The Roundup: A Conversation With Governor Mark Gordon

Gov. Mark Gordon joins Wendy Corr to discuss this year's budget session, how politics have changed, growing up in Wyoming, family life, and more on this week’s edition of “The Roundup.”

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Wendy Corr

February 24, 202420 min read

Mix Collage 24 Feb 2024 09 06 AM 6885
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A Conversation With Governor Mark Gordon

Wendy Corr:

Well, hello there, folks, and welcome to The Roundup. We're a Cowboy State Daily podcast, I'm your host, Wendy Corr. And I am so privileged today to talk to the Governor of the State of Wyoming, and to hear directly from him, talk to him. 

But we're not going to talk about all the really heavy policy stuff, because that's not what The Roundup is about. We're not going to barrage the governor with all of these heavy questions. We're going to talk about the fun stuff. We're going to talk about life. We're going to talk about his love for Wyoming. We're going to talk about his history here, his family roots. And of course, we do have to talk about some, you know, ‘government’ things, but we're going to talk, really, about stuff that we all want answers to. 

So I want to say good morning, Governor Mark Gordon, it's so good to see you!

Gov. Gordon:

Wendy, it is so good to see you. We've known each other for a long, long time, back to Buffalo, and it is just wonderful. So, it's good to see you as well. 

Wendy Corr:

Well, we are so glad to have you on The Roundup today. And it’s good to have this conversation with someone that I’ve interviewed for radio over in Cody and things like that, but today we're going to talk about where you are now, and also where you've been. 

So you are well into your second term, and you have seen politics change so much, I'm sure, from the time that you first got to Cheyenne in 2012, to where you are now, 12 years later.

Tell me a little bit about your perception of how Cheyenne feels now, compared to when you first arrived. 

Gov. Gordon:

Wendy, I don't know if it's a reflection of the national politics, in the way that's evolved over time. But you know, I go back to remembering when the Hitching Post was here - and there would be pretty strong arguments in the legislature, and pretty strident things said, but in the evening, people would go back and they'd go to the Hitching Post bar, have dinner together and they'd kind of settle things. And I can remember people talking about having such an evening, that they finally remembered they were good friends. 

Now, this latest session really feels a little bit, kind of like what we see in national politics now. The division, no compromise, you know, it's my way or the highway, the only way I win is if you lose. And that's really unfortunate. It's not the Wyoming way, it's not the Wyoming I remember, and certainly since 2012, that has become much more, I guess strong, that sort of partisanship. And we're so much in the Republican Party, it's now divided right down the middle in the Republican Party.

Wendy Corr:

Well, talking about the Wyoming you remember, though - the Wyoming you remember is wide open spaces of your ranch in Kaycee. That's the Wyoming you remember. And the people that you remember - the Merlin ranch in Kaycee, has been in your family since the late 40s, right?

Gov. Gordon:

Actually, I grew up on the Gordon ranch. That's the one that's in Kaycee, west of Kaycee. My folks got there in 1947. Dad came out from a farm in Massachusetts in 1932 and started rodeoing, and Clayton Danks, then-sheriff of Fremont County, gave him his first beer when he won the calf roping. He was 16 years old at the time. And he went on to rodeo quite a bit, and then worked on several ranches around there. 

He was really good friends with a guy named Charlie Moore. Charlie and Marian, I never knew my grandparents, but Charlie and Marian kind of served in that role. And of course, the Moores had started the first trading post on the reservation and all of that.

In rodeo, dad had broken his knee, and so he wasn't able to serve, but he drove an ambulance all during World War II. And when he came back to New York one time, he met my mother at a dance, and three months later they were married. And then he moved her, in 1947, out to the Gordon ranch. 

I can remember the two stories that they had were that were funny - one was, they were very proud of the ranch house, when they sold the ranch, and said it's got running water. So my mom went up in the attic, and there was a stock tank up there. And there was a pack rat floating around in the stock tank. So you know, you think about the way things were, but that that's the ranch I grew up on. 

And then, you know, kind of like ranch families often do, dad and I had disagreements about, you know, what to do, what cows to have, and how to run the place. And during the ‘80s, if you remember, production credit associations had failed. And I was able to pick up a ranch in Buffalo and try out some of the stuff I wanted to, that worked pretty well, because Dad and I ended up really good friends at the end. 

