”The secret of crisis management is not good vs. bad, it’s preventing the bad from getting worse.” – Andy Gilman
It quietly dropped into our email inbox at 5:41 p.m. Thursday: A news release representing the latest in a series of disappointments with Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon.
The headline: “Governor Responds to Record COVID-19 Hospitalizations, Reduces Gathering Sizes.”
Wait, what? You mean this is what we waited a week for our “leader” to announce? In the wake of record increases in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations that are taxing the biggest facilities in the state, and in the face of mountains of scientific evidence that the virus is spread through the air, he couldn’t bring himself to impose a statewide mask mandate?
Unfortunately, it didn’t come as that much of a surprise. Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Mr. Gordon in the past two years, it’s that he works very hard to keep everyone happy. And when it comes to addressing serious problems, he prefers to keep applying Band-Aids to try to stop the bleeding when a tourniquet is clearly needed.
When we endorsed then-State Treasurer Gordon in the race to replace fellow Republican Matt Mead as governor in 2018, we said we chose him because he had “the best experience and potential.”
We said we felt his experience successfully helping manage the state’s investments and as a member of the State Loan and Investment Board would make him the right person to spur the state’s economic development efforts. And we liked the fact that he said he realized he would need to use “the bully pulpit” of the governor’s office to be the best recruiter possible, working hard to attract new industries to the state.
When we asked him two years ago about his leadership style, Mr. Gordon said he brings “quiet, very effective leadership,” and his focus is on building consensus. We knew he wasn’t a fireball, but we hoped he would step up and be the leader Wyoming needed to move us away from dependence on the boom-and-bust fossil fuel industry before it was too late.
Fast forward two years, and not only have the state’s budget woes gotten massively worse, he has repeatedly dug in his heels and supported the state’s reeling coal and oil industries. Instead of working to attract new types of businesses to the state, he’s been trying to convince us that carbon capture technology is the answer to what ails us.
As the projected budget deficit approached $1.5 billion, he slashed state spending, warning that more may be needed. We recognize the governor must balance the budget, and it’s a difficult task, but his strategy seems to be to eliminate services to the Wyoming residents who need them most – seniors struggling to stay in their homes, those suffering from mental illness and drug addiction, and the disabled. We can only assume he’s using these cuts in the hope those impacted will put pressure on their lawmakers to do the right thing. (But we don’t know for sure; he’s never said.)
No mention of tax hikes that he would support. No public pressure on legislative leaders to stop the pain. No indication that he’s concerned about lawmakers postponing next year’s session for months due to a virus many of them have said isn’t worth being worried about.
When it comes to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been more of the same. From the early days in March, Mr. Gordon has been in lockstep with his GOP colleagues – some of whom go so far as to say he should lift the current state of emergency. For him, that’s politically wise in a heavily Republican state, of course. But we don’t elect leaders to keep their party members happy or worry about getting reelected. We elect them to make the tough decisions to protect us – even when that means protecting some of us from ourselves.
Yet on Friday, Nov. 13 – after 21 county health officers and members of the Wyoming Hospital Association and Wyoming Medical Society sent him a letter asking him to impose a statewide mask mandate – the best Mr. Gordon could do was call people who failed to mask up “knuckleheads.”
Oh sure, he made a show of getting angry with people for not doing the right thing. But the “Don’t make Daddy get really angry and take away your toys!” routine doesn’t cause anyone to shake in their boots when time and time again you fail to follow through on your threats.
Yet that’s exactly what Mr. Gordon did again Thursday. After holding a virtual meeting with business leaders, he imposed no new restrictions on bars, clubs and other “super-spreader” venues, and there was no indication of additional enforcement measures when violators are caught. He simply wagged his (email) finger and said, “Now be good boys and girls and do the right thing, won’t you? Oh yeah, and have a Happy Thanksgiving.”
In the week between his “no news” conference and the Thursday evening news release, according to the Wyoming Department of Health:
Active cases of COVID-19 statewide rose by more than 2,000 to top 11,000, and total cases increased by more than 5,000.
Wyoming’s positivity rate (the percentage of people who test positive for COVID-19) topped 15%, when health experts say exceeding 3% is dangerous.
Hospitalizations related to the novel coronavirus hit record highs statewide, as facilities begged for more help due to staff getting sick in their communities. (Mr. Gordon also announced earlier Thursday that he has secured teams from the National Disaster Medical System and is deploying Wyoming National Guard members to help hospitals in Cheyenne and Gillette.)
Another 49 deaths of Wyoming residents were announced, bringing the death toll to 176 as of Thursday afternoon.
Yet the best our governor can muster is reducing group sizes while exempting parades, church services and funeral homes (among others)?
How many struggling Wyomingites will have to continue to suffer before either crisis is addressed head-on? How many more deaths are acceptable?
It’s time to stop sending news releases in the dark, Governor, and get out in front of these problems. It’s time to stop worrying about who likes you and who doesn’t. It’s time to lead.