WGA Annual Meeting Day 3: Revisiting the creation of Western Governors University, new governors share their stories, a conversation with HUD Secretary Carson

Western Governors concluded the 2019 Annual Meeting by revisiting their role in the creation of online education pioneer Western Governors University, engaging Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson about the work of the agency, and electing North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (pictured above) as Chair of the association.

The Governors also announced policy resolutions on: Federal-State Land Exchanges and Purchases; Biosecurity and Invasive Species Management; National Parks and the West; and Wildlife Migration Corridors and Habitat. (See all new resolutions)

The meeting concluded with the announcement of the Western Governors’ Reimagining the Rural West Initiative, the Chairman's Initiative of Gov. Burgum in his new role as WGA Chair.

A dozen Western Governors took part in the three-day meeting, including David Ige (Hawai’i), Doug Burgum (North Dakota), Jared Polis (Colorado), Lourdes Leon Guerrero (Guam), Brad Little (Idaho), Laura Kelly (Kansas), Steve Sisolak (Nevada), Michelle Lujan Grisham (New Mexico),  Kate Brown (Oregon), Kristi Noem (South Dakota), Gary Herbert (Utah) and Mark Gordon (Wyoming).

Highlights from the day’s sessions at the Hotel Talisa in Vail, Colorado:

Keynote & Case Study: Western Governors University

Western Governors University (WGU) President Scott Pulsipher delivered remarks about the current status of WGU and moderated a conversation with former Western Governors Roy Romer of Colorado and Mike Leavitt of Utah about the creation and ongoing work of the groundbreaking online educational advance that debuted in 1997.

Scott Pulsipher: "We put the student at the center of everything we do. We exist to serve our students as our primary customers. That has allowed us to rethink the entire institution of higher education and build it from the ground up around a competency-based model."

Mike Leavitt: "There was a collective concern (in 1995) that the model higher ed was pursuing was not sustainable … there was also a view that the model of measuring academic seat time was not real. Student debt, even at that point, was a concern. Access was an issue."

Roy Romer: "To become a pilot, it doesn’t matter how long you sat in a seat, it matters if you can fly the plane. It's performance based."

Leavitt: "Roy Romer gave WGU its soul with his insistence that it focus on competency, not just the process."

Romer: "I had the opportunity to get in to college, but most people I knew where I grew up did not. All my life I have had colleagues that wanted a second chance to get an education and live the life they wanted. That was my motivation to open the door to the wonderful human beings that just didn’t have that opening."

Keynote: U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson

Secretary Carson shared his agency’s work and how it impacts the West, touching on topics such as Western states' increasing use of opportunity zones. The Secretary also stressed the importance of working together on common sense solutions for affordable housing, such as the booming growth and positive economic impact of manufactured housing.

Meet the New Western Governors

Newly-elected Governors Laura Kelly (Kansas), Brad Little (Idaho), Kristi Noem (South Dakota) and Lourdes Leon Guerrero (Guam) discussed their paths to office, the initial challenges of taking office, and what policy they have prioritized in their states, among other topics.

Lourdes Leon Guerrero: "Out of our 15 senators (in Guam), 10 are female. That’s a historical leap. Guam is the only island in the U.S. where the executive, legislative, and judicial branch are all run by women. We’re not going to screw this up."

Kristi Noem: "As a small state, we can be nimble and do pilot projects that larger states can’t do. I want to be a testbed for the rest of the country ... My vision is to bring the next big industry to South Dakota. We need to help our kids and grandkids want to stay."

Brad Little: "My big priority is education. We doubled our increase in literacy funding and significantly increased teacher pay. The surrounding states pay quite a bit more, so we have to become more competitive on that front."

Laura Kelly: "Kansas has been governed by a lot of get ‘er done Democrats and Republicans. The last eight years were really an anomaly, and the people of Kansas did not react well to it. I ran on a platform of improving education and expanding Medicaid, and that really resonated with people."

Governors Policy & Business Session

Gov. David Ige closed the meeting by thanking the governors for their collaboration on his central policy effort, the Western Governors' Biosecurity and Invasive Species Initiative. Governor Ige also announced the election of Gov. Doug Burgum as Chair and Gov. Kate Brown as Vice Chair.

Gov. Burgum announced that his Chairman's Initiative would be the Western Governors’ Reimagining the Rural West Initiative. The central policy initiative of Gov. Burgum will examine challenges and opportunities in rural economic development, infrastructure and quality of life, identify best practices, and recommend policies to support vibrant rural communities in the West. Gov. Burgum will host the first workshop of the Initiative on Oct. 1 in Fargo, N.D. Read more.

The Governors also approved four policy resolutions on: Federal-State Land Exchanges and Purchases; Biosecurity and Invasive Species Management; National Parks and the West; and Wildlife Migration Corridors and Habitat. Read, download new WGA Resolutions.

Gov. Burgum closed the meeting by inviting the audience to attend the 2019 Winter Meeting, Dec. 13-14 in Las Vegas, Nevada, and shared a video with striking images of the state and the words of Theodore Roosevelt ro promote the 2020 Annual Meeting in Medora, North Dakota.

Read and download WGA Reports released at the Annual Meeting: 2019 Annual Report, Western Governors' Biosecurity and Invasive Species Initiative.

The winners of the 2019 Celebrate The West art competition were announced. (Slideshow)

Read about Day 1 of the Meeting 

Read about Day 2 of the Meeting

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