Executive Director’s Notebook: Taking the Initiative: WGA Chairmen Having Enormous Impacts on National Policy

By Jim Ogsbury

Throughout its history, the Western Governors’ Association has benefited from extraordinary gubernatorial leadership.  Recent Chairs of WGA have: infused the organization with a spirit of bipartisanship; organized their fellow Governors to take meaningful collective action; and initiated projects of national and regional significance.

Chairs of WGA have the prerogative to commit a substantial measure of the association’s resources to a particular initiative, issue, or project.  These “Chairman’s Initiatives” are having dramatic impacts nationwide, presenting opportunities for WGA to “go deep” on difficult challenges facing the West and to effect meaningful change.  They also provide a platform for WGA to pioneer new models of stakeholder engagement and state-federal cooperation.

Our leadership is tackling substantively complicated politically challenging issues.  Accordingly, WGA is developing work plans for these initiatives that will guide our efforts well beyond the year of a Governor’s chairmanship.  We’re in it for the long haul.

As Chair in 2014-15, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval created the Western Governors’ Drought Forum.  A major deliverable of this project was the creation of an online resource library to help elected officials and water managers better anticipate and mitigate extreme drought conditions.

In 2015-16, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead launched the Western Governors’ Species Conservation and Endangered Species Act (ESA) Initiative.  Its recommendations for species conservation and for administrative and legislative improvements to ESA are at the heart of the ongoing congressional debate over the Act’s future.

The Western Governors’ National Forest and Rangeland Management Initiative, the signature policy project of Montana Governor Steve Bullock in 2016-17, is well into its second year.  The initiative has generated administrative and legislative recommendations designed to improve the management of public lands. 

WGA’s current Chair, South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard, has demonstrated tremendous leadership and foresight in developing the Western Governors’ Workforce Development Initiative.  During the initial year of this project, WGA is collecting information and recommendations with respect to how Governors can best leverage their resources and influence to improve workforce development ecosystems in the West. 

Recent workforce workshops (hosted by Governor Daugaard in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in and by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper in Denver) assembled many of the region’s most dynamic thought leaders for robust conversations about closing the skills gap, matching industry needs with labor pool competencies, and aligning education with opportunity.  WGA will drill even deeper into these issues during upcoming workshops hosted by Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin (October 16-17 in Oklahoma City) and Washington Governor Jay Inslee (November 1-2 in Seattle).

To inform each of these efforts, WGA is actively seeking the input of experts, stakeholders, and other interested parties.  To learn more about these initiatives and how you can participate and contribute, please visit our initiatives page and feel free to contact members of our policy team anytime.

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 Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

sign up for our newsletters