Gov Mark Gordon campaigning in Jackson, Wyoming in 2018. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

At Gov. Mark Gordon’s January 2019 inauguration ceremony, Sheridan musician David Munsick sang the song “Forever West.” 

The paean to Wyoming includes this stanza:

“It’s boom and bust
and hang on just
until the times get better” 

Gordon, Wyoming’s 33rd governor, requested the tune.

The lyrics may be inspired by Wyoming archetypes of hardscrabble ranchers and energy workers, but they could just as easily apply to the state’s chief executive. In Wyoming, governors’ legacies are formed in large part by how their tenure coincides with commodity markets outside their control. 

Now, not halfway into his first term, the Republican Gordon is confronting what may prove the most consequential bust yet. Wyoming’s fiscal crisis, a slow-motion train wreck years in the making, has finally come off the rails. It did so on Gordon’s watch. 

Then there is the pandemic. The global health emergency has forced Gordon, like governors across America, to pivot, adapt and make life-and-death decisions on short notice.

With savings and a little luck, Gordon and the Legislature might be able to cut budgets and “hang on until the times get better.” Or until new politicians take their places. 

Widening divisions within the Wyoming Republican Party and a Legislature that’s proven unwilling to decouple the state from its energy-industry dependence make the governor’s task all the more daunting.

Will Gordon steer the state’s government through the current disarray to a more sustainable future? Can he? 

A ‘calm’ leader

Gordon has spent more time in the public spotlight than usual since the pandemic shut down much of daily life in March. He has held almost weekly live-streamed press conferences to discuss the state’s virus response and unfolding budget crisis. 

The governor is a measured public speaker by nature — often sounding more like an earnest professor than a politician. During 2018 primary debates, he tended to meander so deeply into policy nuance that advisors worried his campaign might not survive them. But more emotion has crept into his addresses during the COVID-19 era. 

He has heaped scorn on those who put others at risk. He has waved printed health orders in the air and thrown newspapers to the floor in anger. He choked up at the podium on at least two occasions: announcing the state’s first pandemic-related fatality and canceling the summer’s biggest rodeos. 

He has pushed back against criticism of his pandemic response that seems to come from every direction. Members of the far right labeled him a tyrant for going too far and protested on the steps of the state Capitol. Observers from the left called him a coward for not going further and accused him of endangering the population through inaction. 

Others still found fault with Gordon’s compromise. “It was kind of a half in and half out kind of deal,” Rep. Scott Clem (R-Gillette), who has opposed the state’s virus response as government overreach, said. “It was some intervention just not as much intervention as the other states were doing,” he said.

Gov. Mark Gordon wears a mask as he stands with several rodeo leaders during a press conference May 27, 2020, inside the Capitol in Cheyenne. Gordon and the representatives announced the cancellation of some of the largest rodeos in Wyoming due to COVID-19. (Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle/Wyoming News Exchange)

Such jabs aside, the governor’s leadership has been lauded by many Wyoming politicians, including those across the aisle. 

“I would have liked him to take stronger measures about testing and masks and contact tracing and all those things,” said Rep. Andy Schwartz (D-Jackson). But, “by and large I think he’s done a pretty good job. He’s just a calm leader and we need a calm leader at this time.”

Overall, the public has approved of Gordon’s virus response, according to polling conducted by UW researchers over the course of the pandemic. The approval rate is dropping as the pandemic continues. In March, 82% of poll respondents approved of how Gordon was handling the virus. That approval rating had dropped to 69% by the most recent poll, conducted Aug. 10. 

In some areas, critics say the governor’s live-streamed grit isn’t consistent with his actions.

Gordon has dressed down those who reject masks but eschewed one himself at gatherings where they aren’t popular. 

Gov. Mark Gordon, far right,  mingles at the Wyoming Stock Growers Association summer convention.  Left of Gordon is Sen. Michael Von Flatern (R-Gillette). The next day, at a press conference, Gordon congratulated Wyoming residents for wearing masks. “There are better days ahead due to the sacrifices we are making,” he said. “You know, like wearing masks or staying socially distanced.” (Andrew Graham/WyoFie)

He has pleaded for the people of Wyoming to recognize just how bad the state’s finances are. He has called on the Legislature to confront the fiscal crisis and asked voters to elect lawmakers who are more pragmatic than ideological. But some say he should combat the state’s far-right political block and lobby the Legislature more forcefully for tax reform. 

