By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
Although Secretary of State Chuck Gray said his first priority in office is to continue preparing for the upcoming legislative session, he’ll have to find some new employees at some point as well.
All three members of the office’s state Election Division resigned before Gray took office, said former Deputy Secretary of State Karen Wheeler, who also resigned with Tuesday technically her last day.
In total, there were 12 resignations between the time Gray won the August primary election and before he was sworn into office Tuesday, the first working day of his term.
That includes four of five executive team members, as well as more than a third of the office’s overall staff.
Gray said he’s hired two new employees for the Business Division of the Secretary of State’s office, so that department is fully staffed. There have been no new employees hired yet for the Elections Division.
“We’re going to hit the ground running,” he told Cowboy State Daily after Monday’s inauguration.
Gray will have plenty of time to fill vacancies in the Election Division, as the bulk of the work in preparation for statewide elections doesn’t usually begin until the end of the year before the next election.
New Deputy Secretary of State Jesse Naiman doesn’t have any formal election experience specifically, but Chief Policy Officer Joe Rubino was the political director for Harriet Hageman in her 2018 gubernatorial run.
According to his LinkedIn account, this is his first managerial experience. He served as the president of his fraternity at the University of Wyoming, where he received his bachelor’s degree in 2018.
Rubino also worked as a legislative and administrative intern during the summer of 2016 for Cynthia Lummis while she was in Congress.
There are now three job openings posted online for the Secretary of State’s office. One is for an election records and research analyst, while another is for a senior auditor. There also is an office support specialist job posted.
Ballot Drop Boxes
One of Gray’s foremost campaign promises was to nix the use of ballot drop boxes around the state.
Interim Secretary of State Karl Allred took a half step toward this during his three-month term, requesting county clerks to remove their ballot drop boxes after the early absentee voting period had already started for the November election. None obliged.
Gray ran his campaign with a focus on elections, vowing to make the Wyoming’s elections more secure.
In the legislative session that begins next week, six elections-related bills have already been drafted and finalized. Multiple legislators have said there also will be at least one crossover voting bill. Crossover voting is an issue Gray has vehemently opposed.
Gray said in October he is against a bill that initiates ranked choice voting in Wyoming.
He has offered support for runoff elections, saying during one forum he would work to bring them to Wyoming. There are no runoff election bills so far drafted for the upcoming Legislature. There were two considered by last year’s Legislature.
Gordon Wants To Reduce Regulation
Gov. Mark Gordon said he plans to meet with his cabinet staff this week to discuss how the state can cut down on regulation.
“It has to be common sense to see what we can do to make life easier on our residents,” Gordon said. “It’s not going to be let’s get rid of two regulations for every new one. It’s going to be, let’s work as a cabinet and find ways that we can reduce regulation.”
Degenfelder Wants Choice
Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder said she has already been meeting with legislators about bills proposed for the upcoming session.
There are 12 education-related bills that have been drafted so far, including funding for special education and community colleges, Wyoming’s Tomorrow scholarship, mill levy amendments, and rules and policies for student suspension and expulsion in the state.
Particularly catching Degenfelder’s attention is legislation authorizing charter schools to qualify as local education agencies to receive and apply for federal and state grants, modifying their school application requirements, funding and other measures.
“Those bills that revolve around choice are really important to me and I’m really excited about,” she said.
Degenfelder returns to the Capitol after working as chief policy officer for the Wyoming Department of Education from 2017-2019.
“It’s just so humbling,” Degenfelder said. “Especially being back in the Capitol building, which makes you realize just how incredible this state is and that we have a lot of work to do.”
On Wednesday, she had an all-day retreat with education stakeholders that included superintendents, school board members and teachers across the state helping her transition into the office.
“And just to discuss different topics that related to my priorities from the campaign,” she said.
On Thursday, she will meet with the Department of Education staff.
Meier Wants To Protect Reserves
State Treasurer Curt Meier is keeping his eye on a bill that makes changes to the legislative stabilization reserve account’s organization structure, a fund that holds an aggregate of about $2 billion.
He also wants more protections in place to prevent state lawmakers from being able to spend money from the state’s reserve funds. He said this is an issue of immediate urgency.
With the state flush with cash from federal COVID-19 money and much better than anticipated oil and gas revenue, fiscal decisions like these will be critical for this year’s Legislature.
“There’s not sideboards in the Legislature to keep them from raiding our reserve funds,” Meier said. “You need to have a stable reserve account so you are investing your money with confidence.
“The sideboards have to be put in place for this Legislature or it’s just going to be another piggyback and raid.”
Meier is also looking for a new chief operating officer.
Continued Transparency For Racines
State Auditor Kristi Racines said she will watch for bills that affect her office and relate to governmental transparency, a cornerstone of her 2018 campaign and reelection campaign this summer.
“I try to be supportive of that,” she said.
State Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, has proposed legislation providing new opportunities for the digitizing and retention of court records.
The Legislature has mandated that American Rescue Plan Act money be delivered to local governments throughout the state. Racines said her office will advocate for communities spending this money in a manner that adds the most long-term value possible.