But in that process, I also ended up working for Apache Oil. Raymond Plank hired me, and that helped get us a little bit of a start. 

Wendy Corr:

That's wonderful. Your roots are so deep into Wyoming, that's so much more than a lot of people can say who live here in Wyoming. 

And so you've seen the changes, and the way that ranching has evolved, and even the oil industry has evolved in Wyoming. And I think that's probably one of the reasons why you have such real strong opinions about the energy industry. You've lived it.

Gov. Gordon:

Oh, you bet, Wendy. And, you know, Raymond Plank started an independent oil company, he was the first person to say, “Enron's a bunch of crooks.” He had kind of a colorful mouth to him. And I remember one call he had, one investor’s call, and he said, “I've got a four letter word for Enron.” And everybody went, “Oh no, oh, no, what's he going to say?” And he said, “Jail. That's what it is, jail, J.A.I.L., that's where they need to go.” (laughing)

And, you know, he held together during the 80s, that was a really tough time in Wyoming. But it was a time that my - you know, I was married before, my Sally, my dear first wife was hit on a road one day, and didn't make it. But we had built a nice little business, and we could get good businesses started. And that's always where I've wanted to see Wyoming go, it's our small businesses. There's good big businesses as well, but we want them to get started and then they can grow. And that's been, I guess, a thing I've wanted to see all my time.

Wendy Corr:

You are so proud of your family and your beautiful wife, Jenny, who is just a lovely lady, and your children, you are very much family oriented in that way. And Jenny has been very involved in her own projects and her own causes, when you've been there in Cheyenne. Tell us a little bit about Jenny and your partnership, because you guys have to work together.

Gov. Gordon:

Well, it's true. You know, after Sally passed away, I had two little girls, four and two, and raised them. You know, Wendy, people sent me all these books about how men couldn't handle it, and so on and so forth. And I said, “Well, nuts with that. I'm gonna make sure this works.” But Jenny was working at the hospital at the time as a med tech, and she had two boys and had been recently divorced. And so we kind of went out on a couple of dates - I've never been more scared in my life. And our girls and our boys got together, and it really made a wonderful family. 

Jenny worked for a while at the hospital while I was on the ranch, and then when I got appointed to treasurer, she kind of had to step up and take on the ranch role. She never was raised ranching, but certainly has adopted it, and did just a fabulous job. And I tell the story over and over again, that really, when she took over, the ranch started to make money. (laughing) There's a lot of reasons for that, but it's a nice story. 

In any event, Jenny, when she came down to be First Lady, I don't think it was her first choice. And people kept saying, “Well, what's your initiative going to be? What are you going to do?” And she said, “You know, I'm going to take my time, I'm going to figure out if there's something I can do to be helpful.”

Her dad was a hobo and rode the rails, would tell you these wonderful stories - and scary stories too. 

But he worked on Grand Coulee Dam, he joined the Navy, went on a plane from one island to another to see a brother he hadn't seen for years. He was afraid of being AWOL, ended up joining the Army, ended up in the Army Air Corps, which became the Air Force, and he finally retired as a senior master sergeant from the Air Force, having married an Austrian war bride, Gertrude. 

And there are 10 kids in that family, and I have to say, every single one of those kids has a college degree, and every single one of those kids earned it. They didn't go with any family money, there was very little. But when they used to come vacationing out to Wyoming, they would go up to the Bighorns, and they would be on the forest, and that was their month-long deal. And then they'd spend the last weekend in Thermop, and then head back to, they were at Offutt (Air Force Base in Nebraska) at the time. 

And so, you know, Jenny has a real independent nature, very strong family. But that food insecurity that her mother felt at the end of the war, where you know, “schmaltz” was bacon grease, that's the calories they had, they had to eat bacon grease, because there was nothing else - and her dad, obviously having gone through those tough times in the 30s. So food insecurity was one of her big deals, and she said, “Look, I'm not wanting to stand up something that's going to compete with other efforts, I want to make sure that I stand up something that's going to help those other efforts.” And then you look at it, food from the farm and ranch, food from the field, grow a little extra, just all these programs - food from the fair, you know, all of these programs are standing up.

