SHERIDAN — Two Laramie Democrats will compete for their party’s nomination for Wyoming’s sole U.S. House of Representatives seat, currently held by Republican Liz Cheney.
Travis Helm is an immigration attorney who runs a law firm in Laramie. His opponent, Greg Hunter, is a consultant who has worked with the federal government on a range of issues.
While the two candidates overlap on some issues, they have identified slightly different priorities for their campaigns.
When Helm initially decided to run, he identified finding affordable health care solutions and ensuring public lands remain public as the two important issues for his campaign, but as he has traveled the state and spoken to voters, he’s found that getting dark money out of politics is the issue at the forefront of most voters’ minds. He supports Wyoming Promise, a state group pushing a citizens’ initiative that would amend the Constitution and overturn the 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizen’s United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the court ruled that political donations by corporations are protected under the First Amendment and cannot be restricted.
“[Money in politics] is so much the cause of why our laws aren’t functioning,” Helm said. “Any good idea is getting perverted by this influence of big money and dark money.”
Wyoming Promise’s intention is essentially to find an end around Congress, and Helm said though Congress can amend the Constitution, given the prevailing attitudes of lawmakers in Congress on both sides of the aisle, it is unlikely a congressional amendment will ever pass.
If elected, then, he said he would work to amplify the voices of voters who support Wyoming Promise.
“I take serious the opportunity of being an advocate and speaking for things that, even if I don’t have the power to change them as an elected representative, I’m speaking for the people,” Helm said.
He added, however, that he believes it will be difficult to make lasting reforms on issues like health care until the influence special interest groups have on politicians can be mitigated.
Helm said he supports universal health care but is not opposed to compromising on alternative solutions for reducing medical costs.
“We have to address making [health care] affordable one way or the other because people just can’t afford health care,” Helm said. “I talk to people all the time who have already left (the state) or are planning to leave, not because they don’t want to be here, but because they can’t afford insurance to stay here.”
Wyoming’s health care costs continue to increase, Helm said, because there is currently only one insurance provider in the state. In order to reduce costs, he said the state either needs to implement new regulations or find a way to create competition that will prevent Wyoming Blue Cross Blue Shield from abusing its monopoly.
Helm also claims instituting a universal health care can save the country almost a trillion dollars.
“If you look at the countries that are providing universal health care, they’re spending about 11 percent of their GDP on health care, where we in the U.S. are spending 17 percent of our GDP on health care,” Helm said. “So that’s a trillion dollars we can save every year.”
Helm also strongly disagrees with Rep. Cheney’s approach to the state’s public lands and said it is imperative they remain under federal control.
“Our state laws don’t have a mechanism to receive those lands if they were to be given to us,” Helm said. “And also, our state does not have the resources or the ability to manage those lands.”
As a result, Helm said, the state would have to sell those lands to the highest bidder and they could fall under the control of private interests.
Hunter’s priorities would be maximizing the state’s profits from energy, agriculture and tourism. On the federal level, he believes that can be accomplished by fighting for regulations that offer sufficient protections without obstructing the state industries.
That does not necessarily mean repealing regulations. Hunter said some of the environmental regulations placed on coal, for instance, are protections based on scientific evidence that should remain in place. At the same time, however, Hunter said regulations can become burdensome, particularly to small businesses that do not have the resources that larger corporations can draw on to comply with regulations. Finding the right balance in federal regulations, he said, will require analysis as well as conversations with stakeholders in the industries and, with his background as a consultant, Hunter said he is equipped to take on that task.
“I feel like I understand the intersection between the federal government and the state government because that’s really where my career has been — evaluating federal requirements and how they impact the states,” Hunter said.
Hunter said decisions on energy will be central to the state’s economy and Wyoming will have to find a way to maximize the returns from its current energy industry while looking for new opportunities.
“The market is telling us we need to have the ability to diversify as much as we can,” he said. “However, we also need to get as much energy out because that’s how our economy is set up; that’s how our tax structure is set up.”
In the short term, Hunter said removing impediments to fracking in the state can help maximize Wyoming’s energy profits. In the long term, Hunter said he is not sure what the state can do to modernize its energy sector, but he would like to bring researchers into conversations with scientists and industry stakeholders to determine the best path forward. That includes exploring options like wind and solar.
Like Helm, Hunter does not believe the state should take over management of the public lands within its borders. He added that recreational opportunities public lands provide enhance the state’s tourism industry.
When it comes to health care, Hunter supports a “Medicare for all” system similar to the proposal advanced by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont. He argues that the current health care system has been corrupted by special interests and needs to be re-examined.
“I look at Congress as being a very captured entity by corporations,” Hunter said. “The only things we see on TV are white-pill manufacturers and insurance; so the only people making money are those industries.”
Like Helm, he also believes the country can save money by offering wider access to health care. As an example, he argues that the Wyoming Legislature’s decision not to expand Medicaid has ultimately cost the state money and led to cuts for other services in the state.
Wyoming’s primary elections will be held Aug. 21. The Press will have an article on the Republican House primary race later this week.