PULSE ON POLITICS: House District 23

By on October 14, 2014

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – The race for Keith Gingery’s open seat in the State House features two former Teton County commissioners, Democrat Andy Schwartz and Republican Jim Darwiche. Both men admitted they have been looking for a way back into politics on a larger scale since leaving the Teton County Board of Commissioners.

Schwartz was a commissioner for 12 years, chairing the board for several of those years. He also served as a member of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association. He is now a member of the Wyoming Environmental Quality Council.

Darwiche served as a commissioner from 2002 through 2006. He is also the founder, president and zone chairman of the local chapter of the Lions Club, a member of the Rotary Club, a board member of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce and the founder of the Farmers Market on the Town Square.

Planet Jackson Hole grilled the two family men on everything and anything they might be faced with in Cheyenne for the next two years. We found similarities and differences between the two candidates. Don’t vote in November until you read this exclusive and insightful question-and-answer matchup.

Planet Jackson Hole: How and when did you decide to run for House District 23?

Andy Schwartz

Andy Schwartz

Andy Schwartz: The party was talking about, in more general terms, that we wanted to have candidates running. The notion of an uncontested race, and I believe this, is not really good for the democratic process. Right now, with Leland [Christensen] and Ruth Ann [Petroff], there’s no conversation going on about their returning to office. About issues they’re in favor of, about issues they’re opposed to. That only happens when you have a contested race. So the Democratic Party, and I’m in the leadership of that party, we said, “Let’s just see if we can find candidates who are at least willing to run to promote a conversation.” So I was out talking to people and everybody kind of looked at me and said, “Well, why are you asking me? Why aren’t you running?” And I’ve been thinking about it for years but at that particular point in time I was enjoying my first year of not being an elected official.

Jim Darwiche

Jim Darwiche

Jim Darwiche: I care about Teton County. I love this place. I asked myself if we were going to be well represented. I felt I am in a time in my life where I could step up and help serve the community. I’m just about to finish a project that I’m building on the Town Square. We hired a general manager, and I’m now totally available to serve. And I feel honored and fortunate to be able to do that.

PJH: We’ve heard from past legislators that freshman year for representatives at the state capitol can be overwhelming. Will you be able to get up to speed?

Andy: There’s no doubt about it. It’s a steep learning curve. In general, I would say my work habits accommodate that steep leaning curve. I’m used to reading a lot — staff reports, legislation. It’s just going to take a concerted effort and spending a lot of time working with other legislators. I already know a bunch of them. I have friends down there I know I can work with like Ruth Ann and Leland that I will count on to help me out, but the bottom line is you’ve got to do it yourself.

Jim: When I was a county commissioner, whenever there was a session going on we all went down to Cheyenne. My number one priority was to go there and work with others and build friendships, and I really enjoyed it. In fact, I have an email list I made of a lot of people down there I still communicate with. Second, when I was a county commissioner I served for four years on the Wyoming County Commissioner Association legislative committee. That committee did nothing but look into bills and followed bills that affect local government. So I know how the system works. I know how bills go though.

PJH: How well would you say you work with others?

Andy: I think I have a pretty well-established reputation as being a collaborative board member. I think I start with the premise that people are not going to necessarily agree on things so it’s pretty critical to find common ground in a conversation, and work from a common ground out into the areas that are more contentious. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes there just isn’t common ground. [A big] part of my MO is I listen to discussions. Even if I think I know something, I’m still going to listen to the discussion because you just never know. You need to listen to what other people have to say before you can make an informed decision.

Jim: All my life, I’ve had to work with others — from a different culture or whatever. To me, this is a piece of cake. Naturally, I have so much more in common with the average [citizen] from Wyoming than many other people because of my core values. Being Republican, being a hard worker, and having honesty, integrity. It’s a way of life for me. I feel I’m very connected with the people of Wyoming.

PJH: How well would you say your opponent works with others? You both shared four years on the BCC. Give us three words that describe your opponent.

Andy: I would say we had different styles in how we worked on a board with five people. Personally, I felt I had a more collaborative style. He might disagree. I was more collaborative. He was less collaborative.

Jim: Three words? How about three pages? I would say, “entitled, professional, politician.”

PJH: Already, a lot has been said about perceived differences in style between you and your opponent. One particular area is representation. Are you representing Teton County or the state of Wyoming?

Andy: Yes, I will be representing Teton County. I will be representing certain viewpoints that the voters here care about. Having said that, a lot of what I’ve been talking about in the election is not specific to Teton County — especially when you talk about the economy, where I don’t know that people in Teton County are aware of how Wyoming works. The bulk of our revenues come from coal, natural gas, oil. We’re a fossil fuel state. And all the projections, for pretty apparent reasons, show declining revenues for coal in particular. The state has amassed certain reserves — $20 billion — and how those reserves are managed is to me probably the biggest issue there is for everybody in the state.

Jim: It all goes together. First of all, I have to care about our Teton County. This is our community. This is where we have special needs. This is where I’m going to do the best. Now, I’m a person that believes that Wyoming is a place where the real West lives, and I will do everything in my power to make sure Wyoming kids do well in school. I want to make sure the Wyoming economy is well. I want to make sure that every good thing happens to Wyoming. I will use my business experience, I will use my entrepreneurial experience, I will use my leadership experience. I will be as good as I was for my family and community here. I guarantee you that I will be as good to Wyoming.

