From his too-late mask mandate to his refusal to denounce President Donald Trump’s attempted theft of the presidential election, Gov. Mark Gordon has proven he simply can’t buck the far-right fringe element of his party.

Wyoming needs common-sense governance to avoid derailing entirely during these unprecedented times. Though Gordon has shown an occasional willingness to pump the brakes, he has kept the train on track for crazy town.

Let’s start with the governor’s coronavirus response and his Dec. 9 orders, which include a mask mandate and restrictions on late-night bar and restaurant hours. State Health Officer Alexia Harrist signed the emergency health order nine months after Wyoming’s first confirmed COVID-19 case.

Through mid summer, the state’s low number of new infections seemed to justify Gordon’s position against mandatory stay-at-home orders as too harmful to businesses. He was proud that he never “closed” Wyoming’s economy, and I can’t fault him for turning his attention to how the state would spend federal CARES Act funds.

But by September, COVID-19 infections were surging across the state. In the ensuing months, patients began filling hospitals and deaths spiked.. Decisive action was needed to protect the public’s health and safety, but Gordon simply kept repeating his mantra: people should recognize their “personal responsibility” to protect themselves and others from the disease. State action was unnecessary.

President Donald Trump’s insistent pressure on Republican governors to keep businesses open — a medically indefensible position that’s been dutifully parroted by Wyoming’s right-wing extremists — seemed to keep Gordon from pulling the trigger on further restrictions. Wyoming was the 38th state to mandate masks indoors, and the move only came after 16 of  23 counties had passed their own orders.

Gov. Mark Gordon wears a University of Wyoming face covering before pulling it down to begin a media briefing Wednesday, May 20, 2020, inside the Capitol. (Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle/Wyoming News Exchange)

Even after he became exasperated by many residents’ refusal to act responsibly — memorably calling them “knuckleheads” at a Nov. 13 press conference — he didn’t mandate masks. His inaction was immortalized in a Daily Beast headline: “Wyoming Guv Admits Policy Has Failed, Sticks With It.

Two weeks later Gordon tested positive for COVID-19. His wife, Jennie, also contracted the virus. Was that personal experience a factor in his final decision to issue a mandatory mask order, or was it the result of a political calculation that the issue had reached an acceptable tipping point to protect him from political flak?

Predictably, Gordon took heat from the far right. The Wyoming Republican Party’s central committee unbelievably asked him to rescind his state of emergency declaration in mid-November as COVID-19 cases surged. Gordon meekly responded by calling the demand “unfortunate.”

In the wake of the new orders, some branded him a dictator, as if closing restaurants and bars for in-person service from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. made him the next Fidel Castro. Mike Lundgren, chairman of the Lincoln County Republican Party, even announced a petition drive to impeach Gordon.

The state’s failure to act sooner exposed local health officials to unnecessary problems, including their employment. The Washakie County Commission fired the county’s public health officer for having the temerity to implement a mask order, even though it was part of his job.

In Natrona County, hecklers shut down a county commissioners’ meeting about the pandemic by hurling insults at health officials. In a particularly obnoxious claim, someone accused physicians of being paid to count deaths as COVID-related.

A timely state mask order coming from the governor would have put the public on notice that the danger of spreading the virus supersedes one’s right to act selfishly and put others at risk. Gordon’s decision to not pull the trigger on the issue earlier only empowered those who claim, even after 300,000 American deaths, that the coronavirus is a hoax and no worse than the flu.

While some health officials diplomatically said the mandate was “better late than never” and a step in the right direction, we’ll never be able to fully gauge how many lives might have been saved by decisive leadership.

Nearly as frustrating to watch as his treatment of the health crisis was Gordon’s hand-wringing response to a laughable Texas lawsuit last week. The suit asked the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate votes for Joe Biden in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia and Michigan and overturn the election.

A group of 32 Wyoming GOP lawmakers and legislators-elect signed a letter to Gordon asking him to join the lawsuit, which repeated dozens of false, disproven and just plain crazy allegations of voter fraud and illegal mail-in balloting that had even been tossed out by lower-court judges Trump had appointed.

Gordon should have thrown the letter in the trash and told the group he wouldn’t remotely consider being part of any lawsuit that attempted to tell another state how to run its elections. Wouldn’t that be the Wyoming way?

