- Policy Platforms
2023 was a year of transition for WGA.
First and foremost, the association welcomed five new gubernatorial members: Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs, Hawai’i Governor Josh Green, Nevada Governor Joe Lombardo, Oregon Governor Tina Kotek, and the Governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Arnold Palacios.
2023 also marked my first year as WGA’s Executive Director. Over the course of my first year, I have been overwhelmed by the commitment of the Governors and their staff to working together on a bipartisan basis. The fact that so many of the new Governors immediately engaged with WGA speaks volumes about the association and I’m thrilled to be a part of its future.
Of course, five new gubernatorial members and a new Executive Director means that WGA also had five former Governors and an Executive Director step aside.
We would like to extend a special thank you to former Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, former Hawai’i Governor David Ige, former Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak, former Oregon Governor Kate Brown, former Governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Ralph Torres, and to Jim Ogsbury, for their outstanding service to WGA and the West as a whole.
However, just because former member Governors and Executive Directors no longer serve in their official roles, doesn’t mean they have left the WGA Family for good. For example, Governor Ige now serves as Chair of the Western Governors’ Foundation and Jim continues to serve as the foundation President.
Along with a transition in leadership, the Governors also approved ten policy resolutions, including four that represent new frontiers for WGA in regard to infrastructure permitting, missing and murdered indigenous persons, veterans’ affairs, and the opioid crisis.
Western Governors continued to champion the bipartisan efforts at WGA by developing common-sense, bipartisan public policy, convening the 2023 Annual and Winter meetings, hosting workshops and roundtables in their respective states, and collectively advocating for western priorities in Washington, D.C.
At the 2023 Annual Meeting in Boulder, Colorado, which was attended by six Western Governors, Colorado Governor Jared Polis released The Heat Beneath Our Feet Initiative report. The culmination of Governor Polis’s Chair initiative, the report outlined a suite of policy recommendations to accelerate the development and deployment of geothermal technologies throughout the region.
To conclude the three-day meeting, Governor Polis handed over the reins as Chair of WGA to Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon, who announced his Chair initiative, Decarbonizing the West and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Governor Polis establishing an interstate effort to advance the direct air capture industry.
As Chair, Governor Gordon hosted seven Western Governors at the 2023 Winter Meeting in beautiful Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The meeting also featured four U.S. Cabinet Members: Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, and the Director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Shalanda Young.
While WGA’s Winter and Annual meetings normally receive most of the attention, much of WGA’s work to inform and advance the Governors’ policy is conducted at small workshops and meetings throughout the year.
In February, Western Governors convened in Washington, D.C., for a breakfast meeting with Cabinet Secretaries. Last year’s meeting consisted of twelve Western Governors and four Cabinet Members: Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge, and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough.
During this trip, the Western Governors’ Task Force on Collaborative Conservation also met with agency officials at the U.S. Department of the Interior for a seven-hour session on state and federal efforts to conserve the greater sage-grouse and sagebrush habitat in western states.
WGA staff had similarly in-depth conversations with several federal agency Chief Data Officers to discuss better integration of state data into federal decision-making activities, as well as the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.
In May, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte hosted the third annual Western Prosperity Roundtable Forum in Bozeman, Montana. The two-day meeting convened community members, policymakers, and experts from around the West to discuss strategies for ensuring sustainable development and increasing community resources.
The Governors’ willingness to travel across the country and participate in these important conversations ultimately resulted in significant policy victories for the West.
The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) published a ruling in October 2023 that allows E-Rate funding to be used for Wi-Fi on school buses starting in fiscal year 2024. This is a recommendation straight out of WGA’s Policy Resolution on broadband connectivity, which was renewed by the Governors in 2023 and that WGA used as the basis for its advocacy with the FCC.
Incorporating policy from WGA’s resolution on combating the opioid crisis, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24) requires the Secretary of Defense to develop a strategy that disrupts threats caused by fentanyl trafficking and provides support to government agencies, as well as foreign partners, for counterdrug efforts.
The FY24 NDAA also made substantive changes to the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DOD) Sentinel Landscapes Partnership Program, which should expand opportunities for DOD conservation funding in the West – a strategy supported by two WGA policy resolutions, both of which were also renewed by the Governors in 2023: National Forest and Rangeland Management and Species Conservation and the Endangered Species Act.
Finally, the proven efficacy of the bipartisan policy developed at WGA led to several new sponsors joining the WGA community in 2023. A big thank you goes out to all of WGA’s sponsors. The work of the Western Governors mentioned here would not be possible without the generous support of WGA’s sponsor community. We are grateful for the many partners that supported WGA’s efforts throughout 2023, and we look forward to our continued partnership in the year ahead.
Here’s to another successful and memorable year in 2024,