CHEYENNE – Wyoming’s new governor, Mark Gordon, was sworn into office Monday, officially becoming the state’s 33rd leader.
The newly minted chief executive used his inaugural address at the Cheyenne Civic Center to both praise his home state and outline his vision for it under his leadership.
Speaking behind a surprise gift made by his son, Spencer Young, a handmade wooden podium with artwork of the Capitol done by childhood friend Jim Clayton, Gordon focused on the potential of Wyoming and its people. But he also outlined many of the issues facing the state, including the need to diversify the economy to help keep the next generation of Wyomingites here at home.
“Reaching our potential will not be easy. We have challenges ahead,” Gordon said during his speech. “But if our history teaches us anything, it is that we in Wyoming are resourceful, and that throughout our history, our state has been blessed with pragmatic, effective and strong leaders.
“I believe from the bottom of my heart that Wyoming can reach new heights and be a beacon for others. We can lead the way into a bright future if we focus on the world we want our grandchildren to inherit, even as we address the issues of this day.”
Gordon was introduced by outgoing Gov. Matt Mead, who spoke briefly before turning over the stage to his successor. Gordon thanked Mead for all the work he had done in his eight years as governor, and the two shared a warm embrace before Gordon started his speech.
A common theme for Gordon on the campaign trail last year was the necessity for Wyoming to live within its means, and for state government to be as efficient as possible. He continued to expound on that need Monday, but also drove home the importance of investment in the state’s K-12 and higher education systems.
“We will have choices to make that relate to government spending. The services we have come to expect, and in some cases depend on, come with a price tag. We in Wyoming are not eager to take on new taxes, and especially so if we have not done our best to control our expenditures,” Gordon said. “I believe we will need to become more efficient, not just cheaper. We need to become more effective, even as we become leaner, and we must invest in the people, programs and systems that will make it all possible.”
When it comes to education funding, Gordon promised to work with state legislators to find a permanent solution to funding the system. Mead highlighted the issue with his final supplemental budget request, and Gordon picked up that cause in his first speech.
Gordon also continued to focus on a major issue for him – keeping government in the hands of local citizens.
“Like so many in this room, I believe in government closest to the people, and I believe in the power of community. Rather than grow government, let us grow opportunity in the places we live,” Gordon said. “My administration will work to ensure that our towns and counties have the tools and resources they need to cultivate their own economies.”
The ceremony ended with a bagpipe performance, another surprise for Gordon and a nod to his Scottish heritage.
Along with Gordon, Secretary of State Ed Buchanan, State Auditor Kristi Racines, State Treasurer Curt Meier and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow were also sworn in by Wyoming Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Davis.
Gordon, his family and more than 100 people, including current and former state leaders, also attended a prayer service at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church before the official ceremony. The Rev. Carole Buckingham of Kaycee, who was asked by Gordon to speak at the service, focused her sermon on the role of service and implored lawmakers to remember the blue-collar workers and to work to be their servants.
Before any of the public ceremonies began, Gordon was actually sworn into office early Monday morning in a private ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda. The event was kept private in part due to safety concerns related to the ongoing construction at the Capitol.
Reaction from politicos
While Gordon is set to formally lay out many of his policy goals for Wyoming in his first State of the State speech Wednesday morning, he did highlight the areas in which he intended to focus his efforts during his tenure.
For incoming Senate President Drew Perkins, R-Casper, Gordon’s speech was a great encapsulation of what the Legislature and the new governor need to focus on.
“I think those are the things we’ve been talking about,” Perkins said. “And so we’re going to start, and we’re working on a number of those things together. Both (House) Speaker (Steve) Harshman and I pledged our support to Gov. Gordon and to work together to make Mark one of the best governors Wyoming ever has had.”
Perkins said every governor faces a steep learning curve when they take over the reins of the state. But Gordon starts his tenure with the advantage of being able to draw from his years of experience as state treasurer, along with his time serving on boards that oversaw a school district, conservation districts and prisons.
“He’s already got a handle on those things,” Perkins said. “And I think that will make his learning curve not quite as steep. He’ll be effective sooner and more quickly, and in fact I expect that he will be very effective from the beginning.”
Given Gordon’s experience, Perkins said he believes Wyoming can begin to move quickly to address serious issues. The state has the advantage of a small population, which allows lawmakers and Gordon to work together and quickly implement improvements and changes to help address systemic needs like infrastructure and education funding.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do in health care. We’ve got a lot of work to do to get our fiscal house in order. We need to find out how to stabilize and begin to broaden and diversify funding streams,” Perkins said. “Our tax structure is archaic. And in this day and age, it doesn’t take many years for something to become archaic. We’ve gone from a goods economy to a service economy.”
Gordon’s former primary opponent and GOP mega-donor Foster Friess said he was heartened to hear Gordon focus his inaugural address in part on being fiscally responsible and focusing on improving the economy to help benefit working-class Wyomingites. He said he hoped the focus on fiscal responsibility would lead to lower spending, and, in turn, keep Wyoming from having to consider things like an income tax.
“I think the thing that touched me the most (about Gordon’s speech) was one of the highlights of my campaign, when I walked into a welding shop and have a photo of me with the eight welders,” Friess said. “Those are the people I want to stick up for – and today I heard Mark Gordon say the same thing – the everyday working guy.”
State Sen. Fred Baldwin, R- Kemmerer, said he expects Gordon to lead the state and hopes the focus would remain on education and health care. He also said he hopes the governor focuses on efficiency and “using money wisely.”
“I expect a lot of conservatism,” Baldwin said.
Jeff Ketcham, a former Laramie County commissioner, said he came to the day’s events “to see what the forecast was with the new governor.”
“I think he’s interested in getting the economy of Wyoming diversified,” he said. “I hope he’ll run an efficient government and let communities stand alone.”
WTE education reporter Morgan Hughes contributed to this report.