The Legislature has not met since May, and it’s now unclear if lawmakers will convene another special session this year. So for now, Gordon is shouldering the fiscal salvage work largely on his own.

Gordon has stripped $250 million from the state’s general budget and is working on another 10% cut. He is asking the Legislature to cut further  — ideally from its own program mandates — and address education funding, a near $2 billion budget Gordon argues the executive branch doesn’t have the authority to reduce alone. 

Even after Gordon’s $250 million spending reduction, the state faces a $1 billion deficit.

What leaders do next could shape Wyoming life for the next decade, if not longer.  

Gordon says he is embracing the challenge: “I didn’t anticipate this,” he said, “but I was definitely going to do whatever I needed to do when it came.”

He is doing the job without pay. Since April, Gordon has been donating his salary to First Lady Jennie Gordon’s effort to combat hunger.

The unprecedented governor’

On a late July day, the governor spoke at the Cheyenne Rotary Club’s first in-person lunch gathering since the pandemic. Gordon wore a mask above his suit as he mingled among Cheyenne’s leadership class.

Cheyenne attorney and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Tara Nethercott (R) introduced Gordon to the crowd. He is “the unprecedented governor, in an unprecedented time,” Nethercott said.

Asked later about her description, Nethercott gave a terse summary.

“He was meeting with armed protestors in front of the capitol during the same month he is taking the lead on bidding on a billion dollar land purchase [from Occidental Petroleum] during a pandemic,” Nethercott wrote in an email.

Ever optimistic in public remarks, Gordon often references rancher credos about hard work and meeting problems head on. Still, it seems little has gone his way in 2020. 

By July’s Rotary luncheon, Republican hardliners were already well on their way to consolidating control of the state’s party. Many in that political camp fiercely opposed Gordon’s gubernatorial bid during the primary. Some party power-brokers were so frustrated that they tried to legislate voting restrictions for Republican primaries. 

Far-right candidates then unseated several prominent lawmakers in August’s primary election — a heavy blow to any hope Gordon may have harbored for tax reform. 

Wyoming lost the Occidental bid. The oil company sold its property to a mining firm for $1.33 billion, around $130 million more than what the state offered. 

Governors like to welcome new businesses opening in the state. Gordon had to shutter Wyoming’s main street economies. They like to push initiatives and task forces — among Gordon’s cuts is one of his own initiatives, a program to boost vocational education in community colleges, that had hardly begun.

Governors attend rodeos, get feted and wave at the crowd. Gordon had to cancel some of the state’s largest in 2020. 

Gordon knew the job would be hard when he ran for it, according to people who know him. It’s hard to imagine, though, that he anticipated just how tough. 

Envisioning a glide path

Gordon began his run for governor in the spring of 2018 after serving as the state’s treasurer for six years — experience that gave him a good grounding in the state’s fiscal machinery. 

“He knew the challenges, knew the financial crisis that the state of Wyoming was in even back then,” said David Picard, a longtime Wyoming lobbyist and political consultant. Picard advised Gordon’s gubernatorial campaign and ran the committee to plan his inauguration. 

Then again, so did most people paying attention. The cracks — a steadily declining coal industry, low natural gas prices and an increasing reliance on stocks and the volatile oil industry for tax revenues — had been growing wider for some time. 

“Any observer knows that over the course of the last two decades we were on an unsustainable path,” Picard said. 

“Every campaign stop people would say, ‘appreciate you running but God, why would you want the job?’” Picard said. “He wanted the job because he wanted to make the changes.” 

Gordon came into office thinking he had some time. Many believed the Legislature had built up enough savings to float the state through a transition. Gordon argued then, and continues to make the case amid worsening odds, that developing carbon capture solutions can slow coal’s decline. 

“We really did feel that there would be an opportunity to have a glide path,” Gordon said, “and a transition that wouldn’t have the precipitous cliff at the end of it.” 

Gordon brought a light touch to the first legislative session of his tenure, which began within a month of his inauguration. He pushed limited initiatives as Senate and House leadership fought another battle in a long-running war over education funding.

Coal bankruptcies dominated the following summer’s headlines — first Wyoming staple Cloud Peak Energy and then the dramatic collapse of Appalachian-based newcomer Blackjewel. 

For his second session, Gordon doubled down on coal. He gave a rousing speech on the topic to open the Legislature, and his administration pushed a number of measures for coal research and carbon capture. Lawmakers took up the call and passed a slew of coal-boosting bills. 

But by the session’s final week, the bottom was falling out. Caught up in the finale of a packed month of lawmaking, the Legislature did not act on ever-worsening pandemic news or an oil price war breaking out between Russia and Saudi Arabia. 

Days after lawmakers left Cheyenne, Gordon began issuing orders closing schools and many businesses. The state and national economy lurched to a halt.

In May, the economists that write the state’s revenue projections met for their first emergency meeting since 2009. Surveying shattered oil markets and global financial instability, the economists wrote the state’s revenues down by a range of $1.8 billion to $1 billion. 

Just like that, the two-year budget lawmakers had just passed was untenable. The crisis was at hand. 

“I had no idea that it would become so imminent so quickly,” Gordon said. 

Stacking for years

Analysts say an economic slowdown and subsequent deceleration of electricity demand likely accelerated coal’s decline and made a reversal all the more unlikely. Meanwhile, Wyoming’s increased reliance on the oil industry for tax revenue ensured the price war pummeled state coffers. 

If a virus that emerged in Asia and an international oil price war were the sparks, the fuel for today’s conflagration had been stacked for years at home. Decades of inaction on the state’s energy dependence by past leaders suddenly mattered. 

Is Gordon frustrated to have inherited an old problem at just the wrong time? 

“I don’t really know how to respond to that,” he said. “Do I rue that? Yeah. But it’s also … it feels good to have to make really monumental decisions. And I think some of these really are. You’re talking about the health of the population of the state of Wyoming and health both in terms of real health and economic health.”

Gordon tries to balance the urgent demands of the moment with contemplation of  Wyoming’s eventual future, he said. In recent press conferences he has talked often about opportunities the pandemic might provide — people are seeking open space, low populations and safety. Many see those qualities here, Gordon says, and there is some very early evidence backing that idea. 

“Keeping people thinking about the future, thinking about … the opportunities that Wyoming provides, having to do that sort of makes it worthwhile getting up in the morning,” Gordon said.

Free headspace for the right? 

People who work for or with Gordon describe a cautious decision maker who seeks consensus before taking any leaps. 

“He’s a very classic Wyoming type in that he’s a moseyer,” Rep. Sara Burlingame (D-Cheyenne), said. “He doesn’t gallop, he moseys.

But in Wyoming’s current political climate, full consensus is unattainable, she said. That’s particularly true when it comes to right-wing activists and politicians who have often rejected and denounced him, she said. 

In April, when Gordon came down the Capitol steps to pray with protesters demanding an end to health orders, his attempts to explain his reasoning were shouted down. One of the protesters referred to him as a secret Democrat. 

Flanked by Wyoming Highway Patrol officers wearing cloth masks to protect against the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Mark Gordon descends the State Capitol steps on April 20, 2020 to speak with a group of protesters opposing his public health orders. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

“He believes that, ‘if I can just talk to you and look you in the eyes that I can bring you around by the force of my goodwill,’” Burlingame said. It’s a “misplaced belief” that “if we just sit down at the table long enough, take enough calls, … we’ll reach consensus,” she said. “I just think that’s inaccurate.”

Before the pandemic, Gordon made strides with the hardline conservatives who today run the Wyoming Republican Party. 

A government transparency task force, a bold set of vetoes on his first budget bill and his signing of legislation limiting abortion had all earned Gordon praise from state GOP leadership and conservative lawmakers. 

Right-wing stalwarts like Clem, however, think the virus response may hurt Gordon with the Repubican voters he needs to win another primary election. 

Moses Hasenauer, a Cheyenne resident and Tea Party activist, confronts Gov. Mark Gordon at an April 20, 2020, protest against health orders. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

Voters resent the public health measures, Clem argues.I think there’s a growing gulf between mainstreet public Wyoming and the media and government,” he said. “They’re going two different directions.”

Much of the state party’s messaging also suggests that health orders are overblown and intrusive. A recent post on the party’s Facebook page was flagged by fact checkers as misinformation. It’s unclear if the label diminished its influence.

A second term

The cuts he’s made will impact public safety and Wyoming’s most vulnerable residents, Gordon said.  

He’s discussed the outrage he’s received from some residents over closing some highway rest areas — a cut that barely scratched the surface, Gordon says. However, cuts to government services may not hurt him with many Republican voters who believe state budgets are inflated. 

The other side of the budget equation, raising new revenue through tax increases, for example, are far riskier. 

At his Aug. 26 press conference, Gordon was asked again by reporters if he would push the Legislature to take up taxes. (The question has become a staple of the governor’s press briefings.)

A day earlier, the Joint Revenue Committee had rejected bills to remove sales tax exemptions and add an additional 1% to the sales tax. Gordon has asked lawmakers to examine the state’s sales tax exemptions on a wide variety of business and personal services. Such an action, taken alone, could add $140 million to coffers over two years.

“I don’t think it’s a big surprise that they didn’t take any actions,” Gordon said. “Part of it comes back to me, to indicate that ‘sure, we can spend [savings] down over the next two years … then what?’”

Democrats like Schwartz and others want more. The governor knows what needs to be done, and should use his platform to push the Legislature for tax reforms, they say.

“He’s the only person who can stand up in a situation like this and say, ‘I hate taxes too but if we don’t do this we’re gonna be in worse trouble,’” Schwartz said.

Rep. Sara Burlingame (D-Cheyenne), at her desk on the House floor. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

“But I’m a Democrat so that’s easy for me to say,” he added with a chuckle.  “He will probably want a second term,” Schwartz said. “And he doesn’t have to worry about someone running to the left of him in a Republican primary. The threat to him … is the strength of the extreme right.” 

Gordon might have inherited big problems, but Schwartz doesn’t let him off the hook so easily. Picking up past governors’ fixation on a carbon capture solution for coal is a harmful crutch, he said: “We spent $25 million on carbon research in [the 2020] budget. We’re throwing this money in a raffle and we’re kicking the can down the road.”

“Mark is part of that school of thought,” he continued. “It’s a Wyoming school of thought that if we can find a way to burn coal with less carbon Wyoming is saved.”

Picard, the political strategist, does not think Gordon should launch a campaign for tax reform. The governor is constitutionally required to deliver a balanced budget, he said. Long lasting fiscal reform will require legislative buy-in and cooperation. “There’s a team effort here that we’ve gotta get serious about,” Picard said. 

Gordon himself often cites the limits of his office when discussing how to address the fiscal crisis.

“One of the great things about being governor is you really don’t have … that much power,” he told WyoFile. “You’re given the revenues you have and you have the budget you do.”

At several points in his political career, Gordon has taken stands on the separation of powers. As treasurer, he sued legislative leadership and the other statewide elected officials over a constitutional dispute. His budget vetoes have also cited constitutional grounds. 

“He has been consistent in that regard,” Clem said. 

The House and Senate gather in a joint session to hear Gov. Mark Gordon’s state-of-the-state speech on Feb. 10, the first day of the 2020 Legislative session. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

However, nowhere in the Wyoming Constitution does it say a governor can’t drive the Legislature in the direction he or she thinks the state should go. 

“If we need anything in Wyoming right now it’s leadership,” Clem said. “… If the Legislature isn’t giving a clear signal about where we’re going, and the governor isn’t, then who is?” 

Gordon has made cuts, and has told the public they will have dire impacts on the state’s most vulnerable residents. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle question if that’s a strategy to force the Legislature’s hand on taxes. Gordon has refuted that suggestion and said the size of the deficit leaves him no choice. 

To critics, that can seem a cop-out by the state’s most powerful leader, and not one reflective of the loftier ideals oft-voiced by the governor. But Burlingame doesn’t think Gordon wants to just “hold on” through this bust either. 