And people are wanting to help, they want to help those that are less fortunate. And she's always maintained it independently, there's no government support. And I think she wants to try to stand it up to last beyond us, which is a great thing.

Wendy Corr:

It really is a great thing. Governor Gordon, tell me a little bit about how… 

Gov. Gordon:

Oh, you can call me Mark, Wendy. (laughing)

Wendy Corr:

Can I call you Mark? (laughing) Good, because I keep slipping. Mark, tell us a little bit about how you are seeing things differently from your first term to your second term, since you're well into your second term. What have you done differently this term? How have you reacted to things differently? What are your initiatives that are different in the second term, from your first term?

Gov. Gordon:

Wendy, I think they’ve built on the first term. When I managed to become governor, I knew we had to move quickly to make sure that Wyoming could address the challenges that we're seeing. 

I knew that we were going to have a lot of pressure on our traditional industries. We needed to make sure that there was a path forward for coal, oil and gas. We needed to figure out a way to rejuvenate uranium. Nuclear power was a big part of it. We knew that we could have wind, because everybody in Wyoming knows how much wind we have. We knew we had those opportunities. 

But unlike, perhaps, some of my predecessors, who constantly, it seemed to me, were hoping for that big thing that would come to Wyoming and employ all of our people - what I was really emphasizing as we started this was, how do we get small businesses to start? Because if we get a lot of small businesses, a few of them may fail. And that's a bad thing, but it's also not a horrendous thing, because if there's five or six employees, it's hard for them, but they can recover. It's not like you're taking the whole economy of a town down. And that's kind of the difference. 

Now, what we've seen is, we've seen tremendous diversification. Not as much as we might want to see, but we've seen real expansion in tourism, real expansion in advanced manufacturing. We've seen new opportunities for agriculture, and there's a lot more that we can look at there. We've seen, really the revolution of the shale industry, and being able to do horizontal drilling and better fracking and all of that. With enhanced oil recovery, which is a carbon, co2, carbon dioxide flood, we can recover so much more of the hydrocarbons. So Wyoming really is beginning to diversify.

I feel very strongly, two things that I think really have come to fruition that I'm very excited about - one is at the post-secondary level, our community colleges and our university, I wanted to see them really engage with our businesses, with the backing of the state, to really not only empower a workforce to be able to meet the needs of new industry, but also to attract a lot of new industry and expansion of existing industry. And that seems to be working. 

The WIP Initiative (Wyoming Innovation Partnership) was really trying to align all of these, not necessarily under one heading, but to work together to cooperate. And then what we're seeing, and up in Cody is a great example, we wanted to look - and I'd served on the school board, my kids went through school there in Buffalo, being able to make sure that our secondary school and our middle school and our elementary school and our pre-K, that all of those were aligned in a way that made education so much more meaningful, and it helped kids engage. If they wanted to go on to, you know, a career and technical career, we needed to be able to provide them that opportunity while they're in high school. If they were interested in going on to higher education, we needed to be able to use the tools that we had in the toolbox to help them get there, and make their time at university that much less expensive. Those things are happening in a big way, and I'm really excited about those.

Wendy Corr:

That's awesome. And I love the fact that you have had all of those steps - before you reach the chair that you're at, the governorship there, you have been a school board member, and you've been a rancher and you've worked for the energy industry. So you've got all this experience that you have brought to the table here. 

And so what do you see for the next two years? You’ve got two years left? What are you going to what are you going to do with this time? 

Gov. Gordon:

Well, three years.

Wendy Corr:

Yeah, that's true. That's true. Yes.

Gov. Gordon:

Yeah. Well, I want to see us continue to expand and grow. This is a pivotal time, in many respects, I think, for our energy industry. I don't want to get too political, but this administration has really put a damper on our ability to expand that industry, it's not done a good job of issuing permits, it's made regulations much more difficult. My emphasis has been to push back on those - not by calling them idiots, but by saying, “Look, we can do it.” Wyoming has proven that we can do it better, we do a better job with the environment, we're leaders on migration corridors, we're leaders on sage grouse. We were the first to come up with good methane rules. These were all things that were developed in Wyoming, give us running room, and we can make a difference.

