CASPER, Wyo. — Election season is underway and Oil City News has sent a list of questions to candidates for the Wyoming Legislature out of Natrona County who have filed to run in the primary election in August.
These questions are designed to give our readers a better understanding of the people behind the names on the ballot. Below, get to know Art Washut, who is running for reelection to the House District 36 seat in the Wyoming Legislature:
1. Who are you? (Name, where you’re from, employment, hobbies, etc.)
I am Art Washut. I am a Casper native who attended Casper schools and earned a Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Wyoming. Presently, I teach criminal justice, political science and addictionology classes at Casper College. Prior to that I rose through the ranks of the Casper Police Department and retired as the interim police chief. I enjoy gardening, shooting, fishing, camping and Wyoming Cowboy football.
2. Why have you decided to run for office and what do you hope to accomplish should you be elected?
I am running for reelection to the Wyoming House because I have invested the time and energy necessary to become an effective legislator. All five bills on which I have been the prime sponsor are now law. I presently serve as the vice-chair of the House Judiciary Committee. One of the most satisfying parts of being a representative is helping local people with their issues. I like making the laws of the state work for our citizens; whether it is the mom who is concerned about discrimination against people with disabilities when they need an organ transplant, the Wyoming Athletic Trainers who want their scope of service updated, or a reserve deputy who discovered that liability coverage for volunteer peace officers was assumed but not clearly stated in statute. I really don’t have a personal agenda of things I want to accomplish other than to do what I can to keep Wyoming the special place that it is.
3. How do you plan on accomplishing your goals?
Being a legislator is a team sport. Legislators cannot achieve anything alone. I will immediately begin building relationships with the newly elected members before the session in January. Getting bills passed, amending bills to improve them and defeating bad bills depends on my ability to work with the other representatives. In addition, I will continue learning about the myriad of topics that come before the legislature. Everything from airports to zebra mussels and hundreds more demand that a legislator be curious enough to keep reading, listening and learning.
4. What experience do you have that qualifies you for the office you are seeking?
I have spent my adult life in and around Wyoming and local government. My education has been in government administration. More important, my two terms serving in the Wyoming House of Representatives have allowed me to build the required relationships and to move through the steep learning curve that faces all new legislators.
5. Do you feel you could be a good steward with taxpayer dollars? Why or why not?
Yes. I am conservative by nature and have a track record of conservative votes. Even so, the legislature has the constitutional duty to appropriate the funds and there are many needs facing the state. The state budget is way more complex than it should be. There are constitutional and statutory requirements for revenues to flow into and out of various accounts at specified intervals or when designated thresholds have been met. Legislators need to have a working knowledge of this process and I am still learning! New legislators always report that the state finances and budget are the most daunting topics to learn.
6. On the issue of transparency, where do you stand on ensuring all public business is conducted openly and in a manner that encourages public attendance?
One of the few positive byproducts of the Covid experience is the remote participation technology and processes we developed. Citizens no longer need to spend hours driving to Cheyenne to testify before a legislative committee for 10 minutes. Citizens can attend and participate in the meetings from their homes and offices. This does, however, sometimes result in more participation than we have time for. Committee chairs are tasked with managing the testimony to allow as many people as possible to participate. We also now broadcast over YouTube our committee meetings and floor sessions. Hundreds of Wyoming citizens can watch and listen to our proceedings.
7. How have you made your office or board more transparent and open with the public?
In a citizen legislature we really don’t have an office. My office is my laptop and my phone. My email address and phone number are available and folks can (and frequently do) contact me with concerns, ideas and complaints. In addition, Wyoming legislators return home after short sessions. Our constituents visit with us at our jobs, faith communities, in restaurants and even in the grocery store! None of this is of my making; it is the transparent system that has been a hallmark of the Wyoming legislature at least since cellphones and the internet came into wide use.
8. If you were presiding over a meeting and a topic was being discussed that you didn’t fully understand, would you ask for a more detailed explanation during the meeting or would you seek the information after the meeting?
I have done so many times! In the legislature you need not be the presiding officer to ask such questions. Committee work is my favorite part of legislating precisely because it gives us the chance to ask questions of state agency heads, interest group experts and citizens who testify. Every committee meeting is a learning opportunity. During the interim between sessions we explore selected topics in depth. This process works well!
9. Should you be elected, or reelected, do you plan on seeking any major policy changes in your chosen office? If yes, what would those changes be? If no, why not?
There are many topics which come before the legislature and all are important to the people or at least some of the folks in our state. We have many conservative values incorporated into our present statutes and I support them. I don’t feel a need to make major policy changes. Within the legislature there is one area of major change I want to learn more about. In the budget session we began a discussion about having a cash-based budget where we would pay for next year’s operations with money we have in the bank and no longer base our budget on revenues that we anticipate receiving during the year. That would be a major change! This has great potential, but the details need to be explored and some models developed that will give us a better understanding on how this might work in practice.
10. Is there anything the above questions didn’t ask that you would like to comment on?
I also believe that property tax relief for homeowners is overdue. I co-sponsored a bill in my very first session to help our fixed-income homeowners, but it did not pass. The problem has grown worse! I have a voting record that shows that I am a common-sense conservative. With the recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, voters who care about the unborn need to make certain that the legislature retains a pro-life majority. I have consistently voted: pro-life, pro- second amendment, and for fiscal responsibility. At the same time I have supported our community colleges, the Hathaway Scholarship program and have been a steadfast advocate for public safety. The core functions of government need to be properly staffed and funded. While conservatives are reluctant to spend money, there are times when not spending money is foolish. Technology and major maintenance, when not provided for, only get more expensive with time. The same is true of public employees. When the state is unable to hire snowplow drivers and is experiencing an exodus of many of our best trained and skilled employees because our wages and benefits are not competitive, it is appropriate to provide pay raises, just as a business would. Recruiting, hiring and training replacement employees are very expensive activities and the loss of employees leaves the organization less able to provide important services for the people.
NOTE: All primary candidates who filed to run for a seat in the Wyoming Legislature were sent questionnaires at the same time and Oil City News will publish responses in the order they are received. Candidate responses are only edited for clarity and style.
If you are a candidate and did not see the questionnaire in your inbox, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Oil City News sent questionnaires to Natrona County candidates running in the primary for municipal, county office or a seat in the Wyoming Legislature based on email addresses shared by the Natrona County Clerk’s Office; if you would prefer the questionnaire sent to a different address, please let us know.