Opinion by Mark Gordon
Entering the Wyoming Treasurer's Office by: Mark Gordon
On Saturday Oct. 6 my wife Jennie and I were enjoying an evening together after gathering heifers on the mountain. It had been a beautiful day, just the kind of fall day that makes one remember what a wonderful place Wyoming is. Our day came at the tail end of one the most difficult summers I can remember – drought and fire adjacent to and on our place forced us to ship earlier than we ever had before, weights were disappointing, and we had had to spend too much doctoring animals. Still, that day was the kind of day that made us want to do it all again next year.
Jennie was planning to catch up with our kids on Facebook and discovered Treasurer Joe Meyer had passed away earlier that day. We were shocked. Joe and Mary were friends. Joe had endorsed me in my 2008 Congressional campaign. He had fought so courageously against cancer and was such a central force in Wyoming, it seemed impossible he could be gone.
Within moments Wyoming reacted with concern for the Meyer’s. Joe had served in many capacities over decades. He embodied so much of our state’s institutional wisdom. And now within a few minutes it became clear our state would have to find someone to fill the Treasurer’s job within 20 days – before it could even begin to grieve the loss of one of its greatest.
I had more or less hung up my political spurs after losing to Cynthia Lummis in the Republican primary. Still interested in addressing our nation’s festering deficit woes, I was happy to have been nominated in 2008 and elected to the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. In that capacity, I would have the opportunity tell to the Governors of the Federal Reserve and Chairman Bernanke directly what their monetary policies were doing to Wyoming citizens, banks and businesses. In retrospect, I should have known listening has never been a strong suit for policy makers in Washington; nevertheless, I worked hard to represent small business and Wyoming interests in my tenure there. I found it important work and enjoyed it.
As for politics, I was happy to support our delegation and enjoyed building a friendship with Congresswoman Lummis. From time to time we commiserated on how broken Washington was and what each of us was trying to do to make it better. But I was happy to be back on the ranch doing what I loved, showing that ranching was a responsible use of the land, making a difference and helping a friend and former employee whose new enterprise was just catching its stride.
Joe’s passing changed all that. I have always felt a responsibility to serve this state that has given me so much. My experience in agriculture, small business, tourism and oil and gas, as well as my service on the Johnson County School Board, Wyoming’s Environmental Quality Council, Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City had given me a wide range of experience that Jennie suggested might be valuable for the state. After talking with my family, we decided I should apply. I did, and several days and many miles later, I was appointed by Governor Matt Mead.
It is an office and a responsibility I am honored and humbled to accept. A brief glance at our website will reveal that our state now has over 16 billion in investments held in a combination of permanent accounts and other funds. Our present condition is a far cry from 1968 when then Treasurer Minnie Mitchell reported to Governor Stan Hathaway that our state had only $80 in its checking account.
Forty-five years and $16 billion to the positive is quite a legacy to be proud of. Perhaps that fact is what helps Wyoming to be consistently ranked highest for good government.
Recognition is nice, but what does that reserve really do for the state? Well, the $610 million in income from these investments meant Wyoming citizens didn’t have to pay $1,100 in taxes last year for the services they enjoyed. Roads, schools, fairgrounds, scholarship programs and other key functions of our government are funded off the income of our state’s investments. What started as a savings account became a rainy day account, is now truly a renewable resource for Wyoming citizens, their children and their children’s children. Consequently, one of the most important aspects of the Treasurer’s office is the care of the state’s investment portfolio, the diversity of which has grown to include domestic and foreign stocks, real estate, private equity and bonds. These are managed by over 30 different managers in numerous different strategies all designed to protect the assets against economic shocks while assuring a predictable long-term income for the state.
Since my appointment, I have come to appreciate the competent staff assembled over the terms of my predecessors Stan Smith, Cynthia Lummis and Joe Meyer. Moreover, I believe each Treasurer served at exactly the right time and in exactly the right way. Stan persevered to assure the state could invest in more than just bonds. Cynthia diversified the portfolio, and Joe shepherded it through its most difficult time – the Great Recession. Today my challenge is to position it as defensively as possible against the uncertainties of an unprecedented economic climate and never-tried-before monetary policies, a fiscal quagmire and an uncertain recovery. My time with the Federal Reserve has given me some perspective about that.
The legislative session was a blur. Although it was a difficult session for many, I took the opportunity to invite legislators to my office for lunch. In that way, I was able to acquaint new representatives and senators with our office, the investment program and my staff.
Consequently, the one bill our office championed was generally well received and will provide my office with the wherewithal to bring predictability and transparency to an important program for the state – Industrial Development Bonds. This program seeks to promote economic diversity by allowing the Treasurer to purchase bonds for significant new industrial developments such as mines or manufacturing. Because the state would use its own money, it is important that it be assured that any such investments meet strict standards - that they be prudent investments for the state not just somebody’s best friend’s good idea. Over the coming year, we will be working on those rules and that program.
Perhaps the most important and best work of the Treasurer is service on the many boards. Among these, I have paid particular attention to State Loan and Investment Board and the Board of Land Commissioners. Accordingly, I have travelled to Goshen, Freemont, Albany, Sweetwater and Big Horn counties to learn about the needs of their Fire Departments, hospitals, search and rescue operations and about their communities. I have visited with commissioners from around the state and met with groups in communities far and wide just trying to understand what Wyoming needs most. It is the best reason I can think of to travel this fantastic state and learn from her extraordinary people.
I am grateful to be able to serve this state and her citizens. Please feel free to contact my office at any time and don’t forget to visit our website at treasurer.state.wy.us.