CHEYENNE – In his first public comment on the matter, Gov. Mark Gordon said Tuesday that the Wyoming Republican Party Central Committee’s approval of a resolution calling on him to rescind his declaration of a state of emergency was “a very unfortunate choice.”
The approval of the resolution, which was first reported by WyoFile.com, came at a Nov. 14 meeting of the Wyoming State Republican Central Committee in Newcastle.
The resolution requests Gordon to immediately rescind his declaration of a state of emergency, which he initially issued March 13 at the onset of the COVID pandemic in Wyoming.
Since then, the declared state of emergency has allowed Gordon and other officials to issue public health restrictions on businesses, qualify for additional federal funding and mobilize Wyoming National Guard members as needed.
In a virtual meeting Tuesday with the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Editorial Board, Gordon said while he understood the impetus for the resolution, it was “a very unfortunate choice on their part.” The governor noted his office was following suit after President Donald Trump declared a national emergency earlier the same day in March.
“(The emergency order) provides for a number of resources beyond just the ability of the health officer to issue orders,” Gordon said. “There are resources for the hospitals. There are funds that are available. There are so many other aspects to it.”
“I just think it was an unfortunate resolution, but it’s perhaps a sign of the times of how far apart this country has become,” he continued. “I certainly hope to work with GOP leadership to try to find a way to sort of rethink what that resolution was.”
Gordon added he doesn’t intend to remove the statewide emergency order “until there’s a good reason.” His comments came a day after Wyoming reported a new record for COVID-19 hospitalizations, with 247 on Monday.
Though the GOP Central Committee is comprised of party members throughout the state, not every county-level GOP committee was supportive of the measure. During a Nov. 17 meeting of the Laramie County GOP Central Committee, the resolution was defeated by a 16-9 vote, according to Laramie County GOP Chairwoman Dani Olsen.
“There were numerous talking points shared by members of the body (during the meeting),” Olsen said in an email Tuesday explaining the vote. “Among them was concern that had the state not declared an emergency, then our hospitals would not have been able to receive the supplies and equipment needed to treat COVID patients, and there was discussion on the growing number of cases in Laramie County and the state.”
Wyoming GOP Chairman Frank Eathorne had not responded to a request for comment by press time Tuesday.
The GOP resolution was among several topics, some of which appear below, discussed by Gordon during a wide-ranging visit Tuesday with the WTE Editorial Board.
County vs. statewide mask mandate
Last month, Gordon decided not to include a statewide mask mandate as part of updated health orders that further restricted gathering sizes throughout Wyoming. On Tuesday, the governor said the decision was made out of respect for local control.
“There are some counties in the state that are absolutely, adamantly opposed to a mask order and look at that as a real challenge to the Constitution,” Gordon said. “In our case, we felt that local government probably had the best approach.”
However, Gordon suggested additional statewide health orders could come down soon, as he worried about the potential for a “surge upon the surge” in the coming weeks.
“Our concern is how do we make sure that our infection rate gets down,” Gordon said. “That’s going to take more stringent steps. Those stringent steps, I think we are working on at this point, and those stringent steps are really going to be put in place to do two things.
“One is we want to make sure that we have a holiday season that people remember in a happy way,” he continued. “Then, secondly, we don’t see any cavalry, other than the vaccine, on the horizon. ... So we want to make sure that our businesses have a fighting chance through January, February and March, as we start to see the take-up of the vaccine and hopefully better numbers.”
Hopefully no long delay of legislative session
After the decision from legislative leadership last week to delay much of the upcoming session due to COVID-19 risks, Gordon stated his hope Tuesday that lawmakers don’t wait too long to begin work on his supplemental budget proposal, which includes roughly $515 million in cuts.
The Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee, which takes the leading role with the state budget, still plans to meet starting next week, despite the session’s delay, according to the Legislative Service Office. Gordon said he hopes to keep the budget process on a “focused path” despite the disruptions brought by the pandemic.
“The longer we get away from what we’ve presented, the more stale our presentation becomes,” Gordon said. “For agencies, I think that presents an incredible challenge, and that is because each agency gave a lot of consideration to how it would make its reductions, so as to minimize the disruptions to the communities that we’re meant to serve.
“If the Legislature, in that extended period of time, keeps saying, ‘Wait a minute, go back to the drawing board, do it again, go back to the drawing board, do it again,’ we won’t know where anything really is,” he added.
With regards to what should be passed during the delayed session, Gordon maintained “there’s no question that we need more revenue,” mentioning the removal of sales tax exemptions as a possible avenue lawmakers could pursue.
“I think the Legislature has to look quite seriously at that,” Gordon said. “If you look at the results of this election, however, you will see that there are a number of new legislators who have a no-new-tax pledge. I think the conversation has got to be a robust one about what are the services that Wyoming people expect from government? And how are we going to pay for those when we have to acknowledge that our opportunities to fund all those services are radically changed?”