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Casper councilman and HD 38 challenger Johnson says Libertarians could surprise in state races

Courtesy City of Casper

CASPER, Wyo — “Statewide we’ve come a long way,” Shawn Johnson told Oil City News of the Wyoming Libertarian Party, which he became chair of this spring.

“We’ve banded together during this election year… and we’ve got some very viable candidates that very well could win some races this years, which would be historic in Wyoming and in U.S. in general.”

Fellow Casper Libertarians Joe Parambo and Wendy Degroot are challenging Republican incumbents Pat Sweeney and Charlie Scott in state races in the general election this Nov. 3

Johnson, currently in his second term on Casper City Council, faces Republican incumbent Tom Walters for the House District 38 seat to the Wyoming legislature.  He is also a first-year law student looking to study criminal family law and civil rights.

 “I think Wyoming in general has very libertarian values and views,” Johnson said. He added that people were tiring of the “infighting and disarray” between the Democrats and Republicans nationally, and also within the Wyoming GOP Party, and were looking for another option.

 “I think we can be that other option,” Johnson said, and added that Libertarians elected in Wyoming could catalyze a movement nationally.

“I think this year, in this election cycle, in Wyoming specifically, we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”

Criminal Justice

Johnson is former deputy with the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office, where he worked from 2007-2013, and retired with the rank of Corporal. He said a majority of the crimes he dealt with during that time were drug and alcohol related, and has seen the impact of the “revolving door” on offenders who end up “stuck in the system.”

Johnson said he’d favor legislation that provided a more “treatment-focused” sentencing for offenders as opposed to jail and prison.

“We’re in a budget crisis right now and it makes things more difficult when you have to build new prisons and the inmate population increases and you make cuts in staffing.”

Johnson also support legalization of, at least, medical cannabis Wyoming: “I think it would help with the opioid epidemic. Pharmaceuticals are causing more problems for people than marijuana ever has. I think it should be a viable treatment option.”

Health reforms

Johnson also said he wants to repeal burdensome and outdated regulations and bans on practices such as telemedicine to help lower health care costs to the state and expand treatment options.

“With the pandemic, the free market has done what it always has and come up with new ways to face these issues.”

“It seems that the more government gets involved in health care, the more expensive and the more bureaucratic it becomes. I think the government should stay out of health care… I understand wanting to help people in poverty, and that’s great, but it’s the middle class, the working class, that is being affected the most [by higher health care prices].”

“None of it has dropped prices,” Johnson said, both of Obamacare and attempted reforms during the Trump administration.

Diversifying the economy

“I support keeping the fossil fuel industry alive and here in Wyoming, but we also need to prepare for the long term,” Johnson said.

“Oil will rebound (it’ll keep doing what it does), but there is a trend to get away from fossil fuels, so I think, looking at the long term, Wyoming needs to prepare for that.” He added that the national presidential election, and subsequent elections, would have a major impact on Wyoming’s energy scene. 

Johnson said there was still plenty of room to grow in the hemp industry, and was glad to see it legalized. He said again that there was more to do expanding cannabis as an industry.

Johnson said he was not in favor of a corporate tax, as Wyoming needed to remain attractive to new industries.

Gun Control

“I think taxes and guns are probably the two bigger issues that separate [Libertarians] from the Republicans [in Wyoming]” Johnson said.

“My opponent specifically has a C- rating from the NRA. As as Republican, I think that doesn’t really conform to Republican Party values or platform.  I, on the other hand, will support the Second Amendment; I think it’s pretty clear.

When asked about any measures that might come up that wouldn’t infringe on the Second Amendment, Johnson was skeptical: “A lot of these proposals seem innocent on the face, but you’re giving a lot of control to the government. When you’re talking about mental health evaluations, which is where a lot of Red Flag laws come into play, where does it start and where does it end?…

 “I won’t support a Red Flag law… . once you give the government control of something, it seems like they take the ball and run with it, and there’s really no turning back… I haven’t seen any Red Flag expanded background check laws anywhere in the U.S. that I thought were any good. Again, you’re leaving it up to bureaucracy to decide where that begins and ends.”

Revenue

“We’re grossly underpaid in PILT (Payment in Lieu of taxes),” Johnson said.

About half of Wyoming land is owned by the federal government, and PILT refers to federal payments to the state for maintenance of those lands, especially roads, to make up for lost property tax revenues.  

“The state legislature hasn’t really done anything to attempt to recover monies that were owed.”

He added that taking federal lands back under state control was an option, contingent on protections for hunting and fishing interests on those lands being written into any legislation. 

Johnson said he doesn’t support any new or increased taxes, especially in light of job losses and economic insecurity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and statewide public closures.

“To me, that’s an irresponsible act: to shut down people’s way of making money and then want to raise taxes on them, it’s cruel in my opinion.”

Instead, he said he’d like to go over the state budget “with a fine-tooth comb” to address budget shortfalls from the savings side.

COVID-19:

“It’s an overstep at any level,” Johnson said of any mandated closures by public health officials. 

“Ultimately it should be left up to people. Everyone knows the risk, that there’s a virus out there, and everyone knows  the steps they need to take… we should leave it at that. There’s a risk with everything in life.”

Casper City Council

Johnson said  he’d seen the unintended consequences of well-meaning legislation come into play on city council.

“The property maintenance code, for instance; I understand the reasons behind it… but you got make sure you’re not overstepping…. We decided to draft our own [code] that fit Casper, specifically.”

“It think the [Unsafe Structures Ordinance] we came up with was pretty balanced.”

The measure, passed this summer, was aimed at protecting renters whose landlords didn’t keep up with building maintenance and safety. Early drafts didn’t provide specific exemptions for private properties, leading to concerns that city building managers would have the authority to access homes based on a single complaint from a neighbor about property conditions.

He added that the council had amended fire codes specifically before adopting them because local food truck owners said they would have to install hoods on cooking apparatuses that were designed not to have them. 

Amendment A and municipal funding

Johnson said he was hesitant to support Amendment A, a proposed change to the Wyoming Constitution on the general election ballot which would remove a cap on the debt municipalities could incur in order to repair sewer infrastructure. No such cap exists on water infrastructure. 

Instead, he’d like to see broader reforms that “recreate the entire tax and revenue structure” at the state level.

“Municipalites should have a little more autonomy to look other revenue options… putting these things here and there on an election ballot is not the way to go. And allowing a municipality to go into debt can be slippery slope.”

Citizen engagement

Johnson added that a lot of the changes made to codes and ordinances came from engaged citizens. “It’s nice to have those citizens that interact and stay abreast with situations at the local politics level, because not a lot of people do. And that’s how changes are made: at the local level.”

“I think people should really study their candidates,” Johnson said. “Just because a candidate is affiliated with a certain party doesn’t mean that their values and votes align with that party.”

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