Aug 15, 2016

Republican Congressional contenders slug it out at Cody event

In differentiating themselves from their opponents, five of the Republican candidates for Wyoming’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives didn’t pull many punches at a Wednesday night forum in Cody.

Front-runner Liz Cheney of Wilson described herself as the only one ready to start the Congressional job on day one — and accused another leading contender, state Sen. Leland Christensen of Alta, of being too liberal.

For his part, Christensen stood by his Wyoming credentials and charged that Cheney moved to Wyoming from Virginia “just to run for office.”

Cheyenne attorney Darin Smith, meanwhile, said he was the only viable alternative to Cheney — “a good Virginia girl” — and that Wyoming needs stop sending “the same type of legislators” to Washington.

Finally, correctional officer Jason Senteney of Torrington and Paul Paad, a safety and personnel director at a Casper trucking company, each said the state should be represented by people like them and not by more politicians or lawyers.

Liz Cheney and Darin Smith (at right) listen as Leland Christensen speaks at a Wednesday night forum in Cody. Cody News Co. photo by Tessa Schweigert
Those five candidates — plus banking employee Heath Beaudry of Evanston, assistant English professor Mike Konsmo of Powell and Casper attorney/state Rep. Tim Stubson, who all missed the forum — will face off in today’s (Tuesday’s) Republican primary election.

Along with Democrats Ryan Greene and Charlie Hardy, Libertarian Lawrence Struempf and Constitutionalist Daniel Cummings, they’re all seeking to replace U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo.

Lummis is not seeking re-election after four terms and eight years in Congress.

Cheney shoots first


The clashes started with a question about what the candidates would do to “end the Congressional gridlock and hyper-partisan politics.”

Christensen said being a legislator has taught him to “work on the issue and worry less about positioning and arguing and more about how we can accomplish good.” He said a shift from partisan fighting to a focus on positive outcomes for America would “really change how Washington works.”
Senteney expressed similar thoughts about a “more and more divided” Congress.

“People have stopped looking at what’s best for the country first — putting aside party politics and working on the simple stuff first, the stuff we agree on: public safety, making sure our kids have it better than we do,” he said.

Smith suggested the solution was for conservatives to be more united, saying past compromises have not worked out well.

Paul Paad of Casper
“I will not compromise on any more debt and I will not compromise on any more moving to the left on social issues,” Smith said.

He suggested working on bipartisan issues like “job performance standards” for members of Congress.

Cheney then started a series of pointed exchanges by accusing Christensen of having compromised “our values” on votes on abortion- and environment-related issues.

“If you’re willing to compromise and take positions that the Democrats and the liberal left will favor, then you will find compromise,” Cheney said. “I don’t believe that’s right.”

She said the solution to end gridlock is “attracting other people to our cause, explaining why our conservatives values are the right ones — not looking for ways to compromise on the environment or on life.”

Paad, the next to speak, wryly remarked that “with all these different answers, I’m not sure I remember what the question was.”

He suggested term limits could end the gridlock.

Current members of Congress, Paad said, are more focused on moving up the ladder and following their leaders than anything else.

“They’re like a bunch of Shetland ponies at a fair, going around one of those little wheels, you know?” he said. “They don't know who's leading.”

Christensen then got a chance to counter Cheney’s criticism, saying “there’s a difference between compromise and negotiation and setting the standards to find a win-win — and it’s possible if you work at it.”

He said he was proud of his track record — and he described Cheney’s record in the State Department as “giving away hundreds of millions of dollars to Iran and Syria.”

That was just the beginning of a protracted back-and-forth dialogue between the two candidates.

Vehicles in Yellowstone

Beyond the personal pitches and criticisms, the candidates were questioned about a number of issues — including how they felt about the possibility of restrictions on the number or types of cars entering Yellowstone National Park.

Paad said he hadn’t looked into the topic and didn’t know if he’d be qualified to make that decision.

Smith also did not weigh in on the possibility of vehicle restrictions, but “how do they not make money in Yellowstone, really?” he asked rhetorically.

Jason Senteney of Torrington
“We definitely need to re-think how we administer things at the federal level; these things should be profitable,” Smith said, suggesting that making federal employees “at-will” would help.

Senteney’s response drew the biggest laughs of the night.

“If they’re going to limit the amount of cars, they also need to limit the amount of selfies in Yellowstone,” he said.

Christensen, meanwhile, bemoaned how winter snowmobiling has been curtailed in the park over the years.

“I don’t think we ought to be limiting. I think we ought to be talking about cleaner products — whether it’s our cars, whether it’s our snowmobiles,” he said, adding, “There was some real progress (on snowmobiles). Let’s clean it up.”

Cheney said she didn’t support limitations on automobiles.

Illegal immigration


The candidates outlined differing approaches to address illegal immigration into the United States.
Christensen said the first step would be to secure the country’s borders by giving more authority and resources to the people working there.

To cut down on the “influx” of people coming across the border, he also suggested reforming and “ramping up” the H-1B visa program, which allows foreigners to temporarily work in the country.

“That's how we're really going to make a difference on this,” Christensen said. “It's good for business; it's good for people who want to come here legally and want to understand a little bit more about this American dream.”

Beyond criticizing both the “broken” immigration system and President Barack Obama for not enforcing current laws, Cheney said the U.S. needs “to stop the inflow of Syrian refugees who absolutely cannot be vetted and who present a direct national security threat to us.”

“We can’t allow people to come over here that are not going to assimilate to our values or they’re going to try to force their values on us,” said candidate Darin Smith.

Smith said enforcing current laws will generally solve the problem with illegal immigration.

“Immigration without assimilation is invasion,” he added. “We can’t allow people to come over here that are not going to assimilate to our values or they’re going to try to force their values on us. It simply is a matter of national security.”

Senteney said he’s proposed a five-point plan that includes immediately putting unemployed veterans to work on the southern border and strengthening the existing E-Verify system that allows employers to check if a person can legally work in the U.S.

Paad said the federal government should “defund” so-called “sanctuary cities” — that is, cities where police are prohibited from inquiring about a person’s immigration status — and defund the states that allow sanctuary cities. He said police should be allowed to report anyone who’s in the country illegally and that the vetting process for immigrants should be strengthened.

The Wednesday forum was hosted by the Park County Republican Party and held at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

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