“Mark Gordon is a good man and I don’t think he wants to punt,” Burlingame said. “I think he would feel that is a failure of his stewardship.”

Support in-depth reporting and writing for Wyoming — donate to WyoFile today

CORRECTION: This story was corrected on Sept. 16, to note that Gordon’s inauguration took place in January 2019, not 2018 as was originally written in error. The current governor was elected to the position in Nov. 2018. —Ed. 

Andrew Graham

Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from Laramie. He covers state government, energy and the economy. Reach him at 443-848-8756 or at andrew@wyofile.com, follow him @AndrewGraham88

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  1. Fossil fuel puts food on our tables, keeps Wyoming residents from having to pay a state income tax and above all provides jobs and energy for our great nation and beyond. To say fossil fuel is in the tanks and coal is all but dead just goes to show that you don’t understand green energy.
    In order for wind and solar to power our nation, it will require an enormous amount of land mass, well over 50% of the USA just to provide the energy we consume.. But like all green energy on a massive scale, it still requires a backup grid of power reserves , which will come from fossil fuels..
    Coal is still the king when it comes to getting the most out of it for maximum energy. Only nuclear power is better.
    As for conservatism I thank God everyday I live in a very conservative state. One look at what continually raising taxes and writing more and more regulations will do to our state one needs only to look to the mess called California.
    Any government can raise taxes and believe it fixes their budget. It’s a better government that rains in their spending and learns to live on a budget, something our politicians haven’t learned. An election is won more on promises and more government hand outs then on fiscal responsibility. Everyone wants something for free. There is never a free when it comes to government.
    In closing I can say Governor Gordon has done a remarkable job given our state of affairs with this media virus in an election year, otherwise known as covid 19.

  2. Dewey, congratulations on the perspectives you’ve expressed here. The length is necessary to describe a complicated picture.

  3. As a 3rd-4th gen Wyomingite, a progressive populist who favors Democrat policy lines over GOP limbic legislation, and pretty much despises the modern Wyoming Cowboy conservatives who have mutated so much from genuine conservative DNA , I’m actually glad someone like Mark Gordon is in the wheelhouse when the SS Wyoming hit its carbon black iceberg and began to sink. This boom and bust cycle will be the last for hydrocarbon energy. Fossil fuel will not come back from this bust , not with s-o-o-o-o much fossil thinking in the Legislature and the various GOP enclaves around the state.

    Mark Gordon will see to it that everyone makes it to shore. Wet, cold, dead broke, and their baggage drenched or missing.

    But here’s the reality. Wyoming leadership had at least 30 years to prepare for this day of socioeconomic reckoning when the world no longer wanted what we’ve got. Coal is all but dead. Crude oil demand is falling sharply , and you cannot give away natural gas let alone sell it at a profit. Uranium is still in prison . Wyoming can’t even claim to be a cowboy state because our contribution to the cattle market is illusory : about fifteen other US states have more cattle on the hoof than Wyoming … those ” cowboy kingdoms” of Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida, Hawaii. Forget about logging and sawmills, and oh by the way the Working Class will never get wealthy from wholeslae or retail Tourism ; the venue owners and travel corporations export the pallets of dinero while paying nowhere near a living wage to the motel maids and line cooks. ( Being a staunch Right To Work state has a downside after all… ideology does not put much groceries in the pantry as it turns out )

    It’s painfully obvious after sifting the data and examining the rubble that Wyoming Conservatism has not worked out. If having monolithic lockstep conservative Republican governance from below grass roots all the way up and over the golden dome of the state Capitol was the prescription for prosperity and economic and social freedom, then Wyoming should rule the world. Except the Cowboy State almost always lands near the bottom of any ranking of the 52 States for pretty much everything. It’s also time to admit that low taxation and providing wealth shelters and enabling the corporate establishment has never come close to trickling down to main street and the country roads. You have to give up a lot for the skewed privilege of living in Wyoming. Trying constantly to turn the calendar back to Reagan’s 1984 , Eisenhower’s 1954, or any year before the Johnson County Cattle War is not helpful.

