When Gov. Mark Gordon handed down the first veto of his administration earlier this year – more than two dozen line-item rejections in the Legislature’s supplemental budget – some in Wyoming’s temporary capitol compared it to a town’s new sheriff making himself known for the first time.
Two weeks ago in Cheyenne, the governor pulled out his veto pen once again, offering with the bills he either declined – or refused to sign – letters explaining the reasons for his actions.
Within those letters, there was a pattern hinting that the governor has a specific vision for how he sees the use of executive power. Gordon refused to sign Senate File 49, stating his belief that a government that serves the people best is the one that governs least. In his refusal to sign a bill that would have created a capital construction oversight clause for the Legislature, he highlighted the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches in his reasoning for allowing the “unnecessary” and “revisionist” law to pass.
In his second statewide news conference since taking office last Thursday, Gordon declined to say whether or not he had a stronger, or more stringent, view of executive power than past administrations.
“I wouldn’t want to characterize other administrations, but what I will say is I have a very strong view on what the executive branch’s function is relative to the legislative branch and the judiciary, and I try to be coherent and consistent in the way I have addressed those issues,” he explained. “I will continue to do that and ensure there is a good definition around the roles of say, the State Board of Land Commissioners, the State Board of Loans and Investments, the State Building Commission … these are all executive branch functions. I think it’s fine we talk with the Legislature, and we work back and forth, but there is a separation and I’ve been very clear about maintaining that separation.”
But oh, what could have been…
While the governor touched on numerous accomplishments this session – new blockchain legislation and several successful workforce development bills among them – Gordon did express some disappointment at a number of pieces of failed legislation, particularly the death of several bills intended to address the state’s significant gender wage gap.
“I feel this is very much a process,” Gordon said. “It’s something I feel very strongly about, I look at it – the first bill we passed was in recognition of women’s suffrage, and if you remember from my State of the State speech, I noted it was important that we not only celebrate that, we do some positive steps toward making sure that we make that a reality. I will continue to push for that. The Legislature has their own agenda, but I feel that we have a good working relationship and I have addressed this by saying we need to continue to make sure Wyoming is a leader in all respects. We’ll see what the Legislature does.”
The governor touched on several other disappointments as well, including failing to find ways to address the state’s budget gap and a lack of funding for invasive species management — a personal priority of his in his January supplemental budget recommendations.
The Week Ahead
Monday: First Lady Jennie Gordon to participate in Friday Food Bag Foundation event in Cheyenne.
Have an event you’d like highlighted here? Email me with the date, time and place!
Jackson Hole News And Guide reporter Allie Gross wrote an interesting follow-up this week about the Jackson Hole Classical Academy – a private school in Teton County at the center of a heated debate around a bill to usurp local control of private schools – and an interesting oversight in the law regarding private schools: the fact that while they are to be treated the same as public schools, nobody is sure exactly how to regulate them.
“The new law allows the private school to bypass county zoning rules as long as the private school is certified by its own professional engineer or architect of record ‘as being substantially similar’ to siting and building standards required of public schools,” the story reads.
“Yet it remains unclear what ‘substantially’ conforming to state guidelines means or what agency, if any, will oversee the construction.”
In a press conference with Gordon last Thursday, Gross asked a follow-up to that question, which was spurred by a bill he let pass into law without his signature.
“Not being an attorney, I think you raise a very good question, and one I will take up with our Attorney General,” Gordon said. “My sense is the state probably has some marginal responsibility there.”
Wyoming governor wants state to take ‘realistic’ look at its energy dependent tax system: Wyoming needs to be “realistic and mature” about its reliance on mineral money that could, as seen recently in the case of coal, drop significantly, Gordon said at a Thursday press conference. (via the Casper Star-Tribune)
Man who set fire to Albany County GOP headquarters sentenced: The 27-year-old who set fire to the Albany County Republican Party headquarters in September was sentenced to 44 months in prison Monday. (via The Laramie Boomerang)
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman had an article in the nation’s paper of record last week declaring that “nobody knows” how to reverse the decline of the nation’s rural communities. This piece really slaked my thirst for yet another opinion piece written about “the heartland,” offering the same degree of insight shown in a travel column the paper recently published where the author “accidentally” ended up spending time in places other than Cheyenne and Laramie on their travels to the state. (Highlight: a “travel writer” making the mistake of flying into Casper and driving down into Cheyenne, rather than just coming up from Denver.)
While not directly pertaining to Wyoming, there is a trove of great writing about what it actually takes to empower rural communities out there that Mr. Krugman may have missed in the past few weeks. A great piece in The American Conservative last month very effectively broke down the federal impasse that exists between both political parties in supporting policies that have helped to gut America’s agriculture industry over the past few decades. On the ground, Governing Magazine highlighted a new report from the National Governor’s Association on the impact a state’s investment in the arts can have on its economy, which I wrote about as it pertains to Wyoming for the Star-Tribune this past week.
First Wyoming public records request to trigger new fee leads to withdrawal: “Due to the expense of new fees in Wyoming, a landowner’s group has walked back a public records request that had been made to Wyoming environmental regulators regarding the Jim Bridger coal-fired power plant.” (via the Casper Star-Tribune)
Community colleges take next steps to offer four-year degrees: The state of Wyoming has officially authorized its seven community colleges to offer Bachelor of Applied Science degrees. It’s the fruit of a hard-fought battle in the Legislature over Senate File 111. (via the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle)
Supreme Court gets first arguments in UW gun case: An update on the proceedings of the constitutionality of firearm restrictions on the University of Wyoming campus. (via the Laramie Boomerang)
Cheyenne’s only recycling provider asks city to pay more amid market instability: Cheyenne’s lone major recycling facility is asking the city to double its per-ton fee to combat profits lost by international policy changes. (via the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle)
President Donald Trump was the focus of widespread criticism last week for disparaging deceased United States Senator John McCain, saying he was “not a fan” of the Vietnam war hero last week for his 2017 ‘no’ vote to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act – another slight toward one of the most public advocates for American prisoners of war in the Vietnam era.
Prominent Republicans in the Senate – including majority leader Mitch McConnell – quickly released statements in support of McCain’s legacy, as close to a rebuke of the president as can be seen in today’s Republican Party under the Trump administration.
However Wyoming Senator John Barrasso – a close Trump ally who traveled to Vietnam with McCain in 2017 to visit the site where McCain was imprisoned and tortured for five-and-a-half years – did not issue a statement until Thursday afternoon, when asked for one by the Star-Tribune.
“John McCain was a man of the highest character, courage and credibility,” said Barrasso. “No one in the Senate agreed with him 100 percent of the time, but every one of us respected him and the strength of his convictions. He was an American hero, and his memory and family deserve nothing but the highest respect.”
This was not the first shot fired in the one-sided feud: Trump previously downplayed the senator’s time interred behind enemy lines, saying in 2015 “he’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”
Barrasso, Sen. Mike Enzi and Rep. Liz Cheney released statements condemning a federal judge’s decision halting new oil and gas drilling on 500 square miles of public land in Wyoming.
“This short-sighted decision by a judge in Washington, D.C. will not only damage Wyoming’s workforce and economy, it also sets a dangerous precedent for the future,” Enzi said. “Leasing public lands is vital for our continued efforts to keep energy prices low and create energy independence for the nation. Instead of trying to manipulate our judicial system to stop energy development, we should be focused on innovative technological solutions to help ensure our energy development is affordable, reliable and cleaner.”
Cheney co-sponsored two bills, including H.R. 1327, which would permanently authorize the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act, and H.R. 1796, which would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to modify the qualifying advanced coal project credit.