By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
New committees have been chosen for the upcoming 67th Wyoming Legislature and there are more than a few attention-grabbing appointments and snubs.
One of the most noteworthy selections is that state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, is being returned to the Labor, Health and Social Services Committee for a seventh year.
The Senate voted to strip Bouchard of all his committee assignments last session in the wake of allegations of intimidating behavior and disorderly conduct. The claims stemmed from a complaint made by Wyoming Hospital Association President Eric Boley in early March, which led to the Legislature’s Management Council meeting to discern whether a formal investigation of Bouchard was necessary.
Bouchard unsuccessfully ran for U.S. House of Representatives in the August Republican primary.
A Significant Appointment
Sen. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle in August that a decision would be made before the upcoming session on whether a formal investigation would take place of Bouchard’s actions.
Although Labor is the only joint and standing committee Bouchard was put on for the upcoming session, down from two last session, the Labor Committee considers some of the most significant legislation each year, like Medicaid expansion and funding for the Wyoming Department of Health.
Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, the Republican caucus nominee for Senate president, was responsible for making the Senate committee selections.
“I called my chairmen and my committee members and a lot of other people that have worked with him and asked everybody, are we all willing to give him another chance assuming he can act within the decorum of the chambers?” Driskill said. “Literally everybody said yes.”
But Driskill said he couldn’t find more than one committee to put Bouchard on because of his reputation.
“The entire process was to be as fair as I could to everybody and put a team together for Wyoming,” he said. “My picks were made to encourage people to get along.”
Snubbed from receiving any committee assignments was incoming Sen. Dan Laursen, R-Powell. Although Laursen is a freshman senator, he has served in the House for the last seven years.
“He’s been very difficult to work with,” Driskill said about Laursen’s reputation among other lawmakers. “I don’t see any reason to enable him in any way unless he wants to sit down and honestly talk about being a team member and working with us instead of against us.”
During his Senate campaign, Laursen said he would challenge and take out leadership. He also was critical of Driskill’s partnership with a land trust that placed two conservation easements on his personal and family owned property at the base of Devils Tower.
Driskill had all of his committee chairs verbally pledge to uphold respectful decorum during the upcoming session. The pledge includes a pre-written letter of resignation from all committees that can be made public by Driskill if he believes a member is in violation.
Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, was taken off the Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions and Judiciary committees and placed on Appropriations.
Promoted to chair of the Corporations Committee was Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander. Case made waves in August for voting to support drafting a bill that would strip the secretary of state of that office-holder’s duty to oversee state elections. He was censured by the Wyoming Republican Party for this and other acts of perceived infidelity to Republicans.
Committees Get New Leadership
Three legislators were made chairmen of committees they have never served on.
Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, and Rep. Art Washut, R-Casper, were named chairmen of the Judiciary Committee. Washut is a current member of Judiciary while Landen, a 15-year veteran of the Legislature, has never served on Judiciary in any capacity. Landen ran against Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, for majority floor leader in the Republican caucus elections in November, narrowly losing that vote.
“Running a committee is an art that you learn and really get good at, and those folks are really good at running committees and they’re hard workers,” Driskill said. “They’ll pick up the subject matter and they’ll go right into it and be very effective.”
Landen is the current chair of the Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee.
Dockstader was made co-chair of the Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee. Dockstader is the current chair of the Management Council and has served in the Legislature for 15 years, but has never served on Minerals before. Joining Dockstader as chair will be Rep. Don Burkhart, R-Rawlins, who is currently serving on this committee.
Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, was made the House chair of the Labor, Health and Social Services Committee after previously serving as co-chair of Corporations. Zwonitzer, a 17-year Legislature veteran, has never served on the Labor Committee before.
The Corporations Committee will have a very different look this year with completely new House representation. Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, will be the new chair on the House side. Olsen, a veteran legislator, is current chair of the House Judiciary Committee.
Case was taken off the Revenue Committee of which he is the co-chairman. Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, will be the new chairman from the Senate. Biteman served on Revenue from 2019-2020. Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, will continue to be co-chair of the Revenue Committee.
There will be two new leaders of the Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee who are not currently serving on this committee. Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas, current chair of the Ag Committee, will become co-chairman of Transportation, a committee he hasn’t sat on since 2016. Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, will be the other co-chair. Brown was on the Transportation Committee until the last session after serving on it from 2017-2021.
Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, and Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, will continue as chairs of the Appropriations Committee.
And Even More
Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, in his first term back in the House after losing his Senate bid in 2020, will be co-chairman of the Education Committee. During his seven previous years in the Legislature, Northrup staked a claim as one of the leading lawmakers on the topic of education and was the House chairman of the Education Committee from 2015-2020.
Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, will be the new Senate chair of the Agriculture Committee. Steinmetz served on the Ag Committee from 2017-2020 as a member of the Senate and House. From 2020-2022, she served on the Select Water Committee.
Rep. John Eklund, R-Cheyenne, will continue as Ag chair on the House side, a role he has held since 2021.
Rep. Sandy Newsome, R-Cody, is the new House chair of the Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee. The third-term representative who has significant experience in recreation and business, has served on this committee since entering the legislature in 2019. Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, will be the new co-chair on the Senate side. Schuler has served on this committee since 2021.
The newly elected legislators will be sworn in at noon Jan. 10, the first day of the upcoming session.