U.S. House candidates debate indigenous issues, forest management
October 15, 2020
CHEYENNE – With only a few weeks remaining until Election Day, the candidates vying to be Wyoming’s sole delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives discussed their visions for a country hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic during a debate Thursday night in Torrington.
The debate, which was hosted by WyomingPBS and Wyoming Public Radio at Eastern Wyoming College, featured incumbent Republican Liz Cheney, Democratic challenger Lynnette Grey Bull and Constitution Party candidate Jeff Haggit.
The discussion offered the first opportunity for the trio of candidates to gather to discuss some issues facing Wyoming in the buildup to the Nov. 3 general election. Early in-person voting and absentee voting are underway.
Cheney, who has served as Wyoming’s sole representative in the House since 2017, said America continues to face huge challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, adding “we can overcome them by defending our Constitution, defending our freedom, defending our values and by always remembering, too, that in Wyoming, we stand for the flag.”
Grey Bull, who lives on the Wind River Reservation and is a member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, said she would represent the working class in Congress, if elected.
“I know what hardship is,” Grey Bull said. “I know how hard it is to get that type of representation in Washington, D.C., because most of the representation in D.C. are millionaires from the 1%. ... I’m fighting for my seat at the table, so that I can bring others to have a seat at the table.”
Among the main topics discussed during the debate were indigenous issues, which Grey Bull said “get pushed aside more often than anything else in Washington, D.C.” She mentioned the Violence Against Women Act, which provides funding to combat domestic violence and sexual assault, as legislation that should be renewed to help native peoples.
Cheney said all of the issues facing native tribes have been exacerbated by the pandemic, and she said Congress needs to provide financial relief to the two tribes on Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation.
“I think we need to make sure we’re doing more to help with the Indian Health Service,” Cheney said. “We need to make sure that we’re doing more to help with education. I think there’s been tremendous work done, also, at Laramie at the university to help encourage kids from the reservation to feel welcome and to feel they’re a part of that community.”
Housing was also brought up as an issue, both on the Wind River Reservation and in other Wyoming communities.
“For my community, we have two to three families in one household, but that’s not only true for when you’re on the reservation, that’s also true for our rural communities across the state,” said Grey Bull. “This is a real issue.”
Cheney said the COVID-19 pandemic has made it much more difficult for young people entering the workforce to find jobs, adding another layer to the housing struggles.
“Pre-COVID, we absolutely saw an expansion in job opportunities, an expansion in employment levels across the board – for young people, for women, for minority communities,” Cheney said. “I think that what we need to do is make sure that we can get back to that. We need to make sure we can defeat the pandemic and get our economy growing.”
She credited the Trump Administration for promoting fossil fuel and agricultural industries “that will provide really important, good-paying jobs for young people” after the pandemic.
Haggit, meanwhile, said the increasing number of young people moving back to their parents’ homes was concerning, adding “you have to open things back up again” to reverse that trend.
With the Mullen Fire continuing to burn in southeast Wyoming, the candidates also briefly touched on how the U.S. can improve its forests, with Cheney criticizing the federal approach to management of the landscapes.
“The real cause of the fires that we’re seeing, the Mullen Fire and the fires that we’re seeing across the West, is absolutely failed federal forest management policy,” Cheney said. “When you look at the extent that we cannot get in and clear out the beetle kill, you look at the extent that we’ve had mills that have gone out of business because our timber sales just haven’t been there, those are the things that we’ve got to do to get these forests back healthy.”
Grey Bull said there needs to be more federal funding for forest management.
“Living here on the western side of our country, we really have to get the supplies and resources needed to our first responders and fire departments and our national forest services,” Grey Bull said. “I do think the federal policy could do a better job of making sure that our first responders are supplied with what they need.”