Rodger McDaniel 2018 headshot

Rodger McDaniel

Wyoming Columnist

Democrats should proudly take the blame some Republicans give them for Mark Gordon’s victory, and Republicans ought to thank Democrats for saving them from themselves.

To hear GOP party bosses tell it, Foster Friess would be governor but for those pesky Democrats exercising their right to vote.

Whatever the cause, Mark Gordon is off to an impressive start. I’ve witnessed the first legislative session in several previous administrations, including Stan Hathaway, Ed Herschler, Mike Sullivan, Jim Gerringer, Dave Freudenthal and Matt Mead. It is tough. A governor is elected in early November, and within two short months has to put together a Cabinet and a staff, a budget and a legislative agenda before state legislators come to town.

When lawmakers get to Cheyenne, especially in a governor’s first legislative session, their unspoken agenda is to test the new fellow. That is even more so as the Legislature increasingly becomes a tool of the State Republican Central Committee. It’s a safe bet that many of the members of Wyoming’s version of the politburo wanted someone other than Mark Gordon. Legislators, lobbyists and others want a measure of the new governor’s mettle.

Some previous chief executives watched timidly as legislators usurped their authority, and they paid the price every legislative session thereafter. That’s why the current speaker of the House says, “We’ve always done it this way.” Not with Mark Gordon.

Past legislators found a back door to the uncertain process of the regular order of business. They found a path around the maze created by the old-fashioned way of doing things. It required introducing a bill and shepherding it through a committee in their house and to a majority of their body’s members, and then doing the same across the hall in the other house, another committee and rounding up another majority.

By and large, the new work-around procedure was reserved for select legislators – those with power and influence. They found that if one had enough votes, he or she could legislate much easier. By putting footnotes on the budget, especially on final reading, you could avoid all that messy legislative stuff. No hearings. No public input. No three readings to endure while the opposition got their act together.

Through the years, legislative observers wondered when a governor would stand up to the growing legislative abuse of the executive’s power. But every year, that circumvention of the constitutionally mandated process for enacting legislation grew.

Legislators used it to become pseudo governors. These interlopers use footnotes to micromanage state agencies, usually demanding underfunded, understaffed and overworked public employees write reports that legislators don’t read containing recommendations they won’t follow.

In his first session of dealing with these folks, Mark Gordon vetoed 14 such footnotes. Legislators overrode only two of those vetoes. In taking such a bold action in his first months in office, the governor sent a message: “I am the governor. You are not. Let’s each stay in our own lanes.”

Most impressive were this governor’s appointments. The choice of his rival in the 2018 campaign to be a member of the Public Service Commission sent an important message. Mary Throne’s appointment tells us he will choose what is best for the state over partisanship.

Appointing Korin Schmidt says he cares about children and families, and knows enough about their complex needs to put someone in charge of the Department of Family Services who has the experience, leadership skills and knowledge to guide one of the state’s most vital agencies.

Mark Gordon also recognizes that sometimes the best change comes when you don’t make one. Bob Lampert is the most effective director of any corrections department in the country. I was a member of the candidate review committee recommending Bob’s initial appointment by Gov. Dave Freudenthal. It was the right choice then. His reappointment by two successive governors recognizes his value to Wyoming.

Now, if only Gov. Gordon would do what his predecessor did and reassess his opposition to Medicaid expansion.

Rodger McDaniel lives in Laramie and is the pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne. Email: rmc81448@gmail.com.

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