Key Issues

You may not always agree with me, but you will always know where I stand. I welcome comments and am happy to engage in a civil dialogue with anyone. (Just send me an email: Charles@Pelkey.com.)

Respectful Discourse

Education Reform: Our Constitution guarantees that we all have a right to our own opinions. We do not, however, have a right to our own facts. That certain legislators have decided to structure the very fundamentals taught to our children, based on their own opinions rather than hard science is abhorrent. For Wyoming to compete in an international economy, we cannot afford to have our children handicapped by an ideologically-driven science curriculum.

PelkeyHeadShot

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects are the tools of a 21st Century economy. We need to promote the teaching of STEM subjects and do so as early in a child’s academic career as possible.  Promoting STEM subjects to both male and female students would make strides in closing Wyoming’s embarrassingly large wage gap.

We need to stop “teaching to the test” in our public schools. Education bureaucrats in this state have muddled testing to the point that “PAWS” test results do little to provide quantifiable information regarding our children’s progress in key subject areas. Testing serves a purpose, but it should not be the primary focus of educators.

Diversifying Wyoming’s Economy:  When is the last time you drove through Jeffrey City? For those who missed the boom, Jeffrey City was a spectacular example of what a spike in demand for a single commodity can do to a small community. 

Jeffrey City’s population exploded after the Western Nuclear Corporation opened a uranium mine nearby in 1957. That little town in the middle of nowhere rapidly expanded as high-paying jobs lured thousands families from all over the country.

But by the 1980s, the uranium market collapsed and Jeffrey City became a late-20th Century Ghost Town. In 2014, we’re facing the same crisis, but on a state-wide basis. Carbon-based fuels – oil, gas and coal – have been the power behind the industrial revolution. Wyoming has been blessed with a wealth of all three. We have been further blessed by this state’s historically responsible use of the revenues we’ve derived from those resources. (If you doubt that, just ask any parent whose son or daughter benefits from a Hathaway Scholarship to the University of Wyoming or any of Wyoming’s fine Community Colleges.)

To deny that this state has greatly benefited from the development of carbon fuels would be to deny reality. Equally unrealistic, however, is to deny that there is a substantial environmental cost associated with our use of those fuels. Whether our Congressional Delegation, our Governor and a substantial portion of our Legislature like it or not, the fact is that our consumption of carbon fuels has adversely affected the delicate chemical balance of our atmosphere.

The long-term consequences of that can be catastrophic. When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed the Clean Power Plan on June 2, 2014, a substantial number of Wyoming politicians repeated their assertion that the science behind warnings of climate change is somehow flawed. For the short-term, that may be the politically popular position to stake out in a state so dependent on a single resource. For the long-term it is the height of irresponsibility. At this point, the consensus among the vast majority atmospheric scientists is that human beings’ consumption of carbon fuels has and will continue to affect our climate. (By “consensus” I mean a significantly larger portion of that scientific community than even those members of the medical community who accept the link between smoking and lung cancer.)

The science is solid. It’s our policy that’s flawed. Now we can hunker down and continue to hang our hats on the work of that tiny number of those who deny the evidence or we can get to work and make sure that Wyoming doesn’t lose out as the world gradually weans itself from fossil fuels. It won’t happen fast, but it will happen. And, yes, it will adversely affect Wyoming’s economy, but before it does, it’s our job to minimize that impact. We have benefited from being a significant supplier of what is essentially a single resource (single in the sense that coal, gas and oil all provide energy in essentially the same fashion). That doesn’t mean that we can always depend on that single resource. Our state’s history is replete with examples of booms and busts as we ride the price and demand fluctuations of a global energy market. (If you doubt that, stop by Jeffrey City next time you’re on your way to Lander.)

