By Leo Wolfson, political reporter
draft blurb: Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan’s last day on the job before he leaves to become a judge is Sept. 15. It’s up to Governor Mark Gordon and the state GOP to pick someone to finish out the Secretary of State’s term. The Wyoming Constitution presents hurdles for consideration of GOP Secretary of State primary election winner Chuck Gray.
Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan’s last day in that position is set for Sept. 15 and Governor Mark Gordon will need to appoint an official to fill his seat.
Deputy Secretary of State Karen Wheeler confirmed on Thursday afternoon that Sept.15 will be Buchanan’s last day. Buchanan has accepted a judgeship in Goshen County, a job he will begin on Sept. 19, Wheeler said.
Buchanan has not delivered Gov. Mark Gordon an official resignation letter yet and Wheeler said she doesn’t know when that will happen.
As soon as Buchanan delivers his official resignation, Gordon must immediately notify Wyoming Republican Party Chairman Frank Eathorne to call a meeting of the State Central Committee where three candidates who could fill the Secretary of State vacancy will be chosen by the party.
This process could take place at the State Central Committee’s next meeting Sept. 16-17 in Riverton.
“We really need the governor to notify the vacancy, but otherwise we’re ready to go,” said David Holland, vice chair of the Wyoming Republican Party.
After the candidates’ names are delivered to Gordon, the governor will have five days to make his selection.
This same process played out last January when former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow stepped down to take a similar job in Virginia.
The process the State GOP used to select the three finalists sparked a lawsuit from 16 plaintiffs across the state, including former State GOP Chairman and state legislator Tom Lubnau.
The plaintiffs claimed the voting process taken to select the candidates violated the Wyoming and federal Constitution rule of “one person-one vote,” by allowing each county party the same three votes. U.S. District Court Judge Skavdahl quickly ruled in favor of the defendants.
Shortly after, Gordon selected Cody resident Brian Schroeder for the Superintendent of Public Instruction job.
Schroeder lost a close race to Megan Degenfelder in the Republican primary election last month.
Who Could It Be?
The Wyoming Constitution says that “No senator or representative shall, during the term for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil office under the state, and no member of congress or other person holding an office … shall be a member of either house during his continuance in office.”
State Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, won the Republican primary for Secretary of State in August. There have been a few different campaigns mounted to try and prevent Gray from serving in office and to restrict his powers.
On Thursday night, the Park County Republican Party passed a resolution issuing a formal reprimand to the State Legislature’s Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions committee. The reprimand was in response to the committee approving the draft of a bill last week that would strip the Secretary of State of their duty to oversee the state’s elections.
Vince Vanata, a state committeeman for the Park County GOP, said this resolution will be circulated and considered at the state party’s central committee September meeting.
Since Gray faces no Democratic or Independent challenger in the general election, he is expected to be the next Secretary of State.
Since Gray’s current House term runs through the end of the year, the Constitution indicates he would be ineligible to fill the role as interim Secretary of State.
The key phrase in that constitutional passage is “during the term for which he was elected,” meaning that even if Gray were to step down from his Legislature seat, he was still elected for a term that ends at the start of 2023.
According to the Casper Star Tribune, a 2010 memorandum drawn up by the Legislative Service Office offered the same interpretation of the law.
The only shred of doubt that may exist in the constitutional passage is the phrase “civil office,” which could be interpreted to refer to unelected positions. The Secretary of the State is one of the five elected members of the state’s executive branch.
Gray did not respond to a request to comment about whether he finds himself eligible or not.
Holland said he was unaware of the constitutional passage related to this issue but said he supports Gray being appointed in the interim.
“Obviously, we’re not going to violate the law and we’ll find a way to work around it,” Holland said.
Former state legislator Marti Halverson could be a potential candidate if Gray isn’t chosen. Halverson was one of the three finalists chosen for the Superintendent of Public Instruction role last winter.
She spearheaded a campaign this past year through the State GOP, to audit elections from several precincts in Laramie and Fremont counties.
“The elections director is just following state law,” Halverson said. “Any problem with the security of elections lays directly at the feet of the State Legislature.”
Halverson said she doesn’t know if she would accept the Secretary of State role.
“I would have to give it some thought,” she said in a Friday afternoon phone interview.
She did say she believes Gray should stay in his current role as a state legislator until the start of his presumptive term in January.