WGA Annual Meeting Day 3: Governors explore opioid crisis solutions, First Ladies share their experiences, new Chair’s Initiative announced

Experts on the country’s opioid crisis offered insights and possible solutions, First Spouses touchingly shared their personal experiences, and a dozen policy resolutions were announced during a busy final day of the Western Governors’ Association 2018 Annual Meeting in Rapid City, S.D.

The central policy initiative on biosecurity and invasive species of incoming WGA Chair, Hawaii Governor David Ige, was announced and the Governors closed the three-day meeting with heartfelt thoughts on the effectiveness of WGA and the need for continued collaborative, bipartisan policy work. In addition, the winners were announced for the Celebrate the West high school art contest.

Seven Western Governors took part in the three-day meeting hosted by South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, including Doug Burgum (North Dakota), Matt Mead (Wyoming), John Hickenlooper (Colorado), Butch Otter (Idaho) Gary Herbert (Utah) and Steve Bullock (Montana).

Highlights from the day’s sessions at the Holiday Inn Rushmore Plaza:

Roundtable: Battling the Opioid Epidemic

Gary Herbert, Governor of Utah: “About a quarter of the patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.  That’s 11.5 million people in 2016.  Between 8 and 12 percent of patients develop an opioid use disorder.  And that’s when the opioids are prescribed by doctors.  If you also include illegal opiates, the problem gets a lot bigger.  On average, 115 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose and over 2 million Americans suffer from opioid-related substance use disorders.”

Jennifer Stoll, Vice President of Government and Public Affairs, OCHIN: “Infrastructure is an absolute key piece of addressing opioid abuse … make sure your medical providers have access to broadband and high-speed internet.” (And) “Telehealth would greatly help, especially in expanding access to behavioral health services.”

Briana Duffy, Senior Vice President, Beacon Health Options: “Addiction treatment has the widest gap between science and clinical practice.  There’s an incredible need to work on prevention and also to increase provider capacity to address addiction.”

“The quicker you’re able to bring solutions to people, the quicker you’ll be able to help people get back on track with their lives.  People need that hope.”

Joan Henneberry, Vice President, Health Management Associates: “You want to include your faith-based organizations, private companies, and Tribal organizations when you look at implementing solutions.”

“This is really about putting in the right kind of infrastructure to address the broad range of addiction disorders … Keeping people safe from infections, from overdose situations, to get them on the road to a healthy life, should be a priority.”

Anne Hazlett, Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development, US Department of Agriculture: “Rural communities have been particularly hard hit by this crisis:   9 in 10 rural Americans say drug use is an issue in their communities … Lack of treatment services, lack of broadband, rural isolation: these all contribute to the crisis in rural areas.”

“No two communities are the same:  effective response has to occur at the local level.”

Roundtable: The First Spouses

Kathryn Helgaas Burgum, First Lady of North Dakota: “When Doug said, ‘I’m thinking about running for governor,’ my first thought was ‘Oh no!’ But then I realized how great he would be for our state. We really needed innovation and new business, and he was the perfect candidate to bring that.”

“My platform is eliminating the stigma of addiction,” said the First Lady, who also discussed how she has been in recovery for more than 15 years from an alcohol addiction. “I believe we have to eliminate it so that we can create a health care system that creates a wraparound system for this chronic disease, like we do with any other disease.”

“We will be doing a statewide survey on the stigma surrounding addiction, and we’re excited about getting data to help drive our decision-making.”

Linda Daugaard, First Lady of South Dakota: “I was probably more active politically than Dennis was. Politics weren’t a part of our life until he was asked to run for state senate. We got our kids together and tried to tell them about how fun campaigning would be, so that’s how we got them into it.”

“My work on infant mortality has been life-changing for our entire family and our state. One expert told me that ‘infant mortality’ is the gold standard for your state. South Dakota averaged about 80 babies per year that were born healthy, but then dying.”