Rather than continue to deny the conclusions of the vast majority of the scientific community, let’s view the new EPA rules as a warning shot and as an opportunity to get to work. The EPA regulations are essentially a signal that there will be a gradual – but inevitable – elimination of carbon fuels from the global energy picture. No, it won’t happen in our lifetimes, but I’m one of those people who believes that a public servant’s responsibility has to include a duty to future generations. Let’s take this opportunity to explore new options for Wyoming, instead of missing out on the future because we insist on denying the truth. It is our duty to begin the hard work of diversifying this state’s economy so we that we never have to depend on the fluctuations of of global energy pricing.

By diversification, I don’t suggest that we invest our precious financial resources in every harebrained scheme that comes down the pike. In many ways, we’re already taking the right steps. We are investing the moneys we’ve derived from energy development in our future: namely our kids. We have a history of generously supporting education in this state. That has to continue and expand. The number one justification cited by companies when locating new facilities in a particular state is the quality of that state’s schools. We can continue to make Wyoming’s schools the envy of the nation.

We also must continue supporting state investment in basic infrastructure, including transportation and communications technologies,that keep pace with developments in the rest of the country and the world. We have the opportunity to protect this state’s future, but only if we think in terms of the long-run.

If we continue to deny and ignore the truth, we’ll be left behind in the dust and our children will be forced to seek their opportunities elsewhere. Jeffrey City won’t be an isolated example.

Increasing Minimum Wage: It is an embarrassment that Wyoming workers can hold one (or more) full-time jobs and still not earn enough to support a family, even at the poverty level. Honest work deserves a living wage.  In 1976, the Federal Minimum Wage was $2.30 an hour. That is the 2014 equivalent of $9.55. The current Federal Minimum Wage is now just $7.25 (or $14,500 a year for a full-time minimum wage worker).

Minimum WageTry supporting a family on $14,500 a year. These are our fellow citizens; hard-working parents, students, sons, daughters, wives and husbands who do the jobs that keep the economy moving. Isn’t it time that a hard-working employee earns at least a living wage for that work?

No American should work full-time – whether that is in one job or two – and still not earn enough to keep a family above the poverty line. We’re better than that.

Our fellow citizens are losing ground each year, even though they show up and put in a full day’s work. At the very least, we need to establish a minimum wage that keeps pace with the rate of inflation. If the Federal government refuses to do that, then we need our Legislature to stand up and say that we value the daily contributions of our fellow citizens and their work deserves at least a living wage.

The Wage Gap: Wyoming holds the dubious distinction of ranking No.1 when it comes to the size of the wage gap between men and women. In 2012, a woman in Wyoming could expect to earn 64 cents for every dollar earned by a man. That’s well behind the national average of 77% and Washington D.C. where the gap is at 90%. As a father, husband and brother I cannot fathom how the “free” market can relegate women in Wyoming to a secondary role when it comes to salaries.

It has to stop and there are both short- and long-term solutions. In the immediate, we need to make it easier for women to raise the issue of wage discrimination at their work places. Workers should not be penalized for discussing salaries and it may take legislation to ensure that those who do are not sanctioned by employers. In the long-run, we need to develop strategies to ensure that both male and female students are encouraged to pursue educational and career opportunities in those fields with the highest salaries.

As an attorney, I was pleased to see that more than 50% of my graduating class from the University of Wyoming College of Law was made up of talented, motivated and capable women. That is a far cry from the 1950s and ’60s when women were a rarity in law schools across the country. We now need to focus on efforts to make that same change true in those critical STEM subjects. We all suffer when we don’t open the doors of opportunity to all of our citizens.

The Right to Choose: Whether or not to have a child is the most fundamentally private decision a women can make in her lifetime. It is a decision over which she should hold exclusive power.

I have not sought the endorsement of my former boss, Alan Simpson. I respect his party affiliation too much to ever do that, but I do have to point to one of the most eloquent – and blunt – comments ever made by a male on the subject:

“Who the hell is for abortion?” asked Simpson. “I don’t know anybody running around with a sign that says, ‘have an abortion, they’re wonderful.’ They’re hideous. But they’re a deeply intimate and personal decision, and I don’t think men legislators should even vote on the issue.”

