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Barrasso faces challengers in debate
Incumbent U.S. Sen. John Barasso, far left, answered a question during Thursday night's forum with candidates Joel Otto and Tim Chesnut at Central Wyoming College. Photo by Wayne Nicholls

Barrasso faces challengers in debate

Nov 2, 2012 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Wyoming's Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate hopes to bring some levity to Washington, D.C., if he is elected Nov. 6.

"Washington is a broken system; there's no such thing as compromise because both sides are so polar," Tim Chesnut said Thursday during a debate at Central Wyoming College. "We need a fresh approach."

The Albany county commissioner shared the stage with incumbent Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., as well as Country Party candidate Joel Otto of Lander.

The men fielded questions on topics from health care to military spending while also touching on issues important to Wyoming residents, like the loss of $700 million in Abandoned Mine Land money over the next 10 years.

The AML program is funded by the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 which imposed a 35-cent tax on each ton of coal produced in states like Wyoming. The U.S. Senate in September approved capping Wyoming's AML funding at $15 million a year -- a fraction of the $150 million annual payment the state currently receives through AML.

State Republicans have railed against the move, but Chesnut pointed out that Wyoming wasn't using the AML money for its intended purpose.

"When you have a fund set up to mitigate abandoned mines, you spend it on that," he said. "When you're not spending the money the way it's supposed to be spent, you lose the confidence of the people."

Barrasso said the money was "stripped away" by a Democratically controlled Senate, and he promised to fight every day to get the AML money restored to the state. Considering the financial situation in Washington, D.C., Otto was not surprised that federal representatives took the AML money, but he agreed that it was the wrong decision.

"We need to cut programs that are insolvent instead of focusing on one little problem that becomes a big problem for Wyoming," he said.

To combat rising gas prices, Otto said the federal government needs to stop printing money, which has resulted in inflation.

"When you say the price of fuel is going up, that's relative to ... the dollar, which is going down," Otto said.

Barrasso would open up federal lands in Alaska and on the Gulf of Mexico to address gas prices. He said President Obama has restricted energy production in those parts of the country, but according to Chesnut the president has expanded drilling operations during his time in office.

"Republicans want to frame it like we're restricting (oil production)," Chesnut said.

He advocated for research into new technologies that may eventually make the fossil fuel industry obsolete.

Military spending

Both Chesnut and Otto disagreed with Barrasso regarding U.S. military expenses, which have grown too large for the challengers.

"I think the military will work with the budget we give them," Chesnut said. "We're way too large. ... We don't have to be in all these places in the world."

Otto agreed, adding that the military, while important, is mainly needed to protect the country against foreign invasions.

Barrasso said the military provides freedom and safety in America, a country that gets a lot of attention globally.

"As leaders of the free world, we're attacked in ways no other countries are," Barrasso said. "I think we have to be very cautious in terms of cuts to the military."

A video recording of the debate is available at wyomingpbs.org/decision2012/.

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