Mead emphasizes local leadership at NaCO meetingWritten by Saige Albert
Jackson – The National Association of County Commissioners (NaCO) Western Interstate Region gathered in Jackson for their 2016 conference on May 25-27.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, a Jackson native, commented, “My ranching background has provided great guidance for me in terms of policy decisions that I make and as I think about what is best for our state and the western region of the U.S.”
Mead looked at the upcoming presidential election, the impact of leadership from county commissioners and steps for the future during his address in the opening general session.
“We are now in the middle of the U.S. presidential election, and I don’t know who is a Republican or a Democrat, but when we see the nature of the people running for the highest office in the land and the most important on the planet, and we see that debates are centered around body parts, who’s ugly and who’s not, and how we’re going to close down an industry – coal, it leads me to ask, can we not do better?”
Mead continued that candidates should rather be focusing on those issues that actually impact the U.S., including wildlife, healthcare challenges, opiate abuse, the strength of national parks, the importance of the forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, and more.
“My hope is that whoever is elected gets serious about the nature of the important work that needs to be done in the United States,” Mead said. “My concern is also that too often policy makers in Washington, D.C. don’t have an appreciation for what the West is really like.”
Mead drew on his experience with the U.S. attorney’s office, noting that often, his colleagues in Washington, D.C. were unaware of the unique challenges that western states face.
He cited an example where he was asked to be in Mammoth the next day during the dead of winter, and those in D.C. didn’t understand why he would be unable to make it.
“They asked, ‘How is that possible? Do you not have a train?’” he commented. “The lack of understanding and appreciation for the West is a concern, and it leads me to why my role is important. As a governor, I have a role, and I appreciate that role, but more important is the role of our county commissioners.”
With the experience of his grandfather serving as a county commissioner in Teton County, Mead said, “Granddad always told me that the real power and real opportunity in the state of Wyoming is with the county commissioners.”
“He fundamentally believed this because he believed the county commissioners were the closest to the issues, had the best opportunities for solutions and had the best connection to the communities,” Mead continued. “I, too, believe this is true.”
As a result of the partnership developed between communities, commissioners, and the state and federal government, Mead noted that county commissioners provide an important keystone in addressing challenges.
“In Wyoming, as I see our commissioners testify in Washington, D.C., the impact is great,” he said, noting that it is more meaningful for local leaders to testify than state governors. “We have to have these partnerships to provide the leadership that provides the solutions.”
Mead also highlighted the issues that face Wyomingites and citizens of the West, including the Endangered Species Act and more.
Under his leadership at the Western Governors’ Association, Mead explained that comprehensive solutions for the Endangered Species Act are being pursued, and the Association hopes to see progress as they bring recommendations to Congress.
“We want to take these changes from the Western Governors’ Association to Congress to make real changes that will not only help get us across the finish line but will also help the species recover,” he commented.
Economically diversifying the state also is a top priority for Wyoming, Mead said, noting that he is working to bring in other industries, technology, in particular, to the state.
“We need to provide opportunities to allow us to diversify and provide choices to our young people so they can stay in the state,” Mead said.
He also noted that the idea of transferring ownership of federal land to state ownership is a hot topic currently, but Mead emphasized moving forward with caution.
“If we are allowed to take back federal ground, it better be managed, and we have to be prepared for that,” he said, highlighting that the costs of land management are immense. “If we are going to do this, let’s do it right. It seems to me that the best practice is to have a pilot project and look at state management for a period of 20 years.”
“We’ll see, after that, if we’ve improved wildlife, habitat and water,” Mead said, noting that it is important to be cautious when moving forward to ensure management and the health of the landscape.
“These issues cannot be done with just the work of governors. It takes county, state and federal partners,” Mead said. “These bipartisan efforts have all the counties and states coming together to say how we can do better. This is a model that we should go forward with. It’s an opportunity, and it’s needed now more than ever to find solutions.”
NaCO Board Member and Alger County, Michigan Commissioner Jerry Doucette commented, “We, as county commissioners, are really the voice of the people, and we need to take their wishes, their needs and their desires to state and federal governments.”
Doucette added, “It is certainly a challenging time to be a county commissioner.”