- Associated Press - Thursday, October 16, 2014

RIVERTON, Wyo. (AP) - Responding to criticism that he’s failed to show leadership in his first term, Wyoming Republican Gov. Matt Mead emphasized that unless the state’s economy is robust, it won’t be able to address any of its other priorities, including education or health care.

Mead, who’s seeking re-election, faced off Thursday against Democrat Pete Gosar of Laramie, Libertarian Dee Cozzens of Lovell and independent Don Wills of Pine Bluffs at a Wyoming Public Television debate in Riverton.

Mead said his first term has seen Wyoming’s unemployment rate drop and its credit rating improve. Individual poverty rates are among the lowest in the nation, he said.

However, there are concerns about health care and education, he said, and “we should be very aware of those concerns, and we do need to address them, but without a good economy we won’t be able to address any of those things.”

“Whether it is energy strategy, forest health, or water, all of these things we’re looking at, the dream stays the same,” Mead said. “The vision stays the same: What do we do to help Wyoming be a better place every day. And I think my record, the job that I have done, speaks to that.”

Gosar, however, hammered on Mead’s first-term performance, saying the state needs more than words.

“How do you get from where you are to where you want to be? You’ve got to have a dream, a vision, and a willingness to work for it,” Gosar said. “Right now, that leadership is not available in Wyoming. We have gambled with our economy, on one commodity price: the price of oil.”

Gosar said oil prices seem ready to go lower and that he hopes Mead has a plan.

“In this governor’s term, we have stopped the teaching of science in our schools. We have put a clamp on our only four-year university limiting speech and art. That’s not a sustainable model for education,” Gosar said.

Gosar criticized Mead’s decision to not support expansion of the federal Medicaid program. The state has rejected federal funding that would have allowed more than 17,000 working people who can’t afford health insurance to get coverage under the program.

“There are 18,000 people in Wyoming who are waiting for somebody to help them out.” Gosar said. “Now if you don’t like Medicaid expansion, that’s fine. The governor has had an opportunity to work on it in the last four years. It’s surprising to me that the leadership has been lacking.”

Mead has said he doesn’t trust federal promises to continue funding for the program. He said his administration is exploring the terms the state could get from the federal government if it agreed to the expansion.

Wills said he’s the only candidate who clearly opposes Medicaid expansion.

“I’m really independent,” Wills said. “I’m not part of the good old boy network. If you vote for my opponents to my right, you’re going to get Common Core, you’re going to get Medicaid expansion. You’re going to get more taxes, you’re going to get more government. But if you vote for me, I will make sure that none of that happens.”

Cozzens, a hospital administrator, said many medical facilities in Wyoming spend more taking care of elderly patients than they get in federal reimbursement. He said he would favor expanding the program to help cover costs.

Cozzens said he’s spent 40 years on the hot-seat, dealing with the federal government, doctors, nurses and attorneys.

“We have issues that we need to direct,” Cozzens said. “You need someone who’s seasoned, who’s knowledgeable.”

Faced with increasingly stringent federal regulations on coal emissions, Mead has been pushing to export coal to Asia but has run into opposition in Oregon, where deep-water ports could handle exports.

In response to a question from the Casper Star-Tribune, Gosar said he believes Wyoming needs to find a way to cut coal pollution.

Mead responded that there are only a limited number of states that have proper ports. “You’re not going to have a port in Idaho, it’s not going to work,” he said, adding that he believes Wyoming will see progress in getting access to ports.

Wills said he believes that the federal government should step in. “This is a case where Oregon is stopping Wyoming from exporting coal.”

Cozzens said Wyoming needs to mine as much coal as it can and ship it. “Let’s continue to push it through Canada if we can’t get it here.”

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