ELECTION 2014: Don’t sleep on HD 22 race

By on October 29, 2014

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – The race for House District 22 – including much of northern Sublette County, Wilson and Hoback Junction in Teton County, and Alpine in Lincoln County – has nabbed headlines because of starkly different positions between political newcomer Natalia Duncan Macker, a Democrat from Hoback Junction and incumbent Republican Marti Halverson of Etna. A “yawner” of a race claims Jake Nichols in his elections intro, but the back and forth has been more than lively.

Macker, 29, has been raising issues that she says deserve scrutiny in the Equality State, such as the wage gap, which is one of the most disparate in the country. Women here make a meager 67 cents for every dollar men make, a dime less than the national average, according to the Census Bureau.

But Halverson, 64, a retired executive of the medical industry who aligns herself with the Tea Party, says she is skeptical of the mere existence of a wage gap. There are a variety of factors to consider, she says, when examining men’s and women’s wages in Wyoming.

The artistic director of Off Square Theatre, Macker perked ears on Wyoming Public Radio Friday when she took the brazen position (at least for a candidate in Wyoming) of supporting the implementation of Next Generation Science Standards in Wyoming schools. Adopted in 12 states and the District of Columbia thus far, NGSS teaches students that climate change is a human-caused problem, among other scientific-based instruction. NGSS, developed by a team of scientists, teachers and policy analysts, has not been adopted in Wyoming, a state that relies heavily on its coal-powered energy to fuel its economy, because of a budget footnote that prevents funding for this curriculum.

While Halverson, who has held her seat since 2012, does not deny that climate change is a reality, she isn’t convinced humans are responsible.

Planet JH caught up with both Halverson and Macker for more on these and other issues.

Planet Jackson Hole: In Wyoming, we have one of the largest wage gaps in the country. Remind readers of your positions and why.

Marti Halverson

Marti Halverson

Marti Halverson: The “wage gap” is calculated by adding up all the wages earned by men, then adding up all the wages earned by women – the difference between the two columns is called a “wage gap.” There is no comparing of apples-to-apples, or job-to-job, in explaining this “gap.” The average annual wage earned by a coal miner is over $80,000. The average statewide annual wage is just over $40,000. Wages paid for the dangerous energy development jobs are high – wages paid for retail sales are not high. In no way can we assume a 50 percent wage gap from those numbers. Yet, that is exactly the basis for the wage gap claim.

Since 1963 there have been numerous laws and regulations put on the books prohibiting unequal wages for the exact same job. A wage gap among medical care providers, for example, can be attributed to the fact that 44 percent of female doctors choose fewer hours, seeing fewer patients than a full-time physician, while only 22 percent of male doctors choose to do so.

The job market is rife with job “self-segregation” and career choices made by men and women. What is the remedy for this? Roughnecks and sales women shall be paid the same wage? There shall be no career choices for men and women?

Government contractors and government entities must report wages paid – if it is found that women are paid less for the same job than men, then there are repercussions, fines and penalties. As a matter of fact, in awarding federal contracts, women-owned businesses are given preference over male-owned businesses.

I ask for evidence of one company in Wyoming paying women less than men for the same job. During this debate, no evidence has been offered.

Natalia Duncan Macker

Natalia Duncan Macker

Natalia Duncan Macker: The wage gap is a complex and nuanced issue that we need to address head on. It’s not a women’s issue, but a community and family issue that affects the quality of life of people in my district. We need to make sure we have high quality, well-paying jobs in Wyoming that fully support our families.

My opponent has been vocal about there not being a wage gap. I don’t know why she takes such an extreme view. I believe if we can create good-paying careers in our state, by diversifying our economy, it will help create opportunities for EVERYONE, including women. That will help to close that gap.

PJH: What are your thoughts on same-sex marriage, particularly now that it is legal in Wyoming?

MH: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: get the state out of the “marriage” business. I support civil unions between, or among, consenting adults. As it stands now, Wyoming’s domestic relations code, Title 20 of the statutes, is still filled with marriage restrictions. Now that a court has found marriage to be a fundamental right, we will have to repeal the restrictions against the right of first cousins to marry and the laws against bigamy and consanguine unions. If Wyoming is going to be the “Equality State” it surely follows that we cannot leave all these inequalities on the table. So, keep the civil authority of the state in civil unions, and put “marriage” back in the church where it belongs, along with baptisms and confirmations.

