Taxes, drilling drive state legislature races
Two candidates face no opposition yet.
By Noah Brenner, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
June 11, 2008
Rising property taxes and increasing concern over the impacts of Sublette County’s vast natural gas fields will be two major factors driving this year’s races for state legislature.
Though concern about property taxes cuts across all the races, it could be especially important in the House District 16 contest, where challenger Joe Schloss, a Jackson Republican, is championing major tax reform and incumbent Rep. Pete Jorgensen, D-Jackson, has argued that there are existing programs in place to help those in need.
Conservation issues are driving candidates for the House District 22 race. The district includes much of Sublette County, where intense natural gas drilling has resulted in ozone warnings. In that race, Republican Charles Stough of Pinedale said his focus is on ensuring quality reclamation in the field. Republican Donn Wooden of Alpine and Democrat Jim Roscoe of Wilson both said their goal is simply to find a balance between energy extraction and other uses of public land.
House District 22
House District 22 includes most of northern Sublette County, Wilson and Hoback Junction in Teton County and Alpine in Lincoln County. Rep. Monte Olsen, R-Daniel, has represented the district for the last six years but announced this spring he would not seek re-election because of health complications stemming from a car accident one year ago.
Democrat Jim Roscoe also knows firsthand the effects and impacts of energy development on public land. The Wilson resident owns a small ranch in southern Sublette County. His biggest issue, he said, is trying to find ways that the state can juggle energy development and environmental quality.
“Number one for me is to balance development of our state’s energy resources between production, which contributes 60 percent of our state revenue, with wildlife, clean air and clean water,” he said. That is something Roscoe does not see happening at the current pace of development.
“We need some more say on those federal lands within Wyoming,” Roscoe said, though he admitted it could be difficult because both the land and the minerals are under federal jurisdiction. “I believe that the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality would have a role in that.”
In addition, Roscoe said he would like to find a way to bring some property tax relief to residents of his district.
Roscoe, 58, has been living and working in the valley for 35 years. He is the owner of a small construction company that does work in Teton and Sublette counties and said he has employees from all three counties in District 22. He is married and has two sons
Republican Charles Stough of Pinedale said his biggest issue is how the state governs the management of the gas fields after drilling and production are complete. Stough recently took over as chief financial officer for Two Bears Ecological Consulting.
“I think reclamation is a key issue,” he said. “I think it’s something we can do a better job on than we are doing now.”
Stough, 46, is married and has two daughters. He said he was motivated to run for office to ensure his children have the same opportunities to enjoy Wyoming that he had.
“I think we owe that to our kids and future generations to restore the land to the condition it was and to be good stewards,” he said. “Energy is a fact of life. It’s not going away, but we need to embrace responsible development.”
Stough moved to Pinedale two years ago after spending 15 years in Hot Springs County.
Republican Donn Wooden, 67, of Alpine said his priority is property tax relief that balances the market price of homes with people’s income levels.
Wooden is also running to ensure “wise use of natural resources and finding a balance between industry, public recreation, and the environment,” on public lands, he said in a written response to questions.
Besides balancing competing uses of Wyoming’s natural resources, Wooden said it is also important to find new uses and markets for those resources.
“I support efforts in our colleges to diversify our abundant coal into fuel to offset the need for foreign oil and to find other alternative fuel sources,” he said.
Wooden moved to Star Valley in 1959 at the age of 7 and graduated from Star Valley High School. He was the first mayor of Afton after the town incorporated, serving from 1989 to 1998. He was recently appointed to the Alpine Town Council to a term that wraps up at the end of this year. Wooden is married and has four children, 14 grandchildren, four step-grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
House District 16
House District 16 includes much of Jackson and Teton Village. Rep Pete Jorgensen, D-Jackson, has represented the district for the last six years. In the last election cycle, he successfully fought off a challenge from Republican Kate Mead.
Democrat Pete Jorgensen said his priorities haven’t changed since he first ran for election about six years ago.
“Really the three initial ones were environment, economy and health care, and those are still the main ones that need attention,” he said.
Health care has been particularly frustrating, Jorgensen said.
“It’s often said government shouldn’t get into [health care] because the market will take care of it, but we don’t have competition in this state,” he said. “It’s not bringing everyone under some socialist system but doing what we are supposed to do, which is help those in need. It’s up to you where you draw that line of need.”
The challenge to balance energy and the environment also has not gone away during his tenure, Jorgensen said.
“We still have challenges with energy development and environmental values, particularly in the Hoback, the Upper Green, the Wyoming Range and the Greys River,” he said. “It’s interesting because it directly pits energy in conflict with ranching and outfitting, which are traditional activities.”
Jorgensen, 72, is married with four children and four grandchildren.
Republican Joe Schloss said one of his main campaign issues will be property tax reform.
Schloss said he favors approaches taken in other Western states that limit allowable tax increases after the purchase of a home.
“I think Wyoming needs to start looking at other states like California and Nevada and say, ‘What has worked for them,’” he said. “Then either adopt a program or come up with a hybrid.”
Other key issues in his campaign will be access to quality health care and insurance and immigration and guest worker programs.
“I have a background in immigration – I have seen it my entire working life and have ideas on that issue,” he said. “I am also concerned that our businesses have great difficulty finding employees, especially in the summer. We need to put pressure on the federal government to allow more people to come here and work legally.”
Schloss, 57, retired to Teton County after a career with the U.S. Border Patrol, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Office of Homeland Security.
Senate District 16
Senate District 16 is made up of northern Sublette County, northern Lincoln County and Wilson. Sen. Pat Aullman, R-Thayne, represented the district for the past four years but announced this spring she would not seek re-election to a second term. Rep. Dan Dockstader, who currently represented House District 21 in the Wyoming legislature is the only person who has filed to run for Aullman’s seat.
Dockstader, said he is excited to expand his previous work to change how Wyoming collects property taxes. He has been one of a host of senators and representatives from Wyoming’s western counties that has sponsored bills to change the state’s property tax system.
“I’m trying to move across the hall and want to continue what I started with taxes,” he said. “The thing on taxes I’ve found is for years the legislature has tried different angles on it but before said it was just a western county issue. Now it’s spreading out.”
While he said he will continue to introduce tax reform legislation, he would also like to examine how the state administers its tax program to see if changes are possible outside the legislative process.
“I’m going to meet with the Department of Revenue to see if the valuations are done properly,” he said. “Is there any other way other than coming back with a piece of legislation that gets killed.”
Besides property taxes, Dockstader said he would like to continue to look at the efficacy of the state’s DUI laws.
Dockstader, 50, is the owner and publisher of the Star Valley Independent. He is married and has four children and one grandchild.
House District 23
House District 23 includes much of the Town of Jackson, as well as Dubois. Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, has represented the district for the last four years and no one has filed to run against him for the second straight election cycle.
Republican Keith Gingery said he would like to continue his work to reform Wyoming’s property tax system.
“I say ‘reform’ not ‘relief,’ because I believe we are well beyond giving relief and we need to reform this broken system,” Gingery wrote in an e-mail response to questions. “Specifically, I will try again to get a constitutional amendment placed on the ballot that would allow for a cap on the rate of increase of property taxes.”
To further this goal, Gingery said he will likely seek a leadership position within the House’s Republican majority as well as a committee chairmanship.
Gingery, 39, currently sits on the House Judiciary Committee and serves as chairman of the Drug Court Steering Committee and the Select Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. When not serving in the legislature, Gingery works in the Teton County Attorney’s Office as a deputy county attorney. He is married and has one daughter.