Leo Wolfson: It Was A Wild And Woolly 2023 Legislative Session

Posting nearly 360 legislative stories during the 37-day session of the 2023 Wyoming Legislature, Cowboy State Dailys lead politics reporter Leo Wolfson already counting the days until 2024.

Leo Wolfson

March 07, 20235 min read

Leo Wolfson and Steve Harshman 3 6 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Covering the 2023 Wyoming Legislature was a labor of love, but one that any self-respecting journalist should revel in. 

It was the most intense two months of work in my life, and certainly unrivaled by anything I’ve ever experienced in my personal capacity in this profession.

Cowboy State Daily’s goal entering the session was to provide the most extensive coverage of any legislative session in Wyoming history. I believe we accomplished that goal, reaching 356 legislative-related stories by the end of the session. That’s an average of 9.6 stories per day the Legislature was working.

But there’s more to covering the Legislature than just writing a lot of stories.

We made it our goal to provide well-rounded and timely coverage, coupled with daily photography to most accurately capture the mood of each debate, committee meeting and floor session. With five reporters and a photographer assigned to reporting everything happening at the Wyoming Capitol, we got to work.

From the opening to closing gavels, Cowboy State Daily was there. Each night, I’d create a general outline for our coverage the next day. It was not typically a question of what stories were newsworthy – they all are – but balancing those with the most reader appeal and potential impact for Wyoming residents. As the Legislature wore on, the bills with the most promise of passing into law started separating from the imposters. (You can just lose this sentence, as the one before it pretty much says the same anyway)

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the experience was getting to talk to many legislators I hadn’t met in person before. At the end of the day, in-person conversations are always better than talking over the phone or email based on the simple concept of human connection. 

That the lawmakers saw us there at the Capitol every day often allowed greater insight into the issues, bills and personalities of the 67th Legislature for Cowboy State Daily readers.

You may not always be a big fan of what someone is doing, but by interacting with them in a human environment, it usually helps at least alleviate some tension. It’s not uncommon that the lawmakers who I disagree with most on a personal level are the same ones that I find to be the friendliest and kindest people to speak with in person.

Who knows, and maybe seeing me in person brought someone down from planning to punch me in the face to a gentle scolding. 

What It Took

The average day involved about 12 hours of work, but some went longer. 

Every member of the CSD team worked into the wee hours of the night more than a few times to provide readers with the best coverage possible.

During the last couple weeks of the session, we narrowed our focus on the nitty gritty details of the most hot-button pieces of legislation. There was lots of drama about the decisions made by legislative leadership and some insight gleaned for those not familiar with the process about the importance and power of these positions. 

When House Speaker Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, started getting heat for keeping certain bills in his drawer, we did our best to cover the debate from all perspectives.

Winners And Losers

There are still many bills waiting to be signed into law on Gov. Mark Gordon’s desk, but not many surprises are expected on that front. 

There was a lot of noise made about transgender issues and sexual orientation prior to the session, but only one bill addressing these passed. 

Anti-abortion advocates got some wins, as did some mental health lobbyists with the passage of postpartum Medicaid extension and a permanent trust account established for suicide call centers – albeit unfunded.

Secretary of State Chuck Gray was active in lobbying for certain election-related bills, which took some people by surprise at the start of the session. Gray’s biggest win came on crossover voting, which will see a change in the date registered voters can change their party affiliation to prior when candidates declare for public office.

Watching this bill was fascinating, as it had been defeated in committee and appeared by all accounts dead. It was then resurrected in the Senate and sent back to a committee more favorable to the issue. A fascinating display of Capitol politics. 

In contrast to the past few sessions, there weren’t any major fireworks in the last few days of the Legislature. The lawmakers I spoke to on the last day were tired and relieved to be done, but in good spirits.

Winding Down

In a few weeks I’ll miss the rush that covering the Legislature brings, but until that point, I’ll enjoy actually getting to catch my breath. Some of the most stressful situations in life bring about the best reflection. 

Only 343 days until the next session. I’ll start making my next legislative plan now.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter