ROCK SPRINGS – Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon traveled to the western side of the state last week, promoting his Reimagining and Innovating the Delivery of Education (RIDE) program and listening to feedback from state educators, parents and other community members.
During his trip, the governor made a number of stops in Sweetwater County to see new developments within the community and visit with voters leading up to the 2022 election, where he is seeking a second term.
Gov. Gordon sat down with the Rocket Miner to discuss the RIDE program, the feedback he has received from it, as well as a number of issues that are facing Wyomingites today.
The governor’s RIDE program was designed to survey the issues that current educators, students, parents and schools are facing on a day-to-day basis.
“What we wanted to do, instead of having consultants tell us what we needed to teach our kids, we really wanted to start with the communities. We really wanted to take a consumer-oriented approach,” Gov. Gordon said. “What are the things that we are doing well? What are the things we can do a little bit better?”
So far, the program has generated more than 7,000 responses from mostly parents, the governor noted.
“There is a lot of support for schools, really a lot of community support for the schools,” he said. “We’re doing some things right. We need to kind of get out of the way of teachers doing the right kinds of work and kind of ease up a little bit on all of the assessments and the overlap of Hathaway, try to figure out a way to make it a little more elegant and streamline a little better.”
The Hathaway Scholarship the governor was referring to was designed to help students attend college by helping to pay for tuition at the University of Wyoming or one of the many community colleges located throughout the state.
Gov. Gordon said that he believes that the people of Wyoming are simply “delighted to be asked what they think and not in a targeted way.”
“I think the feedback that I’ve heard is that we’ve been so engaged with our schools. It’s such an important part of our community,” he said.
The Biden Administration and Inflation
Since President Joe Biden took office, Gov. Gordon has been critical of the administration’s handling of many issues, particularly when it comes to fossil fuels and the closure of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Gov. Gordon said that there needs to be a balance. “It’s not whether we keep fossil fuels in the ground or not, it’s how we use them,” he said.
“This nation is energy independent. We’re in the position of selling energy to our friends and if you do this, and this is what has come to pass, we’re having to ask our adversaries to help power the nation,” Gordon said, adding that there can be a balance between being climate sensitive without eliminating the use of fossil fuels altogether.
“Wyoming is a leader in being climate sensitive and we can do that with our traditional fuel supply. We just have to use better technology. Looking at Jim Bridger, that’s one of the things we are anticipating,” he said.
“We understood that this would be inflationary and that it would raise the price of fuel. If you stop leasing on federal lands, and I’ve done this both with our counterparts that are republicans and done a bipartisan effort with western states that are run by democrats, it’s hurting our schools. It’s hurting our kids. It’s hurting the way we fund our communities, so you’re really not solving climate issues by simply removing energy explorations off of western federal lands, you’re only moving it overseas to places like Russia, Kazakhstan or Venezuela, and they don’t give as much of a fig about the environment, labor standards or anything else.”
“It’s about finding a balance. Wyoming is an all-of-the-above energy state. We’re really trying to lead the way and doing a great job at it. We’re really talking about what we can do with nuclear, what we can do with renewables, how they interface with our traditional oil and gas and coal and really coming up with a 24/7 reliable power supply.”
Handling of the COVID-19 Pandemic
Many Wyomingites and Gov. Gordon’s political opponents have been critical of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that his focus during that time, from beginning to end, was to find a balance of lives and livelihoods.
“I can remember getting beat up for keeping businesses open, for keeping kids in school and all of those things. The national press was saying, ‘This is terrible.’ I think at one point, somebody called me out on MSNBC. There was a lot of pressure, but what we tried to do was find a middle ground that balanced lives and livelihoods. I think we did OK,” he said.
He said that the state kept more kids in schools for more days and the results of that can be seen in test scores. He noted that a large proportion of CARES Act dollars went to helping small businesses and that there wasn’t a missed day of production at the trona mines “all because of how we handled it.”
“I think we found a balance here in Wyoming that was as good that could be expected.”
Looking back, however, Gov. Gordon mentioned that there were some things that could’ve been handled better, particularly when it came to the closure of schools around the state.
The weekend following President Donald Trump’s declaration of emergency, Gordon said that his office was trying to figure out what to do with schools. The declaration came around the spring vacation in March of 2020.
“As kids were gearing up for spring vacation, I had hoped that we would be able to have a normal Monday. Then on Tuesday, giving the kids a heads up that were going to make some announcements and it would’ve given teachers time to prepare. It would’ve also given parents time to prepare and we could’ve said, at that time, we were thinking, ‘Maybe we should extend the spring vacation just a little bit.’ I think we would’ve been more orderly in the way we handled that transition,” Gordon said.
“As it was, we had a number of school districts immediately say on Sunday night, ‘We’re not going to school again.’ Now the problem is you had schools where it was going to be an issue and schools where it wasn’t going to be an issue. We had testing and we didn’t really know what we were going to do with testing. We scrambled and so on. We should’ve done that in a more pensive way.”
During the pandemic and its aftermath, mental health took its toll on many people throughout the state. The governor noted that mental health was an issue in Wyoming prior to the pandemic, especially with veterans.
“I have really spent a lot of effort on moral injury, not just PTSD, but just the issues that come with being in conflict and seeing horrific things. In fact, I have a governor’s challenge on suicide for veterans that is about ending suicide,” he said.
“It’s an area that we need to be much more coordinated. We have lots of sorts of local entities and some larger ones that really focus on it that’s under-resourced. It’s a commitment the state of Wyoming really has to make.”
When it comes to the mental health of students, the governor stated his concern about being able to be there at difficult moments.
“We have kids who have really bright futures but something’s devastating to them at that particular moment. We’ve had some success in Safe2Tell and we need to build on those successes. I’m happy we have a 24/7 service now that is also coming online that’s Wyoming, so that if I’m in crisis and I call the suicide hotline, I’m not talking to somebody from Louisiana. I’m talking to somebody from Wyoming,” he said.
Message to Voters
Aside from asking Wyomingites for his vote during the primary election on Aug. 16, Gov. Gordon wants voters to look at his record.
“I think Wyoming is on a really good track. We have reduced our state budget. We have realigned our services and are trying to be more efficient. We have businesses that are growing and expanding. I can see hope for the future,” he said.
“Both my wife and I are 100% in on another four years. I have always been conservative and I think Wyoming is a state that really respects conservative values.”