He should have reminded them that it’s hypocritical to preach about states’ rights and suddenly contend that the federal government they rail against should intervene  and decide a presidential election on the basis of phony claims. 

When presented with a bad idea, why on Earth can’t Gordon stop equivocating and just tell people no? It’s called leadership.

Instead, Gordon kicked the idea over to Attorney General Bridget Hill to seriously consider. After receiving her recommendation against action, Gordon released a statement that sidestepped by saying Texas had not asked Wyoming to join the lawsuit. “There was inadequate time to properly consider the ramifications of joining the motion specifically, or to thoughtfully consider joining the supporting states’ brief before it was filed,” he wrote.

Even though he wouldn’t join the litigation, Gordon said he strongly supported the Supreme Court hearing the case.

The governor did eventually get around to addressing state sovereignty, acknowledging that the Texas case “could have unintended consequences relating to a principle that the state of Wyoming holds dear.” In journalism lingo, Gordon kind of buried the lead there.

The other maddening aspect of Gordon’s presidential election response is that he refuses to admit the reality that Biden duly won and will take office Jan. 20. He tweeted that “when a result is confirmed congratulations for the winner will be in order.”

Gordon clearly doesn’t want any part of being on the incumbent’s hit list of people who have betrayed him, even as he’s on his way out of power. 

The governor has two paths he can take as he sorts out how he will react to Biden’s presidency, and the honorable one won’t involve tip-toeing through a far-right quagmire trying to placate aggrieved legislators.

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As the leader of a state that cast 70% of its vote for Trump, the least Gordon should do is stand up for the sanctity of American elections and loudly confirm that Biden’s victory is legitimate. It would go a long way toward demonstrating that Wyoming supports the peaceful transfer of power and honors the rule of law.

Gordon will have to deal with the Biden administration on myriad federal issues. He doesn’t have to like the new president or ever treat him as an ally, but Gordon should show him the respect his office deserves.

As a nation we’re standing on the most politically charged and divisive moment of the past century. I’d like to see Wyoming’s governor lead boldly from a principled stance, not parse and and equivocate for fear of offending extremists.

Inevitably, a wild-eyed Wyoming legislator will call for the Cowboy State to secede from the union. I’d prefer not to read a tactfully worded statement from Gordon that it’s worth considering, but the timing might not be right.

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. I love the hypocrisy of a far left extremists berating the far right. One thought how far right do you have to be to be far right. Seems to me according to the author one tick of the clock past noon will get you the far right label.

    1. Mr. Hicks or I should say Wyoming Representative Larry Hicks (R-Baggs): Are your claiming that your political views, sir, are “one click of the clock past noon?” Wrong again, grasshopper.

      Did I not see your name included among those Wyoming Legislators urging Gov. Mark Gordan to have Wyoming join a lawsuit brought by the Texas Attorney General, seeking to overthrow the presidential election results of four swing states?

      Are you now adding sedition and destruction of state’s rights to the list of Republican virtues – pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth – to name a few?

      Your clock, sir, is set to 58 1/2 clicks past noon, which is curiously the same time as the Doomsday Clock maintained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

      The Doomsday Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and disruptive technologies in other domains.

      I know what you’re thinking – a bunch of scientists, what do they know.

  2. Stop the Steal!

    The “mainstream media” assures us the presidential election was fair and honest. However, a simple examination of the facts proves beyond a rational doubt that the election was fraudulent.

    Fact 1: Despite making very many valid and very many legitimate claims about the very widespread election cheating that plainly took place, President Trump’s legal team has been unable to find any indication of election fraud. What more proof of meddling in the election could one need? The complexity involved with vote tampering on a large scale without leaving evidence could only come from Democratic operatives working deep inside the Clinton/Obama Cartel, the COC. This organization, so secret that no one knows about it, runs a worldwide sex slavery ring, and has its fingers in Wall Street, Middle East oil fields, the EU financial markets, and Teton County short-term rentals.

    The COC worked hand in hand with the mainstream media, perpetrating the lie that Hugo Chavez has been dead for seven years. In fact, Chavez is not only alive, but was instrumental in uniting Uganda Nationalists, Somalian pirates, the 12 Jews who live in the basement of Goldman Sacks and control the world economy, as well as the Pope, to sabotage the American election. Is it a coincidence that Joe Biden is Catholic? Think about it.

