Checks and balances, Democratic candidate Leslie Petersen runs for Governor
“Common Sense, Common Ground,” leads off Democratic candidate for Wyoming Governor Leslie Petersen’s introduction on her website.
“Three of the last four Governors in Wyoming have been Democrats,” says Petersen. “People in Wyoming tend to vote for the person, rather than the party, and they are comfortable with a centrist Democrat in the Governor’s seat. I would hope to follow in the previous Democratic Governors’ footsteps as a centrist with an open door and transparent, responsive state government.”
Petersen was born in Lovell and grew up on what she describes as an old traditional dude ranch, the CM Ranch, near Dubois at the foot of Whiskey Mountain.
“I had great fun growing up on the dude ranch, and we were also in the hunting business, with two elk camps and a mountain sheep camp,” she explains. “I ran the ranch with my parents and ex-husband for many years. I had two little kids, and my mother and I would swap between the office and camp. I loved those times.”
After 35 years at Dubois, Petersen moved to Jackson in the mid-1970s, where she worked various jobs, including the Director of the Wyoming Environmental Institute.
“It was a very small, conservative environmental group concerned about the huge development that was about to take place in the Powder River Basin,” says Petersen. “We contracted with Arko Coal for one of the first Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) in the state on the Black Thunder Mine. We wanted to do the first EIS with Wyoming citizen involvement to make sure the results were fair, and Arko went along with us and was very progressive.”
In 1983 Petersen was appointed as a Teton County Commissioner and was elected after a year and a half, serving four more years. “That’s the best government experience I have, because county commissioners and city councils are where the rubber meets the road, in terms of interacting with your community,” she says.
Petersen has also served on the Wyoming Water Development Commission for eight years under Governor Sullivan, and she was Governor Herschler’s legislative liaison for two sessions.
“Governor Herschler needed additional help during the legislative session, so I was his go-between with the Republican legislature, and that was a good experience for what a Democratic governor needs to do to get things done,” she notes.
In 2008 Petersen was elected chair of the Wyoming Democratic Party. “When the filing period came this year, none of the Democrats we expected would run were going to do it, and the clock was ticking down,” says Petersen. “People are way better off with a choice, and it makes the discussion of issues much more relevant, so I filed late, at the end of May, and I’ve been on the road ever since.”
Of being a Democratic candidate in a Republican state, Petersen says, “People like checks and balances in the system, and it really is good for the state, otherwise we could see a situation where we have complete dominance by one party, and we should have at least one of the other party.”
“When I go out among the citizenry, I think the thing most people care and talk about is jobs and the economy,” says Petersen. “That’s at the core of what people are concerned about, and one of the Governor’s primary responsibilities is to make the economy strong.”
Of Wyoming’s budget, Petersen says, “I don’t feel the budget is out of control. I know the money we spent during the fat years was money we needed to spend, on the new prison at Torrington, deferred maintenance at the university, community colleges and regulatory staff at the Department of Environmental Quality and the Oil and Gas Commission. We poured money into towns, counties and cities during those fat years, and I’m particularly supportive of local funding. They know what they need, and they spend money efficiently and they don’t goof up because people pay too close attention. I’m pleased we were able to divert so much money into communities.”
“When they had to conserve in the last biennium, the Legislature was very responsible in cutting back. I’m fiscally conservative as an individual, and I think we need to be really cautious as a state,” comments Petersen. “I would like to see every agency demonstrate that what they’re doing is not just automatic – that it really needs to be done.”
“There’s a lot we need to sort out yet about wind energy, and most everybody supports having it. It’s a coming technology that will benefit Wyoming in the long run,” she says. “The Legislature has made some really good first steps, including that wind energy should pay taxes like any other industry, but giving them until 2011 to plan for it.”
Petersen says she approves of the one-year moratorium on the use of eminent domain for collector lines. “I hope that gives us time to work out issues with collector lines running across property, which will really affect views and operations a lot. I think landowners need to have more power in those negotiations than they often do with other energy industries.”
Regarding the western side of the state, Petersen says she supports the large conservation easements recently put in place in Sublette County.
“I’m proud that my husband wrote the first easement deal in Wyoming in the ‘70s when there wasn’t even a state law that allowed them yet,” she says. “What I love about easements is they’re a way of preserving the great ag values we have in this state in perpetuity. Some people are making the choice to protect priceless places and to preserve open space, wildlife and family farms and ranches, which contribute to stable towns and economies.”
“One thing I differ on from a lot of my friends is that I think we’re better off to modify our position on wolves in Wyoming, and get out of the lawsuit that can go on for year after year as wolf numbers continue to go up,” says Petersen. “If we pulled out of our lawsuit and modified our position to have trophy status statewide, then we could set hunting seasons and areas, and we already have a depredation fund to pay for livestock damages. I think it might cost us some money, but wolves are also bringing in a lot of tourist dollars.”
“I think we could manage them ourselves and do better with them that way than we can with the status quo,” she continues. “We’ve given that a good run, but I think maybe the time has come for us to move in that direction. If we don’t, I’m beginning to worry about the moose population, particularly. I think we can learn to live with them over time, if we can manage them ourselves.”
“I recognize what agriculture brings to this state, and I’m truly supportive and I want it to continue, and I would be supportive of the ag industry in every way I can if I’m elected,” says Petersen.