“Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.” – Matthew 10: 26
Gov. Mark Gordon seems hellbent on proving Jesus wrong when it comes to spending a billion dollars in public funds to buy land from the Occidental oil company. From the beginning, there was a rotten-fish odor to the deal emanating from the secrecy that has it shrouded.
He’d been discussing the deal with Occidental since May 2019, but kept it secret until last February. The scheme was sprung on legislators as they started a 20-day budget session. Initially, the governor said he wanted the Legislature and the public to be involved in what a Feb. 21 WyoFile.com story called “the biggest government land purchase since the U.S. bought Alaska from Russia in 1867.”
Once the idea surfaced, the governor proposed legislation giving lawmakers and the public a chair at the negotiating table. Having asked for their opinion, he didn’t like what he heard. Gordon vetoed a bill the Legislature sent him, which created a public input process.
With the Legislature effectively neutered and the public completely excluded, the deal moves forward in a process assuring there will be no transparency. Instead of calling it a “purchase,” the governor is calling it “an investment.” Purchases require appropriations, meaning those meddlesome legislators would have a voice. Investments, on the other hand, require approval of as few as three people. And, to top it off, their deliberations may be held behind closed doors because a discussion of an investment is excluded from the public meetings act. Well played, governor.
Although the public is frozen out of the process, there are three entities involved, only one of which has any accountability to the voters, and all of whom are allowed to deliberate in secret.
The first is an informal advisory group assembled by Gov. Gordon. It includes a former CEO of Apache Corporation, an oil company; a former Baker Hughes CEO; the current CEO of global energy giant Hess Corporation; a member of the University of Wyoming’s Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute; and Fred Parady, a former speaker of the Wyoming House and a former executive director of the Alaska Mining Association.
It’s clear the governor wasn’t looking for too broad a range of advice when he called this group together.
Next involved is an entity most voters have never heard of – the Investment Funds Committee. Unencumbered by any accountability to the voters, they met secretly while the public was overwhelmed with coronavirus news and its impact on state and local budgets. Without asking your opinion, they determined the investment was in your best interests.
Enters now a third entity most voters have never heard of, the State Loan and Investment Board. It is made up of the top five elected officials, all Republicans, none elected because of any expertise in investing. If at least three of the five vote “aye,” the purchase – or, rather, the investment – will move forward.
Unlike the Investment Funds Committee, the SLIB members are elected by you. It may be time to remind them of that.
All of this is going on behind closed doors while agencies plan 20% budget cuts. The bulk of the cuts will come in health and social services because, as Speaker Steve Harshman, R-Casper, says, “That’s where the money is.” Hey, Mr. Speaker, it’s also where you’ll find the greatest human needs.
These cuts will derail critical services and result in massive layoffs among state employees. Those employees could be excused for wondering whether a more creative governor could think of a way to “invest” those billions of dollars in people, rather than land.
Rodger McDaniel lives in Laramie and is the pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.