Matt Mead, Ranching, politics a family tradition
Cheyenne — “Where you find one blade of grass, leave two,” says Matt Mead quoting his great-grandfather, who coined the phrase that has been passed down through multiple generations of the family.
While it’s a lesson in stewardship, Mead says the phrase has also served as a guiding principal for life. Mead recently announced his intentions to run for Governor of Wyoming on the Republican ticket. Ron Micheli of Fort Bridger has also announced his intentions and Cheyenne-based Republican Rita Meyer is expected to announce early 2010.
“I grew up on a ranch in Teton County,” says Mead. “My mom and dad were both ranchers. My grandparents were in the ranching business. My great-grandfather, Pete Hansen, homesteaded land in Teton County. Through the generations, we consider ourselves a ranching family.”
Mead says, “I suspect, maybe like a lot of ranch kids growing up on a ranch where your weekends and free time are all tied up, when you think about your future you want to go do something else. When I got out of college I went to law school and practiced law for 20 years, the vast majority as a prosecutor.” In 2007 Mead resigned from his position as U.S. Attorney to seek the seat vacated by the death of U.S. Senator Craig Thomas.
“Ranching is a remarkable way to raise kids,” he says, noting his family’s decision to re-enter the ranching business. He and his wife, Carol, have two children. Mary, named after Mead’s mother, is 11 years old. Her younger brother, Peter, named after Mead’s father, is nine. “We decided we’re not going to run in spite of our kids, but because of our kids,” says Mead. “There’s a duty to leave Wyoming a better place than we found it.”
In 2002 the Meads purchased a ranch, including forest allotments in the Medicine Bow National Forest, in Albany County. They more recently purchased a farm located south of Torrington in Goshen County. Ranching in Albany County and farming in Goshen County, says Mead, is far easier than ranching in Teton County proved to be. “We haven’t been yelled at once for getting manure on the road,” he laughs.
Just as ranching gets in your blood, Mead says politics have the same effect. “It was always an interest to me,” he says. Mead’s grandfather, the late Cliff Hansen, was Governor of Wyoming and later represented the state in the United States Senate. His mother, the late Mary Mead, was a candidate for Governor in 1990.
As Mead considers the largest issues facing the state he says, “Sometimes Wyoming is only viewed as a great big park with a great big fuel pump to be used by the rest of the country for the rest of the country. We, of course, have those great things, but we’re much more than that. It’s important for us to take control and be proactive to fend off federal regulation,” Mead says. “Wyoming needs to have the right to determine its own future.”
“That’s going to be a constant issue, whether I become governor or someone else does,” he says. “But there’s an attitude you can take to the job, so you’re not afraid to fight federal intrusion when you can.”
Mead, whose family had livestock grazing permits in Grand Teton National Park, remembers quite well the discussions leading up to the reintroduction of wolves. He says his family was told the wolves would remain within the park. Describing the wolf as “symptomatic” of a much larger issue, Mead says it’s important that Wyoming is prepared to take a stance and protect the state’s beliefs and values.
Looking at federal issues as they relate to forest health, Mead says the federal government has a responsibility to be a good neighbor. On his own forest allotments, he says the poor health of the timber is also reducing the availability of grass.
“I am grateful for what federal land in Wyoming provides,” says Mead, “but federal policymakers need to realize that we’re not part of their park, they’re part of our state. They need to be good neighbors.”
“Wyoming has the benefit of great energy resources,” says Mead. “I view that as a blessing and it’s given our state and our citizens a great deal.” Mead says the Wyoming governor needs to consider how we can put Wyoming in the best possible position to create a positive atmosphere that “Wyoming is a good place to do business.”
In reaching that goal, Mead says, “We need certainty in laws.” While we often have little control over federal regulations, certainty in state laws is something he says the state can provide.
He offers new statutes surrounding pore space and CO2 storage as an example. “By having that in place we have said this is what our state wants and we’ve put a value on pore space,” says Mead. “We are in a position to say this is a right and for you to mess with it would be a taking.” Mead says it’s a scenario that leaves Wyoming in a stronger position to negotiate.
Mead also calls for greater diversity in Wyoming’s economy. “That’s something we’ve heard from every candidate for governor and every governor for I don’t know how long,” he says. “Having said that, however, it doesn’t mean it’s not something we should continue to work toward.”
Economic diversity, says Mead, needs to build around Wyoming’s current strengths. “We need to build upon those things we have here,” he says. He lists the super computer and the coal gasification partnership with General Electric as two examples. “We should always encourage and foster those relationships where Wyoming can be a leader,” says Mead. He sees opportunity in pairing natural gas generated electricity with that produced via wind energy.
“If you help natural gas prices, you’re helping every person in the state,” says Mead.
“Education is important to Wyoming,” says Mead. “As I see the strengths of Wyoming, we are financially pretty well off.” When it comes to the University of Wyoming and the state’s community colleges, Mead says, “We should focus on them so they remain first rate. UW and the community colleges should view one another as partners.”
Mead also calls for a greater appreciation and offering of vocational education. “For too long we have undersold the value of a good vocational education,” he says. “As we look at what’s needed in Wyoming for jobs, a lot of them could be filled by people with a vocational education. We shouldn’t be afraid to provide and promote that.”
“Agriculture,” says Mead, “has been and will remain important to this state.” Economic figures surrounding the industry’s contributions, he says, are shortsighted. “Ag provides much more to the state with regard to hunting, tourism and open space. Ag is and should be an important part of Wyoming’s future.”
In securing the industry’s future, Mead says the State of Wyoming should be a more active partner in protecting grazing rights and fending off private property challenges, such as those resulting from the Endangered Species Act. Finding an endangered or threatened species on one’s land, says Mead, shouldn’t be a cause for fear.
Jon Marvel and Western Watersheds Project, as well as other environmental extremist groups, says Mead, aren’t friends of agriculture or Wyoming. “I don’t think the state should be squeamish about joining in fighting lawsuits from groups like Western Watersheds. It’s not just in the interest of ranchers, but Wyoming in general. The Wyoming Attorney General should be in a position to do that when the time is right.” Mead says he supported legislation that came before the 2009 session of the Wyoming Legislature that would have aided and encouraged rangeland monitoring.
“In their approach, they’re short-sighted,” says Mead of environmental extremists. “What does it mean if we can’t have that public grazing? It means you have to find another way to make ends meet.” For many ranchers, says Mead, it means they have no choice but to sell the land, often as a development. “Is that the goal of these environmental groups, to lose open spaces and all that they provide?”
The estate tax, also referred to as the death tax, is yet another threat to Wyoming agriculture that Mead says warrants serious attention. Speaking from personal experience, he says, “If we continue to divide up 50 percent of every ranch because of estate taxes, that’s going to be the death of ag here and elsewhere.”
Mead says that formation of an exploratory committee means different things to different people. For his family, he says it’s a commitment to seek the office of governor during the 2010 campaign season.
Jennifer Womack is a staff writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at Jennifer@wylr.net.