“We have been moving the needle,” said First Lady Daugaard, who chaired the Governor’s Task Force on Infant Mortality in 2011. (In 2016, South Dakota reported its lowest ever rate of infant deaths: 4.8 deaths per 1,000 births. That’s a drop by nearly half since 2012.)  “We do “Cribs for Kids,” which gave out over a thousand cribs to families in South Dakota.”

Jeanette Herbert, First Lady of Utah: “I remember early on when we were dating, (Gary Herbert) saying that “Maybe someday I’ll run for public office.” It wasn’t until later that he got disgruntled with real estate and decided to run for office.”

“As soon as he became governor, my kids called a meeting and said ‘We’re going to hold your feet to the fire. If we see anything that we don’t agree with, then you’re going to know about it.’ ”

"Everyone wants to be a good parent, but everyone needs help and answers to their parenting dilemmas. I knew helping to strengthen families should be focused on strengthening positive parenting, so that’s why I chose Uplift Families as my initiative.  My hope is that we can strengthen families, which is the cornerstone of our society.”

Western Governors’ Business & Policy Session

Policy Resolutions: Western Governors formally approved 12 policy resolutions on topics such as workforce development, international trade, and western infrastructure. See all of the resolutions.

2019 Chairman's Initiative: Incoming WGA Chair, Hawaii Governor David Ige, was unable to attend owing to the Kilauea Volcano. But Gov. Daugaard was able to share the news of Gov. Ige's central policy effort: Western Governors’ Biosecurity and Invasive Species Initiative. It will be formally launched with a webinar featuring Gov. Ige on July 12. Learn more, register. North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum was announced as incoming Vice Chair.

Celebrate the West Art Competition: Christine Ogsbury announced the winners in the third-annual high school art contest, which has seen the number of submissions doubled in the last two years. Find out all the state winners, see a slideshow of their work.

Closing Remarks

The Western Governors concluded the meeting by sharing their thoughts on their collaborative work, and in the case of Governors Matt Mead of Wyoming and Dennis Daugaard (South Dakota), the impending end of their service as governor.

Governor Mead: “One of the great things about WGA is the ability to learn from fellow Governors. My one piece of advice for incoming Governors is to look to other Governors, not just for their policies and their qualities but the people they are. Each one of you are a role model.”

“I’ve been asked how we keep this going. It is important to keep it going. It is a tough time in American politics and I’m concerned about it long-term. We have a democracy that requires people to step up. My vision for the Western Governors … We should continue to have substantive policies and provide an example of how politics should work in this country. How you can have relationships with people who you disagree with. You can have an opportunity to say that you might be wrong and they might be right. This organization is an example of how politics should be done in this country.”

Governor Daugaard: “When you know your fellow Governors as people and they become your friends, when you disagree on policy issues you disagree amicably and if you exchange information misunderstandings can be cleared up. We always find things we agree on regarding policy.”

“When you come in as a new Governor, you quickly appreciate how much you don’t know. The opportunity to learn from other Governors is very important – not just concrete law or facts – but also hear reflections from people in your same position … It’s good to have fellow Governors you can bounce ideas off of. WGA provides those contacts.”

“Governors of all associations adopt policy, but some of those resolutions are so broadly stated they are blather, not concrete and meaningless. In WGA, we try very hard to be specific and concrete. Some of the concrete recommendations and statutory language contained in some of our initiative outcomes and resolutions make their way into law. You can’t do that with a generalized statement.”

Governor Burgum: “I look forward to continuing bipartisan policymaking and we drive policy forward for the country. These resolutions are the foundation of this policy work and the relentless commitment to bipartisan cooperation. We’ve worked across party lines and geographies.”

Governor Herbert: “I’m a better Governor and more effective Governor because I’m a member of WGA. Our founding fathers were wise in creating the united states because states are laboratories of democracy and the collective wisdom of the Governors is significant. We don’t always see eye to eye and have differences between our states. WGA is the most effective organization to get things done and develop policy that gets implemented.”

Read the Annual Meeting Day One Recap, Day Two Recap

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