SHERIDAN — Eight gubernatorial candidates participated in a debate at Sheridan College sponsored by The Sheridan Press Tuesday and addressed issues ranging from their plans for economic diversification to how they would address the shortage of mental health care providers in the state.

Republican candidates Taylor Haynes, Mark Gordon, Foster Friess, Bill Dahlin, Sam Galeotos and Harriet Hageman participated along with Democratic candidates Mary Throne and Rex Wilde. Democratic candidates Kenneth Casner and Michael Allen Greene did not attend.

Several of the questions led candidates to discuss the need for economic diversification in the state.

Wilde made the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana his central issue and argued legalization would increase the state’s revenue and provide new jobs.

Dahlin said the state has to begin thinking differently about its economy and offered the growth and cultivation of industrial hemp as one area into which the state could look to expand.

Galeotos said job diversity would be key to keeping younger generations in the state and pushed for the recruitment of new businesses, especially in the technology sector.

Hageman’s principal concern was controlling the size and power of government, both federally and at the state level, and she said she believed the government could not diversify the economy and needed to repeal regulations and get out of the way of the private sector.

An economic study presented to the Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee earlier this month concluded that economic diversification would hurt the state financially unless the state also diversified its tax base to include a wider range of industries.

Throne was asked how she would address the issue identified in the report and responded by saying the state would have to explore imposing new taxes on businesses.

“We really have to bite the bullet and have an honest discussion about how we build a tax structure that fits the economy of the future,” Throne said.

The Republican candidates, however, differed sharply on the issue. Haynes, Galeotos and Hageman said they would oppose any new taxes and would look instead to cut government spending.

“As governor, I will fight tooth and nail against any income tax in this state,” Galeotos said.

Gordon said he believed the state should discuss the report but added he does not agree with its conclusion, arguing for cuts to spending instead of increases to revenue.

Candidates agreed that Wyoming’s financial situation would require cuts to the state government but had different ideas about where to cut.

Galeotos and Hageman said they would implement a pair of efficiency studies authorized by the Legislature, which were commissioned to find ways to reduce and streamline the state government and concluded the state could save up to $200 million through efficiency measures. The state’s Government Efficiency Commission has begun work on implementing some of those measures.

Friess was less specific about what he would cut, though he said he would avoid cuts that would eliminate jobs. He repeatedly called for Wyoming to release its financial records to OpenTheBooks.com, a government transparency nonprofit in which Friess has invested, in order to get a clear picture of how the state was spending its money.

Dahlin said he would sell off the two jets the state owns and look to cut money allocated to the ENDOW initiative. Haynes went further, saying he would cut funding for ENDOW entirely if he is elected. 

“Clearly the government cannot diversify the economy. We had the business council and now ENDOW,” Haynes said. “Worthless.”

When it came to addressing the shortage of mental health care in Wyoming, Throne said Medicaid expansion would allow the state to pump more money into mental health care and extend service to more citizens. Wilde agreed, adding only that legalized medical marijuana would also help the state address mental health.

But the Republican candidates were opposed to the expansion of Medicaid. Galeotos said the health care problems facing Wyoming’s rural populations present the state with an opportunity to innovate solutions. Hageman also said she believed the solutions would come from the private sector and said the state would need to work to get government out of the way.

The debate is available for on-demand viewing through Wyoming PBS’s website. Both parties will hold their primary elections Aug. 21. Early and absentee voting begins July 6.