By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily
An amended bill that would, in effect, make school board races partisan passed is first full review in the Wyoming State Senate on Monday.
Senate File 138, in its original form, would have given school board candidates the option of listing their political party.
But an amendment sponsored by Sen. Mike Gierau (D-Jackson) making party affiliation required was passed by a 14-13 vote.
Gierau said he wasn’t sure if he supported the original legislation but offered the amendment to “improve it.”
“If it’s a good idea to list party affiliation for school board, then why not just do it?” Geirau said. “I don’t understand this part about making it optional.”
Sen. Affie Ellis, (R-Cheyenne), sponsor of the legislation, said she considered making the listing of party affiliation mandatory but opted not to for policy and practical reasons.
Ellis said she wanted to respect the rights of individuals who don’t consider themselves to be partisan. She also expressed concern that making the listing of party affiliation could ultimately doom the bill.
Regardless, Ellis said her bill was necessary for transparency as many candidates don’t tell voters who they are and what they stand for.
“We are doing a disservice to the public by not providing more information about candidates,” Ellis said. “This bill, at its most basic level, allows the voter more information but it’s left to the school board candidate’s discretion.”
Ellis said in her district, there were a number of candidates who didn’t report spending anything on campaigning or doing any fundraising.
“While that may seem charming, to me it seems a little alarming,” she said explaining that this meant candidates were not being transparent.
“Mailers were not being sent out explaining priorities or positions or philosophies on governance,” she said.
Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) spoke against the bill and the amendment, stating that the country has become too partisan as it is and making school board races partisan wouldn’t be productive.
“When I look around the country and the state of national affairs, the last thing I hear is ‘Boy, there’s just not enough partisanship,’” Rothfuss said.
The senator said he doesn’t know the party affiliation of the school board candidates he voted for in Albany County and he was “happy” about that.
“I don’t want the basis of my kids’ education to be partisan. I don’t want that to be the driving force,” he said.
“Let’s try to de-polarize and de-politicize the process instead of going the other direction,” he said.
The bill, in its amended form, passed by a voice vote and next goes to second reading.