With Gov. Mark Gordon’s public health orders meant to slow the spread of COVID-19 set to expire, a departing Wyoming Republican lawmaker is organizing a protest at the Wyoming State Capitol on Monday to urge those orders not be renewed, though infection numbers have fallen off since the orders took effect.
Outgoing Rep. Scott Clem, R-Gillette, plans to march on the Wyoming State Capitol at noon Monday to “peaceably assemble and protest the tyranny of our Wyoming State Governor,” he said Monday in a Facebook post, claiming that Gordon views Wyoming residents as “subjects to be controlled by big brother.”
“It’s time to take our unheard concerns to his front door at the Capitol,” Clem wrote in a post, which included an image of the Gadsden Flag and a line stating that “Gordon does not equal Wyoming.” “It’s time to make them hear our voices. This is something to take off work for. This is something to assemble en masse for. It’s your turn to stand for the freedoms our fathers gave their lives for.”
Clem did not immediately respond to a voicemail seeking comment Tuesday. Renny MacKay, Gordon’s senior policy adviser, responded in a written statement Tuesday evening.
“Governor Gordon continues to focus on preserving lives and livelihoods as he navigates this horrific global pandemic,” he said. “This week the Department of Health, Attorney General and Governor’s Office are all reviewing the data and metrics on COVID-19 as the current orders expire on January 8th. All through the pandemic the decisions on changes to orders have been driven by data and science — that continues. As for the protests next week, the Governor has heard many criticisms from all sides and understands there are varying perspectives on how to handle this virus and its myriad impacts. He applauds anyone who exercises their First Amendment rights.”
Wyoming Republican Party leadership — which promoted the event on its Facebook page — said the party had no role in organizing the event.
“We are not organizing this event,” Frank Eathorne, the Wyoming Republican Party chairman, said in a text message to the Star-Tribune. “Scott Clem is a sitting legislator and the party assists with anything consistent with our platform and resolutions.”
Monday’s planned protest — which follows several that have been held in Cheyenne in 2020 — is set to take place several days before a statewide face mask requirement implemented Dec. 9 could expire.
On the day it was passed, Clem — a vocal opponent of the governor’s public health orders — called the order “an assault on your liberty and rights,” and has since encouraged constituents to practice peaceful civil disobedience in defiance of those orders, saying they have caused more harm to the economy than the virus they were intended to slow. Since it was first reported in Wyoming in March, COVID-19 has resulted in the deaths of 405 Wyomingites.
Others, like Sweetwater County resident and health order opponent Harold Bjork, have already declared primary challenges to Gordon in 2022 over his handling of the COVID-19 crisis, while the Wyoming Republican Party has grown increasingly hostile to the governor’s policies.
“I’m looking at gathering signatures to try to get our Legislature to impeach him and have him removed because I think that we’re to that point,” Mike Lundgren, chair of the Lincoln County Republican Party, told The Daily Beast the day after Gordon announced his mask order. (Lundgren never responded to a subsequent email from the Star-Tribune regarding those comments.)
Wyoming — which despite the mask order still had some of the most lenient public health restrictions in the country as of Dec. 13 — remained one of the 10 worst states for total COVID-19 cases per capita as of Tuesday, according to the New York Times. However, COVID-19 case numbers statewide and in Natrona County have dropped significantly since a majority of counties passed mask mandates in mid-November — a trend that has continued since the statewide mask order was implemented. As of Tuesday, there are fewer confirmed active cases in the state than there have been at any point since Oct. 6.
While state officials have declined to draw conclusions in the weeks since the mask orders were instituted, Wyoming Medical Center Chief of Staff Dr. Andy Dunn recently told the Star-Tribune the mask orders are “undoubtedly, unequivocally, absolutely,” contributing to the drop in cases.
Natrona County Health Officer Dr. Mark Dowell has also pointed to masks as a reason for the decrease in cases.
“We’re doing much better, markedly better, since starting the masking,” he said. “The whole reason the numbers are down is we did simple things like that. We want to be able to slowly loosen things, get people vaccinated, and back to life, but we have to do it step-by-step.”
Though groups like the free market think tank American Institute for Economic Research have documented numerous negative impacts brought about by the COVID-19 crisis and the lockdowns credited with slowing the virus’s spread, representatives for the hospitality industry have stated that consumer confidence has played a significant role in the detrimental financial impacts faced by businesses as well.
Meanwhile, financial analysts have said widespread distribution of a vaccine could help businesses rebound from the losses they’d experienced during the crisis. According to a report from the McKinsey Group earlier this month, fewer than one-quarter of Americans currently feel safe engaging in “normal” out-of-home activities, while only 36% are reportedly engaging in those activities.
Star-Tribune staff writer Morgan Hughes contributed to this report.