This election season, Teton County voters will decide who will represent them in Cheyenne in the state’s legislature. Several seats in the House of Representatives and Senate are up for grabs, including House District 16, 22 and 23, along with Senate District 17.
The Wyoming League of Women Voters and the Teton County Library held forums on Sept. 28 and 29 featuring candidates for House 16 and 23, as well as Jackson Town Council and the Teton County Board of Commissioners.
Reporters from Jackson Hole News&Guide and Buckrail moderated the forums, and full recordings are available here.
On Oct. 11, another forum will focus on House 22, which encompasses Wilson and the area south of Jackson. The event is at 6 p.m. at the Old Wilson Schoolhouse.
House 16 candidates diverge on abortion, 2020 election
Republican Jim McCollum is challenging Democratic incumbent Mike Yin for District 16, which includes most of Jackson starting south of Broadway. Yin, a software developer, has held the role for four years. McCollum, a Jackson local, is a self-defined “cowboy, carpenter, poet.” He thinks, as a Republican, he’ll make a better impact in the conservative legislature, even though Teton County swings Democrat.
The two candidates found common ground on many issues, from the economic benefits of recreational marijuana to the need to transition to clean energy. But, when it comes to abortion, the two somewhat diverged: Yin strongly supports women’s right to choose and believes the decision shouldn’t be left to states. McCollum, on the other hand, agrees with the decision going back to the states, but he wasn’t clear on where he personally comes down on the issue.
“Regardless of what my beliefs are, I don’t have the right to dictate what a woman does and what her decision is going to be,” McCollum said.
Abortion rights in Wyoming are currently in limbo, as a lawsuit advances to the Wyoming Supreme Court about the state’s trigger ban. Yin believes Teton County needs to be united in support of abortion rights.
“It’s not going to stop just at the lawsuit,” he said. “It’s going to continue in this next session, it’s going to continue in the following session.”
One point of contention was the 2020 presidential election. The candidates agreed that the election wasn’t stolen from former President Donald Trump and that the state is doing a good job on elections, but McCollum added, “there were irregularities that definitely need to be looked into.” Yin, for his part, said these irregularities are a conspiracy theory.
The candidates also diverged when discussing proposed real estate taxes. Yin has worked to pass an optional real estate transfer tax in the state House. The latest version would have allowed individual counties to vote on whether or not to impose a 1% levy on local sales based on property value. The bill, which is widely supported in Jackson, failed in the last session, but Yin is hopeful he can work with new legislators in the next session.
McCollum is opposed to the proposed tax, calling it “regressive” and saying it could hurt the people it’s trying to help. He instead favors using sales tax money or taxing ski passes.
Yin disagreed that the tax is regressive, since the bill he sponsored only taxes real estate over $1.5 million.
“But, if we increase sales tax, that is going to be something that will affect everyone, especially everyone that buys a season pass,” he said.
House 23 candidates focus on property, real estate taxes
The candidates for House District 23, which includes Rafter J, Alta and north Jackson, took the stage on Sept. 29. The Democratic incumbent, Andy Schwartz, is not running for election. Instead, on the Democratic ticket is Liz Storer, a local philanthropist who’s married to Luther Propst, vice-chair of the Teton County Board of Commissioners. She’s up against moderate Republican Paul Vogelheim, a former county commissioner with a history in international manufacturing.
The two came head to head on most issues, including those related to taxes. When it comes to the real estate transfer tax, which Schwartz championed in the House, Storer is in full support.
“A real estate transfer tax does seem to be a way that is both [an] equitable and reasonable approach to creating more public dollars to help support better affordable housing options,” she said.
But Volgelheim said he can’t support the tax. According to him, it’s unclear how the money from tax would offer affordable housing solutions. Instead he supports public-private partnerships between local governments and philanthropists or community organizations.
Volgelheim also said he will support a 5% cap on property taxes across the board. Storer said this could negatively impact middle- to low-income families and advocated for a program to exempt them from paying high taxes or allow them to access low-interest loans from the state.
Vogelheim still said the 5% cap is the only sound way to limit high property taxes.
“The second homeowners are going to get a little bit of a pass on this, but I think it’s still critical,” he said.
When it comes to abortion, both candidates said they support a woman’s right to choose, though Vogelheim seemed to be more open to restrictions on this right. He said he’ll fight for exceptions for rape and incest in the House.
In their closing speeches, Vogelheim argued that he would make a bigger impact in Cheyenne as a Republican.
“In November, there’ll be a gathering of the Republicans to have a caucus to talk about what issues we’re going to be facing this year,” Vogelheim said. “It would be my honor to be down there representing you to talk about the issues we have in this community.”
Storer emphasized that she’s lived outside of Teton County, in places such as Cheyenne, and can work with moderate and conservative Republicans who want to solve the state’s problems.
“I have relationships across the state and lots of them in the legislature,” Storer said. “I feel like I’m in a great position.”