On Sunday I explained how Rex Rammell, the Constitution Party candidate for governor, could edge out the Republican candidate and be Mary Throne's foremost opponent in November. This scenario rests on two premises, one of which I mentioned on Sunday: that the Republican party elects a candidate in the August primary who is soft on taxes. Since Rammell has signed The Tax Pledge, under this scenario he will attract fiscally conservative voters in large numbers.
There is just one more premise that needs to be fulfilled for Rammell to rise past a tax-soft GOP candidate: that Rammell comes across as a true conservative candidate.
There is no doubt that Rammell has conservative credentials. He has written a book, A Nation Divided, where he expresses great concern for our nation's future and points to unlimited federal government powers as the main culprit. He also lays out ten principles for restoring our constitutional republic to its true purpose, with a minimum of government and a maximum of individual freedom.
Again, on the principled side, Rammell comes across as a strong conservative. But what about actual policy reforms? His book does not give away any clues, though it was not written for that purpose. By contrast, his platform for his gubernatorial campaign brings him straight into the policy-making spotlight, so it should have more to offer.
It does. Rammell explains:
Wyomingites raised the roof when Donald Trump upset would be president Hillary Clinton. Trump a pro coal, pro energy president now held the highest office in the land. With Trump in federal regulations would be repealed, coal, oil, and gas prices and the future of Wyoming would soar. Trump would be Wyoming’s savior or would he? Jump ahead one year into his presidency. Yes; regulations have been curtailed, but prices for coal and gas have not come up and oil only slightly. In fact, the CREG report projects the demand for coal will continue to decline as natural gas takes more and more of its market share. The price for natural gas will also decline as more and more gas fields come on line. Demand for oil will continue, but prices will only slightly increase due to large reservoirs on shore and off. What does this mean for Wyoming? The new normal for revenue is here to stay and it is millions of dollars less than what we are use to. The boom of the coal era is over! Not even Trump can bring it back.
He then presents his main policy-reform idea:
For nearly half of Wyoming’s history coal has been the mineral that has built modern day Wyoming. State of the art schools and the 7th highest in the nation on school appropriations. All that is about to change. School funding along with many other spending cuts is inevitable or is it? The mineral sector accounts for about 70% of Wyoming’s revenue. This comes in the form of severance tax (production tax), federal mineral royalties, and mineral lease bonuses. Wyoming collects 100% of the severance tax paid by mineral companies, but only 48% of federal mineral royalties and lease bonuses. ... What would happen if all of the mineral royalties and lease bonuses came to Wyoming instead of 48%? Wyoming would essentially be at the top of the boom again even though prices and demand for our natural resources had declined significantly.
There is just one problem. The federal government likes taking over half of all mineral royalties and lease bonuses and are unlikely to give it up just because Wyoming is hurting.
Rammell's solution to our state's budget crisis is to take federal lands:
A Congressional Act to transfer title to all the public lands and hence all of the mineral money will never happen. They barely were able to lower taxes. Lawsuits? The chances of that happening are slim to none given the fact that we have been fighting for our rights in federal court since we became a state in 1890. That leaves the third option rarely used in United State’s history, state nullification. State nullification is simply that, the state nullifies the existing relationship. In other words, Wyoming would stop recognizing federal jurisdiction over Wyoming lands. It would take a strong minded governor, but it would not be that hard to do.
I will leave the legal issues of this process to the appropriate scholars to debate. Assuming that Rammell's idea is perfectly lawful, there is another problem that, frankly, overshadows the legal issue: this act is what Rammell proposes to end the big - and growing - deficit in the state budget.
That is not a conservative solution to our state budget problems. Wyoming has:
1. The highest Government Employment Ratio in the country,
2. The second highest excess compensation ratio for government employees of all the 50 states;
3. One of the most expensive K-12 school systems;
4. A pension debt that has already led to a credit downgrade; and
5. A budget deficit that is predicted to continue to rise, with a long-term projection $1 billion per fiscal year.
If all that Rammell wants to do is to increase revenue by seizing federal lands, then he cannot reasonably call himself a conservative. To protect government largesse by raking in more revenue is to bend over backwards for the tax-and-spend mainstream that is our state's current political leadership.
In fairness, he has come out against ENDOW:
Rammell—whose key issue is seizing public lands from the federal government to open up to what he estimates would be $1 billion in state revenue from energy development—said “ENDOW is the biggest waste of money I can think of.”
It is good to know that he is against more spending, but what about existing spending programs? Here are four questions for Rex Rammell:
a) What do you think about school choice?
b) If you want to get the federal government out of our state, why not reform Medicaid into a state-only program?
c) Where do you stand on tolling the I-80?
d) Would you, as governor, be willing to work with the federal government to make Wyoming an experimental economic freedom zone where federal regulations do not apply?
The answers to these questions may help us get a more detailed idea of Rammell's conservative credentials.