While offering differing views of the challenges that lie ahead, the five GOP candidates for the Big Horn County Commission all touted their deep ties to the county during a July 26 forum hosted by the Big Horn County Republican Party.
The forum was held in the Greybull city park, and in addition to Rich Fink, Chuck Hopkin, Dave Neves, Deb Craft and Nick Lewis, all of whom are vying to replace Jerry Ewen, it was attended by five of the eight remaining candidates for U.S. House and virtually all of the local candidates seeking state legislative seats.
It was not a debate format; candidates were given a set amount of time to make their pitches. For nearly two hours, they did, in the process giving voters plenty to think about while they enjoyed pie and ice cream on a warm summer night in Greybull.
The common thread linking all five of the candidates for the county commission is their deep family ties to the county they hope to serve. All of them described themselves as lifelong county residents, married and with children. Fink and Lewis currently reside in Lovell, while Neves, from Emblem, and Hopkin and Craft, from Basin, hail from the south end of the county.
Fink touted a 50-year career working with the public, including 35 years with the National Guard, his experience in the areas of emergency management and human resources with the county, a 10-year run on the Lovell Town Council and his “rewarding” work as a family support coordinator helping the wives and children of men serving in the National Guard.
Fink said he has attended every county commission meeting since filing for office, is versed on important public lands management issues, believes in further diversification of the county and would work to not only maintain, but build the county savings account.
Hopkin is entering county politics after long careers with the telephone company (he retired last year after 42 years) and as a fireman in Basin (25 years). Hopkin said he entered the race because “we have a problem in Big Horn County (in that) we have three commissioners and two of them can control most anything that goes on in the county. And if those two are run by any particular group, then the people in that group are the ones who are running the county.”
If elected, Hopkin said he’d do what’s best for the county as a whole, not certain groups or individuals, and pledged to be accessible at all times, even going so far as to share his cell phone number during his presentation. He said he wants to represent the people, “not big enterprise.”
Craft said she believes she has the skills and experience to help the county commission. First and foremost, she said, is her experience as a small business owner. She, her brother and two sisters own Davies Machine Shop on the southern edge of Greybull. Deb and her husband also farm south of Basin.
Craft is also heavily involved in her community. She is a longtime member of the Big Horn County School District No. 4 board of trustees, is on the steering committee for the new school that will be built in Basin and lists among her credentials serving as vice president of the Basin Recreation District board and on the Shell Canal board.
“I can work with people and I don’t mind the meetings,” she said. “Had two before coming here tonight.”
Neves said public lands are a key issue for him, noting that they make up 77 to 81 percent of the county’s total land mass and that “the commissioners can play a big role in influencing the federal agencies” and the regulations placed on those lands.
Neves also said that if he’s elected, he’d work with the landfill board to keep the fees in check for users of the landfills and with the sheriff’s office and Lovell town officials to ensure that the Lovell dispatch center remains open.
Lewis spoke about his past experiences as an estimator for a construction company and a laborer, but used most of his allotted time on his law enforcement career, which included 12 years with the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office and 14 years as the chief of police in Lovell.
He was upfront about how his tenure with the Lovell Police Department ended. He said a man who, several years earlier, was arrested by the Lovell Police Department and charged with assault was elected mayor and did not reappoint him. “Some people have asked me, ‘Would you do it again?’ Absolutely. Nobody is above the law. But that’s how I lost a 26-year career in law enforcement.”
Lewis said that if he’s elected, he wouldn’t make decisions that benefit him or his friends, but would work for the best interests of the county as a whole. He said he also supports the transpark highway between Hardin, Mont., and Lovell, as well as the Antelope Butte Foundation.
Five of the eight candidates vying for the U.S. House seat now held by Cynthia Lummis attended the forum, including the three frontrunners according to polling data appearing last week in the Casper Star-Tribune, in Liz Cheney, Tim Stubson and Leland Christensen.
While that poll showed that approximately half of all state voters are undecided, Cheney was the candidate who received the highest percentage of support. The daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, Liz launched, but then dropped, a bid to challenge U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi two years ago. This time, she’s bidding for the House, calling herself a fighter who would stand up for Wyoming. She lists Wilson as her place of residence.
The nation is at a crossroads, Cheney said. “We’ve lived through eight years of the absolute worst president in American history, bar none,” she said. “We need to do an incredible amount of heavy lifting to get us out of the mess he’s put us in.”
Cheney said no state in the union has suffered more in the last eight years than Wyoming.
“The expansion of the federal government into every area of our lives is strangling us,” she said, citing encroachments in energy, agriculture, small business, schools and families and saying the president “has a view of expanding government that is far beyond where it should be.”
Cheney said she supports regaining control of government agencies and returning power to the states, rebuilding the military and defeating ISIS, and a full repeal of the Common Core “because I see the damage it’s doing.”
