CASPER — Republican gubernatorial candidate Ray Hunkins on Friday continued his attack against Gov. Dave Freudenthal's handling of Wyoming's methamphetamine problem, claiming the governor has failed to secure necessary increases in the number of state troopers to combat transportation of the drug.
"The governor has had more than $35 million and three years to address this problem," Hunkins said in prepared remarks. "What have we gotten for our investment in money and time? The governor is making speeches about meth but not doing anything to attack this crisis."
Lara Azar, the governor's press secretary, on Friday defended Freudenthal's speeches about the state's meth problem.
"Public discussion and awareness have been very important steps along the way to all other actions taken by the state and local communities," Azar said.
Hunkins said that if elected, he intends to press for hiring more troopers for the Wyoming Highway Patrol. He said that current understaffing gives drug runners a "green light" to transport drugs into and through the state.
While Hunkins said the Wyoming Highway Patrol is making a valiant effort, "the truth is that there just aren't enough of them." He said a recent study by Northwestern University showed that the Wyoming Highway Patrol is understaffed by 65 percent.
Before this year's legislative session, Freudenthal called for increasing the strength of the Wyoming Highway Patrol by 15 troopers at a cost of $1.7 million. But a measure to pay for hiring new troopers failed to pass in the Republican-dominated Legislature.
"When I'm elected, I intend to put the full weight of the governor's office behind similar legislation," Hunkins said.
"These new troopers must be deployed where they can make a difference in the substance abuse fight, and that's in the corridors we know the drug runners use along Wyoming's interstate highways," Hunkins said. "Just like the U.S. border with Mexico, Wyoming has borders to protect too. As governor, I intend to protect them."
Azar said Freudenthal has been requesting additional troopers since taking office.
"Ray might want to pursue his concerns in that regard with the Legislature," Azar said. She said that while the governor makes budget recommendations, funding decisions ultimately lie with the Legislature.
Last month, Hunkins announced that if elected, he intends to appoint a cabinet-level official to address the state's meth problem. He noted that the state's Legislative Service Office, a nonpartisan office that supports the Legislature, issued a report this February concluding that Wyoming's attempts to address the meth issue have been fragmented.
Freudenthal last month dismissed Hunkins' suggestion to appoint a single official to coordinate the state's response to meth. Freudenthal likened it to the federal "drug czar" approach.
"I saw that model up close when I was U.S. attorney," Freudenthal said last month. "It was an idea I considered and rejected some years ago."
Dr. Brent Sherard, director of the Wyoming Department of Health, released an op-ed piece this week saying the creation of a single, centralized position to lead the state's efforts to combat methamphetamine abuse ignored the "significant steps" the state had already made to address the problem.
Sherard said that since 2001, Wyoming has increased its capacity to treat meth addicts by 67 percent. And he said his department's Substance Abuse Division has adopted national standards.