I disagree only in one respect. Unfortunately, legislators of both genders will continually have to vote on the issue, solely to fend off the seemingly non-stop assault on women’s right to choose. I am a married, middle-aged lawyer. How the hell would it be appropriate for me to impose my personal judgment on a woman’s most private decisions? If I’m elected, you can count on me to stay the hell out of that important, personal choice … aside from fighting back others’ attempts to impose their will on other people’s bodies.

s127_pro_child_pro_family_pro_choice_stickerAbortion should be legal, abortion should be safe and, above all, abortion should be rare. We can start by having open and candid conversations with our children about sex, procreation and birth control.

Abortion rates around the country have reached a 40-year low. But the rate of decline is lowest in those states in which sex education, contraceptive information and availability are either not required or banned outright. Those states that promote a free and frank discussion and contraceptive information have the lowest rates of abortion in the nation. Honesty, education and contraceptives will continue to do more to prevent abortion than politically motivated legislation.

Anti-Discrimination: It’s about time the Equality State lived up to its name and passed laws to protect our fellow citizens against discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation.

I was proud of the Wyoming Federal District Court ruling in the case of Guzzo v. Mead, affirming the right of two adults to marry, no matter what their respective genders. That October, 2014, ruling was affirmed when the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges (U.S. 2015).

Nonetheless, existing law does not bar discrimination against members of the LGBT community. One of the biggest disappointments of my first term in the Wyoming Legislature was the House’s failure to pass Senate File 115, a bill passed by the Senate that would have extended protections in the workplace, in schools and other aspects of life to gay and transgender people.

Under state and Federal law we currently extend anti-discrimination protections to people based on race, color, religion, national origin, age (40 and over), sex, pregnancy, citizenship, familial status, disability status, veteran status and genetic information. Nonetheless, under existing law, it remains legal to deny employment, housing and services to our fellow citizens based solely on their personal relationships.

Why on earth should we allow that? It’s simply wrong and we need to change it. In fact, it should have been settled long ago. Why are we still talking about this? We really are better than that.

Decriminalization of Marijuana: Laws are often designed to protect individuals and society from a real or perceived harm. But what happens when that law itself actually causes more harm than the dangers we’re trying to legislate away?

marijuana_arrests_chart500_shortWell, there’s a painful example of just that problem. Nationally, we arrest nearly 800,000 of our fellow Americans for possession of marijuana each year (more than 21 million since 1970). The vast majority of those arrests involve small amounts for personal use. Meanwhile, we spend considerable resources investigating, arresting, charging, prosecuting, punishing and treating citizens for their use of a plant.

We tie up police resources, waste federal, state and local dollars, fill our jails and clog our courts … and for what?

A marijuana possession conviction can derail a young person’s academic and career plans, having made them ineligible for federal student aid, saddle them with a record of a “drug conviction” and send otherwise decent young people through the maze of the judicial and penal systems. All to “protect” them from themselves.

What are we accomplishing? Like I said, I remain convinced that the law is causing greater harm than the dangers we are trying to prevent.

No, I am not suggesting that we encourage our kids to turn into Cheech and Chong. I firmly believe that we take proactive steps to educate our children about the risks that accompany marijuana use … as well as alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. I do however bristle at the the thought that we citizens of Wyoming are willing to make criminals out of those who simply chose to inhale – or otherwise imbibe – the leaves of a plant.

That’s not an overstatement on my part. Wyoming Statute § 35–7–1031(c)(i)(A) makes it a misdemeanor to possess any quantity up to three ounces, which is punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1000. Anyone caught with more than three ounces of marijuana in plant form faces up to FIVE YEARS in prison.

Is this how we want to spend our law-enforcement resources? Is this the way we want to treat our children, our neighbors, our friends and others? I say we’re better than that.

If marijuana is a problem in our state, let’s treat the problem, not create new ones with enforcement of out-dated and draconian laws.

The voters of Colorado have taken an even more radical step than I am suggesting and yet the sky hasn’t fallen in on our neighbors to the south. Let’s take a step back and look at the costs and benefits of our existing laws.

Then let’s take steps to improve the situation.