Executive Director’s Notebook: The Western Governors’ Top Ten List of Accomplishments for 2019

By Jim Ogsbury

As Father Time closes the books on an eventful 2019, it’s time to reflect on the recent accomplishments of WGA.  During the past year, Western Governors:

1. Pursued the Reimagining the Rural West Initiative of WGA Chair Doug Burgum

The ambitious initiative, Reimagining the Rural West, is examining challenges and opportunities in rural economic development, infrastructure and quality of life.  A kickoff webinar in July introduced the initiative’s pillars of opportunity, connectivity and community.  Regional workshops have since been hosted by: North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum in Fargo; New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in Santa Fe; and Idaho Governor Brad Little in Post Falls.  Initiative webinars focused on broadband deployment in tribal communities and federal issues in broadband data and mapping.  Additional webinars and a workshop in The Dalles, Oregon, are scheduled for 2020, and a final report containing initiative recommendations will be published in connection with the 2020 WGA Annual Meeting in Medora, North Dakota.  

2. Enacted a Host of Substantive Policy Resolutions

No other group of elected officials at their level of influence are, on a bipartisan basis, producing and pursuing public policy that is as substantive and meaningful as that being advanced by Western Governors.  During the past calendar year, they adopted detailed policy resolutions regarding: federal-state land exchanges and purchases; biosecurity and invasive species management; national parks; wildlife migration corridors and habitat; improvements to the state-federal relationship; states’ share of royalties and leasing revenues from federal lands and minerals; tax-exempt federal lands and Secure Rural Schools; financial assurance regulation; and physical and behavioral health care in western states.

3. Launched the Center of Excellence for Improving the State Federal Relationship

During its 2019 Winter Meeting in Las Vegas, the Western Governors' Association launched the Western Governors’ Center of Excellence for Improving the State-Federal Relationship, an online repository of WGA resources on federalism issues, including case studies, reports, correspondence and other products of the Governors’ research and policy work to improve the state-federal relationship.

4. Celebrated the Inauguration of Eleven New Members

As a consequence of the 2018 general election, a majority of WGA’s active members assumed the reins of state leadership early this year.  WGA is proud that these leaders immediately embraced the bipartisan ethos of the Association and apprehended the value of working across state lines on a bipartisan basis to address challenges facing our region and nation.  WGA appreciates the contributions of those Governors completing their first year of service as their states’ chief executives:  Jared Polis of Colorado, Brad Little of Idaho, Mark Gordon of Wyoming, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Steve Sisolak of Nevada, Laura Kelly of Kansas, Lou Leon Guerrero of Guam, Mike Dunleavy of Alaska, Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, and Gavin Newsom of California.  

5. Welcomed Kansas into Active Membership 

Upon her inauguration as Governor of the great state of Kansas in early 2019, Laura Kelly activated her membership in the Western Governors’ Association and assumed a position on its board of directors.  

6. Initiated Work on Projects Under a Shared Stewardship Agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture

The leadership of WGA executed a shared stewardship memorandum of understanding with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in December 2018.  In June of this year, WGA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced specific projects the organizations are jointly pursuing to advance principles of the agreement.  These efforts involve cheatgrass, vegetation management, and post-disaster recovery protocols.  In October, Idaho Governor Brad Little hosted a meeting of WGA’s Working Lands Roundtable in Boise, where experts, stakeholders and resource managers worked on implementation plans for each of these projects.  

7. Conducted Sensational Annual and Winter Meetings

The 2019 Annual Meeting in Vail, Colorado, was attended by twelve active Governors, eight of whom had been elected the previous November.  Veteran Governors David Ige of Hawaii, Doug Burgum of North Dakota, Kate Brown of Oregon and Gary Herbert of Utah were joined by their first-term counterparts Jared Polis of Colorado, Brad Little of Idaho, Mark Gordon of Wyoming, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Steve Sisolak of Nevada, Laura Kelly of Kansas, and Lou Leon Guerrero of Guam.  Nearly 450 attendees joined the Governors for three days of policy discussions, business meetings and special events.  The conference featured keynote addresses by: Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt; Secretary Ben Carson of the Department of Housing and Urban Development; internationally renowned pollster Frank Luntz; the chief executive officer of Vail Resorts, Robert Katz; and author Craig Johnson, creator of the Longmire book series.  Panel discussions provided expert perspectives on biosecurity and invasive species; broadband connectivity in the rural West; the use of data and forecasting in western water management; and the fentanyl crisis.  In addition, former Governors Roy Romer of Colorado and Mike Leavitt of Utah reflected on the creation of the Western Governors University by WGA over 20 years ago.  Governor Burgum was elected by Western Governors to serve as Chair of WGA, and Governor Brown was elected Vice Chair.  

The 2019 Winter Meeting, held in December in Las Vegas, was attended by 11 Western Governors:  David Ige, Doug Burgum, Kate Brown, Gary Herbert, Jared Polis, Brad Little, Kristi Noem, Steve Sisolak, Doug Ducey of Arizona, Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, and Steve Bullock of Montana.  Approximately 380 conference attendees joined the Governors, who engaged in public conversations with Land O’ Lakes CEO Beth Ford; inventor and philanthropist Dean Kamen; and former Governors C. L. “Butch” Otter of Idaho, Matt Mead of Wyoming, Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota, and Rick Snyder of Michigan.  Panel discussions addressed cutting edge energy innovations, precision agriculture, behavioral health, emerging issues in cybersecurity and the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women. 

8. Published a Report on the Western Governors’ Biosecurity and Invasive Species Initiative and Established the Western Invasive Species Council

During its 2019 Annual Meeting in Vail, WGA presented its findings with respect to the Western Governors’ Biosecurity and Invasive Species Initiative of the Association’s immediate past Chair, the Honorable David Ige of Hawaii.  The report includes specific recommendations to combat threats posed by invasive species in the West.  In December, WGA implemented one such recommendation, announcing creation of the Western Invasive Species Council (WISC).  The council is working to enhance coordination among existing state invasive species councils, improve communication and collaboration on regional biosecurity and invasive species control efforts, and advocate for regional needs at the federal level.

9. Launched the Western Governors’ Collaborative Conservation Task Force

Under the auspices of the Working Lands Roundtable, WGA launched the Western Governors’ Collaborative Conservation Task Force, which is focused on the development of strategies to conserve potentially imperiled species long before they become vulnerable to listings as either threatened or endangered.  

10. Populated the Board of the Western Governors’ Foundation

The Governors appointed six members to the board of the reinvented Western Governors’ Foundation.  The board’s chair is former Governor Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota, and its Vice Chair is former Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada.  Other board members include Governors Steve Bullock of Montana and David Ige of Hawaii, as well as former Governors Matt Mead of Wyoming and C.L. “Butch” Otter of Idaho.  Governors have directed the foundation to manage the annual Celebrate the West high school art competition and pursue projects to advance their philanthropic interests and workforce development priorities.  

Jim Ogsbury is the Executive Director of the Western Governors’ Association. Contact him at 303-623-9378 or [email protected].

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