Sore losers in the Wyoming Legislature

By: 
NLJ Staff

When it comes to election integrity, the only thing that really matters is that the will of the voters prevail.

But in Wyoming, some of those who most heartily defend the integrity of our elections can’t help but confuse the issue every few years when they are confronted with the fact that the will of the voters won’t always match their own.

It seems the Wyoming State Legislature is again questioning the wisdom of Wyoming voters when it comes to their choice for a statewide office, and before you could even say “disenfranchise,” they began plotting to erase the effects of your apparent poor judgment in last month’s Republican primary election.

Immediately after the votes were counted in the race for Wyoming’s suddenly vacant secretary of state’s seat, some state lawmakers were working feverishly to reverse the “mistake” we made in choosing State Rep. Chuck Gray over State Sen. Tara Nethercott. 

Voters obviously made a mistake because a majority of legislators and other “really important people in Wyoming politics” had endorsed the losing candidate. Wyoming’s leaders simply can’t believe you ignored their wisdom and wishes, and didn’t elect the candidate they told you to
vote for.

A feverish effort was immediately launched to correct your error and recruit an “Independent” to run against Gray in November’s general election, but the chosen recruit objected to the idea. 

Then the state’s political insiders began drafting legislation that would strip the secretary of state of the power to oversee elections by putting that power in the hands of an appointed “expert.”

Sound familiar?

The Wyoming State Legislature has gone down this road before and been rebuffed by both the Wyoming Supreme Court and the governor in the process, but they appear ready and willing to ignore the state’s constitution and take yet another wild ride on the taxpayers’ dime.

It was less than 10 years ago, in the Powers vs. Mead case, that the Wyoming Supreme Court preserved the balance of power in Wyoming government by finding that the constitution prohibited the Legislature from passing laws that stripped powers from an elected member of the executive branch of state government — namely Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill.

Hill had been elected over a state senator who had received a slew of endorsements from his counterparts in the Legislature and was supported by a number of other “really important people in Wyoming politics.” When Hill upset their plans and defeated their favorite colleague in the general election, the Legislature and Gov. Matt Mead responded by passing a bill (Senate File 104) that took away most of her authority and put the responsibility for running the department in the hands of an appointed director.

The State Supreme Court defended the voters’ right to choose our own leaders, but only after the well-being of Wyoming students was put on hold for a couple of years while the taxpayers picked up the tab for a costly court case to overturn the legislative power grab.

Earlier this year the Legislature again tried to ignore the constitution by stripping power away from the state treasurer you elected four years ago — and re-elected overwhelmingly last month. 

Curt Meier was chosen in 2018 over a candidate who was endorsed by numerous legislators and “really important people in Wyoming politics,” and those legislators eventually scratched their itch by sneaking a little footnote into the massive 2022 budget bill that would have given much of the state treasurer’s power to an appointed CEO
or COO. 

Fortunately Gov. Mark Gordon saved us the cost of the Supreme Court providing another constitutional lesson to the Legislature when he exercised his line-item veto to remove the offensive language from the bill — thus preserving the checks and balances that are an integral part of both Wyoming and America’s system of government.

Now, just a few months later, legislative leaders again think they need to save the voters of Wyoming from themselves. 

In an ironic twist, legislators apparently feel Chuck Gray is not fit to serve as Wyoming’s chief election officer because he has been hesitant to accept the results of past elections. In an ultimate “do as I say, not as I do” maneuver, they want to assure the citizens of the integrity of our elections by replacing the man voters just chose to oversee elections.

And they wonder why “we the people” are angry and confused…

If our elected leaders want their constituents to accept the outcome of our elections, they should provide a better example of the practice themselves. When an election is over, they should immediately begin to work with the winning candidate, and support him or her in executing the duties of the office to the maximum benefit of the constituents they
all serve.

Period.

And if the legislature truly wants the ability for a “mistake” by the voters to be fixed, then we suggest they give voters the power to fix those mistakes themselves — by drafting and passing a more functional recall provision for Wyoming elected officials and making sure that voters aren’t discouraged from using it.

But that is another editorial for another day…

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