Nine Western Governors gathered Dec. 13-14 to discuss the opportunities and potential challenges of working with the incoming administration, improving the state-federal relationship, the daunting work of improving rural healthcare, and the rollout of seven new policy resolutions at the Western Governors' Association 2016 Winter Meeting in San Diego, Calif.
WGA Chair and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock hosted a press conference prior to the opening session, at which the Governors fielded questions about the Affordable Care Act and the incoming administration's early indications that there might be an opportunity for increased oil and gas drilling on federal lands. At the opening session of the meeting, Gov. Bullock discussed the initial work of his Chairman's Initiative, the National Forest and Rangeland Management Initiative, and shared a video.
Eight Western Governors joined Gov. Bullock, including WGA Vice Chair Dennis Daugaard (South Dakota), Edmund G. Brown (California), John Hickenlooper (Colorado), C.L. "Butch" Otter (Idaho), Susana Martinez (New Mexico), Ralph Torres (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands), Gary Herbert (Utah), and Matt Mead (Wyoming).
The Director of the Center for Presidential Transition at the Partnership for Public Service, David Eagles, explored the world's most significant “takeover.” Eagles noted that despite the fact the federal government has a $4 trillion budget, each transition starts from scratch, a lack of organization his group is working to change. He also noted that, when it came to making Cabinet selections, the Trump transition team is well ahead of the pace of past administrations.
Western Governors, led by Gov. Herbert, discussed how the states, operating as authentic collaborators in the development and execution of policy, and the new Administration can create a legacy of renewed federalism. They also formally unveiled a new resolution, Building a Stronger State-Federal Relationship. The new policy, in short, asserts that "Where authority has been delegated by the federal government to the states, states should be granted the maximum administrative discretion possible and should be treated as co-regulators." Highlights from the panel included:
Canada's Ambassador to the U.S., David MacNaughton, highlighted progress on issues of common interest between Canada and Western states.
Former Western Governors Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal (left) and Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt (right) discussed how they pursued their transition out of office into the next phase of their lives.
The second day of the meeting opened with a discussion between the Governors and panelists Valerie Davidson, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services; John Jesser, VP of Provider Engagement Strategy for Anthem; and Mike Jernigan, Regional President/AmeriHealth Caritas. Highlights included:
The Governors formally approved seven new policy resolutions on issues such as the state-federal relationship, states' share of royalties and leasing revenues, water quality, tax-exempt federal lands, and storage and disposal of radioactive waste.
The meeting concluded with an entertaining, enlightening informal discussion among the Governors about personal and political setbacks that provided important lessons for success down the road. Among other topics, Gov. Otter discussed his efforts to improve education in Idaho, Gov. Hickenlooper talked about a holiday lights display that caused a ruckus when he was Denver's mayor, Gov. Mead recalled a losing effort in the courtroom, and Gov. Torres cited a policy decision he made based more on friendship than the best facts.