By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
State Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, was a simple rancher from Crook County about five years ago.
“I looked back this morning and I thought, ‘You’ve got to be joking.’ I can’t believe where I’m at right now,” Neiman told Cowboy State Daily.
Although he hasn’t stopped tending to his cattle, Neiman’s life has taken on larger prominence since those days, elected as the Republican nominee for majority floor leader in the state House of Representatives on Saturday.
Neiman’s rise in the Wyoming political orbit has been meteoric, growing in from a non-political small-town cattle rancher to one of the opening speakers for former President Donald Trump when he hosted a rally in Casper this past spring.
“My desire has always been, I want to serve and I want to help,” Neiman said.
Neiman, who ran unopposed in this year’s primary and general elections, is wrapping up his first term. He will become the first freshman legislator elected to a leadership position in recent memory.
Neiman’s election represents as much his rise as a legislator as it does the growing power of a more conservative wing of the Republican Party.
All four House leadership positions had candidates who are members of or aligned with the House Freedom Caucus, a conservative bloc of the Republican Party generally separate from the more veteran, “establishment” wing of their party.
“When you’re running as a slate, you’re probably disappointed when the slate doesn’t go,” Neiman said. “But I look at it as a positive, ultimately. It was a positive day.”
Closing The Gap
Although Neiman was the only one of the four to be elected, there were exceptionally close races for two of the other positions.
For Wyoming House Speaker Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, edged Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan, by a vote of 30-27. In the race for speaker pro tem, Rep. Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs, beat Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams of Cody, 31-26.
Upset Over Experience
Neiman pointed out that a few legislators who voted for more moderate Republicans in other positions would have had to cast their vote for him in his 29-28 win over Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne.
The win was largely seen as an upset, as Olsen is the House majority whip and was just reelected for his fourth term. He is chairman of the Judiciary Committee and Select Committee on Blockchain, Financial Technology and Digital Innovation Technology.
“The same people who voted for establishment candidates voted for me,” Neiman said. “It sends a message – we’ve got to have people at the table.”
The Neiman family is well known in northeast Wyoming and the Black Hills for logging and sawmill production through the Neiman Enterprises brand.
In 2017, Neiman’s closest connection to politics was his family’s longstanding tradition of voting Republican.
“I had no political aspirations,” he said. “I had done nothing politically.”
Neiman said he was approached to run as a Crook County GOP precinct committeeman around this time. He took the offer and ran unopposed, elected in precinct 13-13.
“I figured I would do the job for the folks,” he said.
First RINO Hunt
To say Neiman was a political novice at this juncture would be an understatement.
He reflected on one early county party meeting where he became confused when the party’s members went on what he thought was a tangent about African wildlife while discussing RINOs, a phrase used to describe “Republicans in name only.”
“I finally stopped the chairman and said, ‘You’re going to have to help me; why are we talking about rhinos?’” Neiman said with a laugh. “I said, ‘What does that have to do with the party?’”
But Neiman quickly learned the political culture and became a lead fundraiser for the county party.
It wasn’t long before he was asked to run for vice chair of the party, a contested position he won after giving his first political speech. It wasn’t long after he became chairman of the party.
In 2020, Neiman stepped up once more, running against former Republican Rep. Tyler Lindholm. Lindholm was a legitimate adversary, serving since 2015 and as the House majority whip.
“I was not happy with the direction of my representation,” Neiman said. “We saw a move toward more government involvement, we saw an increase in the taxes, we saw potential support for corporate income taxes.”
Neiman won the Republican primary by 219 votes.
The First Term
Neiman immediately took on a staunchly conservative stance during his first term, the lead sponsor of a bill aimed at preventing crossover voting and another limiting the circumstances and ways an abortion could be performed.
Neither bill passed, but the actions spoke volumes about his hardline conservative platform.
“I believe in life, I believe in small government, I believe in protecting our rights and freedoms and choices,” he said. “I think that’s what makes America and our state so amazing that we have opportunities here people are willing to die to get here for.”
Neiman opposes corporate taxes as he said corporations will simply return cost increases to consumers. He said corporations have the power to dictate market prices, while small business owners like himself don’t have this same power when they need to generate revenue, which is why he generally opposes tax increases.
“You can’t just say, ‘I need more money,’” he said about the difference between individuals and government. “You can only demand what the market will bear.”
