WHY AM I RUNNING?
Republicans and Democrats in Wyoming are not really very far apart on most issues, and at the local level our legislators should listen to their constituents instead of their party leaders. Historically it has taken Republicans and Democrats working together to represent the great majority of the citizens of our state. But during the past thirty years, Republicans have come to dominate state government to a degree not seen since the Democratic party's domination of the 1930s. We need to work together to regain the common ground.
I am running as a Democrat in House District 24, Cody, in order to begin to restore balance to state government. As in much of the state, the most pressing issues here include school funding, infrastructure deterioration, inadequate access to health care for many, and declining property tax revenues in our cities and county. Creative solutions can be found only through an enriched debate in a bipartisan and open-minded legislature. The issues are neither Democratic nor Republican -- the issues are Wyoming's.
This past legislative session has proven the danger (the bankruptcy) of a one-party system. Having long ago decided to rely heavily on one revenue stream, the state was suddenly (but predictably) thrown into a budget crisis. With thousands of the state’s citizens losing their jobs or facing other kinds of economic hardship, the legislature -- under the direction of a small group of party leaders -- adopted the most selfish and short-sided course: gut public education and cut counseling and social welfare funding. Astonishingly, and meanly, our legislature refused to accept expanded Medicaid coverage!
So our public schools are tightening belts, and our colleges and university are forced to cut the very programs and services that had made them the envy of the nation. The part of our work force that has had the rug pulled out from under them would ordinarily look to help themselves to new lives through the community colleges. Many of those doors will be closed, and basic health care has become almost inaccessible.
The gutting of higher education will hurt the state drastically in another way. At the same time as the need for a more diversified economy is so dramatically obvious, the legislature has chosen to handicap our colleges and the University of Wyoming, the very engines of economic innovation and creative thinking.
But Wyoming has wisely taxed the minerals industry for many years to save for a “rainy day.” A wiser legislature would recognize that the resources are there to build a better state and a healthier citizenry. We need only political will, and faith in our public institutions, in order to lead us out of this mess.
I’m running for the Wyoming legislature because I am a lifelong optimist.
Paul Fees, Cody
(A portion of this was first published on the Casper Star-Tribune website.)