This morning, Gov.-elect Mark Gordon will take the oath of office and, for the first time in eight years, Wyoming will have a new chief executive.
Inauguration Day is an extensive day of celebration, a jubilant spectacle meant to mark the passage of power from one leader to the next. In the history of Wyoming, Monday will be the first time a Republican governor has ever handed off power to a fellow member of his party, and the first time since the state was admitted to the union that an occupier of an elected statewide office has proceeded on to the governorship.
While a significant moment in the life of Gordon, the day is also meant as a celebration for all of Wyoming, and as such is treated with an attention to detail merited for an event that will be watched across the state.
That’s where Dave Picard, a veteran of campaigns at both the state and federal level, comes in.
A fourth-generation Wyomingite, Picard has a reverence for Wyoming history few in the state’s political scene can claim. Throughout his career, he’s witnessed the inauguration of nearly a half-dozen governors. On occasion, he’s put inaugurations together himself – most notably serving on the 2000 Presidential Inaugural Committee for the Bush-Cheney White House.
Symbolically for a new governor, the inauguration is an opportunity to set the tone for the rest of his administration and to make a statement of his values. For Gordon, Picard said, the main theme will center around inclusivity and a unifying of the state around a shared spirit and identity. Gordon, coming from an agricultural background, requested that ethic be depicted in the state’s ceremonies as much as possible and, befitting a former history major, the rich background of the state will play a prominent role as well.
“It’s a grand opportunity to showcase all of Wyoming,” said Picard.
The logistics of the event are complex and involved, with nine separate committees organized to plan everything, from the parade to the gala held at the end of the night all the way to the facilities that will be commissioned to house the day’s festivities.
In most of Wyoming’s history, the oath of office has always been conducted in the House Chamber at the Capitol – which is currently closed. In 2003, attendance numbers merited a larger space, and Dave Freudenthal’s incoming administration moved the oath of office to the Emerson Building, nearby on Capitol Avenue. They outgrew that one, and in 2007, Freudenthal was sworn in at the Cheyenne Civic Center, where the inauguration has been held ever since.
However, the public reception – which has always been held in the rotunda – will be held at the Barrett Building this year, which houses the state archives and the state museum: which in itself presents the potential for something unique.
“It gives us a great opportunity to showcase the history of Wyoming,” Picard said.
Historically, Gordon will also have to deal with something of an anomaly: having to give his tone-setting speech just days before his State of the State address, the first time that has happened in 28 years. However, this trick of the calendar presents an interesting parallel to the last person who had to grapple with this conundrum – Gov. Mike Sullivan — who entered office in 1987 facing a tussle with a recent economic downturn. (Sound familiar?)
“The tone for his 1987 gubernatorial address was setting a new course in an economic downturn – imagine that – and a lot of talking about what he’s done and what he’s going to do,” said Picard. “If my calculations are correct, (Gordon) has 48 hours between these two speeches. Same audiences, but different in respect to what the purpose of the event is. One day is about celebration, two days later, it’s about getting down to business.”
Gordon, who is writing his own speeches for both events, declined to go too deeply into the specifics of what he planned to touch on Monday. Thematically, he told the Star-Tribune that his first speech will encompass the broad themes about where Wyoming is going and what he wants to set up to help move the state forward, leaving the specifics to the State of the State. Most of all, he said he wants to capture a sense of optimism about the future, harkening back to the frontier origins of Wyoming in setting a new course forward.
“Wyoming is such a wonderful place, and it has so many opportunities,” said Gordon. “One of the things I want to get us out of the habit of is only talking about our problems, how we don’t have a workforce. And one of the things I want to stand up for this session is this career and technical education scholarship, and to engage the businesses that are going to hire these kids. I want to talk about how we’re bootstrapping ourselves; it’s a time-honored Wyoming tradition, and what this state was built by: people who came here and saw opportunity.”
The speech will also have a personal touch, befitting his campaign trail ethic of Scottish frugality he inherited from his ancestors.
He left it open to interpretation, however, whether that meant he planned on wearing his great-grandfather’s kilt on the podium.
“Which I have,” he said.
Did you see this? Wyoming’s Department of Education has a new website to make it easier to view their federally-mandated performance reviews. You can browse around here by school or by district.
