EVANSTON — Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon paid a surprise visit to Evanston on Tuesday, Aug. 27, when a small crowd joined the governor at the Strand Theatre to hear his informal comments on the state of Wyoming’s economy and to have a chance to ask him specific questions.
After a warm welcome by Evanston Mayor Kent Williams, Gov. Gordon began by explaining that he had been in Jackson working and decided since he was so close to Evanston, he would take the opportunity to visit. He apologized that there hadn’t been enough time to alert the public.
“This part of the state has always been special to me. I was here when this building, the Strand, had burned. Look at it now, it is phenomenal. It is a great asset. Evanston is a community that knows how to get things done. Also, one of the other nice things about Evanston is that it is a long way from Cheyenne,” Gordon said with a laugh.
Gordon outlined many of the challenges facing the state at this time. He said he is working with the Department of Energy and others on ways to refurbish the Kemmerer coal plant in order to use the coal. “How can we reconstitute and/or refurbish these plants in order to keep men working; should we investigate carbon fiber?” he asked.
He said his administration is working in Gillette to help the 600 miners and direct employees laid off when the mine closed, so they won’t be left empty and can stay in their community.
“The first lady was in Gillette last week helping to organize a food drive, and we are helping with resources so people don’t lose their homes,” Gordon said.
Handling finances is a huge challenge, he said, adding that he thinks Wyoming Treasurer Curt Meier is doing a wonderful job and was able to generate $20 million to help schools. He admitted it was tough this year to fund education and there is a shortfall. He also said WYDOT had a $150 million shortfall.
He complimented Sens. Wendy Schuler and Dan Dockstader, who were in the audience, on doing a good job of managing resources and moving on the transparency issue.
“The economy of Wyoming is a challenge but I like challenges. I grew up on a ranch and learned that you do what you can with what you have,” Gordon said.
Gordon gave an example of when a canal recently burst in Greybull and flooded ranch and farmland. It was a struggle to pay for the $3 million repair with federal and state money. He mentioned the possibility of building a state fund, similar to an insurance policy that ranchers and farmers could pay into, that would handle emergency situations in the future.
Other challenges Gordon mentioned were climate change, transparency of government offices, infrastructure, forestry, how to use the old historic State Hospital buildings and diversification. He said they are working on all of those challenges and how best to grow the economy without endangering the benefits of the State.
The governor then asked for questions from the audience. A variety of concerns were addressed, including education funding; the governor agreed that more funding is needed. He said that in order to attract new businesses and families we need good support for K through 12.
Use of the old State Hospital buildings was a concern and Mayor Williams asked if the State would be providing any assistance for the renovation of those buildings. Gov. Gordon responded by giving the example of the people in Buffalo who saved an old state building by raising the money and working together as a community.
“Communities need to understand what it takes and, yes, there will be discussions on the buildings. That is part of the reason I am here. We toured the new buildings at the State Hospital this morning and the construction is coming along and I’m pleased with the progress. I’m going to fight hard to support communities,” Gordon said.
Responding to a question from Herald Publisher Mark Tesoro regarding how he would rate his office for transparency, Gov. Gordon said, “At this point I think we rate a B grade but we are working on setting up a website so the public will be able to see records. It is probably a year away before it will be totally complete. The current reports from the Transparency Commission show that we are still ranked an F, but it also states that we are moving towards a B. The legislature passed a law last year that the State has to have an ombudsman to handle public record requests. I am interviewing someone tomorrow for that position and feel very positive about the person.”
When Gordon discussed diversifying the economy and answered questions about recruiting new businesses to Wyoming, he said the main attraction is our good regulatory environment and low taxes.
Mayor Williams asked about consensus funds and if the Governor was looking at bringing those back to help communities. Gordon said he is definitely looking at that possibility.