CHEYENNE – As the Wyoming Legislature begins to navigate an unprecedented budget crisis facing the state, Erin Johnson sees a lot of areas where she can help.
After serving as executive director of the Wyoming Association of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Centers, and briefly as Gov. Mark Gordon’s policy adviser on health-related issues, Johnson hopes to bring those experiences to the Capitol, as the 48-year-old is seeking the legislative seat in Senate District 6.
“It’s easy to look at services on paper and say, ‘This is the dollar amount, this can go, we can cut this,’” Johnson said in an interview last week. “I think having an understanding, having looked and been familiar with (department budgets) ... you’ve got to be able to say, ‘Where is the greatest impact being had right now for the most people, and what would it look like to cut those services?’”
The decisions facing the state Legislature next session won’t be easy, Johnson said, but she was confident in her ability to “balance the conservative principles that I have as a Republican with understanding the services that are provided in the state for mental health and substance abuse, our at-risk youth, those vulnerable populations.”
“I’m a Republican – we don’t increase taxes. We have to cut first,” Johnson said of the state’s projected $1.25 billion revenue deficit. “(But) it’s a struggle. ... I don’t think anyone has said we can simply cut our way to a solution. I think anyone saying that is saying that to get elected.”
While the state will have plenty of work in the coming months, Johnson said government shouldn’t be viewed as the thing that will save the state from economic turmoil.
“Government’s not going to be able to create jobs. That’s not the role of government,” Johnson said. “We’re in this massive economic event, and when we come out of this ... how have we gotten government out of the way to reduce regulation?”
Before announcing her run for the Wyoming Senate seat, Johnson served on the Laramie County GOP executive committee. While the state GOP doesn’t prohibit running for office while serving as a party official, Johnson left the committee to focus on her campaign, adding “it just doesn’t feel right” to do both.
The seat for Senate District 6, which covers a small part of Cheyenne, much of eastern Laramie County and a portion of Goshen County, is currently held by Republican Anthony Bouchard, who has filed for reelection. Democrat Britney Wallesch has also launched her campaign for the seat.
Johnson said she and Bouchard would probably agree on most issues in principle, but she also noted the importance of state lawmakers being able to “disagree agreeably.”
“You can’t just say it’s my way or no way,” Johnson said. “To get things done, you have to be able to talk to people and have relationships and have discussions and sit down and hear other points of view. It doesn’t change your moral makeup.”
Early and absentee voting in Laramie County started earlier this month, and it will continue until the day of the primary election, slated for Aug. 18.