PJH: Lawmakers are often judged, fairly or unfairly, on how many bills they introduce or how many they get passed. Do you have any ideas for bills? What would be your legislative style that first year?

Andy: No, not at this stage. First of all, it’s the most visible gauge when your name goes on a bill. But I’m not sure it’s the most accurate gauge of effectiveness. I mean, look at Pete Jorgensen, who was down there for a long time. I agree with Pete on [the notion there are too many bills to begin with], especially during the budget session, which is supposed to be a session devoted to the budget, and I think they had in excess of 300 bills this year. Sometimes there is a need to present a bill in a particular year, but a lot of these bills … well, frivolous is too strong a word, but I think they could wait until the next session. But I understand how the process works. Part of it’s political, part of it’s personal. At the moment, there are issues I’m aware of but I think it would be presumptuous to go down there as a freshman representative, particularly from Teton County and a Democrat [and try to write a bunch of bills]. If I’m going to be an effective legislator, that’s not the best approach to take. I’m not interested in going down there and sponsoring bills I know don’t have a prayer. What’s the point? It’s a waste of everybody’s time.

Jim: My agenda is to serve Teton County and to work with the team we have there already. Ruth Ann Petroff, Leland Christensen, Marti Halverson; they are all doing a great job. They are working very well with the GOP majority advancing the interests of the county. They are doing a great job providing all the funding that Teton County needs. I will do the same. If I get elected, I will be looking to ensure we have adequate funding for our schools — our children deserve the best education. I will be looking to protect our wildlife. I will support any bills that will make sure our economy is vibrant and we have opportunities and good jobs. I want to make sure our water and air are protected, and I want to make sure the oil industry does well and operates responsibly. Keep in mind I want to do all this with a wisdom to make sure the balance between environment and economy is well taken care of.

PJH: Teton County has some unique concerns at the state level. Energy extraction and drilling often come in direct conflict with the environment and conservation efforts. Are you pro-energy, pro-environment, or somewhere in the middle?

Andy: To me, that’s a pretty simple issue. Although fossil fuels is the number-one industry in the state of Wyoming, tourism is second. And I think it’s appropriate to call it an industry. It’s what we do here. I would be hard-pressed to see the value of resources extracted through drilling being greater than the value that we get out of our open space from the tourism industry. That would be my argument. It’s in everybody’s interest to preserve the tourism industry.

Jim: I think you’re going to find me in the middle. The reason for that is I do believe we are fortunate to have gas, oil, coal and trona in Wyoming. We are blessed. This is a very invaluable source for us to run our schools and to fund all our services. We should take it seriously and help those industries operate. We just need to make sure they are operating responsibly. We need to make sure that there are inspectors who do their job right. It becomes a balance between the environment and open spaces [versus] energy extraction. I would definitely not support any oil extraction in the parks or in Teton County. The rest of Wyoming, I would have to consider it case by case.

PJH: Another topic you both seem to differ on is education. Specifically, what should be taught in the classroom: creation or evolution?

Andy: Science is science to me. I understand that people have different belief systems. But I’m not sure that it’s fair to a science teacher to say, “You are now responsible for not only teaching science but getting into this whole other conversation about belief systems.” If a parent has that strong feeling and the child does, then they can talk about it. But I think we need to teach kids science. This is part of this 21st century global economy; it’s based on science and technology. I accept that a belief system is part of our culture. It’s a wonderful thing, but I don’t think it should be in the science classroom.

Jim: I believe in teaching our kids everything. I don’t believe education should reflect political agendas. We have to consider the age of the kids and what we are teaching them. Different-aged kids understand things differently. I believe everything should be on the table and kids should learn everything they can. I’m going to be a legislator. I’m not going to be an educator. Let the educator decide what to teach in the classroom. All I can do is I will work with other representatives with the Republican majority to make sure that the funds are available for our schools.

PJH: The U.S. Census Bureau recently ranked Wyoming public schools sixth nationally in the amount of money spent per student, but we aren’t getting the results according to standardized tests. Is there pressure to compete, globally, when it comes to education?

Andy: The Legislature is the body that provides the funding. As a consequence, legislators want to know, “How is this money being spent and why aren’t we getting the results?” I don’t have an answer to that question. I don’t know how that money is being spent to be quite blunt. I know how I felt about testing when I was in school. I didn’t much care for it. It’s not a true indicator to what students are learning. I think it’s going to take more time to know what the impact of the money we are spending now is on our students’ future. Having said that, I don’t think the Legislature is probably the best body to determine what policies we should use in terms of education. That’s the Department of Education’s job.

I was pretty upset with how the Legislature handled it last session, tacking on an amendment to the budget about teaching science. I mean, come on, that’s not what their job should be. The local school districts are actually the entities, in coordination with the state, that should be figuring out what we teach.

Jim: Honestly, our kids are our future. The more we invest in them, the better off our future is going to look. If the results we are getting back are different than our investment, we should look into it and identify the areas where we are failing and create accountability to make sure we do get the result we are after. I believe Teton County representation in Cheyenne is doing a very good job. And I believe our school board is doing a very, very good job. I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that our schools are well funded, and I will work with the majority GOP down there just like our other representative did to support our schools and make sure they are funded well.

I don’t like to use these catchy terms like “globally competitive.” Wyoming kids need a totally different education than the kid who lives in India who just needs to get an education so he can improve his life and make $200 a month being a teacher or something. We need the education that will match our need in Wyoming.

About Jake Nichols

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