Executive Director’s Notebook: WGA’s Top 10 policy accomplishments in 2017

Governors attending the 2017 Winter Meeting, from left: Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Northern Mariana Islands Gov. Ralph Torres, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, Hawaii Gov. David Ige, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, North Dakota Gov. Burgum. Not pictured, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.

By Jim Ogsbury

As 2017 draws to a close, it is time for WGA’s annual Top Ten Hit Parade of accomplishments, projects, and activities of Western Governors for the past year. The major problem with such a limited list is that it necessarily fails to articulate or even suggest the full range of the Governors’ monumental success. Nevertheless, we love a good challenge at WGA, so here goes:

1) Policy Resolutions: No group of elected officials compares to Western Governors when it comes to working cooperatively and effectively on a bipartisan basis to develop and implement solutions to policy challenges facing our region and nation. During the course of the year, Western Governors adopted substantive and detailed policy resolutions regarding:  Workforce Development; Species Conservation and the Endangered Species Act; National Forest and Rangeland Management; Western Agriculture; State Wildlife Science, Data and Analysis; Public Lands Grazing; Wild Horse and Burro Management; Energy in the West; and Federal Disaster Recovery Assistance for Communities in the West.

2) National Forest and Rangeland Management Initiative: The first full year of the National Forest and Rangeland Management Initiative, the principal policy effort of WGA’s past chair, Montana Governor Steve Bullock, produced a broad suite of administrative and statutory recommendations for improvement of public land management regimes. WGA is working with the Administration and Congress to effect implementation of these recommendations.

3) Celebrate the West: The second year of the WGA’s annual high school art competition, Celebrate the West, helped establish the event as one of the nation’s leading contests of its kind. The competition, which challenges students to create original works inspired by their states or otherwise evocative of the West, attracted hundreds of entries from across the region. The grand prize winner was Holden True Yorgason of Riverton, Wyoming. See all the winners.

4) Western Policy Network: WGA created the Western Policy Network, a confederation of policy and technical associations representing state and local officials. The network is a vehicle for information exchange and calls to action on issues of common concern. Members of the network include: Western Interstate Region of the National Association of Counties; Conference of Western Attorneys General; Pacific Northwest Economic Region; Council of State Governments – West; Environmental Council of States; Western States Water Council; Western Interstate Energy Board; Western States Land Commissioners Association; Council of Western State Foresters; Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies; Western States Air Resources Council; and Western Rural Development Center.

5) Annual Meeting in Montana: By any measure, WGA’s 2017 Annual Meeting, hosted by Montana Governor Steve Bullock, was an extraordinary success. Staged in beautiful Whitefish, Montana, the meeting sessions focused on transboundary issues with Canada, infrastructure development and grid security. Participants heard keynotes from the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and renowned pollster Frank Luntz. They also discussed efforts to end childhood hunger with Academy Award-winning actor and philanthropist Jeff Bridges. Attending Governors included WGA Vice Chair Dennis Daugaard (South Dakota), John Hickenlooper (Colorado), David Ige (Hawaii), C.L. “Butch” Otter (Idaho), Brian Sandoval (Nevada), Doug Burgum (North Dakota), Ralph Torres (Northern Marianas Islands), Gary Herbert (Utah), and Matt Mead (Wyoming).

6) Workforce Development Initiative: Under the leadership of WGA Chairman Dennis Daugaard, WGA launched the Western Governors’ Workforce Development Initiative with a series of workshops across the region. Sessions were hosted by: Governor Daugaard in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper in Denver; Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin in Oklahoma City; and Washington Governor Jay Inslee in Seattle. A report on the first year of the initiative will be released at the WGA 2018 Annual Meeting June 25-27 in Rapid City, South Dakota. (Watch a video on work accomplished so far.)

7) Winter Meeting in Arizona: The 2017 Winter Meeting of WGA, held at the historic Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, represented the largest gathering of Western Governors at a Winter Meeting in 27 years. Participating Governors included: WGA Chair and South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard, WGA Vice Chair and Hawaii Governor David Ige, WGA immediate past Chair and Montana Governor Steve Bullock, former WGA Chair and Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, former WGA Chair and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, former WGA Chair and Utah Governor Gary Herbert, former WGA Chair and Idaho Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, Alaska Governor Bill Walker, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, Guam Governor Eddie Calvo, and Northern Marianas Governor Ralph Torres.  The Governors engaged in productive discussions with U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.  They also discussed the future of autonomous vehicles, the history of the state-federal relationship and protection of infrastructure from natural disasters.

8) Strengthening the State-Federal Relationship: WGA took a lead role in improving the working relationship between the states and federal government, especially with respect to the development and implementation of federal policies that implicate state authority. WGA aggressively promoted Principles to Clarify and Strengthen the State-Federal Relationship, adopted by a number of policy associations of state and federal officials. WGA also hosted federalism summits in Denver and Washington, D.C. and advocated for adoption of the Governors’ priorities in the context of federal regulatory reform. There is great interest in the Governors’ work in this area, and we expect many of their recommendations to be incorporated in the reform plans currently under development by federal agencies.

9) Species Conservation and the Endangered Species Act: During the third year of the Western Governors’ Species Conservation and Endangered Species Act Initiative, launched by former WGA Chair Matt Mead of Wyoming, the Governors adopted a series of specific administrative, statutory, and funding recommendations designed to improve the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act. Those recommendations are at the heart of current congressional deliberations over the future of the Act. WGA also conducted a series of webinars and work sessions to further refine and promote the Governors’ priorities with respect to endangered species.

10) WGA Brand: WGA launched a new brand and corporate identity at the Annual Meeting in Whitefish.  In addition to adopting a new logo that reflects the association’s western identity, WGA also designed and activated a new, improved and more user-friendly website.  As you can see in this video, WGA is proud that so many Western Governors are “riding for the brand.”

Just when I think that Western Governors can’t raise the bar any higher, they discover new ways to exercise their special brand of bipartisan leadership in service of the region. Accordingly, we can’t wait to see what they have in store for the New Year!

Jim Ogsbury is the Executive Director of the Western Governors' Association. Contact him at 303-623-9378 or send an email. Get the latest news about the West and its governors by following the Western Governors' Association on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.

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