GOP rival assails Petroff
Incumbent claims opponent’s campaign fliers are full of ‘distortions and lies.’
By Kevin Huelsmann, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
August 9, 2012
State House candidate Bob Biolchini is mounting a full-on attack against incumbent Rep. Ruth Ann Petroff’s GOP credentials, saying that she has deceived members of her party and failed county voters.
In a series of increasingly pointed campaign fliers, Biolchini has upped the ante in the race for House District 16 and once again called into question what it means to be a Republican in Teton County.
Biolchini’s campaign materials, mailed out over the last several weeks to Republicans in House District 16, try to link Petroff to “Obama liberals” and claim that she is a “Republican in name only.”
One flier assails Petroff for supporting gay marriage and abortion rights, attacks her record on gun issues, spending and taxes, and criticizes her for supporting the “Obamacare takeover in Wyoming.”
“It’s clear that Rep. Petroff misses the point of being a Republican every time she sides with Obama liberals in Cheyenne,” Biolchini said Tuesday in an email.
The tactic has drawn sharp criticism from Petroff, who said Biolchini’s campaign materials were full of “distortions and lies.” She sharply rebuked her opponent’s attempt to tear her down as a conservative and said the overly negative campaigning is a disservice to voters.
“I fight for Republican values, but more importantly I fight for Teton County values,” she said in an interview Monday.
Petroff said she firmly supports the core tenets of the Republican Party and stands behind her voting record, which she said demonstrates her work to help businesses, lower taxes and support energy issues.
The issues raised by Biolchini are important to Petroff, but she said she is more concerned with continuing to promote tourism and build relationships with lawmakers across the state.
“We do get marginalized, because our needs and interests are so different,” Petroff said. “It’s important to have someone who can communicate. I’ve made a lot of effort to do that.
“That means that when the state is considering cutting cost-of-living adjustments for Teton County teachers, that people respect Teton County legislators enough to listen to them.”
The challenge to her political affiliation isn’t a new one for Petroff. She faced similar charges from candidate Joe Schloss in the 2010 Republican primary.
During the run up to that election, Schloss criticized Petroff for a political donation she made to a Democratic candidate and questioned why she allowed several Democratic events to be held at the coffee shop she once owned.
Petroff countered by saying that candidates’ values are more important than their party affiliation.
At the time, she said she considered herself a Republican in the vein of Theodore Roosevelt or former Wyoming Sen. Craig Thomas, both of whom were known for their strong support for conservation efforts.
Teton County Republican Party Chairman T.R. Pierce said the race this year simply illustrates that there is a broad array of political philosophies that fall under the Republican banner.
“We are a party that is inclusive,” he said. “We have people who have very conservative views and ones that have more moderate views. They all share the same core values.
“The way one candidate might interpret the core values of the party might be different than the way another candidate views them,” he said.
Pierce said that calling attention to differences between candidates is a natural part of a campaign, one that can spark healthy debate.
“When you’re running a campaign there needs to be some measure of difference,” Pierce said. “From [Biolchini’s] perspective, what he has done is come out with issues that he feels like he differs from Rep. Petroff on. I trust that from his perspective, those are accurate differences.”
Biolchini has disparaged Petroff’s voting record on legislation related to health care, energy taxes, state spending, gun rights and social issues.
In a flier sent out earlier this month, Biolchini claimed that Petroff “joined with Democrats to vote in favor of Obamacare takeover in Wyoming.”
He cites a 2011 bill that called for legislators to “enact any and all measures as may be necessary within the borders of Wyoming to prevent the enforcement of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”
The bill would have declared the federal health reform legislation void and granted the authority to the state attorney general to defend any Wyoming resident who might be prosecuted for violating the federal law.
Petroff voted against the bill, which eventually failed. She did, however, support another piece of legislation that year to set aside $2 million to pay for legal challenges to the federal legislation.
“I voted to fund the litigation and not to secede from the Union,” she said.
Biolchini said Petroff’s votes clearly show that she supports the federal health care law, the majority of which was upheld by U.S. Supreme Court justices earlier this summer.
“Just voting to pay lawyers to decide the fate of Obamacare in Washington is a laughable excuse and is like voting to put a fox in charge of a hen house,” he said.
Biolchini also calls out Petroff’s vote in support of tax on wind energy produced in the state in one flier. He said Petroff was in favor of a tax hike that could have hurt consumers.
The bill, which also failed, would have phased in a tax on new wind energy production in the state. It also would have extended a sales tax exemption for wind generation facilities.
Petroff said the bill was a compromise between energy companies and state lawmakers. The exemption was slated to expire, and legislators worked out what they saw as a fair agreement.
“It definitely was a pro-energy bill,” she said. The legislation was intended to help incentivize projects by keeping in place the sales tax exemption, she said.
Gun rights also have been frequently mentioned in Biolchini’s campaign fliers. Petroff received an “F” in a National Rifle Association’s Political Victory Fund grading system in 2010. This year, her grade was bumped up to a “B-plus.”
“I committed to the Second Amendment folks in our community that I would get up to speed on the issue and defend their Second Amendment rights, and I have done that in every vote,” she said.
Biolchini was awarded a grade of “AQ,” which designates that someone is a pro-gun candidate but doesn’t have a voting record on Second Amendment issues.
Social issues also serve as a dividing line between the two candidates.
Petroff said she supports gay marriage and abortion rights, while Biolchini is staunchly opposed to both issues.
One flier, which prominently features an image of a church, says that Biolchini is a “devoted family man and Christian who lives out his values of respect and honesty on the other six days of the week, too.”
“As a Christian, having faith in God means, in part, that we are accountable to him for everything we say and do,” he said in an emailed response to a question about what role religion would play in his legislative approach. “Therefore, it is my duty to serve the people in the community rather than myself and not let others get away with leading my neighbors astray.”
Petroff said her Christian values are important to her but that she firmly believes in the separation of church and state.
“I take my general morality with me but not my specific doctrine,” she said, explaining how religion factors into her decisions as a lawmaker.