Better Wyoming conducted a series of interviews on important state issues throughout 2016. Below is an interview with Ken Chestek.
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?
The advocates who are trying to push for that are not sportsmen, the fisherman, the public, no one is for it; the only people who are pushing for it are private interests and probably the only reason is because they think if the state was the owner it would be easier to buy the land or get exclusive access to the land. And therefore transferring it to the state makes it far more likely that the land will be lost to the public altogether
People say, “Give us back our land.” Well it’s already our land! We are part of the federal government, we already own it, so we’re not giving it back to ourselves. We would be putting it in the hands of state government, which in today’s budget crisis the state has no ability to care for the land and the intention is going to be to sell the land. That’s not going to do the public any good, so I’m very much opposed to any transfer.
Some Republican 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?
The gender wage gap is real. We need to have a better minimum wage. We have a state minimum wage of $5.15 an hour, which is absurd. It’s the lowest in the country. We need to raise that significantly.
I think the best way we can address the problem is equal pay for equal work legislation in Washington. Most of what goes on in Wyoming would be covered more by federal law than state law. Because federal law covers interstate commerce, along with everything that we do here is involved in interstate commerce, so the federal courts would have jurisdiction over things like equal pay. I would like to see equal pay legislation advance in Washington. We could do a similar bill here but its reach may not be sufficient to solve the problem.
Are there other laws that need to be on the books to protect victims of domestic violence?
I think we need to make sure people who have protection orders filed against them or a conviction for spousal abuse can’t get guns. We need to have some common-sense gun control so that abusers don’t have accress to guns. I do think the law is fairly good on protecting women. My wife works at a Safehouse project here in Laramie, so as far as I know the laws are pretty good in terms of getting abused women the right to a protection from abuse order. The process in place is pretty good. I’m not sure sometimes how serious the police might take them. If someone is accused of violating a protection order, do they take that seriously and jump on it or not? It’s probably a very local thing; within the police department some might take it more seriously than others. I’m not sure what kind of legislation we need for uniform enforcement or uniform enforcement of the abuse protection act. Protection orders exist, but whether they are being used properly, that’s debatable.
Many Republicans oppose spending state funds on early childhood education. What needs to be done so programs are fully funded?
I absolutely support early childhood education. Head Start and other programs have been proven to be effective in other states. We need to give students a head start and give them a chance to succeed.
I’m a grandpa, I have a young grandchild who is in a Montessoro program, it’s not state funded. Luckily her parents have the wherewithal to pay for it. When I see the kind of education she’s getting — pre-education, she’s a toddler — but she’s getting all kinds of wonderful exposure to education, and when she gets into kindergarten she’s going to be way ahead of any student who didn’t have that kind of benefit. It’s great that her parents can afford it, but not everyone can, and I think we need to give every child that kind of advantage, so when they hit school they’re going to be up to par with children who have had that benefit because their parents are wealthier.
If the student is socializing and working together with peers, getting used to being in school and being with other people, getting used to working with teachers, when they get to K-12 they will have fewer problems. I think it does save money, it’s cost preventative.
The Legislature hasn’t passed my 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 strongly support a woman’s right to choose and I also support access to birth control at government expense. In a lot of other states certain types of birth control are under attack by people who think it’s a form of abortion. But the problem is if you deprive women of these very popular forms of birth control, you have more pregnancies and more demand for abortion, which is nuts to me!
You need to have complete reproductive rights and freedom for women to make their own reproductive choices, whether they’re going to get pregnant or choose to end their pregnancy. It’s not up to you or me to tell them how to do that.