In his first news conference as governor-elect last Wednesday, Wyoming treasurer Mark Gordon outlined his ambitions for the first year of his administration, his immediate plans for the office and how he hopes to set the tone for his agenda in Cheyenne.
Less than 24 hours after a landslide 40-point victory in last week’s election, Gordon, a Republican, fielded questions from reporters across the state on everything from whether he was willing to expand Medicaid (he isn’t), and his opposition to tax increases to improving transparency in the state’s executive branch and his plans to address concerns with the state budget.
The defining issues of this year’s election cycle — addressing anticipated funding shortfalls, improving opportunities for that state’s young people, diversifying Wyoming’s economy and tackling the state’s concerns with rising healthcare costs — largely dominated the nearly 40-minute phone call, with Gordon largely revisiting a number of ideas and concepts he presented on the campaign trail.
After an election night where three largely conservative electorates in Nebraska, Idaho and Utah opted for Medicaid expansion in their states, Gordon was steadfast in the vision he had presented in previous interviews and debates, outlining the “opportunities” offered to a small state like Wyoming to try something new, separate from the federal system. He discussed his ideas for setting spending guidelines on the state’s long-untapped rainy day fund as a means to stabilize Wyoming’s budget while also discussing a platform to improve revenues that included a sustained investment strategy and alternative means to fund education, including a separate investment fund to help finance programs for technical education programs.
Gordon also discussed how best to support the state’s legacy industries, finding ways to maintain the viability of the drilling and mining industries in a future rife with regulatory uncertainty.
“I don’t think it happens within a year, but we need to find how to set a course for a fiscally sustainable future,” he said. “That I think is something I want to make a hallmark of my time as governor, finding ways to better set our priorities and how to make sure we match our expenditures with our revenues. I think there are ways to grow our economy.”
“I don’t mean to diversify away from minerals,” he added. “But also, to find ways to bring other businesses to Wyoming so that we can grow our revenue streams as well. We obviously have issues with funding education and healthcare, and again, looking at ways to measure progress in my administration, it’s going to be on the progress we’ve made on those three fronts.”
Some of these strategies became clear when Gordon was questioned about ways his administration will help to assist the state’s small producers, both in engaging in international markets and in supporting farmers through expanding services in the state’s community college system — adding that he would be looking at ways to roll out a model similar to that seen in other states. He also mentioned discussions he had recently with former Republican hopeful for governor Sam Galeotos to find ways to help improve prospects for the state’s tech sector, hinting the millionaire businessman would potentially have a role in crafting various initiatives to assist the industry’s growth in the state.
But, largest of all, Gordon talked about the ways his administration would set itself apart from that of his predecessor, Gov. Matt Mead, whose policies many have speculated would be largely continued under Gordon.
“I think my administration will have a very different cut on how we stand up our agencies,” said Gordon. “I do feel sort of awkward because you’re asking me to draw contrast between me and what Gov. Mead has done. We have an incredibly bright future, but there are things we can do better.”
His first priority, Gordon said, would be on improving the state’s transparency efforts, helping to connect the public closer to the budget process and maintaining an open relationship with the press. Gordon also fleshed out his vision for state government as a facilitator of municipal-level success, saying he sees the state as most effective in helping communities develop their economies and resolving their infrastructure issues on their own, rather than having the state do it for them: “focusing down” rather than building out, he said.
The most visible transformations to come in Wyoming might begin with its bureaucracy, with Gordon mentioning that from day one, he would be undertaking a top-down review of the state’s 53 different agencies to identify redundancies and “streamline” their functions. While some issues — particularly on meeting school funding needs — lacked certain specifics, he expressed a willingness to work with the incoming legislature in finding ways to improve revenues, rein in budgets and control costs, all with a key campaign promise in mind:
No new taxes.
“If the legislature does come up with something, I will certainly look at it,” he told a reporter after a question of tax reform, which stood as one of the key battle lines of the governor’s race. “But I think there’s a lot we can do before we start talking about raising taxes.”