Mar 24, 2016

Clark business owner running for Legislature as Democrat

For the first time in 16 years, Park County has a Democratic candidate running for the Wyoming Legislature.

Mike Specht, the owner of a firefighting business in Clark and the chairman of the Park County Democratic Party, announced Tuesday that he will enter the race to represent House District 50.

Specht said he’s followed the state government more closely in recent years and become increasingly concerned. Among other issues, he says the state has hired too many out-of-state contractors, put itself in a position where it could be stuck with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of coal mine reclamation costs, wrongly turned down millions of federal dollars to expand Medicaid and failed to bring down the state’s high cost of health insurance.

Mike Specht
“The more I got to looking, the more I got to looking and going, ‘There’s some problems here, there’s some issues here,’” Specht said in a Tuesday interview. “And so I thought, you can complain about them, or you can try to do something about them.”

Specht served 27 years in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and with the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, fire department. He retired and started his own private firefighting company, Dragon Fighters, Inc., in 2006. Specht, his family and his business moved to Wyoming in 2008 and he joined the Clark volunteer fire department the following year.

He got interested in local politics after realizing that after relocating to Clark, his company was getting picked for fewer firefighting jobs in Wyoming than when he’d been based in South Dakota.

“That’s what started me, was the way Wyoming was treating the local businesses and sending millions of dollars out of state instead of hiring local businesses,” Specht said.

Specht said he approached the district’s current representative, Republican David Northrup, about making the law more favorable to Wyoming contractors, but Northrup didn’t introduce any legislation.

Specht says smaller, local businesses are important to the state.

“That’s why we get hit so bad when you have these swings in the up and down on the oil industry or the coal industry. If you’re relying on three or four big employers, you’ll have drastic impacts,” Specht said. “If we can create more small businesses, you’re going to have less of an impact.”

Along similar lines, Specht believes the state has allowed three coal companies — Peabody Energy, Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources — to post insufficient reclamation bonds for their Wyoming mines; according to reporting from WyoFile.com, the companies’ reclamation bond obligations total more than $1.6 billion and they’re all in or near bankruptcy.

“That’s that whole $1.6 billion (state) rainy day fund gone to clean up after three out-of-state companies,” Specht said. “And nobody’s talking about those issues.”

There are many issues Specht wants to address, all the way down to the Legislature’s recent rejection of a “no brainer” bill that would have required hunters and fisherman to register their vehicles in Wyoming to qualify for resident licenses.

“You’ve got to have somebody on the ballot, because you lose 100 percent of the positions that you don’t have on the ballot,” Specht says of the need for Democrats to run for office.

Specht accepts that some people will simply never vote for a Democrat.

However, “pretty much most of my friends are real conservative Republicans ... and when you sit down and you have coffee with them and they shake their heads over some of this stuff,” he said.

He thinks the ability to work with people on both sides of the aisle “has become kind of a lost art” and says it’s something he can do. Specht lobbied for firefighter unions in South Dakota and he recalled working with Republicans there to improve labor issues for workers while saving taxpayers money.

Specht hopes other Democrats will run for local offices, as he thinks part of the party’s struggle in Wyoming comes from not running for open positions.

“I think the people of Wyoming will look at your issues,” he said. “But you’ve got to have somebody on the ballot, because you lose 100 percent of the positions that you don’t have on the ballot.”

Beyond Clark, House District 50 includes the eastern part of the city of Cody, the Willwood south of Powell (where Northrup lives), Ralston, Heart Mountain, Sunlight and Crandall.

The filing period for that seat and many other local positions officially opens May 12.

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