By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
A meeting between protesters demanding an end to restrictions on businesses in Wyoming and Gov. Mark Gordon on Monday was by turns confrontational and civil as the protesters shouted chants at the Republican and later thanked him for his time.
Gordon appeared unexpectedly at Cheyenne’s Rally for the Choice to Work, engaging the 50 or so protesters who gathered in front of the Capitol to express frustration over the state’s health orders issued to slow the spread of coronavirus.
The protest was the third held in Wyoming to urge the state to lift the restrictions on schools and businesses that were put in place in March to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Gordon and Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s public health officer, issued one order closing schools and businesses where more than 10 people are likely to gather, one prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people and one closing businesses that offer personal services, such as hair salons and tattoo parlors. Gordon later issued an order for all out-of-state visitors to self-quarantine for 14 days after arriving in Wyoming.
The crowd started to gather more than an hour before the rally began at noon Monday, but there was no expectation that Gordon would come out to address the gathering or even respond to questions from the crowd.
As the governor descended the stairs of the Capitol to speak, protesters shouted various versions of their message: “Reopen Wyoming now.”
After Gordon offered a prayer for the group, he was peppered with questions from the protesters, turning the rally into an impromptu question-and-answer session.
Many of the people who questioned Gordon were angry, with other rally attendees having to quiet them in order for Gordon to respond. A number of times, it was difficult to hear Gordon over rally participants yelling as he spoke.
The governor mentioned he’d just come from a meeting with other officials about when to begin loosening restrictions on gatherings, essentially allowing the state to “get back to normal.”
The crowd members began to chant “today,” but Gordon noted that he was still unsure when he would lift the statewide restrictions, which he said appear to have been successful in limiting the spread of coronavirus.
“I relied on the great people of Wyoming who I knew would do the right thing and I am looking at steps to reopen businesses and do it safely,” he said. “You will see that.”
This wasn’t the answer many in the crowd wanted and they made their displeasure known.
“If we choose to go back to work and expose ourselves, isn’t that our choice?” one woman asked.
Others argued that by closing schools and some businesses, the governor put children’s lives and the state’s economy at risk.
“You just destroyed the future of every kid growing up here,” one man yelled. “You just added $5 trillion dollars to an unsustainable debt. They are not going to survive. There are businesses that are not going to reopen. They will not. And that’s on you.”
“The only food [numerous] children get are in school and they get neglected at home,” yelled another. “How many of those children are going to die because of this shutdown? The numbers are going to outweigh whatever the stupid virus is.”
Gordon, who remained even-tempered during the rally, pointed out he was one of the few governors to avoid enacting a stay-at-home order, something the crowd agreed with and cheered him for.
“We have kept people working in this state,” Gordon said using a bullhorn. “Every state around us with the exception of Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota have put in place shelter-in-place ordinances. I did not do that.”
But ultimately, the attitude of most of the rally members was of frustration at the lack of a firm date for the lifting of the restrictions.
One man did thank Gordon for coming out and speaking with the crowd, however.
“Not every governor in this country would choose to respond to us, but you did, so thank you for that,” he called to the governor.
In response, Gordon thanked the rally attendees for their efforts to adhere to the public safety orders.
“Every one of you have done the right thing and that’s why we have the lowest number of deaths and the fewest cases,” Gordon responded. “But we are having real difficulty in getting testing supplies and personal protection equipment. When we go back to work, we want to make sure we can continue to work.”