The midterm elections marked approximately halfway through Gov. Mark Gordon’s four-year term of office. I am sure the last two years have been far different from what the governor — or any of us — imagined his time in office would be like. None of us anticipated COVID-19 or its impacts, and while some have been blowing the whistle on Wyoming’s impending budget issues, few anticipated that the budget situation would so quickly become so dire. However, part of the job of governor is to respond to the issues facing the state, whether anticipated or not. With us at the midpoint of Gordon’s term, it is a good opportunity to take stock of how things have gone so far.
Let me begin by saying that I was not in the Gordon camp in the 2018 primaries, although I did vote for him in the general election. I have met him several times in passing, but do not know him personally. With those necessary disclaimers, I believe Gov. Gordon has done a good job as governor these past two years.
If there is one area that I believe Gordon deserves particular praise, it is the seriousness with which he is addressing the budget issue. Our budget outlook continues to be a major problem. Gordon has addressed the issue head-on, calling for necessary — but painful — budget cuts to keep our state from running out of money in the immediate future. The long-term solution remains to be seen, but if the legislature adopts Gordon’s short-term recommendations, we will at least have the time to try to address the issue before we go off the cliff.
The governor has also done a good job in leading the state’s response to COVID-19. When faced with rising cases nationwide, he took the advice of experts in the field and enacted measures to slow or stop the spread of the virus in Wyoming. As more information became available and we were better able to weigh the risks and impacts of the virus, the governor adjusted his public health orders to fit the situation. He also erred on the side of avoiding restrictions, trusting (rightly or wrongly) in Wyomingites’ sense of responsibility to our fellow citizens to take measures to slow the spread.
Even though we now find ourselves with virus levels at one of the highest points we have seen, that is the case across much of the Rocky Mountain west and is not the fault of Gordon. He has shown a willingness to listen to expertise, the understanding that the virus needs to be taken seriously, and a tendency to let Wyoming try to solve the problem without government action before stepping in.
On other issues, the governor has also generally made the right choices. For example, when Wyoming was exploring the purchase of the “checkerboard” lands along Interstate 80, the governor was right in supporting a bid to explore the purchase. He was also right in walking away when the price was too high. It was an opportunity that would have been a bad idea to ignore, but also a bad idea to pursue once the terms became clear.
He also has done a good job with staffing. There is an old political maxim: personnel makes policy. It means that the policies enacted by an administration are largely driven by the appointed leaders, not just the person at the top. In his administration, the governor has surrounded himself with good, capable people who have generally done good, capable jobs in setting government policy.
As for criticisms, those I have for Gov. Gordon are largely the same ones I would have for most politicians: occasionally, politics gets in the way of good policy. Some bills that I thought should have been stopped or vetoed have been signed — I suspect because of a desire not to offend their backers, rather than because they were good policy. This likely happens in every administration, but we all wish it wouldn’t.
Additionally, while the governor has had a set of circumstances placed in front of him that would likely have pushed any governor’s preexisting agenda to the side, I also would have liked to see a more clearly articulated vision for the Wyoming of the future. Once the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided and our budget issues have been addressed, what are the other priorities that we need to address in Wyoming?
In looking at Gov. Gordon’s term in office, the good far outweighs the bad. He has taken concrete steps to address Wyoming’s most pressing issues, has made good choices and appointed good people to handle the less pressing issues, and the criticisms of him are minor and unsurprising. Let’s hope his performance the next two years measures up to the past two.