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Outgoing Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal credits success to family, co-workers
Outgoing Gov. Dave Freudenthal

CHEYENNE -- Gov. Dave Freudenthal and his wife, Nancy, moved out of the governor's residence and into their remodeled home in Cheyenne in December.

He will teach law part time at the University of Wyoming. Nancy Freudenthal will continue her work as a federal judge for Wyoming.

The two-term Democratic chief executive leaves office after eight years with a consistently high performance rating and with a tidy surplus in the state treasury.

Along the way, there were some blowouts, particularly during his first term.

Yet overall he was a successful chief executive with a long list of accomplishments, although he is quick to point out he didn't do it alone.

Before he ran in 2002, the former U.S. attorney for Wyoming took a year off to devote to campaigning with his children while Nancy supported the family by working at her law practice.

That year was invaluable in getting acquainted with the people and giving him insight into the problems peculiar to the cities and towns in Wyoming.

Asked if he could check off everything that was on his initial to-do list as governor, Freudenthal said, "I don't want to sound arrogant, but I got everything."

"I didn't get them all the first year and I took some beatings," he continued. "Because I'm too stupid to know when I'm licked, I got right back up. I've been really lucky."

During his first and final years as governor, his priorities were capital construction and help for cities, towns and counties, balanced with savings..

In his first legislative session as governor, the focus was on saving money to get $4 billion into the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund.

That was accomplished along with several billion dollars in construction, the wildlife trust fund and activation of the cultural trust fund.

He credited state Sens. John Schiffer, R-Kaycee, and John Hines, R-Gillette, for helping get money for the wildlife trust fund.

"You don't do this stuff by yourself," Freudenthal said. "I can recommend it but they have to pass it."

"We had some great opportunities in eight years and we had an idea what to do with them and we acted on them," he added.

First-term squabbles

One big "row" came in his first term when he wanted the travel and tourism division to have its own board.

Freudenthal said he remembered how effective the late Frank Norris had been as tourism director when the agency had a separate board.

Tourism at the time was buried as part of the Wyoming Business Council. Then-state Sen. Grant Larson, R-Jackson, said he would give the free-standing tourism board a try and if it worked he would lead the effort to put the board into state statute.

The new system was successful and Larson kept his word.

Freudenthal's first term also was marked by tension on the state boards between him and then-State Superintendent of Public Instruction Trent Blankenship and then-Treasurer Cynthia Lummis.

Blankenship quit for a job in Alaska and was replaced by Jim McBride while Lummis was elected to the U.S. House. The second term with two different board members went smoother.

Another first-term squabble erupted when Freudenthal wanted James "Bubba" Shivler, an architect and former legislator, to take over as director of the School Facilities Commission. Four commission members resigned in an apparent turf struggle over the right to appoint the director.

Freudenthal named four new members, all Republicans, who went on to chose Shivler.

Shivler's "years were clearly controversial but he brought us back from that brink where we were approving everything individually on the floor without any standards," Freudenthal said.

The right wing

Freudenthal's administration made some progress on children's issues, such as early intervention, child care and children's programs, despite a lot of '"push back" from some legislators, he said.

"We've had a lot of trouble up there with the right wing," he said. "They get angry with me and Nancy because of our support of child care and things like Stride. We view them as investments."

As U.S. attorney, Freudenthal said he read a lot of pre-sentence reports of criminals who got off to bad starts and nobody helped them.

In addition, Freudenthal's year of pre-election campaigning made him aware of the amount of poverty in the state.

"We were doing it door by door and street by street," he said. He mentioned parts of Sheridan and West Laramie as areas with no curbs, gutters or other improvements.

"When you campaign the old-fashioned way, you find out a lot," he said. "It steeled us for the fight for these programs."

Meanwhile, Nancy Freudenthal worked to combat underage drinking and to secure help for single mothers through the Wyoming Women's Foundation and its Climb program.

Freudenthal credited his wife for his promotion of the arts in communities, which culminated in a dollar match program for both the Wyoming Arts Council and local libraries.

The environment

Freudenthal also endured some tension working with environmental groups, particularly on issues involving the regulation of water pumped from coal-bed methane gas wells.

Bob LeResche, who recently stepped down as chairman of the Powder River Basin Resource Council, said Freudenthal could have done more about water pollution in Pavillion and regulation of coal-bed methane water.

He said Powder River Basin members went to Denver to get the federal Environmental Protection Agency to perform water testing in Pavillion.

"The governor is in a place where he could do some good for Wyoming citizens, but he decides to help corporate citizens," LeResche said.

LeResche was a commissioner of natural resources in Alaska and moved to a home near Sheridan about five years ago.

State government officials in Alaska, he said, were able to protect the environment and the surface property owner and increase revenues without chasing out industry, he said.

"It shocked me when I moved here and found how incompetent and uncaring government is," he said.

The 1,400 members of the Wyoming Outdoor Council also faulted Freudenthal and his administration for failing to regulate coal-bed methane water in the Powder River Basin.

At the same time, Outdoor Council Executive Director Laurie Milford said, he was an advocate for special places on public lands, most notably his support for the Wyoming Range Legacy Act. The law removed 1.2 million acres of the Bridger-Teton National Forest from future oil and gas leasing.

Freudenthal was also open to discussions and was willing to work with the Outdoor Council to find balance, Milford said.

He helped convince the federal Bureau of Land Management to expand the big game migration corridors in the Pinedale area and issued an executive order to protect core sage grouse habitat areas from wind power development.

Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, said he worked well with Freudenthal on a number of natural resource issues, including endangered species and brucellosis, although they didn't always agree.

He said the governor was willing to get involved when landowners, including many from southeastern Wyoming who had already signed leases with wind energy companies, were upset when the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission approved new wildlife protection guidelines for wind energy producers in the state.

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The landowners claimed they had been left out of the discussion. Magagna said he worked closely with Freudenthal and his staff to consider the landowners' concerns.

In September, the commission adopted revised rules.

Contact capital bureau reporter Joan Barron at joan.barron@trib.com or 307-632-1244

Compare and contrast

Here's how outgoing Gov. Dave Freudenthal and Gov.-elect Matt Mead weigh in on key issues:

Wolves

Freudenthal: Steadfast on state management of wolves as trophy game animals in northwest Wyoming and as predators that can be shot on sight in the rest of the state.

Mead: A rancher who opposed wolf reintroduction, he will continue the legal battle for the state management of wolves.

National Health Care

Freudenthal: Believes it would be a waste of money for Wyoming to join other states in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

Mead: Has committed to join the other states in the lawsuit. Supports health care reform at the state level.

Transportation

Freudenthal: Recommends appropriations for highway construction and maintenance. Opposes a toll road for trucks on Interstate 80 to generate money to repair the east-west corridor.

Mead: Will give priority to repair and maintenance of roads, bridges and public works. Not convinced a toll road on I-80 is the answer.

Tourism

Freudenthal: Supported an independent board for the state tourism division, as well as adequate financing to keep the tourism industry healthy.

Mead: Would support the tourism agency and also work to create a world-class outdoor recreation event of the caliber of the Boston Marathon or the Ride the Rockies bicycle race.

Wind Energy

Freudenthal: Supports a wind energy tax.

Mead: Favors a graduated excise tax on wind generation to benefit the counties, which need the money to deal with the impact of wind energy development. Says the energy industry needs long-term certainty on taxes to fully invest in the state.

States' Rights

Freudenthal: Had many clashes with the federal government during his eight years in office.

Mead: Pledges to "take up the fight for Wyoming's rights as a state."

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