Neiman Beats Olsen As Wyoming Legislature Chooses Party Nominees For Leadership

in News/politics

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By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
Leo@Cowboystatedaily.com

Normally on the day the state Legislature picks its leadership, the top positions – speaker of the House and president of the Senate – are the most newsworthy.

They still are newsworthy, but not that surprising. Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, is the new Wyoming House speaker while Sen., Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, is the new Senate president.

But the big news Saturday was the move away from the Legislature’s longstanding tradition of electing leadership based on ranking and seniority in the majority floor leader position.

Freshman Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, topped veteran legislator Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, in the race for Majority Floor Leader by a 29-28 vote. Rarely has a freshman been named to a leadership position and none have been in recent memory.

“Thank you to my peers in the state House for electing me to serve as the House Majority Leader,” Neiman said in a statement. “I look forward to working with all the members of the Legislature to forward legislation that will help our people prosper.”

Although the leadership chosen by the Republican caucus Saturday are only considered nominations at this stage, it would take a separate nomination on the first day of the legislative session and support from the super minority contingency of Democrats to change any of Saturday’s results.

Speaker of the House

The caucus elected Sommers by a 30-27 vote as speaker of the House, topping Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan.

“It’s humbling and appreciated,” Sommers told Cowboy State Daily on Sunday afternoon.

Despite many more contested positions than usual this year, Sommers said the privately held caucus meeting had a similar feel to the past. 

Sommers was the sitting House Majority floor leader and has served as speaker pro tempore and majority whip.

He is chairman of the Subcommittee on Manual of Legislative Procedures Updates, a member of the House Education Committee and Wyoming Wildlife Taskforce. He also chaired the Broadband Task Force and the Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration.

“We have a difficult, but great, opportunity in Wyoming to push the state forward though future challenges,” he said.

Sommers said he expects to work late nights and early mornings to do his job effectively. 

“I’ve been a tireless advocate in the House for the future of the state of Wyoming,” he said.

Running against Sommers was Jennings, a former but recent member of the House Freedom Caucus.

If Jennings had been chosen speaker, it would’ve broken the longstanding tradition of selecting leadership based on ranking. Although Jennings has served in the House since 2015, he has never held a leadership position. He also ran for speaker in 2020.

Jennings’ election would’ve likely signaled a more conservative approach to the types of bills being considered in this year’s session. Sommers describes himself as a traditional Republican but is not seen as particularly conservative by some ultra-conservatives.

Jennings told Cowboy State Daily last week that he felt confident he had enough votes to be elected speaker. Sommers would not say what the final vote was for his nomination. Jennings did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Speaker of the House is a critical role that carries the most power in that body. The position is in charge of appointing committees, assigning bills to standing committees, presiding over legislative sessions and managing the Legislative Services Office.

Sommers said he is still considering committee position requests and will have all the committee rosters finalized by the end of this week. Barring any resignations, the positions will stay intact for the next two years.

“I’m still working with different members’ requests,” he said.

Sommers also said that although he will give a certain credence to putting legislators on committees where they have experience working on before, “It’s a combination of coordinating committees and people’s requests.”

Majority Floor Leader

As for Neiman’s surprising victory over Olsen, the freshman legislator from Hulett neither holds a leadership position nor is the chairman of any committee.

Neiman’s election is the most untraditional leadership selection since Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, served as speaker of the house for two consecutive sessions from 2017-2021.

Neiman is a member of the Education Committee. He was also a co-sponsor and key force behind Wyoming’s abortion trigger ban that went into effect this year with the Supreme Court’s revocation of Roe v. Wade this past summer.

The constitutionality of the trigger law is being considered at Wyoming’s District Court level.

In August, Neiman and Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, filed a motion to join the lawsuit as intervenors. A decision on the matter is expected Monday.

Olsen is the House majority whip and was just reelected for his fourth term. He’s chairman of the Judiciary Committee and Select Committee on Blockchain, Financial Technology and Digital Innovation Technology. 

Sommers wouldn’t directly comment on the party’s decision to break from tradition on selecting the new majority floor leader role and said he can’t speak for those who voted “the way they did.”

“He (Neiman) got the votes and I wish him well,” Sommers said, declining to say whether he voted for Neiman or not.

House Freedom Caucus

Neiman was the only one of four candidates from or aligned with the House Freedom Caucus, a conservative bloc within the Republican Party, who was successful.

“Unfortunately, we lost all positions except majority floor leader,” Jeanette Ward, the ultra-conservative Republican-elect for House District 57 in Casper, wrote in a Sunday Facebook post.

Ward said constituents should ask their representatives how they voted in these elections, stating “sunshine as the best disinfectant.”

Speaker Pro Tem

Rep. Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs, was chosen speaker pro tem, the No. 2 ranking position in the House. Stith is a member of the Appropriations Committee and is entering his fourth term in the Legislature.

Stith beat out Rodriguez-Williams by a 31-26 vote for the role, the lead sponsor on the trigger ban bill. She is a member of the House Freedom Caucus and one of the state’s most fervent pro-life advocates. She also is a member of the Judiciary committee. 

Majority Whip

Rep. Cyrus Western, R-Sheridan, was chosen for majority whip. He is entering his third term and is a member of the Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee, Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee and Select Committee on Blockchain, Financial Technology and Digital Innovation Technology.

Western beat out Rep. Clarence Styvar, R-Cheyenne, 35-22 for the position. Styvar is entering his third term and is a member of the Management Audit Committee, Labor, Health and Social Services Committee and Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee.

The majority whip assists the floor leader and ensures that party members are present on the floor to speak or vote on important measures. 

Senate Selections

The leadership selections in the state Senate were less dramatic as there were no contested races. Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, was named Senate president.

“It’s taken a lot of hard work but it feels good,” Driskill told Cowboy State Daily on Sunday afternoon. 

Driskill is the sitting majority floor leader and has served in the Legislature since 2011. He is chair of the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee.

Driskill sponsored legislation this year that would have required all K-12 public schools print a publication of all instructional materials used in classrooms and modify requirements for instruction of the state and federal constitutions, seen by some as a way to combat the teaching of critical race theory.

Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, was named majority floor leader. Hicks is the sitting Senate vice president and entering his fourth term. He was named chairman of the Select Committee on Capital Financing and Investments on Friday and is vice chair of the Select Water Committee.

Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, was named Senate vice president. Kinskey is entering his third term and was named chairman of the Appropriations Committee last week.

Democrats

Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, his party’s nomination for minority floor leader. He is entering his third term and is the current minority party caucus chairman.

Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, was nominated to minority whip. This will be her first leadership position. The incoming second-term legislator is a member of the Judiciary committee. 

Rep. Trey Sherwood, D-Laramie, was nominated minority caucus chair. This will be the first leadership position for Sherwood, an incoming second-term legislator who serves on the House Minerals, Business and Economic Development committee.

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