Ex-GOP strategist offers Western governors a lesson in rhetoric
Western governors listened to keynote addresses from Biden administration officials, a former Republican strategist and an advocate for flying cars during a two-day conference in California last week. The leaders hailed from 22 states and territories including Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland also joined the conference, giving a rundown Thursday of what the Biden administration has done for Western states over the past year.
Accomplishments, she said, included the creation of a new Indian Youth Service Corps and the passage of the infrastructure bill, which included billions of dollars for wildfire prevention and mitigation.
"This massive infusion of funds will help prepare communities and ecosystems against the threat of wildland fire," Haaland said. "It will increase our work on forest restoration, hazardous fuels management, mending lands after fires happen, and investing in our federal firefighters."
She warned that climate change is intensifying drought and wildfire around the West. She also touted the infrastructure law’s provisions to remediate orphan oil and gas wells.
"These discarded remnants of extractive industries spew poison into the air and nearby waters and contribute to climate change," she said.
But not everyone was impressed by her speech. Later in the day, former Republican strategist and communications expert Frank Luntz spoke to governors and criticized the secretary’s use of certain words.
"If she uses the word 'climate change,' she automatically loses one-third of her audience," he said. "One-third simply do not accept it and consider that partisan. You talk about climate, but not climate change. And I offer this because I know the governors were all taking notes."
Luntz also gave some tough advice to the governors, as well. He argued they need to start calling out misinformation about everything from COVID-19 to the vaccine to rumors about themselves.
"There are too many of your advisors saying, ‘Don’t mention it, don’t reference it.’ And I’m saying to you, that worked until a year ago. Maybe 18 months ago. That doesn’t work now," he said.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, pushed back, saying if he starts correcting conspiracy theories they might inadvertently gain a larger audience. But Luntz said it's critical to get the truth out there.
Luntz also told governors to stop using the term "job creation," contending that Westerners don’t want jobs, they want careers. He also argued that the term "mandate" is off-putting and that governors should publicly push back if they believe the media got something wrong.
The state leaders also heard keynote addresses about the missing and murdered Indigenous peoples crisis, computer chip shortages, and flying cars.
Cyrus Sigari, a managing partner of the California-based investment firm Up Partners, focused his speech on advanced air mobility – essentially small drones and other vehicles that carry people or cargo through the sky. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum called him the "Elon Musk of flying cars."
Sigari argued that aerial vehicles would be a common reality in the next couple of decades. He also pushed for the governors to create air infrastructure plans and to help bolster advanced air mobility companies in the U.S.
"This is a national economic defense strategy to ensure the United States is a leader in this space by virtue of building this as a homegrown industry as opposed to outsourcing from here," he said.
Gov. Mark Gordon of Wyoming expressed support for the idea and envisioned flying vehicles transporting people short distances across Great Plains states.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.