The governor, who is seeking a second term but first must get past a pair of challenges in the Aug. 19 Republican primary, donned a pink shirt to go along with blue jeans and a cowboy hat as he toured the state. He made a pair of stops in Cody after starting the day in Cheyenne and then going to Sheridan, where he learned it was “Tough Enough To Wear Pink” day at the Sheridan WYO Rodeo.
“I didn’t have a pink one so I had to get a different shirt,” he said.
His hectic schedule continued on Saturday, after heading home to Cheyenne. He went to Laramie, Wright and Gillette.
Mead, 52, is making appearances as the governor, touring the Cody Senior Center and Cody Laboratories when he was in the Park County seat. But he’s also on the campaign trail, meeting and greeting folks, shaking hands and offering interviews to media outlets.
After all, it is campaign season. Things are going well, he said, and donations are coming in on a “pretty steady” basis.
“Some days $5,000, some days $40,000,” Mead said. “Carol and I will spend some of our own money. We’ll be putting in some, not a lot.”
During the 2010 campaign, Mead invested more than $1 million of his own money during the race. He said he feels it’s important to spend his own money when asking others to support him financially.
Mead said his campaign is just starting to conduct polling. In May, he told the Tribune a friend had told him a survey showed him with support from 80 percent of Republican voters. Mead said he doesn’t have a figure now, but feels he is doing very well.
“We think so,” he said. “Not being a political junkie myself, I don’t take anything for granted. I think every vote has to be earned.”
Mead said his approach is to tell voters, “Here’s what I’ve done and here’s what I am going to do,” and allow them to compare that with his opponents.
That strategy worked in 2010, with Mead winning a hotly contested four-way GOP primary and then crushing Democrat Leslie Petersen 66-23 percent in the general election, with Haynes, running a write-in campaign, getting 7 percent of the vote and Libertarian Mike Wheeler garnering almost 3 percent.
Haynes appears to have a lot of support in traditionally conservative Park County, but Mead said he was not ill-at-ease in Cody.
“We always get a pleasant reception here,” he said.
Mead said when he talks with tea party members and supporters, he emphasizes his own conservative views and policies.
Wyoming has the lowest taxes in the USA, and Mead said he has made state government smaller, “trimmed the sales on the budget” and added hundreds of millions in savings.
Fuel tax ‘worked great’
Mead has had an active term as governor and he touched on some decisions he has made, issues he has supported and political battles he has waged since taking office in 2011.
He supported a 10-cent increase in the fuel tax, with the money set aside for highway and road repairs and maintenance.
“I think it’s worked great,” Mead said. “It’s raised about 70 million bucks with a portion to local government, which is a priority with me.”
More than half the fuel tax dollars are paid by people from out of state, he said, which is a reason the Wyoming Taxpayers Association and truckers supported it.
Mead said he supports the Wyoming Supreme Court’s decision last month that some internal documents, used to shape policies, can be withheld from the public.
“It’s similar to what the federal government does,” he said.
Mead said it’s “healthy” to allow advisers and staff members to send memos and notes with ideas and proposals, even if they are deemed off-base and in some cases almost absurd.
“I don’t want to be surrounded by ‘Yes Men,’” he said. “I want to be surrounded by a lot of skeptical people not afraid to say, ‘Here’s what we ought to do.’ I want an opportunity for a free exchange of ideas.”
If everything is made public, people will be afraid to write or send emails because they may be mocked or humiliated down the road, Mead said. He was Wyoming’s U.S. attorney from 2001-07.
Mead said he rejects accusations that he not supporting people who are profoundly disabled.
He said he asked for $12 million for helping that segment of population in 2013 and “made another run at it in 2014.” Some people in need of assistance were on waiting lists for up to six years; he favors a maximum of 18 months.
“I want to lessen that waiting list and put money toward it,” Mead said. “We’re going to provide services to people.”
The system is being redesigned, he said, and newly enrolled people may not be offered all the services that others were, since studies have shown many were offered assistance they did not need or want. The newcomers’ “actual needs” will be determined and “appropriate levels of funding” will be determined, the governor said.
“Some will get more, some will get less that they do not need. It will be about a 7 percent change up and down,” he said. “But I want people to remember, I was the one asking for more money and I was the one rejected by the Legislature.”
‘Married to higher standards’
Mead said he has publicly supported Common Core education standards and is not changing his stance now.
“We need higher standards,” he said. “I’m not married to Common Core, but I am married to high standards.”
Mead said he would support a program that set equal or greater standards. Common Core was created and developed by states, not the federal government, he said.
The Legislature has blocked funding for Next Generation Science Standards and the State Board of Education has halted a review of state standards that it does every five years until the Legislature changes its mind. Mead said he wants to get parents, teachers and community members involved and informed.
“I feel the same about them. They have to be high standards,” he said. “Republican or Democrat, hey, education is fundamental. We have to have well-educated citizenry.”
Accusations that he is setting up refugee camps for Somali immigrants, and is bringing them to Wyoming to fill job openings for companies, raise his hackles. It was the only time in a 30-minute interview that his calm demeanor changed.
“It does bother me. This program started post-World War II for people from European nations,” he said.
Refugees are fleeing murder, rape and other forms of violence and merely want to “find sanctuary,” Mead said. Many of them are sponsored by church groups.
He said allegations that he was setting up camps “is just completely false.” Mead said if 1,000 Somalis suddenly arrived in Wyoming, they would be noticed.
He said in 2013 he asked the federal government what a system would look like, since Wyoming is the only state without such a program. Somalis and people from other lands are already entering the state but Wyoming had no idea how to track their needs and issues.
“We’re not sure where we’re going to go,” Mead said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to bury your head in the sand. It’s wrong to say, ‘These people are always bad, or these people are always good.’”