On Friday, Oct. 1, Governor Mark Gordon flew into Kemmerer for a visit to Lincoln County. After he drove up to Cokeville in order to rename the Cokeville Football Field, in honor of their two long-standing coaches, from Panther Field to the Nate Dayton Field. He then returned to Kemmerer after the Homecoming Parade. From there, city officials spoke with him at length as they toured downtown Kemmerer’s historical landmarks, including the J.C. Penney statue.
After the tour had concluded, it was time for the main event: a miniaturized ‘State of the State’ update given directly to the citizens of Kemmerer and Diamondville from the South Lincoln Training & Events Center. A ‘State of the State’ is similar to a State of the Union address as given by a sitting president, but is instead something that almost all governors give to their State Legislatures in a special joint session.
After City Administrator Brian Muir introduced the governor to the dozens of residents in attendance, Gordon immediately stressed the importance of having enough time for residents to be able to ask their questions.
“Last year was really a tough year. We had lost a third of our revenue, and at one point, for the first time in our state’s history, we did not have any oil rigs or gas rigs running at all…it was the first time since 1890,” he opened.
According to Gordon, they now have “around 16 rigs running,” also adding that oil has come back slightly. He also emphasized his disdain for the Biden Administration’s anti-fossil fuel agenda several times throughout his speech.
But speaking on the budget, Gordon was optimistic about where things were looking, thanks in part due to a small, unexpected uptick in coal prices.
“We are planning a budget which will be introduced, per statute, in the middle of November…and it’s looking pretty flat from what we’ve had,” he said.
However, Gordon also emphasized his frequent communication with county officers, stating that he “would do his best to safeguard the $105 million that goes to towns and counties.”
Gordon then moved to the matter of the pending federal funds from the American Rescue Plan, which was signed into law by President Biden earlier this year in March 2021.
“Some of those [funds] will be used to offset our general fund. We can do that with corrections, with law enforcement, and we’re gonna continue to try to do what we can with WYDOT to be able to replace some of our ongoing, regular dollars with those ARPA funds on a one-time basis,” he said.
“At the top level, I had two rules. One is, let’s first think about what we need to survive. Then, what we need to drive to the future where we can thrive,” he said.
Overall, Gordon said the state is in “reasonably good shape,” explaining that they have cut a significant portion of their budget — roughly a third, which Gordon claimed was more than any other governor.
Still, he conceded that the situation was less than ideal, budget-wise.
“The state survived, but there are some weaknesses that we’ve seen. We’re going to try to build back where our weaknesses are. Things like mental health, the Colorado River, the State Engineer’s Office,” he added.
After he finished going over the broad strokes of what is going on in the state, Gordon turned his attention to matters of tourism and energy. He noted that the new lodging tax brought in twice as much as they had expected, but added that he’s always looking for new ways to bring those benefits from the state downstream to local communities.
“Wyoming’s economy continues to be driven by what we do with energy resources, and we have an administration that has done everything it can in its brief time to bring a full stop to fossil fuel development…oil and gas, and particularly coal, and you all feel that here,” he explained.
“It is great that we have renewables…but solar and wind alone…cannot power a country,” he said.
“So I do see that there’s a strong future for coal, a strong future for oil and gas, and I want you to know that my administration is going to fight to make sure that those jobs are secure for a long time to come,” he added.
After speaking for about 15 minutes, Gordon opened the floor to questions from the public. Acknowledging the irony of asking about nuclear power after the governor’s commitment to coal, one citizen inquired about the status of the nuclear reactor. Although the governor deferred to his energy secretary for the details, he clarified his administration’s policy toward nuclear power.
“Let me be clear, Wyoming is not putting money into this Small Modular Reactor…it’s entirely brought by TerraPower,” he clarified.
“What we have done, and what Wyoming has really committed to doing, is making sure that our industry, our manufacturers and our skill sets will be able to match [the production demands of TerraPower to avoid any delays],” he said.
Despite not giving any concrete answers, Gordon nonetheless offered a ray of hope for residents listening intently, saying that “western Wyoming has a pretty good chance of getting the final plant.” It is worth noting, however, that Gordon also referenced Bridger Valley as another strong contender in his response.
Other questions and comments from those in attendance included topics like forest and fire management strategies, expanding the accessibility of sidewalks on state routes, what is going into landfills, the current challenge to the federal vaccine mandate, concerns over the lack of state assistance for highway maintenance in the winter, praise for the First Lady’s food bank program, and even a plea for the governor to allow doctors to prescribe more ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine.
After the Q/A session wound down, Gordon briefly spoke to the Gazette for two brief questions. Of these two queries, the governor first was asked if there would be additional activations of the National Guard, and how long he foresaw the current activations lasting.
“We’re meeting needs as they’re being requested at the hospitals…We’ll respond as needed. Wyoming is sort of interesting, because we have to monitor what’s going on in our neighboring states,” he said, adding that he is in frequent contact with neighboring governors.
The second query was related to an issue that a concerned citizen had brought up earlier in the Q/A session: Wyoming’s vaccination rate. The governor, who is vaccinated himself, was asked if he was working on increasing the vaccination rates for Wyomingites, with Wyoming being one of the least-vaccinated states.
“We talk about it regularly, and there are some incentive plans that are coming online. We’ve ramped up, we just released our outreach and advertising. Frankly, what we were seeing was an enormous amount of pushback. We looked at a couple of those [incentive] programs; they had initially good starts and then they really tapered off, even some actually having a backlash,” he said.
“So we’re just doing our best to make sure that people know it’s a good thing to do, it’s your choice, God love you, and to this point of the woman here today, we’re losing friends and family, so we need to do everything that we can,” he said.
After speaking to a few other individuals, the governor then departed the premises — well behind schedule — for the airport.