By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
After telling Cowboy State Daily he requested Wyoming state lawmakers he appointed to serve as chairs of top legislative committees to sign a pact that included a pre-written resignation letter should someone fall out of line during the upcoming session of the Legislature, state Sen. Ogden Driskill confirms only one actually signed it.
Driskill said he discussed his concerns over lawmakers becoming increasingly hostile and drew up a code of conduct he asked potential appointees to agree to. While only one lawmaker, whom he declined to name, agreed in writing, Driskill said most agreed verbally.
While the Devils Tower Republican who’s his party’s nominee to be Senate President didn’t get more agreements in writing, Driskill said he made his point about lawmakers needing to put aside their personal infighting while serving their constituents.
“I don’t have a problem with it, I’ll sleep in the bed I built,” he said of his decision to request the letters. “I’m not a coercive leader that sticks my thumb in people’s sides, I just never have been.”
Most, Not All
Driskill said received verbal pledges to uphold good decorum from all but three of the committee chairpersons. One of the exceptions was Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, who Driskill said he didn’t request a letter from.
“Cheri was my fault, I never even bothered talking to her,” Driskill said.
Driskill requested lawmakers pre-write resignation letters for the purpose of encouraging positive decorum in the upcoming session. He said there was no template for the letters and left it up to legislators as to what they would write.
“It really was as much as anything an absolute vote of support from my chairs,” he said.
He wouldn’t name the legislator who refused to make a verbal pledge for good decorum.
Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, was asked to submit a pre-written resignation, but said he refused. Although he was placed on the Labor, Health and Social Services Committee, Bouchard was not given a chair position.
Driskill said whether or not a legislator refused or accepted his request didn’t factor into his decision on what committee to put them on, but he also said it made him feel more confident about his decisions.
“Someone telling me they’re willing to do it, it makes you much more comfortable putting them there,” he said.
A fourth-term Republican, Driskill, had originally told Cowboy State Daily he had received the written letters from “all of my chairmen.”
He clarified Tuesday that, “I had verbal commitments from most of my chairmen.”
In a Monday letter to her constituents, Steinmetz said she would not have signed a letter if asked to.
“Throughout my time in office, I have sought to honor the trust you have placed in me by using proper decorum and respect appropriate for a Senator and the legislative body,” Steinmetz writes.
Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, one of the more conservative members of the Legislature, was named chair of the Revenue Committee, an appointment Driskill said he was proud to make. Biteman said he met with Driskill and gave him a verbal pledge to uphold good decorum.
Driskill said the two have not always seen eye-to-eye on every issue.
“When he called to offer me the chairmanship of Revenue, he explained that one of his main goals for his presidency was to restore a higher level of decorum to the Senate,” Biteman explained. “We had a good conversation about it and we both agreed that there was room for improvement on all sides.
“I assured him that my track record of civility speaks for itself, and I will continue to conduct myself with honor, integrity and respect for the office I hold.”
Many constituents, along with Sens. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, and Bouchard, have taken to social media to express their displeasure with Driskill’s requests and his choice to not put Laursen on any committees.
“Our state politics are in a pathetic mess,” Laursen wrote in a Monday Facebook post. “Our leaders are only worried about power, not what is best for the people. The leaders are always working to push their agenda, stacking committees where they know they can win, not putting those with knowledge in a certain area in those committees.”
Driskill defended his requests in an interview with Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday afternoon, explaining that he requested, but did not force, senators to make written commitments to exercise respectful behavior.
“Nobody was coerced into anything,” he said.
‘An Inner Circle’
Driskill can’t unilaterally remove from a committee a state senator he believes is exercising poor decorum. A decision to remove a senator from a committee or committees must come from the Senate body.
“If you don’t have faith that someone is going to do really a good job, and you have no way to remove them, what your real result is you do what’s happened very often in the past, you create an inner circle of your best friends for chairing committees,” Driskill said. “Because you trust them and you know they’re not going to turn on you.”
Driskill mentioned how he appointed a wide political spectrum of Republicans as his chairpeople, with three of the 10 appointees making up the hardline conservative wing of the party. He also made three legislators chairs of committees they have never served on.
“I didn’t choose on seniority, I chose on who I thought would do the best job for policy in the state of Wyoming,” he said.
Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, was named chair of the Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee. Case said although he gave Driskill a verbal pledge, he did not give him a pre-written resignation letter. He described the request for the letters as “not my style.”
But Case also clarified that he is fully loyal to Driskill.
“He’ll get the most loyalty out of anybody from me,” Case said.
Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson, offered even stronger support. Gierau was placed on two committees.
“I respect the hell out of Ogden Driskill trying to put together a team,” Gierau said. “He’s doing what’s best for the State of Wyoming and I respect the heck out of him for doing that.”
Although Gierau said he has enjoyed working with Laursen and even co-sponsored a bill with him last year, he didn’t share the same thoughts about Bouchard.
“He is a distraction in that he’s always doing what’s best for Sen. Bouchard,” Gierau said.
All but two of the seven incoming Democratic legislators were put on two committees.
“I’m willing to work with the Democrats, the Independents and the crazies,” Driskill said. “I’ll move state policy any way I can get it done.”
Driskill isn’t the first legislator to request a written pledge from his colleagues.
Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, pressured other legislators to sign a pledge to support a piece of election reform legislation this past year, which Driskill refused to sign. The Wyoming Republican Party requires a pledge of 80% adherence to the party platform to receive campaign donations.
“They won’t take your word on it, they want you to come out and sign,” Driskill said. “It’s interesting, it’s only when it looks like it doesn’t go in their favor does it go that way (criticism).”