Lastly, she said of all the GOP candidates, she’d stand the greatest chance of getting the attention of President Donald Trump, if he’s elected. If it’s Hillary Clinton in the White House, “Wyoming will need a representative who can go toe to toe with her.”
Stubson touted himself as a candidate in touch with Wyoming, its people and the issues of importance to them. Casper born, he’s spent the last nine years in the Wyoming House of Representatives and is currently the speaker pro tem.
“I’ve had a front-row seat of the federal noose on the state of Wyoming,” he said, citing policies which have negatively impacted the state in the areas of energy, agriculture, education and health care. “We need someone in D.C. who has fought against that, who has worked on Wyoming’s behalf over the years.”
Stubson said he’s fought oil and gas regulations, as well as efforts to put the sage grouse on the endangered species list. As much as anything, he pledged to work to change the climate in the nation’s capital. Right now Congress is more concerned with being a “political fundraising machine” than it is solving the nation’s problems. “We need someone who is singularly focused on the issues important to Wyoming,” he said.
Christensen, of Alta, was a lawman for 20 years and a two-term county commissioner and is currently serving in the state legislature. He said he’s running for U.S. House because he doesn’t like the country’s direction. “We aren’t leaving it better for the next generation than the way we received it,” he said. As a state, Wyoming exports its coal, oil, minerals and livestock. Sadly, it’s also losing its children, who grow and leave to find work elsewhere.
Christiansen said he’d make it a priority, if elected, to secure the borders and protect Second Amendment rights, as well as local access to federal lands. He said he has the “character, commitment and track record” to do the job.
Senteney, of Yoder, said he too is concerned about the country and how leaders don’t listen to the people who elect them. If elected, he said, he would introduce legislation for term limits – three for the House, two for the Senate – within the first 100 days. He also supports a national sales tax that would replace the federal income tax as well as efforts to pay down the national debt, revitalize infrastructure and seal the southern border.
Paad, of Casper, said he entered the race because “things aren’t getting done in Washington, D.C.” and that the country should have a citizen legislature, not a congress full of career politicians. Paad said he supports the U.S. declaring its emergency independence from foreign countries, ending the moratorium on coal, securing the borders, ending support for “sanctuary cities” and refortifying the military.
Darin Smith of Cheyenne, Heath Beaudry of Evanston and Mike Konsomo of Powell did not attend.
Also on hand for the forum were the Republican candidates seeking seats in the state legislature, Phil Abromats, Jamie Flitner and Tim Mills in House District 26 (Greybull, Lovell and Powell) and Bob Bayuk and Wyatt Agar in Senate District 20 (between Basin and Thermopolis). Ron Harvey, a third candidate in District 20, did not attend.
Abromats, of Shell, said that while he cannot compete with his opponents’ connections to the area, he was the one endorsed by the Wyoming Right to Life and is the only one of the three who would sign a pledge to not raise taxes. He said he recognizes the state is in a tough position economically, but that if elected he’d search for and identify areas of “waste and abuse” in state government that could be eliminated. The resulting savings could then be used to fund essential services, which would make raising taxes unnecessary.
“We need to get the federal government out of our lives and out of our businesses … and we need to get federal land to be administered by the people in Wyoming who have Wyoming values at heart, not people in Washington, D.C., who pay environmentalists to sue them.”
Abromats said he also strongly opposes the expansion of Medicaid.
Mills, also of Shell, said he could trace his family’s ties to the county back to the 1890s and pointed to the flag while explaining his reason for entering the race. “I’m a veteran, with 16 years of service including in the Air Force and several in the National Guard, and a lot of them have been spent in leadership positions,” he said.
Mills said he would closely scrutinize the state budget and described himself as “resolute, a hard worker and dedicated.” He’s also passionate, noting that the current elected leaders know his name because he frequently reaches out to them offering input.
Flitner, also hailing from Shell, said she married into a family that has been ranching in the area for more than 100 years and spoke about the achievements of the Greybull school board, which she currently chairs. In the last year, it’s opened a new school, built its cash reserves, balanced its budget, retained a great staff and produced productive citizens.
“I firmly believe that with less regulations, free markets are allowed to thrive,” she said. “And with that come jobs and a better standard of living.”
Shifting to Senate District 20, Agar, of Thermopolis, described himself as an agricultural business owner and said that, if he’s elected, he’d work to peel back regulations that currently limit the private sector and fight for constitutional rights and greater fiscal responsibility.
Bayuk, a psychologist from Worland, said he’s noticed a gradual declining in the Big Horn Basin since his arrival in the area in the early 1980s. “Cheyenne has left us behind,” he said. “We need to take back control.” He said he’d work to protect the resources of the Big Horn Basin, listen to his constituents and take their concerns to the legislature.
Nathan Winters, who is running unopposed for the GOP nod in House District 28, also gave a short presentation, describing himself as a Christian conservative Republican who enjoys working for the people.
By Nathan Oster