    What Wyoming needs right now a governor like Mark Gordon and the red-shifted Republican conservative legislature simply do not possess. It is the 21st century after all, and fossil thinking is a detriment to economic transformation. It comes down to a very basic 2-part question : What does the arbitrary 100,000 square mile rectangle called Wyoming drawn atop the Continental Divide in the heart of North America really have to offer the rest of the world , and how do we capitalize on that ?

    Standing still or moving slowly and reluctantly in the national continuum is tantamount to regressing ; moving backwards actually . Wyoming excels at regressing whenever possible. If on the other hand you just want to run a few cows, grow some hay with a vegetable garden alongside the modular home and steel shop building , and spend a little time on your saddle horse hoping to knock down an elk and a deer come autumn then Wyoming may work for you. Just be sure you have a blue collar skill and the wife can hopefully get an office job somewhere while they still exist. I figger Classic Wyoming has maybe one more generation left to go before we’re all back to hunter-gathering and flintknapping. Or expatriated and not by choice.

    – because we refused to embrace change and the 21st century. What does Wyoming version 2.0 look like ? The next Governor and the next crop of Legislators better have an answer for that one …

    ( apologies for the length )

  4. Thanks, Andrew, for a thoughtful review.

    It’s a pity you begin with an error. Governor Gordon was inaugurated in January, 2019. Not 2018.

    I wish him, and Wyoming, better times ahead. Persevere.

  5. What mining Co. outbid WY for the Occidental Property. ? WY should’ve got that property back, help the economy.

  6. Hate to break the bubble of Kevins remarks as a resident of Wyoming. Wyoming’s structures has totally been focused upon Fossil Fuels since Stan Hawathway”s his approach of the Permenate Mineral Trust Fund, which stabilized the funding at that moment, in Wyoming funding Legislation. That servence tax and use tax is a tax in real factual manners towards businesses, only one problem they are Corporate businesses. Which also move their investments toward political actions which focused on revenues produced on a basic tax scales neither raised or increase as their profits increased or fell… Otherwise known as the boom and bust cycles.
    At this very moment and time that cycle is non-exisistant, by the production and closing of mineral industries. Leaving a trial of negelet since 2012 and before as the up and down a slipper slope, on investments on the world scale. Which current took a slap in the face when oil, coal and natural gas hit rock bottom.
    This legislature has continually mentioned it is broke, so how do they keep services to Wyoming residents? When pie plate has only one slice of revenue left, how do you divide it up to Wyoming’s whole population, which is Demanding education, healthcare, mental health, and combating a pandemic.
    Taxation is the only true case of solid revenues left, no other options for all those programs, policies and plans for a future in Wyoming. There are only three taxes that will produce revenues, Sales Tax, Service Tax, and Income Tax. I suggest readers look at New Mexico, Hawaii and South Dakota for these states have similair revenues and yet more solid revenue base without total reilance on Fossil fuels and Trona…
    The average income currently in Wyoming is $62,000 and Sale tax is 6% and no service tax. Income tax alone at 3% based on all registered voters in Wyoming is 230230 as holding this scale of income would produce one home $1,860, now look 4 billion.282million,278. thousand would come from just the registered voters on one average. With a serice tax based on 2.5 % $1000 of car repairs and service on one customer, the sales tax is $60 service work takes 4 hours to install at 100 an hour which is $400 at 2.5% equals $10.oo tax based on average scale of voters no provides 2,million,302 thousand,300 hundred. Now just tie in sales tax on voters for this repair m 13 million 813 thousand, 800 hundred. I hope voters see these taxes incorporate all Wyoming people. I support this than Boom or Bust. Time Wyoming people realized corporate funding left us holding an empty bag, while they made huge profits…

    1. What is the median income in the state? It’s a much better indicator of economic condition than average income, which is skewed higher in places where there are a small number of very, very wealthy people, and where commoners make very little … like Wyoming.

      1. Another question: is the income that you reference individual income or is it household income? If the latter, then the figure is misleading. It could be either one person making $66 thousand annually, which isn’t great, but livable, or it could be two people, each making $33 thousand annually, which is poverty wages for each, or it could be…?

