‘What Could’ve Been:’ Jackson State Sen. Mike Gierau Reflects on 2021 Legislative Session

Sen. Gierau talks Medicaid expansion, lawmaking during COVID-19 and making deals with Republicans.
Mike Gierau has served in the State Senate since 2019. He is currently the Minority Whip. (Screenshot courtesy of the Wyoming State Legislature)

by | Apr 27, 2021 | Politics & Policy

Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon has been busy signing bills from this year’s state legislative session over the past few weeks. Now that a fuller picture is emerging of what legislation will actually become law in the Cowboy State, KHOL’s Will Walkey talked with Democratic Senator Mike Gierau of Jackson about his impressions from a hectic month in Cheyenne. The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Will Walkey: Senator Gierau, thanks again for joining me.

Senator Mike Gierau: Thanks a lot for having me, William. I appreciate you having me on.

Walkey: And let me start by saying I know that this year’s legislative session just ended. And I’m wondering, first off, just some of your general reflections from this year’s legislative session.

Gierau: I guess the best way to describe it is it’s kind of what could have been. We had so many opportunities to do so many things. And what do we end up doing? We had six gun bills, six abortion bills, and a half a dozen bills to change the way the state health officer does their job. So we wasted a great deal of time talking about things that, frankly, in my view, wasn’t a productive use of our time.

Walkey: I’m wondering, specifically, what were some opportunities you think we missed? And maybe even if you could pick one.

Gierau: Well, I guess if I could I’ll do two quick ones. Medicaid expansion. You know, that whole issue. The House passed a bill. The Senate didn’t take it up. I thought the people of Wyoming deserved to have that conversation. We didn’t have it. I think the leadership made an error in judgment in not allowing that discussion to occur. And I think the reason why they didn’t is because I think they would’ve lost the vote, and I don’t know why they’re afraid of that. I really don’t understand when you’re covering more people in Wyoming, covering them at a better cost, and providing them better health care, why you would be against that.

The other one—personal, local—I had a bill about Teton pass to try to keep big trucks off Teton Pass. I got it through the Senate. I worked for two years to get it out of the Senate. I thought once I did, it would have an easier time in the House. The Senate is a more conservative body, and I got into the House Transportation Committee and got whacked. To be honest, I think I was a little bit ahead of myself, and so that that was a mistake. And we’ll run it again and I won’t make that mistake again. I’ll try to work harder and get that vote done.

Walkey: I’m curious if there is anything coming out of this session that you thought was a real success, and that you were real happy that passed?

Gierau: Great question. And yes. We get our hinds kicked about every 20 minutes in the legislature when you’re a Democrat. I mean, when I walk in every morning, it’s 28 to two against. There’s only two of us in the body, and I’m one of them. And so, yeah, we do. But there are successes, and there are a lot of them actually.

And one of the biggest ones this year is that we passed a capital construction bill that has a significant amount of money set aside for Central Wyoming College, which is based in Riverton—has a campus in Jackson over at the Center for the Arts. What this building would do [is] it would be down by the high school, and it would be a small 17,000 square foot building set up for a nursing program and a culinary arts program, and some business classes. We got the money set aside for that. And that’s a plus.

Walkey: Can you reflect on how you reach across the aisle and get people from the other side to agree with you, given the position that you’re in a lot of times?

Gierau: Yeah, it’s a challenge for all of us. But you know what? I try to think of it as an opportunity, because what it does is it makes you listen to what the other folks are saying. We have no choice. And I’ve got to figure out a way each day to walk in there and start a conversation with someone from the other party and sell them on an idea, get them to buy into it, and then do one more thing, get them to take it over is their own idea. Because if I run it, it probably won’t work so well. All of us in the Teton County delegation have to learn. You don’t compromise your goals or your morals or anything like that—the things you stand for. You just have to package it differently.

Walkey: Can you just reflect a little bit about what it was like working in the Senate Chambers during a pandemic and maybe how the pandemic affected lawmaking this session?

Gierau: It was very, very different. Some legislators actually tried to make it a point. They wanted to shake your hand. They wanted to make you feel uncomfortable. Once again, it’s a different world there because I feel like I have to wear a mask and I want to be respectful of the staff. But that’s between me and the voters of Teton County. Other people said I’m not going to wear a mask, and I’m not going to wear a mask any time, and that’s between them and their voters. And so that kind of put it into hyperspeed.

But also you’re trying to run something, and a lot of legislators stopped working because people got sick. Actually, we were very lucky we did not. So, enough people did do the right things—or did it the right way—so we made it through. And we’ll be back down in July for a special session where we’ll deal with new COVID allocations from the federal government, and we’ll be dealing with that. So it’s going to be a little different. We’re kind of meeting in fits and starts, but we’ll get through it. And we’ll try to do our best for the people of Wyoming.

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About Will Walkey

Will is KHOL's first full-time reporter and producer. Originally from Tacoma, Washington, he recently graduated from Columbia University with a Master's Degree in journalism. He likes to read and write about housing, local politics, and history, and spends most of his free time fishing or biking. He's excited to be living in Wyoming, and looks forward to honing in on his unique radio voice by highlighting the locals that make Jackson special. Contact Will with tips at will@jhcr.org, and follow him on Twitter at @WillWalkey.

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