By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
Gov. Mark Gordon is seeking a second term as the state’s top elected official because he wants to build on the initiatives he launched in his first term, he said Tuesday.
Gordon, who announced his re-election bid in Buffalo on Monday, told Cowboy State Daily that despite the double challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and plummeting state income he faced while serving his first term, he is looking forward to continuing his work for four more years.
“We knew this was going to be a tough time for Wyoming even before COVID came,” he said. “Certainly, both Jenny and I feel strongly that our work isn’t done. It got delayed a little bit, and we knew it was going to take a little bit of time.”
A top priority for Gordon if he is reelected will be to continue work on his Wyoming Innovation Partnership, a program launched in November aimed at having the state’s higher education institutions work with the Wyoming Business Council to create educational programs that will prepare students for future jobs in the state.
“Instead of just reacting to what businesses are bringing to Wyoming, we can anticipate what technologies are going to look like so we can start to pull in more industries and help the industries that are already located here,” he said. “The WIP initiative is something we will push as hard and as fast as we can.”
An important part of the initiative will be judging how many workers are staying in Wyoming and how many new businesses are being lured to the state, Gordon said.
His administration will also focus on the “Reimagining and Innovating the Delivery of Education” program he launched early in 2021 aimed at improving the delivery of education to Wyoming’s students.
“Let’s re-imagine how we deliver education and start on the ground with parents and the communities and the industries that are going to rely on the kids that are coming out of school,” he said. “Let’s wipe the blackboard clean and talk about what’s important for education and … we’ll start talking about are there ways we can redesign the program so it works better, costs less and make sure we get the great teachers we need.”
The end of Gordon’s first term was marked with challenges as he was forced, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, to make cuts of about $250 million in state spending to adjust to steep declines in tax income from the state’s oil and natural gas industry caused by an industry slump. He went on to recommend further cuts of $500 million in the state’s next biennium budget.
The situation proved the state needs to find a way to break away from its dependence on oil and gas, he said.
“I think it gave us an impetus,” he said. “I’d also say anybody who depends as much as we do on those industries and isn’t prepared to take the volatility associated with them has got to recognize we have to diversify our income.”
The pandemic also pointed out the need for the state’s livestock producers to have access to more meat packers, Gordon said, as access to markets was stymied by COVID outbreaks at meat packing plants.
The state has started its work to encourage the development of smaller local packers, Gordon said.
“Maybe we can make a little bit of a dent for producers, and that will mean a lot for our agriculture industry,” he said.
He added that he also expects the state’s innovations in carbon sequestration may also be used to benefit the state’s crops while helping address climate change.
Gordon also dealt with the health concerns raised by the coronavirus pandemic without issuing a “stay-at-home” order, something he said he was very proud of.
However, he also admitted that some people were unhappy with the mask mandates and business restrictions his office issued during the pandemic.
“We always respect people’s point of view,” he said. “People got to express their view, and I certainly heard it. But growing up where I did in Kaycee, we always respected one another’s point of view and sometimes those were pretty harshly expressed. I’m glad I grew up where I did. I didn’t take it personally.”
As the campaign progresses, Gordon said he hopes people recognize the importance of Wyoming values.
“My hope for this election season is that Wyoming people realize we can do more together than we can apart,” he said. “Those core values of respecting one’s individual liberties, taking responsibility for our actions, how that will affect the neighbors, making sure our government is closest to the people, always supporting the military … those are time-honored fundamental principles that have been core to Wyoming. This election ought to be about making sure we continue to support and grow those values.”