The second ethics complaint of the 2023 State Legislature has been filed against state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne. It’s the third ethics complaint filed against Bouchard within about a year.
The Feb. 24 complaint was filed by Sheridan resident Gail Symons, who also serves as a lobbyist for her 307Civics organization. Symons said she filed her complaint on behalf of another lobbyist who “was very concerned about” Facebook posts Bouchard had made.
The lobbyist feared retaliation from Bouchard and/or members of the Second Amendment advocacy group Wyoming Gun Owners if the lobbyist were to file the complaint themselves.
“That retaliation has been observed previously as verbal and in social media including doxing,” Symons said in her complaint. “I am not as vulnerable as others and am committed to standing up personally against bullying.”
In the letter submitted to Senate President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, Symons attached five screenshots from Bouchard’s legislative Facebook page, where she accused him of using “abusive and inflammatory language against members of the public exercising their 1st Amendment rights.”
Bouchard, a second-term senator, has a reputation for making inflammatory statements against his opponents in the media and social media.
He described the complaint as an attack from the left.
“As a conservative, any discussion that I am a part of is blown out of proportion, for the purpose of serving a political agenda,” he told Cowboy State Daily.
In one post, Bouchard referred to medical professionals who oppose his “Chloe’s Law ,” legislation that would prohibit doctors from performing transgender-related treatments on minors, as “Doctors for grooming.”
The bill would have allowed the state to revoke doctors’ licenses for performing transgender treatments on children. Bouchard has referred to doctors who perform these surgeries as “butchers” on multiple other occasions.
He also accused Republicans who voted against his bill as voting “to keep Obama/Biden Childhood Sex Change going in WY.”
“If the party doesn’t leave some lasting battle scars…why would behavior change?” he questioned.
In another post, Bouchard accused those in the medical field lobbying against his bill as inserting “themselves in the political arena” and “advocating for minors to have sex change procedures.” This comment was made in response to a flier put out by LGBTQ advocacy group Wyoming Equality and the Wyoming Medical Society where they said they are “for advocating for gender-affirming care in Wyoming.”
Many who commented on Bouchard’s posts went further, suggesting opponents of Bouchard’s bill should be hunted, hanged and fed to a hungry African lion.
“It’s unfortunate that Senator Bouchard looks for opportunities to make enemies and sow divisions,” said Sara Burlingame, executive director of Wyoming Equality. “We agreed on limiting surgeries to adults, but like most issues, policy gets lost when we heap contempt on each other.”
Symons implored Driskill to consider the decorum of the Wyoming State Legislature.
“It was in his official title, during the session, against a group of people that were exercising their First Amendment rights,” she told Cowboy State Daily.
Bouchard told Cowboy State Daily proper decorum is enforceable while in the Senate chambers but believes elected officials should be able to share their views how they please in public. He viewed none of his Facebook comments as being violent and Symons’ complaint as political in nature.
“Ms. Symons is a left-of-center party activist that now wants to police my Facebook page,” he said. “Ethics complaints of these types have become the latest trend for the cancel culture crowd. Sadly, there are politicians that want ‘cover’ from the issues they vote on and they certainly want me silenced the same way Ms. Symons desires.”
Symons’ ethics complaint is the second filed against Bouchard in less than a week.
On Sunday, Green River resident Jennifer James filed an ethics complaint on Bouchard for calling her a “f**king idiot” in a private text message.
James, a clinical nurse specialist and doctor of nursing practice, testified against Chloe’s Law last Wednesday and said it was unconstitutional. These comments became the source of Bouchard’s ire for comments he believed were misleading.
Bouchard referred to James and Symons as “Karens.”
Another ethics complaint was filed on Bouchard by Wyoming Hospital Association President Eric Boley after the two engaged in an animated conversation at the Capitol in which Boley accused the state senator of intimidation, bullying and calling him a liar.
“Ms. Symons is running the same play as the hospital lobbyist who falsely accused me of the same,” Bouchard said. “In her complaint against me, I am once again being accused of violence.
“The real question is, does Joe Public agree with Symons that the statement that I made on Facebook passes for such a complaint? Accusing a sitting lawmaker of violence should be a much higher bar.”
Symons said she doesn’t expect anything to come of her ethics complaint.
“But I think it’s important, not because I expect him to change his behavior, but to encourage others to say, ‘no, there’s a line, we’re going to put our own line in place, and if he crosses the line with us we’re going to bring it up,’ and I want to make sure that people feel like they can do that.”
Bouchard was already on thin ice entering the session. He was stripped of all his interim committee positions and seat on the Management Council during the 2022 session for allegations of a “long pattern” of misconduct, according to Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, at the time.
Bouchard rejected Driskill’s request to sign a pre-written resignation letter committing to good decorum during the session. Driskill said he still wanted to give Bouchard another chance and appointed him to one committee.
But last December, Driskill also told Cowboy State Daily he wouldn’t tolerate bad decorum in the 2023 session.
“I’m not going to tolerate people that badmouth members of the Legislature, past or present,” he said. “I’m not going to tolerate it.
“I’m prepared to do that right up to removing a member from the body.”
Although it wasn’t mentioned in the complaint, Bouchard did specifically single out Reps. Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs, and Speaker of the House Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, in separate posts this session, but did not call them any disrespectful names.
Although the comments referenced in the complaint did not target a legislator, they were made from Bouchard’s legislative page and during an active session.
“The points were valid, it should not have come out as a Facebook post under Senator Anthony Bouchard,” Symons said. “That’s what made it untenable.”
Symons said she wouldn’t have filed her complaint if Bouchard had made his comments from a private account.
“If he had sent them as Anthony Bouchard, they would have been repugnant, but well within his First Amendment rights as a private citizen,” she said.
Symons said she has been attacked on Twitter “as a liberal, left-wing RINO” and had nothing to lose with filing this complaint as she doesn’t serve in any public capacity.
Bouchard was likely referring to Symons when he made a Tuesday post saying, “A RINO is reporting screenshots of my Facebook page in a complaint to Leadership –they don’t like me, because they hate you.”
What Happens Next?
When an ethics complaint is filed, it is forwarded to the Management Council, which will decide whether to look into the complaint and if probable cause exists to launch a formal investigation. The Management Council is made up by five senators and representatives and helps create new rules and policies for the Legislature.
“The real question is, will leadership play by the complainant’s rules, or choose to honor the protections of free speech as enshrined in the constitution?” Bouchard said.
Senators can also be removed from their committees and the body with a ⅔ vote.
An ethics complaint was also filed on Bouchard in 2017.
Symons said everyone makes mistakes from time to time but believes “a pattern of behavior” needs to be reported.
“There’s a pattern of behavior and it’s a pattern of behavior that has gone on over many, many years,” she said. “And it’s to the point where there are so many people who, because of the lashing out and the getting their followers to lash out, that it’s an intimidation. I won’t put up with bullying.”