Wyoming Politicians Share Plans, Goals with Local Ranchers at Convention

Lawmakers discuss election measures, COVID-19 vaccine mandates and school funding

Gov. Mark Gordon addresses the crowd at the Wyoming Natural Resource Rendezvous in Casper on Wednesday. He told event attendees that he plans to set aside money in the budget for predator control and protection of water resources. (Wyoming Truth photo by Shen Wu Tan)

By Shen Wu Tan

Special to the Wyoming Truth

CASPER, Wyo.—Wyoming lawmakers on Wednesday outlined their future political plans and goals to Wyoming ranchers and natural resource users as the next legislative session nears.

Rep. Chuck Gray (R-Casper), who will be sworn in as Secretary of State in January, shared his laundry list of items centered on issues that include voter measures and the state budget with attendees of the Wyoming Natural Resource Rendezvous Convention and Trade Show at the Ramkota Hotel and Conference Center in Casper.

Rep. Chuck Gray (R-Casper) speaks at the Wyoming Natural Resource Rendezvous Convention and Trade Show. He said he hopes to eliminate ballot drop boxes and ban crossover voting once he is sworn in as Wyoming’s Secretary of State next month. (Wyoming Truth photo by Shen Wu Tan)

As the soon-to-be-official with election oversight, Gray told the audience about his desire to remove ballot drop boxes. He said the emergency directive for ballot drop boxes from the COVID-19 pandemic has been withdrawn, but that some Wyoming counties are still using them.

“There are many strengths in our system, our election system, and we should feel good about that, but one case of fraud is too many,” Gray said from a ballroom podium. “And there’s always areas for improvement.”

Gray also called for a ban on crossover voting, which allows residents to participate in a primary election for a political party that they do not generally affiliate with. 

“I don’t think there are any winners in this,” Gray said about crossover voting. “I think it leads to a lack of trust in our system, a frustration.”

However, Gray lauded Wyoming legislators for finally passing a voter identification law last year – an effort that took multiple attempts to push across the finish line.

Regarding the budget, Gray emphasized the importance of not squandering the extra revenue Wyoming has collected, noting the boom-or-bust nature of the state’s economy. Due to monies from the federal government and the recovering energy industry, he noted Wyoming actually has a surplus, but reminded the crowd that surpluses are cyclical.

“Our tax revenue is very, very reliant on that boom-bust cycle,” Gray said. “And ultimately we have a choice to make. Are we going to continue to keep that tax structure and allow a lot of our industries the abundance of wealth that God has given us to pay for our state services? Or are we going to do a broadening and look like other states?”

He continued, “I’m opposed to these tax increase proposals and have been consistently on the revenue committee, because if you look per capita wise, we have more than enough revenue in our state across a boom-bust cycle. But what it requires is discipline when you are in that boom period. You can’t just spend it away.”

Less money could be set aside for school funding in the budget, Gray added. He said there is an appetite for cutting school funding by $100 million to $200 million and room for efficiencies and reductions in the budget.

Gray also suggested getting property taxes under control, pointing out they are a statewide issue and not limited to Teton County. Yet, he did not detail specific plans for managing property taxes.

Pictured above is Tim Tiechert, 55, of Cokeville, who attended the Wyoming Natural Resource Rendezvous Convention and Trade Show. Tiechert manages a ranch called the Tiechert Brothers LLC. (Wyoming Truth photo by Shen Wu Tan)

Sen. Lummis, Gov. Gordon address conference

Meanwhile, Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), who tuned in virtually to the natural resources convention, discussed how the Colorado River is getting to “scary low levels” and how politicians are trying to add provisions to the National Defense Authorization Act that have nothing to do with defense. She noted that Republicans are trying to keep the act clean and expressed a desire to keep military personnel in the armed services even if they refused COVID-19 vaccines.

“We’re trying to get them reinstated, and we’re also trying to make it so that members who are currently in the military aren’t forced to take that COVID shot,” Lummis told the event audience.

About water issues in the state, Lummis said, “We’re really scrambling as western states to try and introduce more water resources into the Colorado River in addition trying to find ways to, in at least the lower basin states, conserve more water.”

Lummis also commended Congresswoman-elect Harriet Hageman, who will replace Liz Cheney as Wyoming’s sole U.S. House Representative in January. Lummis described Hageman’s “tremendous background in natural resource issues” as a “real shot in the arm” for the ability to advance legislation in Congress.  

Prior to a silent auction event at the convention, Gov. Mark Gordon announced that his budget will allocate funding for predator control and protection of water resources. Additionally, he said he wants Wyoming to delist grizzly bears from the endangered species list and to keep gray wolves off that list.

“We’re going to keep Wyoming controlling its wildlife,” Gordon told the crowd. “That’s one of the most important things that we can do.”

Wyoming ranchers react to politicians’ priorities

Some event attendees expressed mixed feelings about Wyoming lawmakers’ proposals.  

Robert Peternal, 74, of Kemmerer, disagreed with Gray about reducing school funding, saying schools need more money, not less. But he agreed with Gray’s sentiments on crossover voting and ballot drop boxes.

“I think crossover voting is kind of a joke, because you can go to put in your vote in a primary, and you can switch parties right there, and then you can switch back to your other party,” Paternal said. “And drop boxes, I have no use for them.”  

Peternal, who operates Peternal Cattle Company, also agreed with Lummis’ feelings about allowing members of the armed forces to stay in the military even if they refuse to take the COVID-19 vaccine.  

“I don’t think anybody should be forced to take a vaccine that’s experimental,” Peternal said. “And they should reinstate all of the military members and give them back pay, in my opinion.”

Another convention attendee, Tim Teichert, who helps operate a family ranch called Teichert Brothers LLC, also agreed with Lummis and Peternal about retaining military members despite their vaccination status.

“If a person wants to be vaccinated, I think we should respect that right,” Teichert, 55, of Cokeville, said. “And if a person doesn’t want to be vaccinated, we should respect that right….And I’m not going to infringe upon those rights. . . . Mandating it, I don’t think we should be in that business.” 

When it comes to crossover voting, Teichert spoke about voting for a person rather than for a political party.

“I would hope when we do that, that you’re voting for the best candidate, no matter what party, not using it as a ‘We want to get this person in there just because we know we can beat him or her,’” Teichert said. “When we’re voting and voting for the best person, I think we’re fine that way.” 

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