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By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
On Wednesday, state Sens. Tim French, R-Powell, and Dan Laursen, R-Powell, made a motion to reject Gov. Mark Gordon’s request to reappoint Powell resident Dustin Spomer to the Industrial Siting Council.
Spomer is the chair of the council and has served on it for six years. French and Laursen succeeded at first, but a second vote taken on the matter Thursday reversed that decision.
The Siting Council works under the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality and reviews the socio-economic and environmental impacts of large-scale industrial facilities before issuing a permit for construction.
The Council is in charge of industrial projects in Wyoming that carry an estimated construction cost of $253.8 million or more. The council also oversees wind energy projects with 20 or more towers and solar energy projects with a rated power capacity of 30 megawatts or more, among other criteria
One project the Council is considering is the new gold mine being planned west of Cheyenne.
“We’re deciding important projects for the future of the state,” Spomer told Cowboy State Daily.
To have an appointment challenged is not a common event. Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, said he could only remember it happening about 8-10 times during his 43 years in the Legislature.
He mentioned a former Senate member who was stopped from serving on the University of Wyoming Board of Trustees for seeming to be more interested in the perks of the job rather than the work. He said others have been denied for more administrative disqualifications and conflicts of interest.
Laursen said he made the original motion to reject Spomer not because of decisions he made on the Council, but because they don’t share the same politics.
“We just don’t get along with each other,” Laursen said. “Politically, we don’t align.”
Laursen said he was concerned Spomer’s political leanings could negatively affect some of the decisions he makes on the Council.
Spomer, a member of the Park County Republican Party’s Central Committee, said although he does consider himself a conservative, he’s not as conservative as Laursen.
“It’s really a shame political bias got into the mix,” Spomer said. “It shouldn’t have come down to that.”
Where The Division Lies
Laursen said discrepancies like these are usually squared away in the setting of the privately-held Republican caucus, but the body was not able to take care of it there because of the original difference of opinion with Gordon on the matter.
“It’s not something we like doing (opposing Spomer),” Laursen said.
The Senate is in charge of approving all the governor’s nominees for the state’s many volunteer boards. All 113 other volunteer nominees went through without any dispute.
Laursen himself was snubbed from receiving any joint committee positions for the 2023 legislative session by Senate President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower. Driskill said this action was taken against Laursen for his behavior and opposing leadership, but not his politics.
Spomer donated $500 to Laursen’s Republican primary election opponent R.J. Kost’s campaign. Laursen’s wife serves on the Northwest College Board of Trustees with Spomer in Powell.
Laursen said he believed he could find a better candidate for the board.
French’s reason for opposing Spomer was more specific to the board, citing a desire to see someone with more oil industry experience in the position.
“I just felt someone from the oil industry, more knowledgeable on that (would be preferable),” he said. “I would like to have somebody that maybe ran an oil company.”
Spomer has served on the Siting Council since 2017. Spomer is an engineer, the chief operating officer of one of the biggest engineering firms in the region at TO Engineers.
On Wednesday, the Senate voted 24-7 to not appoint Spomer to the board.
“The initial vote was an unfortunate example of a local-spat trumping the qualifications of a well-vetted appointee,” Michael Pearlman, a spokesman for Gordon, told Cowboy State Daily.
Laursen and French were then called separately into Gordon’s office to discuss the matter. French said he believed Gordon was offended that his appointment was challenged.
“Essentially what he did was scold us,” French said.
Scott said he voted to reject Spomer’s appointment because he took French and Laursen’s word on the topic, which he said legislators sometimes have to do with highly localized issues. While making the original motion, French referenced this point.
Oh No You Don’t
The senators said Gordon, his staff and lobbyists started campaigning for the Senate leadership to do another vote to appoint Spomer after the first vote. Also helping was Powell Mayor John Wetzel, who said he sent emails to eight or nine senators and the governor’s office on the matter.
“Maybe you should do a double check when you’re stiffing somebody,” Wetzel said.
Cody Mayor Matt Hall also said he made a few calls to senators, describing Spomer as irritated and surprised at the original decision.
Pearlman said Spomer’s nomination was supported by members of Gordon’s cabinet, including the Department of Environmental Quality administrator and the deputy director of the Industrial Siting Division. Pearlman said the nomination process for state boards is extensive with input sought from many different parties.
“While the Governor does not know all appointees personally, he vets all his appointees carefully,” he said.
These efforts to get another vote were fruitful as another was taken on Spomer’s appointment on Thursday. This time, he was approved with a 17-13 vote.
“The Governor thanks the senators that changed their vote, and thanks Dusty for his tireless work and efforts to make Wyoming a better place,” Pearlman said.
French said he thought this change of vote was also disrespectful on the part of the Senate and the lobbying “a raw power play.”
“It’s not the governor’s job to be meddling in that, he was meddling in that,” French said. “He shouldn’t have done that. The governor’s job is if the Senate removes somebody, he finds a replacement.
“He was wrong and in his heart, he knows he was wrong.”
French said if there was one lesson he learned from the appointment kerfuffle, it’s that you don’t challenge the status quo in politics.
“So, don’t challenge the system,” French said. “That’s the moral of the story. Don’t ruffle any feathers, you’ll get burned.”
He also said his friendship with Gordon is tarnished.
“That ship has sailed,” he said. “That’s what saddens me the most, he chose to do away with that friendship versus getting his way on it.”
Spomer said he didn’t make any efforts to get another vote for his nomination, but was thankful others vouched for him and is excited to keep serving.
“There were a lot of calls and I think it made a difference. It changed a lot of votes to reconsider it,” he said. “It was good to know people know the good work I’ve done.”
But he also said he was disappointed the process went the way it did. Laursen and French are too. French said he will propose next year’s nomination approval process be done with a rubber stamp without discussion.
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