    Fact 2: Even Trump appointed Federal and Supreme Court Judges and Attorney Generals have said there was no fraud. Nothing could be more damming to the idea of a “fair election.” The very people Trump appointed will not help him! Plainly the Republican Judges and Attorney General, as well as the Republican Governors of states Biden “won” are liberal plants, supporting Trump publicly, but secretly controlled by communist Chinese and financed by progressive east coast elites and west coast Silicon Valley billionaires in league with Blacks, Mexicans, Arabs, gays, and people who know how to pronounce Pinot Grigio.

    In this time of national peril, we need to support President Trump. The farce election must be voided, the US Constitution protected using martial law and federal troops if necessary. Trump’s presidency must continue until he is confident fair elections can be held where he would be guaranteed to win. In the meantime, Trump should be allowed to remove treasonous judges, arrest reporters engaged in un-American reporting, and date porn stars without the press making it a big deal. (Even Stormy said it wasn’t a big deal.) It’s time to stop the steal!

  3. I am not very happy with any Wyoming politicians on either side of the aisle because this is being swept under the rug – the good old Wyoming way. I ain’t havin’ it. This is what I am doing about Gordon’s midway, swing, sway, play. If you agree, please add your name. I have filed a formal complaint with Legislative Services Offices in addtion to an online Petition that anyone anywhere can sign because this crime is against the United States Constitution. https://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/475/594/404/?

  4. Ric Berry,….Casper Mark missed the bus,and to this day people are in public spaces without making or spacing and driving around with the flags in the truck bed. I’m ashamed of this (R) state I call home. 70% of the State are selfish individuals that don’t care about morality and willing to go 4 more years with even less rule of law. Time to quit swearing on Bibles in Wyoming Courts,it’s useless here.

  5. All you reactionaries to the fear mongering politics of the leftist driven Covid-19 fraud should study the ICSLS report from last February and learn something the mainstream refuses to tell you! Real science not supposition and fear factors!! Say no to masks and the false positives of Covid-19!

    1. Right on! It is much easier to smoke in public, on busses, in bars, dorms, etc. while not wearing a mask. I will wear a mask to protect you, your mother and even your dog. An insignificant inconvenience on my part like wearing a shirt and shoes in a restaurant.

  6. That pretty well wraps it up. The Governor trying so hard not to alienate the loud far right wing plays into their hands beautifully. It is time for Republicans to stand up and fight before their party disappears into the noise.

  7. A lot of Republican elected officials are afraid to do anything to rile the King. Vote for those with courage and convictions.

  8. Sec. 37. Constitution of United States supreme law of the land. The
    The state of Wyoming is an inseparable part of the federal union, and the constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the land.
    Therefore Wyoming shall abide by the 14th Amendment of Constitution Section 3 on Breaking the Oaths, ” No person shall hold a Government office who once took the Oath of Office and then became a rebel. Here is that portion under said Amendment, as a member of any State Legislature, which has engaged insurrection, or rebellion against the same or comfort to enemies thereof.
    Wyoming is now in a quagmire of legislative embarrassment by 32 State Legislative Representatives and United State Newly Elected Senator. Wyoming’s State Constitution Section 37 is pretty clear, as is the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.
    Should the Wyoming people just sweep it under the manure of such actions taken? If so, Why? The public knowledge is published, they do not represent the peopleWyoming’s, just the agenda of a party and their Caucus in our government’s positions. Cynthia Lummis, Wyoming’s newly elected Senator, has stated her Freedom Caucus prior and supports the letter as did these other elected officials, Clearly in the public press.
    I will take a stand today, however, for I have watched the Oath of Office being dragged in the mud within Wyoming, from local sheriffs to our highest elected officials who all reality do not represent all the people of which I’m one. I stand by my statement to either remove such disabilities or blacklist their abilities to vote or govern during the 2021 Wyoming Legislative Session. Right out of the Wyoming Constitution, Governor Section 37 again, here is another phrase Lead, Follow, or Get out of the Way. By the way, you also represent 168,000 other Wyoming people.