NM: I’m glad this issue is finally settled so we can move on to address other issues facing our state.

PJH: On Medicaid expansion: According to the Henry Kaiser Family Foundation, “In Wyoming, 17,000 uninsured adults (19 percent of the uninsured in the state) who would have been eligible for Medicaid if the state expanded fall into the coverage gap. These adults are all below the poverty line and thus have very limited incomes. Because they do not gain an affordable coverage option under the ACA, they are most likely to remain uninsured.” 

This is just one group of people who remain uninsured in Wyoming. What are your thoughts?

MH: This is important as the country moves, in 2015, into the employer-mandate phase of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or, “Obamacare.” In debating Medicaid expansion over the last two sessions, we have heard that, yes, 17,000 Wyomingites will qualify for Medicaid benefits if the eligibility is raised from 100 percent to 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). We also heard testimony that 6,200 working, able-bodied adults, most with no children, will be moved off their employer health care plans onto Medicaid.

In the 2014 legislative session, we gave the executive branch the authority to negotiate a Wyoming-specific plan to expand Medicaid in our state. Most of the majority in the legislature would support a plan that included a long-term, binding contract between Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and Department of Health to keep the federal contribution at 90 percent, rather than be subjected to the reduced federal participation currently planned. I have not heard the results, if any, of these negotiations.

I also support emergency room triage to defer Medicaid non-emergencies to provider clinics, although Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act rules will have to be tweaked to accomplish this. I hope that the state’s negotiators requested this.

Medicaid expansions have proved wildly expensive, beyond all projections, everywhere they have been implemented. Arizona and Arkansas are the latest states that the federal Government Accountability Office has determined are far over projected expenses, and are on track to becoming unsustainable for state budgets.  Even the Rhode Island Medicaid block-grant plan, for which those of us following this subject had such high hopes, is disappointing.

Even at 100 percent of FPL, many Wyoming residents who are currently eligible for Medicaid are not enrolled in the program. Wyoming hospitals have become adept at identifying these patients and enrolling them in Medicaid, and being paid retroactively.

138 percent eligibility will result, by necessity, in reduced provider payments as the state picks up more of the financial obligation.  This will result in fewer providers serving Medicaid patients. Much of Wyoming’s Medicaid money serves the truly poor, below 100 percent FPL, and the disabled through the Developmental Disabilities waiver. We need to think long and hard before extending the Medicaid program to the working-and-covered and the not-so-poor.

NM: I support Medicaid expansion. I am willing to explore any and all options to make healthcare more affordable in Wyoming. Our citizens have already paid federal taxes that could be returned to our state via Medicaid funding. We are missing an opportunity to improve the quality of life for a large portion of our population while also saving money. There are hard working people in my district affected by our state not passing Medicaid expansion. It’s time to get this done and stop playing politics with people’s lives.

PJH: What should we be teaching children about climate change in Wyoming? Is there a danger in not adopting NGSS in Cowboy State schools?

MH: I think children should be taught that there are climate cycles. That these warming and cooling cycles have occurred since the earth was formed.  That we seem to be in a warming cycle at this time, coming out of a mini-ice age. That there is a hypothesis being debated as to man’s impact on this cycle.  That the evidence for “anthropogenic, catastrophic global warming” is crumbling daily.  See the recent Australia climate science fraud, which follows on the heels of the University of East Anglia climate science debacle. … The Common Core State Standards Initiative, of which NexGen Science is a part, was adopted in the dark.  I was in the room when a member of the State Board of Education told the Director of the Department of Education, “We adopted Common Core on blind faith. We’re not going to have the science standards shoved down our throat.”

My vote, and the majority vote of the Legislature, to suspend further consideration of the Next Generation Science Standards was, in reality, only a vote against the adoption of another module of Common Core.  It was not an “anti-science” vote, as has been stated. As you know, there is push back against Common Core around the state – and around House Districts 22 and 23 – against the math and English language arts modules of Common Core, already adopted.  Many legislators want to see this discussion played out in the light of day before Wyoming adopts another CCSS module.