It’s A Lot Like Ranching
Neiman said he sees a lot of similarities between running his ranching business and the state of Wyoming. He mentioned how diesel prices have reached record highs in recent months, while his cattle revenue is down 10%.
“You have to stay as efficient as possible,” He said. “If you don’t do that, you won’t stay in business.”
During his first legislative session, Neiman, as lead sponsor, got his bill codifying federal animal identification methods for Wyoming livestock passed, a notable achievement for any first-year freshman legislator.
Neiman upped the ante in his second year, as a co-sponsor and key force behind Wyoming’s abortion trigger ban that went into effect this year with the U.S. Supreme Court’s revocation of Roe v. Wade.
He Can Play Hardball
In May, Neiman was one of three state legislators to speak at the “Save America” rally hosted by former President Donald Trump in Casper.
Although he encouraged the audience to get on their feet when he took the stage, Neiman was more composed than some of the other speakers, quoting 19th century American President James Garfield in his speech.
According to the Casper Star Tribune, during a July Legislative committee meeting, a few legislators told Neiman he had gone too far in trying to publicly pressure other legislators to support a piece of election reform legislation.
The legislators expressed concern that the pledge backed them into a corner. Neiman conceded he “made some freshman errors.”
Prepping For A Run For Governor?
Neiman had no opponent in the primary and general elections, but Rep. Bill Fortner, R-Gillette, felt Neiman was part of a larger effort to recruit Roger Connett to run against him in the Republican primary.
Fortner also told Cowboy State Daily last month he suspects Neiman will be a 2026 candidate for governor as part of an effort by Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, to gain more power.
Neiman said he has no aspirations of this kind and is focusing on his upcoming two years as majority floor leader. He said he was asked by a few legislators to run for the leadership role, but wouldn’t say who.
“I had no aspirations, I simply offered my services,” Neiman said. “I just want to try and be very transparent. I’m not going to try and be something that I’m not.”
Rep. Cyrus Western, R-Sheridan, complimented Neiman for earning his success in the state Republican Party.
“I think he brings a lot of energy and motivation to the job,” Western said.
Growing Caucus Influence
Neiman said the more traditional Republicans who hold the three seats of leadership in the House and all three seats in the Senate are at a crossroads.
They can choose to acknowledge and work with the growing contingency of hardline conservatives in the Legislature, or they can continue to exert their dominance with a slim majority.
The House Freedom Caucus had about 18 members in the last session. Now that number has grown closer to 25.
“They can’t say there’s not enough of a conservative vote to have an effect,” Neiman said. “We are evenly balanced on both sides.
“Are they going to hang on to the tiller and push those issues or are they going to read the writing on the wall?”
Sommers and Western both have vowed the former, and Neiman is optimistic about the upcoming session, saying there is a “real opportunity to work together.”
There are numerous questions about what will happen in the next session, which will likely be defined by the midterm’s historic turnover and 27 freshman legislators.
Saturday’s Republican caucus elections will at least serve as a signal for the types of bills that are considered and passed.
“We need to work together,” Neiman said. “It’s my job to help you get those things done.”
Neiman mentioned that because of the close margins between the two major factions of the Republican Party, the five Democrats in the House could play a surprisingly influential role affecting close votes.
“Look at the minority party and how they’re going to be instrumental in legislation passing or not getting passed,” he said.
Conservative With State Money
Neiman wants the state to take a conservative approach to managing better-than-forecasted mineral revenue it received during this fiscal year by concentrating on covering the basic needs and saving the rest, to avoid making cuts to essentials in the future.
“Let’s be thoughtful about how we spend because it can go away as quickly as it came up,” he said. “We have to find a way to capitalize these funds so we can prolong or prevent a corporate income tax.”
Neiman also is interested in seeing how American Rescue Plan Act money can be disbursed as directly as possible to residents, mentioning the possibility of using these federal funds in a property tax rebate program.
Western said legislators can compromise on issues without compromising their values, a point that many far-right conservatives have disagreed with in the past. Neiman said he hopes he can facilitate a better reputation for his wing of the party.
“I feel like all eyes are going to be on me to see if the conservatives are these irrational, unwilling to work with other people legislators that are going to try and go in there and destroy everything,” Neiman said. “I feel a real responsibility to go in there and show them, you know what, we do want to work together with them.”