By Leo Wolfson, State Political Reporter
Wyoming lawmakers have passed a draft bill that would take away power from political parties to appoint finalists for vacant political positions throughout the state.
In the past year alone, there have been two executive state positions filled through the vacancy process, which gives political parties the power to submit three finalists to their county commissions or governor.
Under the bill, which was moved ahead Friday by the Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee, if there is more than half a term left from the previous elected official to remain there would be a special election held to fill those vacancies. If less than half of the term remains, the appointment process would be facilitated by the governor or county commissions.
The bill gives complete power to the governor and county commissions in those situations to fill vacancies from the entire nomination pool. Applicants could apply directly to them, who would directly make appointments.
The bill passed with an 8-5 vote.
Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, previously spoke against the appointment of Karl Allred as interim secretary of state in September, because of comments Allred made a few weeks prior. At a state GOP Central Committee meeting, Allred called Yin a “flippin’ idiot” who needed to be prevented from being elected.
“If we want to truly believe that we have someone that is impartial and a good candidate to fill a vacancy, especially in something as important as an election that is coming up, it is extremely important that those decisions are made where they pick candidates that haven’t made improper statements toward elections that are being overseen,” Yin said. “I really think that removing political parties from making the nominations … they shouldn’t have a decision in filling that statewide role.”
Under the proposed bill and current law, a vacancy for governor is filled through a special election if there is more than 60 days before the next general election, to be held at the next general election. If it is less than 60 days, an acting governor continues to hold the seat until the next regularly scheduled election for governor.
GOP Fractured Factions
Dan Sabrosky, a Natrona County Republican Party precinct member, spoke against the bill. He cited two factions of the current state GOP, the “establishment” and “grassroots.”
“The grassroots movement is having extraordinary success and it seems like when that happens the establishment wants to consolidate power,” he said.
Sabrosky mentioned a recent proposal to remove power from the secretary of state to oversee the state’s elections.
“I urge you to reconsider because one day, establishment might be back in power and that power will be removed from you and consolidation of power hurts the people of Wyoming, it does not help,” he said.
Sabrosky also said he doesn’t believe toxic rhetoric has entered politics.
“It’s vigorous debate we’re having, and it gets harsh sometimes, but that’s the nature of politics,” he said.
System Already Works ‘Quite Well’
State Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, also spoke against the bill. At one point, he made a motion to table the bill while amendments were made to it, which would have killed all further debate on it. His motion failed.
“I believe our current system has worked quite well over the years, including this year,” he said. “I think it has been a surprisingly successful system.”
Scott said he’s also concerned about voter turnout in special elections and said it’s wise to have a two-step process for vetting appointments.
“I know there is some unhappiness currently because of the degree of factionalism that we have, but I still think that it has worked well,” said Scott, the longest currently serving member of the Wyoming Legislature.
He mentioned a few historical moments where there the public was upset with particular past appointments.
More Elections, More Costs
Each election in Wyoming costs about $1.1 million to run statewide.
Jeremiah Rieman, executive director of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association, said a local election in Laramie County alone could run $130,000. He requested all special elections be paid by the state, which was accepted by the committee as part of the bill.
In 2022, there have been two special elections, one for superintendent of public instruction and the other for secretary of state.
Attempts To Amend
Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, said many years ago, it was the sole discretion of the governor to fill federal vacancies in Wyoming.
One failed amendment would have given applicants 30 days to obtain an amount equal to or more than 1% of signatures of registered voters to be considered an official candidate that could be considered by the governor. This is similar to the current process used by people wishing to run as an Independent in the general election.
Another failed amendment would have given the governor the option to not choose one of the party’s nominees and turn that decision over to the Wyoming Supreme Court, the same process used now for District Court appointments.
Neither of these amendments were considered.
Case suggested an amendment where the governor would select for one of the state’s top five leadership positions and county commissioners would fill vacancies of their local legislature seats.
Rep. Marshall Burt, L-Green River, was opposed to this amendment, finding it unlikely his county commissioners would replace him with another Libertarian if he ever had to vacate his seat.
“If a party owns a seat, they should be able to refill it,” he said.
This amendment also failed.
Keep It In The Party
Rep. Shelly Duncan, R-Lingle, then proposed a successful motion that would require vacancies be filled with a member of the same party as the previous elected official.
“So, if a Libertarian was hit by a bus, it would have to be filled by another Libertarian,” said Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne.