Redistricting wins first House approval

Carrie Haderlie with the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, from the Wyoming News Exchange

CHEYENNE — The Wyoming House of Representatives took up the work of redistricting Wednesday afternoon, approving a plan that would add three seats to the state’s legislative branch.

Rep. Shelly Duncan, R-Lingle, began by saying House Bill 100 is the best fit for Wyoming’s shifting population. HB 100 proposes an increase to 62 representatives and 31 senators.

“We saw 60-30 plans, I-80 Compromise plans, regional plans, a 56-28 plan, a 60-31 plan, and finally, a 62-31 plan,” Duncan said. “The proposed 62-31 plan was easily the best option to ensure people have fair representation for the entire state. It balances the requirement for more representation for those areas that have grown against the prospect of less representation for the least-populated areas.”

Duncan serves on the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Interim Committee. It took up the task of redistricting, or drawing lines around the areas from which sitting legislators are elected, following the 2020 Census. She said the 62-31 plan slightly decreases the average population in each district, meaning, at least in theory, that each citizen has a louder voice.

Some were unconvinced by the plan.

Rep. Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs, questioned the wisdom of increasing the size of the Legislature.

“The question is, what is the compelling need to increase the size of the Legislature? There isn’t one,” Stith said. “I will be bringing an amendment tomorrow to do what the committee said it would do in August, which is to retain a 60-30 redistricting split.”

Smith stated that in Wyoming, there is one member of the Legislature for every 6,400 people. In Utah, the number is one in 30,000, and in Nebraska it is one in 42,000. In Colorado, there is one sitting legislator for more than 50,000 people, he said.

Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, spoke in favor of the 62-31 plan, saying it would preserve Wyoming’s rural interests.

“Why would we do this now?” he said. “Well, do we want to try to maintain our rural character, and do we want to maintain representation to the rural areas of Wyoming? Because that is what it boils down to.”

Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, said that in the beginning, she was opposed to the idea of increasing the size of the Legislature because it could mean lawmakers simply failed to do the “hard work” of redistricting to a current standard.

“We recognized that the reality is, our rural areas are decreasing, and our more urban areas are increasing in population,” she said. “So what is the best way for us to move, and accommodate that number one principle of ‘one person, one vote’ but also the shift of our populations? Honestly, the 62-31 plan does that.”

Three amendments were adopted Wednesday.

The first such change, proposed by Duncan, maintains district lines in much of northeastern Wyoming as they currently are.

It would affect Laramie County by making its districts larger in population size.

“The crux of my amendment is that it keeps everyone where they are now, and it is completely within deviation,” Duncan said. “It solves all the way down the eastern side – Crook, Weston and Goshen, all status quo.”

House Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, spoke in favor of the amendment. He explained that it will affect not only Crook, Weston, Niobrara and Goshen counties, but Campbell County, as well.

“We have fewer counties being split fewer ways, Campbell County being one of those,” Barlow said.

Elected officials from Laramie County, who were ultimately outvoted, spoke against the amendment.

Rep. Sue Wilson, R-Cheyenne, said she had already heard from constituents that a shift in the northeastern corner of the state would affect her city in negative ways.

“I don’t mind what happens in northern Wyoming, but I am Laramie County,” Wilson said. “Whatever happens in the northeast, good on you. But looking at the inside of Laramie County … the lines are awfully contorted in there.”

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, said the amendment will mean that Laramie County must absorb more than 2,000 people into its districts, as drawn in the original bill. He also said that 11 of the 20 districts affected by the amendment are in Laramie County.

“Laramie County, we will probably continue to work on our map … putting 2,200 people back into our county has led to some interesting lines,” Zwonitzer said, adding that an amendment will likely follow.

The second amendment approved was to keep the rural communities of Arvada and Clearmont with communities of interest in Sheridan County. A final amendment would redraw lines that only affect Sweetwater County.


This story was published on Feb. 17.


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