Western Governors address new administration, unveil resolution about state-federal relationship at 2016 Winter Meeting

Nine Western Governors gathered Dec. 13-14 to discuss the opportunities and potential challenges of working with the incoming administration, improving the state-federal relationship, the daunting work of improving rural healthcare, and the rollout of seven new policy resolutions at the Western Governors' Association 2016 Winter Meeting in San Diego, Calif.

WGA Chair and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock hosted a press conference prior to the opening session, at which the Governors fielded questions about the Affordable Care Act and the incoming administration's early indications that there might be an opportunity for increased oil and gas drilling on federal lands. At the opening session of the meeting, Gov. Bullock discussed the initial work of his Chairman's Initiative, the National Forest and Rangeland Management Initiative, and shared a video.

Eight Western Governors joined Gov. Bullock, including WGA Vice Chair Dennis Daugaard (South Dakota), Edmund G. Brown (California), John Hickenlooper (Colorado), C.L. "Butch" Otter (Idaho), Susana Martinez (New Mexico), Ralph Torres (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands), Gary Herbert (Utah), and Matt Mead (Wyoming).

Highlights from the sessions at the historic Hotel del Coronado:

Keynote: David Eagles, "Building a Better Presidential Transition" 

The Director of the Center for Presidential Transition at the Partnership for Public Service, David Eagles, explored the world's most significant “takeover.” Eagles noted that despite the fact the federal government has a $4 trillion budget, each transition starts from scratch, a lack of organization his group is working to change. He also noted that, when it came to making Cabinet selections, the Trump transition team is well ahead of the pace of past administrations.

Roundtable: Opportunities to Improve the State-Federal Relationship

Western Governors, led by Gov. Herbert, discussed how the states, operating as authentic collaborators in the development and execution of policy, and the new Administration can create a legacy of renewed federalism. They also formally unveiled a new resolution, Building a Stronger State-Federal Relationship. The new policy, in short, asserts that "Where authority has been delegated by the federal government to the states, states should be granted the maximum administrative discretion possible and should be treated as co-regulators." Highlights from the panel included:

  • Gov. Herbert: "As we work together we have an opportunity to have a better partnership and better results, and to see if we can’t find an appropriate balance in that partnership. States are not junior partners, we are just partners."
  • Gov. Hickenlooper: "If you begin a sentence with states’ rights, you also have to acknowledge states’ responsibilities."
  • Gov. Otter: "It is our responsibility as chief executive of our sovereign state to remind (the federal government) that they’re overstepping their boundaries."
  • Gov. Martinez: "I like the idea that there must be an agreement that what we see is correct for our state.  We have to be given that opportunity to come up with an idea to fix [problems]. We know what is best for our state."
  • Gov. Mead: "The Farm Bill authority was actually saying 'You are states, you have a seat at the table, and as governors you get to designate lands.' Let’s actually be equal partners and bring our resources and our expertise onto the lands."
Keynote: The Transboundary Report

Canada's Ambassador to the U.S., David MacNaughton, highlighted progress on issues of common interest between Canada and Western states.

  • "I’d like to emphasize that Canada places a great amount of importance on its relationship with the United States and we see an increasing importance with regional and state leaders in supporting strong relations between our two countries."
  • "Among our shared interests is our shared security, both in North America and the world. Together Canadians and Americans are facing threats that do not respect borders and leave no country immune."
  • "I’m not saying that there won’t be difference between our two countries under a new administration, but the US and Canada have a relationship that rests on a deep foundation shared interests and values, so we are starting from a positive note."
Roundtable: Life After the Governors' Mansion

Former Western Governors Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal (left) and Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt (right) discussed how they pursued their transition out of office into the next phase of their lives.

  • Leavitt: "I’m not an expert on this. We have been through this one time. After 16 years as a public official I went through what I can only describe as the most profound personal transition in my life."
  • Freudenthal: "Life has a cycle to it and when it is done it is done. And it will hit each of you differently, but you will know it when you have that realization."
  • Leavitt: "It is helpful to make a list of what successes you had and how the state changed while you were in office. Make sure to appreciate what you have accomplished."
  • Freudenthal: "You have a luxury after you leave office. You don’t need to pick up a newspaper to see what they are saying about you. The luxury of being able to discover the richness of being alive."
Roundtable: Rural Healthcare Challenges & Solutions

The second day of the meeting opened with a discussion between the Governors and panelists Valerie Davidson, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services; John Jesser, VP of Provider Engagement Strategy for Anthem; and Mike Jernigan, Regional President/AmeriHealth Caritas. Highlights included:

  • Davidson: “Alaska is not just rural, it is ultra-frontier,” the Commissioner noted, so the state needs to bring healthcare to the patients. And given the expense of services such as Medivac, local care “makes sense from a fiscal perspective as well.”
  • Jesser: Anthem's LiveHealth Online “changes the game completely and starts to remove the barriers of distance and time” in healthcare. Jesser noted that in January Anthem introduced mental health services that make that care easier to schedule with complete confidentiality.
  • Jernigan: The founder of Select Health of South Carolina discussed how insurers and states could collaborate to have a greater impact on the explosive growth and extensive damage caused by opioid abuse.
My Brilliant Failure

The meeting concluded with an entertaining, enlightening informal discussion among the Governors about personal and political setbacks that provided important lessons for success down the road. Among other topics, Gov. Otter discussed his efforts to improve education in Idaho, Gov. Hickenlooper talked about a holiday lights display that caused a ruckus when he was Denver's mayor, Gov. Mead recalled a losing effort in the courtroom, and Gov. Torres cited a policy decision he made based more on friendship than the best facts.

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