Democratic House candidates discuss economy, health care

CHEYENNE – Two candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in Wyoming’s U.S. House race discussed some of their contrasting views on economic policy, health care reform and social justice issues during a virtual forum Monday night.

Both candidates – Saratoga native Carl Beach and Northern Arapaho tribe member Lynnette Grey Bull – met a threshold to qualify for the forum, which was put on by the Wyoming Democratic Party. The pair had already discussed some of their priorities during a July 30 debate in Riverton, but Monday night’s forum gave the two candidates another chance to expand on some of their stances.

With early and absentee voting already underway, Wyoming’s primary election will be Aug. 18. The winner will look to unseat incumbent Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who was first elected in 2016.

The candidates largely agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic had brought underlying economic inequities to the forefront.

As one remedy to the nationwide economic slowdown, Grey Bull backed the Raise the Wage Act, a federal proposal that would gradually bring the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, with possible adjustments after that.

Beach, meanwhile, was also supportive of raising the federal minimum wage, though he proposed using an external living-wage calculator to determine regional differences in standards of living.

The Saratoga man argued providing a higher minimum wage was essential to promoting new manufacturing jobs in the U.S.

“When I’ve been on the campaign trail, I’ve seen the GOP candidates kind of go back and forth that we’re gonna bring back manufacturing, but what that does is that creates a knock-on effect that will increase prices,” Beach said. “The first thing we really need to do is ensure that we do have livable wages for people on the ground.”

Grey Bull, who has lobbied on Native issues at the state and federal level, advocated for no tax increases on those in lower- and middle-income thresholds, instead pushing for a structure that “lets one-percenters finally pay their fair share of taxes.”

Both candidates mentioned the agriculture sector as something they would protect if elected to Congress. Grey Bull said she would support the bipartisan Rancher Relief Plan that aims to combat price fixing by corporate meat packers and open up interstate trade.

“The grim economic situation farmers and ranchers face in Wyoming, from the Wind River Reservation down to Cheyenne, is perhaps one of the most unified realities our great state faces today,” Grey Bull said. “As prices in supermarkets continue to climb for me, the percentage landed in the pockets of our producers dwindles.”

Beach said the problems facing agriculture are connected to just a few agri-businesses having a vast monopoly on the industry.

“We really do need to look at those supply chains and look at allowing state-inspected facilities to sell their products, not only in state, but across the United States,” he said. “We need to provide more legislation allowing farmers to register to sell locally and directly, including bolstering our country-of-origin labeling requirements.”

Though largely in agreement on fiscal policy, the two candidates offered slightly different approaches on health care reform. While Beach has voiced full support for a single-payer, universal health care system, Grey Bull has been more reluctant to support such a setup.

During the forum Monday night, Grey Bull remained slightly lukewarm on a single-payer system, noting it would add a substantial amount to the national debt.

“In line with Vice President Biden’s proposal for health care reform, I plan on protecting and building on the Affordable Care Act by giving Americans more choice, reducing health care costs and making our health care system a little bit more navigation friendly,” Grey Bull said.

“But if the political tides are high, and we have the momentum to achieve bold new legislation, I will not hesitate to contribute to a system that is reflective of Medicare for All,” she continued.

Grey Bull added she loves the idea of Medicare for All, but said she is “focused on realistic proposals that will get the most people insured as soon as possible.”

Beach, however, said the COVID-19 pandemic offered a perfect time to implement a single-payer system, pointing to other countries that have implemented it after a severe economic downturn. From his view, “we can’t make compromises like we did with the Affordable Care Act.”

“One thing that I think is a really fundamental flaw that we’ve seen with the Affordable Care Act, and what made it so problematic later with the Republicans trying to withdraw from it, is that it really still relies upon the private sector to fund the public,” Beach said. “If we have that situation, you’re not drawing from a large enough pool, (and) you’re instead shifting over into the private sphere and hoping that they will cover the costs of the people who are on the public sphere.”

In the wake of nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism, the two candidates also discussed what they would reform at the federal level. During the forum, Beach offered support for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would curb qualified immunity for police officers and impose a ban on both chokeholds and no-knock warrants in drug cases at the federal level.

“I do think the George Floyd Justice Act passed by the House was a great start, and addressed many of the issues that surrounded police brutality and some of the remnants of the long-standing traditions we saw from the Nixon era, from 1968 onward, that really did target certain communities, particularly communities of color and disenfranchised people,” Beach said.

Beach also mentioned legalizing marijuana as another policy that would reduce racial inequities in the criminal justice system.

Grey Bull was on board with similar legislation, the Justice in Policing Act, that has been brought this year by Democrats in the U.S. Senate. She also mentioned ending “the criminalization of addiction,” saying she would push for modernized addiction-treatment programs.

“Underprivileged communities often face a desperate need for new housing and the repair of existing homes,” Grey Bull said. “As part of this program, we can facilitate the training of those in treatment for addiction to learn a new trade ... so that they can make a positive impact on communities while also rebuilding their lives and create greater prospects for their personal success.”

Both candidates were also supportive of the concept of reparations, or providing financial restitution to the descendants of slaves in the U.S., with Grey Bull noting other priorities that could fit into that concept.

“What is most important next in this moment of inequality is a reparation framework where we reinvest in the communities that have been segregated and neglected,” Grey Bull said. “Yes, I support reparations – of course I do, hands down – but in the meantime, I support a framework that repairs red-lined communities and oppressed communities all over the nation.”