CHEYENNE – Two Republican candidates are vying to represent Wyoming’s state Senate District 8, which covers much of Laramie County.
Incumbent Sen. Affie Ellis, who was first elected to the seat in 2016, and Cheyenne native Dan Young, who is a wellness professional at Country Doctor Nutritional Center, discussed their perspectives on education funding, Medicaid expansion and voting Tuesday night at a virtual candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Cheyenne.
The two will face off in the Republican primary next month, and the winner will compete against the winner of the Democratic primary during the general election in November.
Marguerite Herman, an LWV board member and chair of the Laramie County School District 1 Board of Trustees, moderated the event using questions generated by both the LWV and members of the general public. The following is a sampling of the questions and each candidate’s answers:
What is the biggest challenge facing Wyoming? And how should we – and you, specifically, as a legislator – address that challenge?
Young said he thinks the biggest challenge for Wyoming is “to really look at the Constitution and make sure we’re applying that framework” and “maintaining a free market.” Young said he’d work with other legislators to create policies that are based on “founding principles” in an effort to “move forward in a manner that is best for the state of Wyoming.”
Ellis’s answer was more specific.
“The biggest challenge we have is getting people back to work. We’ve seen an unprecedented event in our lifetime that many of us have never experienced. We’re learning as we go. Unfortunately, Wyoming’s economy was hurting before COVID,” Ellis said, reflecting on her own challenges with balancing full-time work and helping her children with remote learning.
“In the immediate future, I’d like to focus on getting Wyoming’s economy back on track,” said Ellis, who serves on both the Senate Education and Revenue committees.
With a state constitutional mandate to fund a uniform and adequate education for all Wyoming children, what actions would you support for the Legislature to meet that obligation?
Ellis has been involved in Wyoming’s ongoing discussions on the need to rethink the K-12 finance formula, which is right now dependent on dried-up mineral revenue streams. During the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers will vote on a new plan.
“We need to find a way to find a more sustainable funding model,” said Ellis, lamenting the fact that past recalibration efforts have yielded little substantial change.
“I do think we need to tighten the belt on some of the higher-level administrator salaries. I don’t support administrators making $200,000-plus – or six-figure salaries – at this time. We can’t be taxing people to support those salaries.”
Ellis added, however, that education and health work in tandem.
“If we’re cutting Department of Health resources that support our children, how are we expecting children to learn and perform on student assessment tests when they don’t have the support they need in their private lives? We need to make sure we have the flexibility to balance out those needs. Going forward, I want to be sure that whatever funding model we adopt doesn’t just consider what the current model considers.”
Young agreed with Ellis that he thinks some school administrators’ salaries are too high, but added that “the last people who should suffer are classroom teachers and the quality of education we’re providing our Wyoming children.”
Young, who is against raising any taxes, said he doesn’t think any school needs “five principals” and that the teacher-student ratio is “for some reason seemingly manipulated for funding purposes.”
Raising taxes, he said, is not the solution to fixing Wyoming’s education funding problems. Instead, focusing on waste at the administrative level is where Young would start. “We need to cut out the wants and the want to have us spending money that doesn’t really (improve) educators’ and children’s experiences in the classroom.”
Is it time for Wyoming to take a second look at expanding Medicaid?
Ellis, who has voted to further study Medicaid expansion, said she’s seen – and expects to keep seeing – a strong reluctance in the Legislature to expand the program.
She stressed that Medicaid expansion is not a “cure all” for health care problems, as she believes it is sometimes portrayed.
“Even if Wyoming were to expand Medicaid, we haven’t touched on a number of critical issues that affect health care in Wyoming,” she said, suggesting expanded telehealth options and more transparency in medical billing as two other potential cost-saving measures.
Young said he’s also concerned about the lack of health care education and exorbitant health care costs and wants to bring more insurance companies to the state to make the market more competitive.
However, he said he is not familiar enough with the subject of Medicaid expansion to provide an informed answer to that specific question, but “looks forward to investigating it more thoroughly.”
The League of Women Voters of Wyoming has endorsed the idea of a permanent absentee-voter list, which would allow Wyoming voters to sign up as a continuing absentee and get ballots in the mail automatically. … Do you support this change?
Both Ellis and Young stood firmly against the idea of automatically sending out absentee ballots.
“A lot of people feel very secure and comfortable going to their polling place and voting on Election Day and before,” Ellis said.
“For those families who are traveling, for our members of the military, for people who are immobile or unable to get out of their homes, absentee ballots are an important way to participate. But at this time, I wouldn’t support sending mass ballots out into the universe and assuming that’s the will of the people.”
Young said he’d be open to learning more about the data and merits behind expanding voting options – and why LWV supports it – but that at this time he would be “strongly opposed to any mass ballots being mailed out without further investigation. I just don’t think in the big picture it serves the integrity of the ballots.”