The Democratic gubernatorial debate at Casper College got off to an unusual start last Wednesday when Rex Wilde — a largely single-issue candidate running to legalize marijuana — entered the stage a few minutes late.
Wilde apologized and explained he was waiting in the wrong building. He became irritated when an audience member asked who he was.
“This is a joke,” said Wilde, who started to leave, but ultimately chose to stay.
The remainder of the debate was more routine. The candidates — Wilde, Mary Throne and Kenneth Casner — remained civil and avoided personal attacks. Instead, they focused on sharing their own views about a variety of topics, from public lands to education funding.
All three agreed that public lands should remain under federal control because the state does not have enough money to manage them. They also each voiced support for growing the state’s tourism sector.
However, there was a marked difference in their answers concerning how to solve the state’s education crisis.
“If we want to attract young families to the state of Wyoming, we have to maintain funding for our schools,” said Throne, an energy attorney who served 10 years in the state Legislature.
Throne explained that the state needs to broaden its tax base in order to provide reliable funding for education.
Wilde, meanwhile, said legalizing marijuana would bring in more revenue, which could then be used to fund education.
Casner, a military veteran and businessman, praised Wyoming’s teachers and said he did not support further cuts in the classrooms, though he did advocate for the consolidation of school districts — sometimes considered a third rail of Wyoming politics.
“We are going to have to consolidate,” he said.
The candidates also offered differing approaches to addressing mental health issues. Wyoming currently has the third highest suicide rate in the nation.
Throne firmly supported expanding Medicaid and said it would increase access to all types of health care. She said the state’s previous refusal to expand Medicaid led medical centers to absorb more costs, which they then passed on to patients.
After disclosing that he lost his son to suicide, Wilde said he didn’t have all the answers when it came to suicide prevention. But he said medical marijuana could help with some mental health issues, such as post traumatic stress disorder.
Casner said he believed that some mental health problems were caused by environmental factors. He explained that some residents are stressed because they’re working multiple jobs and struggling to make ends meet.
Improving citizens’ career opportunities and overall quality of life could help, said Casner.
When asked whether they preferred carbon-based or renewable energy, Wilde and Casner each said they were in favor of renewable sources.
“Fossil fuels — they’re going to be leaving us,” said Wilde. “We might have a couple more spurts, but that’s why we need to get this revenue from what I’ve been talking about [marijuana].”
Casner said the state needs to fully embrace renewable energy.
“We need to move forward and we aren’t moving forward,” he remarked.
However, Throne stressed that there was no need for it to be an “either or” situation. The energy attorney said she has represented oil, gas, coal and wind companies and believed the state must support all types of energy industries.
Throne also asserted that she was the most well-informed candidate when came to this issue.
“I have more energy experience and energy knowledge than absolutely anyone in this race,” she said.
A fourth democratic candidate, Michael Green, did not attend the debate. Green does not appear to be running a campaign.