Better Wyoming conducted a series of interviews on important state issues throughout 2016. Below is an interview with Sergio Maldonado.

What do you think about the attempt by some Republican legislators who want the federal government to turn over all of its public lands to the state to manage or own? 

I vehemently oppose transferring any kind of public lands to state ownership. We have a lot of public lands that the people of Wyoming enjoy for hunting, recreation, fishing, scenic beauty, everything. These public lands are maintained at the federal level.

With the economic condition of our state, we do not have the capacity — let alone the funds — to manage, monitor and oversee these lands. I just don’t buy it. I think a significant part of the population agrees that public lands should be left without any kind of state intervention.

Some legislators either don’t believe the gender wage gap is real or that if it is, state government shouldn’t do anything about it. What do you think needs to be done?

There’s ample empirical data that Wyoming, along with many other states, has a gender wage gap.  It’s there. So how does one, regardless of their political party, say that such a gap doesn’t exist? If our legislators don’t believe that a wage gap exists, then it becomes apparent that none of them have mothers, none of them have grandmothers, none of them have daughters or nieces. It’s beyond me how an individual elected to represent Wyoming is going to try to keep men and women’s wages separate. Equal pay, equal work.

It was on NPR last week that in Wyoming some women with college educations receive less than men. So that becomes an ethical scenario. If one’s ethics support doing what is right, then they should be in favor of closing the gender wage gap. Because Wyoming has a population of 560,00 and there’s an economic downturn, now we have to look at the various employment fields. In some you can possibly close the gender wage gap — I essentially feel that it can be closed in every field. We need a greater level of awareness so that all constituents across Wyoming will tell their senator and representative that this issue must be addressed. No longer will we as a state say that women are worth less then men. And no longer will we accept legislators voting down our interests.

Even if a person works 40 hours a week, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour still isn’t an acceptable wage. So one could make the argument to bump it up to $9 or $10 or $12 as some states have done, and it would still be below average to meet living expenses. But it could help. I certainly support raising the minimum wage. But what number, I haven’t seen enough data that says, “This is the golden figure where everyone who is working at minimum wage will have an acceptable livelihood.

Are there other laws that need to be on the books to protect victims of domestic violence?

Domestic violence is rampant across the country, it’s not just Wyoming. But when you look at the stats for Wyoming, alcohol-related deaths and the rise in substance and pharmaceutical abuse, the unemployment, the number of people who are clinically depressed — all these variables add to the potential of domestic violence occurring. So the question is what more can the Legislature do? We already have laws in place that address that within the judicial system.

But I also believe, being an educator and teacher all of my life, that a greater level of awareness and educating the community about what domestic violence is would help. Even harsh language, in one way, shape or form, can be construed as domestic violence, especially when children hear that language going on between mom and dad. One can make a case that it’s domestic violence. But within the law, domestic violence occurs when an assault takes place. So I would hope that our laws are going to be enforced when this takes place.

Generally when it’s domestic violence, it’s mostly men [responsible]. They need to receive some form of education and some form of tangible punishment to make this right, like community service, other than just jail time. Too often our prisons — other than for extreme crimes — are filled with people who shouldn’t be there, there’s other ways to address their crimes. Maybe community service and counseling is needed, but that requires greater revenue to fund these program, and I know Wyoming’s budget is stretched now. In Fremont County there are a number of programs that address domestic violence.

Many Republicans oppose spending state funds on early childhood education. What needs to be done so programs are fully funded?

Early childhood education actually starts with good prenatal care. When the baby comes home they need to have a well-balanced environment that’s healthy, it’s happy, it’s wholesome whether it’s a single mom, married couple or whatever. I definitely support preschool. By the time children enter kindergarten they must have the capacity to read, to count, to compute, to differentiate shapes and colors, all those things. If a child reaches third grade and still can’t read, institutional research will support that that child will spend the rest of their life learning how to read. Thy could attain it, but they’ve lost time.

Early education intervention means we must have myriad programs, and we as a state and citizenry must demand that. When our students exit high school reading at the ninth grade level, we’ve failed them. In Wyoming we have the highest beginning teacher salaries, and yet Wyoming scores in comparison to the national average aren’t that great, they’re in the lower tier. So I have to ask, what is happening? We have wonderful teachers, wonderful programs across the state.

The Legislature hasn’t passed many bills restricting reproductive rights in recent years, but there are GOP lawmakers who have tried to introduce bills mandating ultrasounds and penalties for not reporting abortions. Are you pro-choice?

I believe that life is choice. Unfortunately this whole Roe v. Wade issue has become so politicized. It’s a question of ethical values. For the people directly involved, it’s their choice. Who am I to tell them what choice to make? I don’t have that magical wand, that ethical wand, that spiritual wand that says, “This is the way we should do it.” Nobody has that right. It’s the whole concept of free agency.

sergio