- Associated Press - Friday, October 10, 2014

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - Gov. Matt Mead capped off a debate Thursday with strong criticism of two challengers, saying their comments showed a cynicism about people in the state.

Mead, a Republican seeking his second term, said he was disappointed with Democrat Pete Gosar of Laramie and independent Don Wills of Pine Bluffs for comments that Mead said were aimed at dividing people.

Gosar, in his opening remarks at the debate hosted by the college and the Casper Star-Tribune, said Mead has failed to show leadership in his first term. Star-Tribune Editor Jason Adrians moderated the debate.

“There are two sets of rules in Wyoming today: one of the well-connected, and another for the rest of us,” Gosar said.

Wills said he agreed there are two classes of people in the state. But Wills said he doesn’t accept that Gosar, himself a pilot for the state, isn’t himself a political insider.

“For Mr. Gosar to come up here and say he’s not part of the good old boy network, I reject that,” Wills said.

Mead fired back in his closing remarks that Gosar’s and Mills’ efforts to divide the state into competing groups amounts to an attempt at class warfare, or creating an us-versus-them sort of system. “We see where that’s gotten Washington D.C.,” he said. “We see where that’s gotten the current president, trying to do that. Wyoming’s better than that.”

Libertarian candidate Dee Cozzens of Lovell said he’s worked as a hospital administrator and is fluent in Spanish.

“I think I bring a lot to the plate to be governor,” Cozzens said. “I don’t want to be your ruler, I want to be your leader.”

The candidates split on some critical issues facing the state. Mead and Wills said they oppose allowing same-sex marriages in the state while Gosar and Cozzens said they support it.

The U.S. Supreme Court this week refused to reconsider decisions by a federal appeals court in a district including Wyoming that rejected same-sex marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma. Mead’s administration nonetheless is continuing to defend a state court lawsuit challenging a state law that defines marriage as existing only between one man and one woman.

Gosar and Wills said they favor allowing medical use of marijuana in the state. Cozzens said medical marijuana already is available in liquid or tablet form in the state. Mead said the active element of marijuana can be prescribed, but said he opposes legalization of marijuana itself.

Gosar hammered on Mead repeatedly throughout the debate for his decision not to accept federal funding to expand the federal Medicaid program to cover thousands more people in the state. Expansion of the program to cover working poor people who are currently uninsured is a fundamental principle of the federal Affordable Care Act.

Gosar said Mead’s decision to reject money to help working poor marks a low point in his administration.

Mead countered that he always has had concerns about the Affordable Care Act. However, he said his administration has been looking into securing the best possible deal from the federal government if the state does decide to expand the program.

Wills said he was the only candidate on the stage who is unequivocally opposed to Medicaid expansion and said he doesn’t trust the federal government.

Cozzens said he regards Medicaid expansion as a scam. “The bottom line is to begin rationing health care to those who need it,” he said.

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