Why do I love following Wyoming politics? Look no further than the embarrassing flap between Gov. Mark Gordon and Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr over a planned visit to the capital city by the president of Taiwan.
This dust-up has something for everyone: mudslinging, gender inequity, state v. local and state v. federal power struggles and even an embarrassing international incident.
One of many things I don’t understand about this closed-door but now highly publicized confrontation between two prominent Republican officials: How can a state’s male chief executive drop the “f-bomb” on a female mayor and then claim he was “deeply offended” by her response?
This is the famed Wyoming “Good Ol’ Boys Club” turned on its head and spun around until its many members are dizzy thinking about how the times really are a-changing in the so-called Equality State.
In case you missed it, the governor and the mayor were meeting to discuss a visit to Cheyenne Frontier Days by Tsai Ing-wen, the first female leader of the Republic of China. Orr is the first woman elected Cheyenne’s mayor.
According to Orr, Taiwanese officials wanted to visit Wyoming during the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage. Getting their president, and Cheyenne’s mayor – each an important election “first” – together for the event seemed like a great way to commemorate the women’s rights milestone.
What should have been a simple feel-good story went south when Gordon expressed strong reservations about the trip because it could offend China, a much bigger national trade partner.
Orr told the Casper Star-Tribune that she wasn’t expecting Gordon’s interference. “I said, ‘Governor, if you’re so concerned about your appearance to the Chinese to this policy decision, I am fine to go (at) it alone and not include you, your office, and your residents in the Capitol. We can have this be about the Capital City and Frontier Days.”
Orr said the governor, who is much taller than her, slammed his fists on the table, got in her face and shouted, “F--- you, Mayor.”
Gordon hasn’t denied using the language that Orr claimed he did. In fact, in a news release produced by his office after the mayor called him out publicly, the governor said he had called her up to apologize and that she accepted.
But Gordon’s statement also noted, “I am deeply offended by the mischaracterization represented in the mayor’s description of our meeting.” He denied standing up and using intimidating body language.
“The notion that I have anything but the utmost respect for women is simply not true,” Gordon said. “I stand by my record on that point.”
After reading those words, Orr told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle that Gordon wasn’t truthful about the incident and she could no longer accept his apology.
What are we to glean from this back-and-forth? That the governor didn’t yell profane language at the mayor because she’s a woman, but because she’s just a city official who disagreed with him? Is that supposed to be a comfort to her or anyone else who was offended by his remarks?
Several people I talked to who know him well were surprised and described the outburst as an aberration to his normal behavior. I hope they’re right.
But what Gordon admitted saying is inexcusable, especially for someone holding the state’s highest office. He needed to apologize and did so, but with a caveat that made it sound like he was being victimized by the person he yelled “f--- you” to. That’s simply bizarre.
Lost in this mess is the unique relationship Cheyenne has with Taiwan. It has a sister city, Taichung, and they have exchanged many pleasant official visits over the years.
Many officials from other countries visit Cheyenne for Frontier Days each year, and the city and Wyoming always welcome them with open arms. Taiwan is of particular interest to the state because of the beef it imports from Wyoming.
China, too, is a primary target of Wyoming businesses; the coal industry has been trying for years to develop a better route to export its product – demand for which is waning in the U.S. – to the huge Asian market.
Gordon is likely feeling tremendous pressure from the Trump administration not to offend China, which is already upset by the president’s trade war. It’s an understandable political concern, but it’s not something that merits throwing Cheyenne’s Taiwanese friends under the bus to achieve.
Gordon cited security costs and complicated logistics as a reason to tell the Taiwan president to stay away, but that’s a smokescreen. The governor clearly wants to make nice with the feds.
Which raises the question: Why now? Wyoming officials continually whine about federal interference, and the state sues them on a regular basis over environmental regulations and other issues.
Welcoming Taiwanese trade partners and having a few photos taken of Tsai Ing-wen wearing a cowboy hat wouldn’t have been even a blip on the radar of Chinese officials. But the governor literally made it an international incident that insulted Taiwan and now deserves public scrutiny both at home and abroad.
It wasn’t a smart move by our freshman governor.