Aug 11, 2014 - By Steve Peck, PublisherWhen he ran for governor four years ago, Matt Mead put 100,000 miles on a new SUV, and 40,000 on another.
He won't match that in his re-election bid, but he's still been laying down lots of miles on Wyoming's highways.
The Republican governor several stops Friday and Saturday in Fremont County as he finished up a 10-day road trip across Wyoming in preparation for the Aug. 19 primary election.
The governor's wife, Carol, and teen-aged children Mary and Pete are accompanying him on the trip. In an election year, it's the closest thing they'll get to a summer vacation.
"We're calling it a 'camcation,'" the 52-year-old governor said.
Scouring the state for votes is different when you're the governor.
"The first time around, we were fortunate enough to do more or less full-time campaigning," Mead said. "That's a little harder this time," he added, owing to his duties at the Capitol.
One thing that has changed for the better is the presence of an extra driver in the car. Daughter Mary is 16 and is racking up experience behind the wheel as she progresses through Wyoming's graduated driver's license process for first-time drivers.
"She's getting some time behind the wheel," the governor said of Mary, who will be a junior this fall at Cheyenne East High School. "I think she needs to get 150 hours."
Mead credited son Pete, who starts high school this month as an East freshman, with planning the demanding motor route around Wyoming
"He got out a map and a marker and planned it out," Mead said. "We started east, then went north and west, turned south again. We were in Marbleton (near Kemmerer) for the 100-year anniversary celebration there. Last night (Friday) we had dinner in the mountains up at Atlantic City."
Pete checked off the towns, big and small, visited in the past week and a half: Wheatland, Torrington, Douglas, Lusk, Newcastle, Gillette, Sheridan, Buffalo, Worland, Thermopolis, Afton and its Star Valley neighbors, Kemmerer, Mountain View, Evanston, Rock Springs and more.
At virtually every stop, the governor said he hears a common theme of concern about federal government influence.
"There's a frustration there in the federal government. People are well-informed in Wyoming, and they are concerned about the Middle East, our southern border, national debt, health care... It permeates the whole system, and you hear it clear down to the school board level," Mead said. "It is pervasive."
In Fremont County, issues tied to one federal entity in particular -- the Environmental Protection Agency -- are mentioned often by voters. Mead said there isn't much new to report on the dispute over the boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation tied to an EPA ruling on air quality control late last year that said Riverton was part of the Wind River Indian Reservation.
The state has challenged that opinion in court, and Mead said that's where the issue belongs.
"I know the tribes have their long-felt concerns about the reservation borders. I respect those views, but I disagree with them. We have a hundred years of history and court rulings that support the state's position. My angst with it is that the EPA, a federal regulatory agency, sees itself with the authority to redefine state boundaries," as the agency, in effect, did when it ruled that the reservation -- and a 50-mile buffer zone around it -- was entitled to be treated as a state for purposes of air quality monitoring. Riverton lies within that 50-mile buffer, and the EPA also opined that the 1905 act of Congress that ceded the Riverton townsite from the reservation did not legally change the previous borders.
"If this really had been about air quality, then there would have been an opportunity for discussion among the EPA, the state and the tribes -- 'come to the table and let' discuss it,'" Mead said. "That didn't happen. So, this issue has to be resolved, and the courts are going to do it."
Last week the state issued the first of an expected three reports about contaminated groundwater east of Pavillion. Mead said the EPA was too hasty in issuing a "conclusionary report" months ago that cited natural gas production as a likely cause of the contamination. Mead and the
State of Wyoming succeeded in gaining control of the testing and investigation, and the EPA stepped back.
"The state has approached it in contrast with the way the EPA handled it," Mead said. "We think our approach is better. We worked with the Legislature outside the single issue of fracking and said, first, let's address the water problem so these people can get a clean drink of water."
The state and gas producers Encana have cooperated in providing a system of cisterns to stockpile clean water for households in the affected area. As for the testing reports, "the process has been slower than we would want," Mead said. "But we think there are very good people in charge of it, and we'll see where it goes."
Mead took pride in Wyoming's economic vitality compared to other areas.
"We have the third-highest rates of GDP growth in the nation," trailing only North Dakota and West Virginia, Mead said. "Unemployment is low, and I actually hear some business people talking about some difficulty in hiring good people. That's a concern in some places, but it beats 12 percent unemployment."
He said education "continues to be a hot button issue" in the state. Among his primary challengers is Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill, who has clashed with Mead for more than a year after he signed controversial legislation removing he from day-to-day power at the Wyoming Department of Education.
She sued, and the bill was declared unconstitutional by the Wyoming Supreme Court.
While the issue has continued to occupy the Wyoming Legislature this summer, Mead has distanced himself from it in recent months.
The governor will face Hill and the third primary candidate, Taylor Haynes, on Monday, Aug. 11, in a debate hosted by Wyoming Pubic Television in Riverton, the only statewide-televised debate featuring the candidates before the primary a week from Tuesday.
Democrat Pete Gosar is the only Democrat in the race and is assured of his party's nomination. The general election is Nov. 4.
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