  7. In Wyoming we “Let her Buck” and hope to stay on. The problem with this horse no one has ever rid’en her but we have all looked into her eyes and can see that she has fury beyond anything we have ever seen before. The old cowboys don’t have the bones for the ground pounding they know will come.

    And those new comers that form the Far Right GOP City slickers that moved here from States more screwed up then ours, they have never rode a horse out pure fear, fear is all they know, and they use is fear to sell their ideas.. Their mystic belief that Real Freedom comes without any responsibilities for anyone or anything but themselves justifies this fear. I have nothing more to add to this group of want a be;s.

    Gordon should get some leadership together and gather in the bunkhouse, by themselves. Come up with a plan on how best approach this horse, how to saddle this horse, what kind of ground work needs done and for how long, (trust building) then and only then should she be rode out to the public. “Let Her Buck” if she does, hope the public scores your attempt above average. Which in Wyoming, the people I know will respect the fact that you took responsibility with out fear and did your best to ride that horse.

  8. Folks,
    Your reporting often dismisses at least half of Wyoming’s residents as “right wingers” — a term you use about half a dozen times in this article. It’s mainly dismissive. Repeating it over and over is not an invitation to read this work.

    Transitioning away from the present economy is very difficult. I see three big issues to tackle, and others will undoubtedly see more:

    1) We have tried diversification in Wyoming at least two times previously in my lifetime. In the 1980s energy prices sank into the region of 10-20 dollars per barrel, and there were thousands of abadoned homes across the state. Yet, the energy industry came back even larger than before. Coal had a first life in powering trains and heating homes only to be abandoned in the 1950s, but then came back again. Energy is the essential commodity, and wind turbines and solar panels are not going to completely replace the dispatchable energy sources that fossil fuels offer. Unless very ideological people somehow legislate fossil fuels out of existance, there is a need for Wyoming energy commodities albeit at a lesser level long into the future. One obvious way to diversify the economy is to add value to the commodities we currently ship out of state — ceramics (glass), detergents and other household products from trona, pavements and petrochemicals from oil, coal, and gas, and dispatchable power and helium from natural gas. At any rate, trashing the current economy is not very productive.

    2) We won’t solve our problem by “embracing wind”. It brings very little permanent employment. Agriculture and tourism can’t possibly replace industrial employment or taxation. We cannot solve this problem by offering refuges to wealthier people trying to escape urban problems. And we probably can’t do very well, as past exerience shows, by trying for home runs recruiting large companies. Wyoming isn’t Colorado and it isn’t Montana. The people most likely to want to stay here are those already here, but our home-grown talent, especially graduates from UW, drain away. How can we keep them? Wyoming has a surprising number of small manufacturers — I was told some 2800 of them by people at Manufacturing Works when that group was still in business. Why are they small, could they grow larger, and why aren’t there more of them? Can we find ways to keep each dollar earned in Wyoming within the state for just one additional round of the circulating economy?

    3) We have a tendency to expand government, both employment and infrastructure, during a booming economy, and then wonder where money is going to come from during a bust. It is a problem of spending by the millions and then trying to economize by the thousands. We have to take a critical look at government employment. I think anyone who observes government can offer stories about there being too many people with too little to do in places. Making government more productive is every bit as important as making the private sector so. Is the University, for example, very productive? Does it spin off economic benefits at a rate we might expect when comparing it to other state schools?

    Finally, the response to the pandemic has put government competence under a bright light. To his credit the Governor didn’t place outrageous restrictions on the state economy, but economic damage incommensurate with the scale of the problem occured just the same and we continue to over-react. Yes, 40 some people have died of COVID, but 2500 people have died, statewide from other causes during the same time. Last week there were only 15 people hospitalized, statewide, for COVID. Cases have trended downward since mid-summer and the biggest outbreak is currently in Laramie caused by extensive testing and the ambiguity of test results (false positives and negatives). This testing runs counter to the CDC, who suggest such testing is not needed for people who show no symptoms.

    1. This is a response to Kevin, who is works at UW, as do I.

      Kevin, what objective data do you have about false positive and false negative test results at our institution? All laboratory tests have some level of error. To state that Vault’s test results are “ambiguous” is misleading. Please support your claim. Otherwise, it is reasonable assumption you make a data-free polemical point.