To be able to, and to hear now that people are saying, “You know, we know that we can't give up coal. Because we need to have that dependable, reliable, dispatchable power.” We need it to be burned cleaner, that's technology we’ll advance. A lot of the plants that we have in Wyoming are nearing their end of life, we need people to reinvest in those and be able to bring those back on. 

But I think, what I'm worried about is, if we falter in this effort now, if we lose our conviction, that Wyoming continues to be a leader, a lot of that can and will go to places like North Dakota, that are a little bit ahead of us. Places like Louisiana and Texas, that are also a little bit ahead of us. Wyoming has primacy and many of these amazing regulations that Wyoming has proven they can do a good job with, but Texas and Louisiana are not far behind. And so, it's a race, we've got to be competitive. We're the number two energy producing state, and we need to maintain that or even overtake it. Texas is a little bigger, but I think we've got better people.

Wendy Corr:

There you go. I like that. So, I'm going to switch gears again just real quickly and say, what do you do on your downtime? Because this is a stressful job! It's a stressful job. What do you do when you're not being governor?

Gov. Gordon:

Oh, Wendy, I have two great opportunities to unload. I've got a grandson out in Reno that I get to see from time to time, he's a year and a half, I just got videos from his mother - who's a hydrologist, by the way, a PhD, educated in Buffalo schools, got her master's at Wyoming and now a PhD. And you know, her little son, I saw him up there at a year and a half old, and they're out there skiing, and it's just wonderful. 

And then here in Cheyenne, we have two twin girls that are just a little bit over two, and a five year old, and they're skiing, they're fun. We just had pancakes yesterday morning. For Jenny, and for me, that opportunity to be with family to see those kids, and to really think about what their future should be, and how much Wyoming is the right place for them to be, that's really a great way to let down.

Wendy Corr:

That's awesome. I think you probably speak for most grandparents in the state of Wyoming, it’s the same thing. Tell me, just to wrap up, because I know you have to go - your schedule is tight today. But tell me about some of the things that really weigh on your mind. What do you want Wyoming to know about you? What do you want Wyomingites to know about you, and your hope for this state?

Gov. Gordon:

Well, my hope for the state is that - we have about the best place to raise kids. We've got great outdoors, we've got dedicated teachers, we've got tremendous opportunities. I want our kids to feel like this is the place I can really thrive - nd that's everyone. I mean, I am so excited by what I see with FFA, and with 4H, those programs are growing - the leadership and the dedication from those, those are terrific. 

What weighs a lot on my mind, is that the special type of politics that we had in Wyoming, where a neighbor could get down to the cafe, and talk with neighbor, and maybe they would disagree, but they still knew that they had a community, they still saw each other at the fair. You know, they may fight over a fence line - there's some terrible stories about people having property disputes - but by golly, if a neighbor had a fire, the whole community was there. And I really want to see Wyoming maintain that. 

I know we have a lot of people moving to Wyoming now. A lot of people look at us as being open for business, as being free. We came through COVID wetter than most, actually almost every other state. And you know, our people are independent, they're self-starters. It's a great thing. But I do think that tradition in Wyoming, of you know, we're independent, but we know we have a community and we want to support that. 

I can think of my dad and my mom both serving as precinct committee people. They were the first people to work to get Malcolm Wallop elected I-  can remember dad taking Al Simpson around the streets of Kaycee. You know, our politicians had to be accessible, people had to know them. It wasn't like politics everywhere else in the country. The real worry, what weighs on me, is that we see a lot of that national flavor of politics coming here to Wyoming. And I think that's only to our detriment, and I hope people really remember what it is that we need to have, with people willing to work together and people willing to solve problems. 

Wendy Corr:

Well, amen. And amen to that. Very true. Governor Mark Gordon, thank you so much for taking time today to be with us and to talk to the listeners of The Roundup, and Cowboy State Daily audiences. We appreciate what you're doing, and the example that you're setting. So, thank you so much.

Gov. Gordon:

Thank you, Wendy. It is so good to see you. And I can't wait to catch up on some old stories, and maybe think about some new ones. 

Wendy Corr:

That'd be great! You too. And thank you folks, for listening to The Roundup. Thanks for tuning in. We have had a wonderful conversation with the Governor today, but we have so many more wonderful conversations coming up. Have a wonderful week. I've been your host, Wendy Corr.

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Wendy Corr

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