HEADS-UP: The Legislature kicks off this week and, to reflect that, the newsletter’s format will be changing slightly. We’ll be temporarily suspending the round-up sections (Around Wyoming, Wyoming Politics) and will be placing a heavier emphasis on the calendar sections, recapping what happened during the week and giving you an idea of the week ahead. We will be keeping the Eye on Washington intact since, as you may have noticed, Congress is back in session.
Eye On Washington
Sen. John Barrasso was sworn into office to begin his third term as Wyoming’s junior senator.
Rep. Liz Cheney had a busy week on the hill, setting the tone for House Republicans heading into the 116th Congress with several barbs toward Democrats in a speech nominating Rep. Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House. This led to a Twitter spat with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, which may or may not have been instigated by CNN anchor Jake Tapper.
The Week Ahead
Monday: Treasurer Mark Gordon is sworn-in as the 33rd governor of Wyoming at 10:30 a.m. in Cheyenne – event is by invitation only. A public reception will follow at the State Museum at 11:30 a.m.
Tuesday: The Wyoming State Legislature convenes for the first meeting of the 2019 General Session at 12 p.m. in Cheyenne. A lengthy slate of special invitation-only receptions involving various lobbyist groups also begin this week, a full list of which can be found here.
Wednesday: Joint Committee on Appropriations meets at 8 a.m. A joint session of the House and Senate convenes at 10 a.m.
Want an event listed here? <&underline>Email me</&underline> with the date, time and place!
Proposal would strip local zoning authority over private schools: Allie Gross with the Jackson Hole News & Guide wrote a dispatch of a new bill that would strip local control from local governments looking to have a say in where private school buildings can be built.
The bill – which lacks a sponsor from Teton County – comes around the same time as a dispute between county officials and a private school bankrolled by former gubernatorial candidate Foster Friess, a lobbyist for whom was quoted in a WyoFile story saying they would be working to gain legislative support for the proposal. (I wrote a quick Twitter thread – including the WyoFile story – here.)
Via Gross: “During the first week the Legislature meets, the Classical Academy is inviting legislators to a “Jackson Hole Classical Academy Legislative Dinner” in Cheyenne. Hosts are listed as former Teton County Rep. Clarene Law, Steve and Polly Friess, who run the school, and two state senators sponsoring the bill, (Sen. Eli) Bebout and (Sen. Hank) Coe.” (via The Jackson Hole News & Guide)
Court upholds Wyoming residents’ right to inspect public documents free of charge: “The small claims court in Newcastle upheld the public’s right to inspect public documents without charge when the court ruled in favor of Wayne Chittim on Dec. 5.” (via the Newcastle News Letter Journal, reprinted on Trib.com)
County pulls money from reserves to pay large health insurance claim: “An unidentified Park County employee is making a large health insurance claim the county will likely be on the hook for paying. The announcement came from Park County Clerk Colleen Renner at a commissioner meeting Dec. 18. The commissioners approved transferring $750,000 out of county reserves into the insurance fund for the claim dispersal.” (via the Cody Enterprise)
Sweetwater County School District considers a four-day school week: Every two years, the Sweetwater School District’s committee meets to select the district calendar for the following two school years. The alternatives the district is looking at include the traditional five-day week calendar it currently follows or a four-day week. The option was first considered in 2016 as a way to cut costs to the district. (via the Rock Springs Rocket-Miner)
Mayor wants investigation into CenturyLink outage: “Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr is demanding answers from CenturyLink following internet service outages here and across the country this week. In a pair of tweets Saturday night, Orr said she would ask the Wyoming Public Service Commission to investigate the two-day lapse in service, and scolded the company for failing to get in touch with her once trouble started Thursday.” (via the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle)
White nationalist group posts signs in northern Colorado, Cheyenne: “Holiday greeting signs posted on utility poles by the nationalist organization Identify Evropa sometime around Christmas violate a local ordinance, according to police. However, members of the Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group maintain that hanging the literature is within their constitutional rights.” (via The Greeley Tribune)
The High Country News did a great analysis of “news deserts” in the western United States: The magazine notes that since 2004, Wyoming has lost four papers, all weeklies. In that same time, newspaper print circulation has plunged 34 percent, from 240,000 to 150,000. (via The High Country News)
Have any tips or suggestions to make this newsletter better? Let me know! Call me at 307-266-0634, email me at <&underline>email@example.com</&underline> or follow me on Twitter, <&underline>@IAmNickReynolds</&underline>