SHERIDAN — Five of the six Republican gubernatorial candidates had the opportunity to speak and answer audience questions during the Sheridan County Republican Party’s Reagan Day Dinner Saturday.

Candidate Taylor Haynes was scheduled to participate but did not attend.

Each candidate was allowed to give a five-minute speech before participating in a question and answer session.

Sheridan businessman Bill Dahlin focused on the need for economic diversification, arguing that demand for natural gas was hurting the sale of coal, which would require the state to think differently going forward. He offered expansion into the cultivation of industrial hemp as one example of an opportunity for economic diversification he would push for as governor.

Foster Friess said he would look to build up Wyoming’s existing businesses and argued that the state did not suffer from an over-reliance on the energy sector, it suffered from poor budgeting; Friess said the state needs to do a better job saving during boom cycles and planning for bust cycles. 

Sam Galeotos said addressing the state’s budget deficit and controlling spending would be his chief priorities as governor. He also said he would look to remove red tape for energy producers before looking for opportunities to grow and diversify the state’s economy.

State Treasurer Mark Gordon said his priority would be reorganizing and streamlining state agencies to save money and make the agencies more effective. Gordon said he had already been successful reorganizing agencies as state treasurer and would look to continue that work if elected governor.

 Harriet Hageman said the two primary challenges Wyoming faces are overreach by the federal government and overspending by the state government. Hageman added that she had fought government overreach as an attorney and would draw on that experience to do the same as the state’s governor.

 Audience members were then given the opportunity to ask questions of the candidates.

The first question asked the candidates how they would bring jobs to the state. Galeotos said again he would focus on building a workforce for the industries that already exist in Wyoming. Hageman said she did not believe the government could create jobs and said she would focus on removing red tape to empower the private sector to grow the economy. Dahlin said he would push for more education and training in state. Gordon said he would look at redeploying the Wyoming Business Council to communities throughout the state in order to explore what kind of infrastructure they require locally to support the state’s broader economic development efforts. And Friess said the state needs to create more value-added services around its raw materials; as an example, he said rather than exporting cattle, Wyoming should move toward exporting beef.

Several questions returned to the issue of government transparency, which all five candidates agreed needed to be improved. Friess provided funding for the transparency organization OpenTheBooks.com and said if elected governor he would ensure the state releases budget information to that group. Galeotos said the state specifically needs to improve transparency surrounding how revenue is coming into the state. Gordon said the issue could be addressed by removing government red tape, such as requiring agencies to work through the Department of Enterprise Technology Services on digital requests.

The candidates also addressed a question about the state taking control of federal lands, and four of the five said they would not be in favor of a federal land transfer. Hageman, however, said she was proposing a pilot program in which Wyoming would take over a small portion of federal lands to prove the state could manage them effectively and demonstrate the benefits they could create.

The six candidates will compete for the Republican nomination for governor in the primary election Aug. 21.