Let’s let the dust settle on the bigger picture of Common Core. NexGen Science may be reconsidered in the near future. In the meantime, the new EPA scrubber regulations being forced on our mineral developers and our power generators are not based on any proven technology. We need to continue developing our coal, oil and gas resources using the most current, available methods.

NM: I am for teaching science and funding our education program. I live in an energy state, and we have a lot to be proud of in Wyoming. My child will benefit from mineral development when he attends our state’s public schools. I want energy so we can improve the standard of living for my neighbors and for people all over the world. I support responsible education just like I support responsible energy development. I’m concerned that my opponent’s radical agenda, which includes the selling off of public lands in my district, will leave the families in my community vulnerable and threaten our Wyoming way of life. I’ve talked to parents all throughout my district. They want good schools and good jobs.

PJH: What are the most pressing issues facing constituents in your district?

MH: House District 22 is comprised of varied communities and has various issues.  I would say the number one issue, common to all three counties, is the economy in general – jobs and inflation in particular.  Teton County has one of the lowest unemployment numbers in the state, but Lincoln County has the second highest.  Grocery prices are rising, and we are paying another 10¢ per gallon of gas (2013 gas tax hike, which I opposed) on top of the highest gasoline prices in the country. It has been good business for Teton County as tourism and sales taxes have surpassed recent years.  However, housing problems, and school districts coping with inflation, remain.  I am committed to passing the External Cost Adjustment bill to bring our schools to full, inflation-adjusted funding. Agriculture is big business in Sublette County and Star Valley.  Yet the federal government is making it more difficult for our ranchers to renew grazing permits.  The August/September rains caused terrific damage to our grain and hay crops.Throughout the district, access to our public lands is an issue. The health of our Bridger-Teton national forest is an issue. The health of our mule deer herd is an issue. The elk feed grounds are an issue. Wolves are an issue. Common Core State Standards is an issue. Something to celebrate is the success of the Jackson and Star Valley high schools. These two Blue Ribbon schools recently won Gold Medals from US News and World Report as best Wyoming high schools.

NM: I’ve been going door to door in my district, and folks want good jobs, good schools, and affordable healthcare. They are busy living their lives and need to trust that their Representative is working hard to represent the community. My opponent cares more about her radical agenda than the people of this district. For example, she wants to sell off federals lands. These are the open spaces we count on for our way of life.

PJH: Marti, if reelected, what do you hope to accomplish?

MH: If reelected, I most look forward to working with other legislators working to reform the budget process.  In a 20-day budget session, each chamber had only five days to deal with a $9 billion budget.  In addition to all the committee bills we must consider in such a short time, there are many personal bills permitted in a budget session.  In the opinion of many of us, we need more time on the budget and I would like to be part of that conversation.

PJH: Natalia, if elected, what do you hope to accomplish?

NM: My opponent has one of the worst records in the House for supporting Republican legislation. The Democrats in the House voted for more Republican-sponsored legislation than she did. I’m a working mom, and I’ll work alongside Republicans to make sure we have good schools, good jobs, and opportunities for everyone. I support fiscal responsibility, families, and protecting property. Most importantly, I hope to accomplish the work of our state.

PJH: Last words for voters?

MH: I am just getting into the breadth and scope of Wyoming state government. I have learned that there are silos of information, and information seems grudgingly shared. Our public pension plans need to be shored up. Our boards, commissions, departments and agencies need to be far more transparent. There are departments that have outgrown their user base and new funding models need to be developed. These will be the policy debates of the 63rd legislature. The executive branch needs to be more aggressive on behalf of Wyomingites, especially concerning the state’s water, forests and wildlife. Wyoming is a great state and deserves a passionate, courageous advocate for its people, industries and wide-open spaces.

NM: My opponent’s extreme voting record is scary. She was the ONLY legislator in Wyoming to vote against a domestic violence bill. She has voted against tourism funding and she voted against the Republic majority sponsored budget. Wyoming has a citizen legislature. These seats are not for sale. When you have to spend $30,000 of your own money to get elected, that doesn’t demonstrate community support. I’m raising my family here. I’m invested in the future of our state and want to make sure we are building a Wyoming we can be proud to pass on to the next generation.

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About Robyn Vincent

Robyn is the editor of Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine and former editor of Planet Jackson Hole. When she's not sweating deadlines, she likes to travel the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow her on Twitter @TheNomadicHeart

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