CHEYENNE — The mayor of Cheyenne and the governor of Wyoming engaged in a public dispute Monday over what happened Friday during a contentious meeting about a potential Taiwanese state visit.
In a news release sent from her office Monday morning, Mayor Marian Orr accused Gov. Mark Gordon of going on a “profane misogynistic temper tantrum” directed at her during the meeting. She said she decided to come forward after the weekend to make sure actions like his would not be tolerated.
In his own statement, Gordon denied he tried to intimidate Orr and said the notion he was misogynistic was indefensible. He admitted to using inappropriate language, but said he never stood up in a threatening manner, and his record of respecting women was well known.
She said/he said
According to Orr’s news release, she claims that Gordon – in front of three of his staff members – used foul language and threatening and intimidating behavior, and claimed the incident was an example of a misogynistic attitude held by Gordon.
“It’s one thing to have a disagreement on an issue,” Orr said in the statement. “But to lose your temper in front of your own staff, slam your fists on the table, get in someone’s face, and yell ‘f- – you’ because you don’t like the way the discussion is going is abominable.”
“It was threatening and intimidating behavior,” Orr added. “He is much larger than I, and used his physical presence in an aggressive and threatening manner.”
In a follow-up interview, Orr said the confrontation occurred about two-thirds of the way through the 30-minute meeting with Gordon. She said when it happened, her first thought was to stand up and walk out of the meeting.
Instead, she said, she stayed through the remainder of the meeting, which she described as ending on a positive note.
Orr said she would have not endorsed Gordon in his bid for the governor’s office last November if she knew this is how he would behave.
In his response, Gordon said Orr completely mischaracterized the Friday incident, and at no time did he try to intimidate or threaten her. But he did apologize for the language he used during the meeting.
“I am deeply offended by the mischaracterization represented in the mayor’s description of our meeting Friday. At no time during the conversation was I standing up or using intimidating body language,” Gordon said in the statement. “The notion that I have anything but the utmost respect for women is simply not true. I stand by my record on that point. I am not proud of my language, and I apologize for the word I used.”
Gordon’s office later issued a second news release, saying the governor had called Orr and apologized for his language, and she had accepted his apology.
Orr said she had accepted the apology before reading his statements about the meeting. After reading his denial of any physically threatening actions toward her, Orr said she would no longer accept the apology.
“(I accepted his apology) before I read his statement, which I believe it’s not truthful as far as the physical nature of that conversation,” Orr said.
Orr said the fact Gordon’s statement disputed her claim that he stood up and intimidated her during their meeting meant she could no longer accept his apology for his use of profanities during the meeting.
Orr had no city staff members with her in the room, but she said after the meeting she told members of her administration about the incident during a city government meeting.
Three members of Gordon’s administration were in the room during the meeting: Wyoming Homeland Security Director Lynn Budd, budget adviser Erica Legerski and senior policy adviser Renny MacKay. Both Budd and MacKay told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle they didn’t agree with Orr’s characterization of Gordon’s actions.
Gordon was extremely frustrated and used profanity in the discussion, but Budd said Orr’s description of the meeting was inaccurate.
“The governor was very frustrated, but it was not my opinion that he was aggressive with her at all,” Budd said. “As far as I recall, he never stood up. He may have slapped the table. He never stood up or acted physically aggressive toward her.”
MacKay agreed with Budd’s assessment and said Gordon never stood up during the contentious meeting, and, in fact, the meeting ended amicably.
“He didn’t stand up. For sure there was a tense back and forth, but the governor never stood up,” MacKay said. “There was table between the governor and the mayor, and he was always in the chair. And by the end of the meeting, it ended pretty civilly, and afterward I had a good conversation with the mayor to plan the next steps.”
What the meeting was about
The contentious meeting was about the potential of an official state visit from Taiwan’s president during Cheyenne Frontier Days in July.
Wyoming and Cheyenne have ongoing relationships with both Taiwan and China. Cheyenne’s sister city is the second-largest city in Taiwan, Taichung, and a delegation from Wyoming’s Legislature and its business community traveled last year to Taiwan as part of a trade mission with the country.
State lawmakers have also taken trips to China as part of efforts to expand exports to the country, including coal.
Orr said in conversations with her counterparts in Taiwan, she’s always extended invitations to CFD. When members of the Taiwanese administration expressed interest in coming to Cheyenne for this year’s event, she jumped at the chance to make it happen.
According to Orr, the Taiwanese administration liked the fact that the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, was the first woman elected head of state from the country and Orr was the first woman elected mayor of Wyoming’s capital city.
Orr said Gordon told her during Friday’s meeting there was no need for her or her office to be involved in any potential discussions.
“I was expecting it was going to be a dialogue on how we could both work together and combine efforts. It would take a lot of effort to host them,” Orr said. “I found resistance to the idea, and essentially I was having to explain my position that it would be fantastic for the city, for the state, for tourism.”
After conversations with Orr, the Taiwanese government reached out to Gordon and his staff about 10 days ago about the potential for an official state visit, MacKay said. The governor’s office and the mayor’s office had not been in communications about the potential visit before last week.
MacKay said the magnitude of an official state visit from Taiwan’s government goes beyond just the security and logistics involved in hosting foreign leaders. There are potential ramifications for Wyoming’s trade with both China and Taiwan, whether that’s cattle or coal, as well as national security implications.
Taiwan and China have been at odds over the island nation’s independence since the end of World War II, when the government of Chiang Kai-shek fled the communist forces of Mao Zedong and set up a government in Taiwan. China sees the island as a province that’s been in revolt since 1949.
The long and controversial history of the two, and the potential for blowback from either group onto Wyoming or the United States, is why the governor’s office has reached out to U.S. State Department, MacKay said.
“The governor wants to proceed with diligence to make sure it’s done right, and we don’t have this answer yet,” MacKay said. “That’s part of what the office is dealing with, making sure we get answers and what’s required from the governor, the State of Wyoming, the City of Cheyenne, and what are the implications for the state’s economy and implications nationally for this kind of visit.
“The governor doesn’t want to rush this.”
MacKay said once the state gets answers from the State Department, it would decide on the next steps.