gerald Gay.
Bovee is a political newcomer, but she is grounded firmly in the education community – a key area as the state faces down a $103 million shortfall in its K-12 budget in the current budget cycle. She also champions an atmosphere of civility and respect, which the House district and the Legislature desperately need after incendiary comments made by her opponent in recent months.
Gay attracted national attention when he claimed that women in the workplace were less reliable and dedicated than their male peers, contributing to the disparity in wages between the genders.
“Women are always going to take their full maternity leave, and there’s the dependability issue about whether they’re going to show up for things,” he told left-leaning news and advocacy organization Better Wyoming in September.
People in the Cowboy State and beyond were furious, and rightly so. Gay’s comments came as an embarrassment to his state and to his party. In fact, Natrona County Republican leaders issued a statement saying they couldn’t support Gay’s beliefs. That move sent a strong message — one that Republican Party members should be proud of.
The lawmaker has since proposed a bill to address the wage gap, but it’s hard not to see that as too little and too late. This should have been an issue before his comments landed him in hot water.
Gay also said that though he hadn’t actually signed a pledge promising no net tax increases, he would do so – another lawmaker willingly tying his hands as he prepares to represent the state in difficult times. On Election Day, Natrona County Republicans should follow that lead and decide that they deserve far more effective representation than Gay has offered.
In HD37, the choice is also clear. Rep. Steve Harshman, a Republican who has served in the Legislature since 2003 and is chairman of the influential Joint Appropriations Committee, has the experience and skills – particularly with the state budget process — to effectively represent not only the county and his local constituents but also generations of future Casperites and Wyomingites.
Harshman, who is facing a challenge from Democrat Deirdre Stoelzle, is a seasoned leader with a pragmatic approach. After serving for so long, he is intimately acquainted with details of the big issues, such as education funding (as a teacher and coach, he understands the needs and nuances), Medicaid expansion (he’s not supportive, though he is keenly aware of the struggles of local hospitals and wants to help them) and the movement to transfer federal public lands to the state (he believes it won’t happen but that shared management might be a good start to speeding the permitting process for development).
Most important, he is clear that this is a time for “serious people, not bomb-throwers” to make their mark in the Legislature. With an outlook like that, Harshman, who may be elevated to House speaker this term, is perfectly suited to continue representing Natrona County and the state.
Stoelzle, meanwhile, is an enthusiastic first-time candidate who should turn this inaugural bid into a jumping-off point. She is passionate about the state and its issues, particularly preserving access to federal public lands, and with more experience she has the potential to be a strong voice for Wyoming.
Voters in these House districts are fortunate to have informed and committed candidates vying for their support. Governanti, Bovee and Harshman have earned it.