- Policy Platforms
As we close the books on 2022, it’s once again time to reflect on the bipartisan accomplishments of Western Governors and celebrate their spirit of cooperation and comity. I am pleased to present my final Top Ten list for another successful year:
Redesigned Sponsor Program
At the beginning of fiscal year 2022, WGA launched a redesigned sponsor program featuring multiple improvements to its various benefit packages. The program upgrades are designed to enhance the value proposition of WGA sponsorship. Demonstrating his support for the WGA sponsor community, Idaho Governor Brad Little in February hosted a private sponsor luncheon in Boise. In October, similar events were hosted by Utah Governor Spencer Cox in Salt Lake City and Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon in Cheyenne.
In November, western voters elected a clutch of new governors to lead their states. These new chief executives will, as WGA’s newest members, have the opportunity to work across both state and party lines to improve the quality of life in our region. WGA extends its heartiest congratulations to Governor Josh Green of Hawaii and Governors-Elect Katie Hobbs of Arizona, Joe Lombardo of Nevada, Jim Pillen of Nebraska, Tina Kotek of Oregon, and Arnold Palacios of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
In May, the first in-person forum of the Western Prosperity Roundtable was hosted by Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt in Oklahoma City. The Roundtable, which was launched in 2021, is a platform for WGA’s work on policies that advance the Western Governors’ vision for expanded prosperity throughout the West. It assembles stakeholders and policymakers to develop strategies that promote vibrant communities and thriving local economies. It operates as a socio-economic counterpart to WGA’s Working Lands Roundtable.
Twenty-one young leaders, selected to represent their states and tribes, attended the inaugural leadership forum of the Western Governors’ Leadership Institute, hosted by the Western Governors’ Foundation. Designed to recognize, reward, and promote the effective exercise of leadership by young adults throughout the West, the institute produced a one-day leadership forum for the delegates, who then attended the 2022 WGA Annual Meeting in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, as guests of the foundation.
The Western Governors’ Foundation – the philanthropic arm of WGA – also sponsored the seventh annual Celebrate the West high school art competition, which challenges young artists to create original works inspired by their state or otherwise evocative of the West.
In September, Colorado Governor Jared Polis launched The Heat Beneath Our Feet, his signature policy initiative as Chair of WGA. The project, which is exploring issues associated with the production and deployment of renewable geothermal energy in the West, kicked off with a tour of Colorado Mesa University’s geo-exchange heating and cooling system in Grand Junction, Colorado. This was followed by a work session and tours of geothermal assets hosted by former Hawai’i Governor David Ige in October. Governor Brad Little hosted a work session and tour of the Boise Geothermal District later in October, and Governor Spencer Cox hosted a geothermal work session in southwest Utah in December. WGA is producing a series of initiative webinars, and a final report will be published in connection with the 2023 WGA Annual Meeting in Boulder, Colorado.
In December, the 2022 Winter Meeting of WGA was held at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. WGA Chair Jared Polis of Colorado was joined by Vice Chair Mark Gordon of Wyoming, Governor-Elect Katie Hobbs of Arizona and Governors Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, Kate Brown of Oregon, and Spencer Cox of Utah. Special guests included Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Mitch Landrieu, Special Advisor to the President and White House Infrastructure Coordinator. The Governors also engaged in substantive policy conversations concerning electrification of the heavy-duty vehicle fleet, expansion of the domestic mineral supply, public health impacts of wildfire smoke, and the role of desalination in addressing western water shortages.
In July, the immediate past Chair of WGA, Idaho Governor Brad Little, hosted a historic annual meeting of WGA in beautiful Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. He was joined by fellow Governors Jared Polis of Colorado, Mark Gordon of Wyoming, David Ige of Hawai’i, Doug Burgum of North Dakota, Spencer Cox of Utah, Doug Ducey of Arizona, and Greg Gianforte of Montana.
An unprecedented number of cabinet secretaries and agency directors joined the Governors for three days of meetings, panel discussions, and special events. Among others, the Administration was represented by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough.
The Governors’ conversations on critical issues such as drought, supply chain disruptions and wildfire detection will doubtless inform future gubernatorial policy and actions to protect and promote the West. Also during the meeting, Governor Little passed the Chair’s gavel of leadership to Governor Polis of Colorado. Governor Gordon of Wyoming was elected by the Governors to serve as WGA Vice Chair.
In July, work concluded on Working Lands, Working Communities, an initiative of Idaho Governor Brad Little, the immediate past Chair of WGA. The initiative examined the interdependent relationships between western communities and resource management entities, as well as the role that local communities can play in successful land planning and management processes. Initiative workshops were hosted by Utah Governor Spencer Cox in Salt Lake City, Colorado Governor Jared Polis in Denver, Alaska Governor Michael Dunleavy in Ketchikan, and Governor Little in Boise. Following the production of webinars, podcasts, and a final report, the Governors adopted Policy Resolution 2023-01, Working Lands, Working Communities, embracing the effort’s key policy recommendations.
The bread and butter of WGA’s work is the production of commonsense bipartisan policy solutions to the most pressing issues confronting our region and nation. In fact, no other group of elected officials at their level of influence is, on a bipartisan basis, developing policy recommendations that are as substantive and significant as those being advanced by Western Governors. The Governors maintained this strong tradition in 2022 with the adoption of nine detailed policy resolutions:
Earlier this month, the WGA Executive Committee hired Jack Waldorf to serve as the sixth Executive Director of the association. Jack currently serves as the Senior Associate Vice President of Federal Relations and Outreach for the University of Colorado system. He will begin his tenure at the helm of WGA on January 23.
My work with Western Governors represents the unmitigated highlight of my career in policy and politics. I am committed to building upon the Governors’ legacy of accomplishment through my work as President of the Western Governors’ Foundation. Thanks to all of you for your continued support, counsel, and friendship. Happy trails to you, until we meet again.