Petersen touts health care
On stop in valley, Wilsonite running for governor plays up experience.
By Cara Rank, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: October 27, 2010
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Leslie Petersen said Tuesday her stance on national health care reform is one of the major differences between her and her Republican opponent.
During her last appearance in Jackson Hole before Tuesday’s general election, Petersen, a Wilson resident, said she would work with the federal government to reform health care. Republican Matt Mead, whom she called her “primary opponent” in the four-person race, has said he would have Wyoming join other states in a suit against the new law.
“We must carry on with the national health care act and try to make it work for us,” she said during a Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club forum.
Petersen, 70, faces Mead, 48 and a Teton County native, in the race to replace outgoing Gov. Dave Freudenthal. The race also includes Libertarian Mike Wheeler, who is on the ballot, and conservative Taylor Haynes, who is running as a write-in.
Though she has lived in Teton County for 35 years, Petersen grew up in a Dubois dude ranching family that has long been involved in state politics.
A federal response to health care issues is needed because Wyoming has been unable to develop its own solution, even though people have worked on it for decades.
Wyoming had tried for 30 years to develop a heath care program that works, she said. What lawmakers have learned is that Wyoming’s population is too small, the communities are too rural, and the state population is one of the oldest in the country.
“We simply cannot make a statewide program work for us,” Petersen said.
When the national reform was passed, 71,000 of Wyoming’s more than 500,000 residents had no health insurance, she said.
“Those numbers are increasing every minute,” Petersen said.
Wyoming will be better off working with the federal government to provide coverage for residents, she said.
“We are already seeing many things in the health care act that are bringing help to our people in Wyoming,” Petersen said.
For example, children with pre-existing conditions are now able to get health insurance, she said, and parents can now keep their children on medical policies until age 26. And the patients bill of rights ensures preventative care such as colonoscopies and mammograms gets paid for.
Moreover, the Frontier Amendment in the federal legislation will provide Wyoming and four other states about $2 billion during the next 10 years to boost Medicare reimbursements.
“We will be better off if we make this act work for us,” Petersen said. “Those who wish to sue and spend millions of dollars to nullify this health care act have no alternative to suggest.”
Petersen’s other top priorities include jobs and the economy, education and balancing energy develop with the environment, she said.
Technology and connectivity will be the most important resources for diversifying the economy, she said.
“We need to make sure our citizens in Wyoming, no matter where they choose to live, can make a living in a worldwide economy,” she said.
Any efforts to improve the overall economy should start at the local level among groups willing to work within their communities, she said.
Those groups should determine what businesses will work in specific places. Then, the state should provide the tools and resources necessary to get those small business off the ground, she said.
Wyoming needs to provide opportunities for young people, which the state is already doing with the development of a supercomputer and a coal gasification plant, both being built near Cheyenne, she said.
“We have an extremely bright future before us,” she said. “We are on the cusp of great things in Wyoming.”
Another way to ensure vital communities is to provide “better, fair, more dependable, reliable and dignified funding for town and counties,” she said.
Communities have seen “unbelievable” swings in funding, she said, and they have not recovered from the $46 million hit they took from the repeal of the tax on food.
“When we make our town and counties attractive, that’s one way to build up the economy from the inside,” she said.
Wyoming’s small towns can attract people with great education systems, low crime and a wonderful environmental quality, she said.
Petersen said she would, as governor, strive to let sportsmen continue to access public land and maintain the state’s environmental qualities while keeping taxes low. She also would push for reasonable regulatory policies and encourage development of energy resources, she said.
Tuesday was only the seventh time Peterson has been in Jackson Hole since May. She has been traveling the state since declaring her run for office.
As she drove into town from Riverton, ”my heart lifted,” she said of seeing the Tetons and her hometown.
Wyoming has not had a female governor since Nellie Tayloe Ross was appointed in 1925. While some have suggested to Petersen that she play up that fact, she said she wants to run on her qualifications.
“I am more competent and more experienced than any of my opponents,” she said.
While Mead is “clearly the most likely to succeed in a very red state,” her race has attracted attention throughout Wyoming, Petersen said.
She called herself the most qualified because she served six years on the Teton County Board of Commissioners, she said. Mead has never held elected office. She also sat on the state’s Water Development Commission for eight years, worked as a legislative liaison for Gov. Ed Herschler and served as chairman of the Wyoming Democratic Party.
“There is no better training for actually governing than trying to be a county commissioner in this very sophisticated, rather contentious county,” she said.
For more candidates for governor, see the election insert in this week’s Jackson Hole News&Guide.