  9. The reasoning of some people that if “your guy” doesn’t win your state then you don’t have to acknowledge them??? This is the backwards thinking too many in this state have. However – I truly don’t think the whole 72% that voted for Trump are part of the Trump cult. In 2016 he didn’t win Wyoming’s primary. In 2018 Trumps pick, Foster Friess lost the gubernatorial primary. Yes when it comes to the general election Republicans voted for Trump when there was no other Republican choice because they are going to vote Republican no matter who they are voting for. But when given a choice – Republicans didn’t vote Trump. The far right does yell louder than the rest of us Republicans – but that doesn’t make them the majority.

    1. I can understand people wanting to believe in Trump and voting for him the first time around. This time though? He revealed himself for who he is and it is a pretty disgusting revelation. The “R” argument assumes that people in Wyoming have remained totally ignorant of politics for the last 4 years. A vote for Trump was a vote for the destruction of the Republican party and all it has committed itself to for a very long time. It has been a really sad experience for me to have to admit to myself that friends and neighbors probably found some way to justify voting for Trump again despite his contempt for the constitution and for common human decency, among a host of other shortcomings. Just voting “R” is a sorry excuse.

      1. Ms. Anderson: That is one way to look at it. Another way to look at it is far more probable. Trump has revealed what Republicans truly believe but were too ashamed to come out and admit before.

        I used to wonder how an intelligent, educated, and civilized people like the Germans could have allowed a malignant horror like Hitler to take over their country. I do not have to wonder any more. I have seen it happen here in the USA.

        I have heard a lot of people in Wyoming say the only reason they are registered Republicans is so they have some voice in the typically unopposed and one-sided local Wyoming elections. I imagine a lot of Germans back in the 1920s and 1930s said something similar.

        “The only reason we are registered Nazis is so we have some voice in local elections,” they told themselves. Sound like any RINOs you know?

    2. But the centrists need to push back because the far right sedition types are the ones at the executive committee levels. There is a fracture in the WyoGOP just like in every other state and the centrists are going to have to reassert themselves.

  10. Thank you Kerry. As usual, you addess an issue with insightful remarks.

    Gov. Gordon is just another elected official facing the same problem all over America. The loudmouths also happen to be those with the most extreme views. Sane people don’t shout down other Americans in public venues, rational minds can hold more than one thought at a time and emotionally stable adults don’t see the world in totally black and white hues.

    Gov. Gordon, and others of his moderate ilk, need everyday citizens to speak out against the mad rampages that count for political discourse nowadays. Wyoming needs people, tired of living inside a “Jerry-Springer-like” (un)reality show, to write letters, post on internet venues and speak at city and county meetings that we’re tired of a small batch of weirdo behavior leading the mule train.

    It’s not all on Gov. Gordon’s shoulders. In a democracy, we all must carry some of the burden. Wyoming, time to Cowboy Up.

    1. Amen, Bro. The poet William Butler Yeats said it best in his poem The Second Coming. The most well known lines are:

      The best lack all conviction, while the worst
      Are full of passionate intensity.

      But it is worth reading or even memorizing the whole poem:

      Turning and turning in the widening gyre
      The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
      Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
      Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
      The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
      The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
      The best lack all conviction, while the worst
      Are full of passionate intensity.

      Surely some revelation is at hand;
      Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
      The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
      When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
      Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
      A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
      A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
      Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
      Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
      The darkness drops again; but now I know
      That twenty centuries of stony sleep
      Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
      And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
      Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

    2. This is perfectly stated. The far right isn’t rural america. but unfortunately it’s become the voice that’s heard everywhere.

    3. Reason. What a concept. I would love to see that practiced throughout our state and nation. It’s important. We may not all agree, but at least we can reason and discuss without hating each other. That’s the nature of reason.

      Yet the WY GOP did not think it was important enough in June to publically state that it matters. Rather, they thought it could be used as a tool, a weapon, for malicious purposes.

      The concept, in my humble opinion, that reason is malicious is self-contradictory.

  11. Kerry, why should the Governor listen to guy whose candidate got 27% of the vote in Wyoming? Does that make sense to you?

  12. There are many things to like about Wyoming, including the beautiful scenery and the many interesting people. The least attractive thing about Wyoming is not the long, harsh winters. The least attractive thing about Wyoming is the reactionary, backwards politics that dominates the state,