The Saratoga Sun -

Politics in a bar

Apparently one of the things you can get away with in Wyoming is having a political forum in a saloon

 

There is an unwritten rule that one must never discuss politics or religion in a bar setting. On the night of July 10, however, that rule was broken as candidates from the national, state and local level entered the Bear Trap Cafe and Bar in Riverside. The event, organized by owner Margaret Weber, gave Valley residents a chance to speak with candidates during a town hall forum before the primary elections on Aug. 21.

The event, which was live streamed by the Saratoga Sun, lasted over two and a half hours and had been viewed over 2,000 times by the time the live stream had ended. Since then, the video has been viewed over 3,000 times and been shared 25 times as of press time.

During the forum, members of the community stood up to ask the candidates questions or wrote their questions down to be read by the moderator. Phone calls were even made to the Bear Trap by people watching the live stream to ask questions of the state candidates.

U.S. House of

Representatives

Republican U.S. House of Representatives candidate Rod Miller started off the evening along with Democratic representative candidates Travis Helm and Greg Hunter.

A painting of incumbent Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney sat propped on a chair in front of the stage. As was reported previously in the Saratoga Sun, Cheney had received multiple invitations to attend the debate, but had only responded once.

After playing roshambo (rock, paper, scissors) to determine who would speak first, Helm began the introductions.

Helm, who grew up in Rawlins and currently resides in Laramie, detailed his experience as an immigration lawyer. Miller recounted his own history in Rawlins, telling those gathered in the building that his great-grandfather had been involved in the lynching of "Big Nose" George Parrot.

"So, my family has always been pretty tough on crime," said Miller.

Hunter told the audience of his background in geology and his history of working within the petroleum industry as well as within the federal government. Hunter also explained his feelings on the importance of public schools and economic diversity.

The questions asked of the national candidates were varied, beginning with one about immigration and denaturalization posed towards Helm. All three candidates, however, expressed their concern with the recent denaturalization task force created by the current administration and what it could mean for the future of Americans as well as the overall threat posed by Congress granting more power to the executive branch over the last few decades.

One of the other questions asked of the candidates was their thoughts on the role of local government and overreach of the federal government. The candidates agreed, once again, that processes such as planning and zoning are up to municipal, county and state governments and should remain as such.

Senate District 11

Following the three national candidates, the two candidates for Senate District 11 took the stage. Incumbent Senator Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) and Democratic candidate Lee Ann Stephenson (R-Riverside) continued the theme set by Miller, Helm and Hunter by playing rock, paper, scissors to determine who would go first.

The time period in which Stephenson and Hicks were on stage was arguably one of the more emotionally charged moments during the forum as issues of LGBTQ protections were raised as well as questions surrounding the proposed West Fork Dam which has been championed by Hicks.

Stephenson, while introducing herself, recounted her years of living in Wyoming as well as working within the state government including working with members of the state legislature. Hicks, during his introduction, read from the preamble of the Declaration of Independence adding that he felt it was a large part as to why people were gathered in the Bear Trap that night.

The first question for the candidates involved protections within the state for members of the LGBTQ community. Stephenson, who was first to answer the question, started her response by referring to the unalienable rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence.

"I feel government has no right to say who you love, what you talk about with your doctor, what happens in your home," said Stephenson. "These are not things the government should be involved with on any level and so anything that would restrict those or outlaw those I would be very much against. I would also like to see legislation that would prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation."

Following Stephenson, Hicks stated that he believed additional legislation for the protections of the LGBTQ community was unneeded as he felt the group was already protected under the Constitution of the United States. To defend his statement, Hicks brought up the Civil Rights Act of 1964 while stating that it had done nothing to stop racism in the country. The issue, he stated, came down to each individual and should not be legislated by the government.

When it came to the West Fork Dam, some members of the crowd expressed their disappointment with the project and their doubts about the number of people it was proposed to help with its construction. Hicks, who has been working on getting the project through the state legislature, defended the dam by stating that it would help approximately 100 people and small agricultural businesses.

House District 47

The last State candidates to take the state were incumbent representative Jerry Paxton (R-Encampment) and challenger Julie McAllister (R-Rock River) who is running against Paxton for the third consecutive election. In her introduction, McAllister told the crowd that she was running for the third time against Paxton because she believed in "putting your money where your mouth is."

During his introduction, Paxton recounted his years as an educator and a principal at Encampment K-12 Schools and how that experience made education one of the more important issues for him in the legislature. The questions asked of the candidates ended up centered around education.

One of the questions asked of the candidates pertained to the use of taxes from the legalization of marijuana going towards public schools as has been seen in states like Washington, California and Colorado.

"No," said McCallister. "I'm going to need a lot better reason than that."

McCallister went on to state that while she wasn't in full support of the legalization of recreational marijuana she did support the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

"Regardless about how I feel about this, I don't think that people of Wyoming are ready for this (the legalization of marijuana)," said Paxton, "especially not the people of House District 47."

A follow up question by another member of the audience asked the candidates if they were in support of decriminalization of marijuana. On this, both candidates agreed. McCallister stated that she believed it was foolish for the continued criminalization of marijuana possession while the state was fighting the opioid epidemic. Paxton said he felt that Wyoming was evolving on the issue and reminded the crowd that some changes were less revolutionary and more evolutionary.

Carbon County Sheriff and Commissioner

The last two candidates to appear on stage were Thomas "Thom" Gamblin, who is running for Carbon County Sheriff, and Travis Moore, who is running for one of the four-year seats up for grabs in the upcoming election.

During his time on stage, Gamblin explained his positions to the few community members still remaining at the Bear Trap. According to Gamblin, he felt that one of the most important things for the outlying communities of Carbon County was presence and that he would like to update technology for the sheriff's office to allow deputies to stay in the areas they were assigned.

Photo courtesy of Liz Wood

Democratic Senate District 11 challenger Lee Ann Stephenson speaks to the crowd as incumbent Senator Larry Hicks (R - Baggs) listens.

Moore, during his time on stage, stated that one of the most important things for him if he were elected as a Carbon County Commissioner would be to put systems in place to prevent confusion within county government when people either retired or resigned. He pointed to vacancies on the Carbon County Library System Board and the Memorial Hospital of Carbon County Board as recent examples of turnover that left government entities in a bind.

Wrapping Up

With all the candidates finished, the remaining audience members spent time in conversation with the national, state and county candidates. The event, originally slated to occur from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. did not end until 9:30 p.m. Neither the candidates nor the audience members, however, seemed upset with the extended time of the forum.

To view the video of the town hall forum for complete coverage, visit http://www.saratogasun.com.

 

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