The Riverton Economic and Community Development Association hosted a meeting Wednesday morning at Riverton’s Claimsteak Restaurant, inside the Sundowner Station. Five candidates currently running for Wyoming Governor were the guests at the meeting.
Kevin Kershisnik, Vice President and Executive Director of IDEA Inc. helped organize the event and explained to County 10 that he sent invitations to attend the meeting to every current gubernatorial candidate, regardless of party.
Five candidates chose to attend, all Republicans, Foster Friess, Taylor Hayens, Mark Gordon, Sam Galeotos, and Bill Dahlin.
Those not in attendance, but who are also running include: Republican Harriet Hageman, Democrats Mary Throne, Rex Wilde, Ken Casner, and Michael Allen Green, as well as Independent candidate Rex Rammell.
Wyoming State Senator and Fremont County native Eli Bebout moderated the early morning event. Roughly 40 people were in attendance, including local politicians and business leaders. Bebout told the crowd, “We thought it made sense to hear one more time from the candidates, now they’ve had a chance to go around the state of Wyoming and get a feel for what the people are saying and what the issues are in this great state, and that’s really important.”
Each candidate was given four minutes to introduce themselves and explain why they decided to run for governor. 5 questions from audience members were taken, and candidates then were given roughly 2 minutes to answer those questions.
Businessman Sam Galeotos introduced himself first, “I’m running for governor because I think I can make a difference, right now our state has some significant challenges, chief among that is a billion dollar structural budget deficit. We need to control state spending first and foremost, there’s no question about it, we have the opportunity to bring our expenses into line.”
Galeotos continued, “The thing I’ve learned as I’ve traveled the state, is that I don’t care what industry you’re in, what type of business you’re in, every employer is struggling to find qualified employment, in Gillette they need welders, in Sheridan they need to fill manufacturing facilities, in Teton County they need hospitality workers, in Sweetwater County they need mining managers, and in Laramie County, we have troubles hiring tech people. It’s about how we grow our economy, and right now we can’t grow our economy because people can’t find the right skilled workers for the jobs they have.”
Throughout the morning Sam stressed the importance of economic growth in the private sector and an education system that creates skills for both jobs available now and in the future. He also pushed his ideas for connected air service, broadband, and that he thinks Wyoming could be a major innovator in how health care is handled.
Businessman Bill Dahlin spoke to the crowd next, “As a business man you look at things different, we lost about 8,500 people out of this state in the last year and a half. People go to work for salary and benefits, and if they don’t have those, they’re not going to stick around. If we don’t have the job they like, they’re not going to stick around. Number one, we have to have jobs for people to go to.”
Dahlin continued, “Also, our fiscal responsibility is out of whack. We have necessity and we have convenience, and convenience is when the state, the Governor, and the Wyoming Depatment of Transporation fly around in 2 jet airplanes, while we have a lack of about 30-50 highway patrolmen. We have state employees who haven’t had a raise in about six years, and meanwhile we have a Wyoming Business Council, a billion dollars later we haven’t diversified our economy. Then, we double down with ENDOW, we add another layer on a failed model. What we have is too much spending at the top levels, and not enough at the bottom.”
Bill pushed both the coal industry, saying he was the only candidate who “sells coal,” and pushing the railroad industry. He also is a strong advocate of hemp growth in Wyoming, “It’s a plant and it’s something that has 25,000 uses. Marijuana has 2, medical marijuana and recreational. Industrial hemp is concrete, roofing tile, you can grow it here in Riverton. There’s a report that says that the growers there are knocking down their marijuana fields and growing hemp with the intention of $100,000 and acre. We have 2 million acres of crop land in the state, do the math.”
Next to introduce himself was businessman and activist Foster Friess, “All of you look at certain things you feel you can contribute, we’ve been set free to serve. Lynn (Foster’s wife) and I are excited about the fact that all of our children have been raised, we have 15 grandchildren, all of our businesses have been sold, we don’t have a single calf to brand, so we can devote 100% of our time to you. I have been active many, many years on a national level.”
Friess told the audience he came from humble beginnings, “I’ve always been the underdog, our wealth didn’t come ’til about 40-years-old when our business took off. Now I’m in a position where I can work for free, I’m giving all of my salary away to little towns around Wyoming, and I’m not taking a single penny from any special interest groups – I can’t be bought.”
Foster also said he wants to invest more in Wyoming’s education system, saying “we need to help teachers. What good is a school if we don’t have great teachers?” He advocated for instituting more vocational programs into Wyoming’s schools and concluded his opening statements with,” I want you to know this, I’m pro life, pro gun, pro Trump, pro small government, and pro business.”
Mark Gordon, Wyoming State Treasurer gave his remarks to the audience next, “I’ve worked in the energy sector and built businesses in Sheridan. I’ve been your treasurer for 5 and a half years. With the help of the legislature, we’ve been able to help how that entire office runs.” Gordon continued with his hopes for Wyoming economically, “it’s a stable fiscal future, that means having expenses in control. It also means we use the resources of the state, not just the money, but the people of the state to help. So that places like Dubois, Jeffrey City, have the resources they need and that they can get all the assets they need. I believe economic development is going to happen across the state. But, it’s only going to happen if we have the right foundation in every community and the good entrepreneurial spirit that this state is capable of.”
Gordon continued to push fiscal responsibility and quality health care in Wyoming, saying he hoped there would be more competition from insurance companies. Due to a scheduling conflict, Mark was not able to make it through all of the questions and had to leave at the mid-way point of the debate.
Finally, physician Taylor Haynes took his turn to speak, “I’m a pure constitutionalist, the purpose of government is to protect your God given rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, and also to protect your property. Including the right to control your business and keep most of what you make in your pocket.”
Haynes then spoke about the Wyoming economy, “My approach to economic development is this, I really don’t believe government can help you with economic development in the way you’ve heard. We need to spend our money better, we need to spend our money on infrastructure, on our students. Let’s grow with our kids here in Wyoming.” Taylor also pushed plans to get rid of the ENDOW program, and invest in air service as well as Wyoming infrastructure, citing “road, bridge, and broadband” as critical elements. He spoke out against raising taxes and said a potential state income tax would “kill the economy.”
After debating from roughly 7:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m., moderator Eli Bebout thanked the panel for attending, and thanked them for “getting along so well.” Many of the candidates mentioned they had all become friends after spending so much time together. Foster Friess got a laugh several times for keeping track of how long each candidate would speak on his cell phone stopwatch, Bill Dahlin credited the other candidates for being strong choices, then joked, “if you can’t make up your mind on election day, vote alphabetically.” And, Taylor Haynes got a chuckle after a remark that Mark Gordon was going to vote for him, instead of himself.
The primary election is set for August 21st.
Wyoming’s four Democrat candidates spoke in Fremont County earlier this summer at an event inside Central Wyoming College.