      Kevin asks: “is the University, for example, very productive?” It begs the question: productive defined how? As I noted above, I also work at UW. I teach. I do research. I publish I perform professional work for the state – as it happens, as a laboratory worker. Some people, possibly Kevin among them, think the main job of universities is to produce entrepreneurs whose vocation should be to start businesses. I disagree. Our job is to produce educated citizens as best we can. If some can start businesses, great. But we are not failing when we produce writers, or historians, or mechanical engineers who work for the state.

      Let me answer his question. Yes, UW is a productive institution albeit – Lord knows! – imperfect. The cut of $42M in 2016 – 17 hurt UW deeply. So did chaos in Old Main with an ever-changing leadership. The pending round of cuts we will see shortly at UW is likely to drive off promising young faculty as well as some old farts like myself.. You can’t create a reliably “productive” institution if you subject it to chaos upstairs, recurrent separation incentives, and financially-driven reorganizations. I have to wonder if our latest president, Ed Seidel, will survive the ankle-biting he gets as he addresses financial shortfalls and a national pandemic.

      It is not down to UW alone to create the environment for successful capitalism. Others, including those running Wyoming businesses, have a role to play. Both parties in the state own the problem of excessive reliance on energy. over the past 4 decades.

      Andrew’s article is a fair assessment of Gordon. Thank you, Andrew, for a measured piece. Gordon is in a tough spot. I didn’t vote for him. But Mark Gordon shown character and patience trying to navigate the state’s financial and medical woes. His party’s drift to the right in recent primaries can only exacerbate his difficulties.

      1. Donal, I am happy to reply, but I dispute the suggestion that I an misrepresenting anything.

        In August, when people were all expected to take the saliva test, I noted that the packaging had a label on it that said “For Research only. Not for diagnostic procedures.” This got me curious, and I went to a site at Rutgers University and found a table stating that the specificity and sensitivity of the tests in question was “unknown”, but that they may be wider than the equivalent measures for the nasal swab tests, which had a listed sensitivity somewhere between 71% and 95%. One of Vault reps told me the false negative rate was 18%. I don’t think the tests are so bad as these figures imply, but the problem with determining whether or not a positive test result means the person is actually infected requires a credible estimate of prevalence in the community, which we could only guess at.

        Now these PCR tests can produce false negatives because of the timing and location of the sample. There are infectious people who do not display the virus where and when the sample is taken. These people can pass through as false negatives. False positives arise from excess cycling of the test, or from people who may have been at one time infected, are now recovered, but who are still showing non-infectious segments of the virus. FDA has tried diligently to test all sorts of other sources of false results.

        At U.W. we had a very large number of people, including students, take these tests for admission back to campus. Possibly false negatives in the student population made their way to campus, and since students often have symptoms so mild they don’t notice them, they managed to spread the virus through socializing with others. Now in the past two weeks we have had people test positive who have no symptoms, but are considered infected, but asymptomatic — these often outnumber people who display symptoms. I suggest they are false positives or at least some are. Then there are people quarantined because they have come into contact with people who tested positive. I will check what the numbers are tonight (USAfacts.org and WDH), but Albany County which for six months showed little prevalence, now appears to be the leading spike in the state.

        I have asked UW from last May what they planned to do about these false results and I got no definitive answers except to say that they follow CDC guidelines. But, surely they do not. The CDC has been suggesting, on its website, for more than a month that these screening tests not be applied to people without symptoms.

        With regard to the productivity of UW, I cannot see how it is controversial to ask for some objective measure of productivity. We often expect university towns to be hubs of small spin-offs. UW has done so, but how does it compare to other schools? Montana State, for example, has in the past 40 years produced a local ecosystem of start-up companies in photonics and quantum optics that number some 28 firms with nearly 600 employees. UW may have done proportionately as well in other technologies, but they vanish, they are purchased by entrepreneurs who move the heart of the firm elsewhere.

        I do not automatically assume that UW is as productive as we should expect just because I worked there and have some pride in the school. I’d like measures to prove it, and to help us do better if possible.