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By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
Sometimes in politics, it’s about finding a common ground to get things done.
An analysis of every individually sponsored bill that passed the Senate and House of the Wyoming Legislature this year, Cowboy State Daily found that legislators who espouse more moderate viewpoints generally had more success in getting their bills passed.
State Sen. Dan Furphy, R-Laramie, had the highest rate of success for co-sponsored bills at 90%.
“I’m just a moderate Republican,” Furphy said. “I think the group of us moderate Republicans, overall, I think have the most success.”
The legislators with the highest success rate for bills passed also didn’t tend to be the ones who sponsored the most bills. Furphy only co-sponsored 10 bills, a tally lower than most other legislators.
“We don’t need more laws on the books,” Furphy said. “Personally, I don’t think it’s important how many bills get passed. I think it’s important that bills have a very positive impact on Wyoming residents. I try to look through each bill very carefully.”
Furphy was pleased with how the session went and the passage of the $1.8 billion supplemental budget. A number of projects therein are devoted to the University of Wyoming. The university’s campus makes up part of his district.
Secret Behind Their Success
Sen. Fred Baldwin, R-Kemmerer, had the highest rate for success as lead bill sponsor. He hit 100% as all six of his bills passed both chambers. Baldwin is a health care wonk, with most of his bills focused on that sector.
“I look for solutions to specific Wyoming problems especially in health care and try to have straightforward, simple legislation drafted to answer the issue,” he said. “Sometimes these issues are brought by constituents, some are a result of personal experiences.”
Baldwin said he turns down co-sponsor requests on “cookie cutter” bills brought by national organizations. He said the challenge with getting bills passed is often explaining issues to the other legislators.
“Much of the difficulty lies in explaining the issues to other legislators and making a case for the needs, especially with loud rhetoric about other issues that may get confused with more narrowly focused bills,” he said. “Maintaining good relationships with other legislators, not just those in your close circle but those who may more often oppose ideas that you propose, is the most important.
“I especially cringe when I see any legislator criticize or attack another legislator as that is never productive and more often leads to deepened divides and less effective legislation passing.”
Reps. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo and Sandy Newsome, R-Cody, tied for the highest co-sponsor success rate in the House at 66%.
“I try to partake in legislation, either as a sponsor or co-sponsor, on bills that solve Wyoming problems,” Crago said. “I have a desire to solve real problems with real solutions.”
A Few Outliers
There were a few outliers to the trend of moderate success though.
Rep. Tomi Strock, R-Douglas, who is aligned with the hardline conservative Wyoming Freedom Caucus, had both of her lead sponsor bills pass. Also a member of the Freedom Caucus is Rep. Tony Locke, R-Casper, who had a very respectable 55% success rate for his co-sponsored bills passing.
Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson, had the highest success rate out of any Democrat for getting co-sponsored bills passed at 47%. Gierau, likely the most centrist of all the Democrats in the Legislature, said he has drawn criticism from some members of his party for co-sponsoring some legislation with conservative Republicans, such as Hulett Republican Rep. Chip Neiman’s bill that expands the amount of people that can attend one homeschool in Wyoming.
“I got a lot of grief about that,” Gierau said.
Gierau said he sponsors legislation with people whom he trusts on various sides of the aisle. He associates certain lawmakers with certain subject fields like Baldwin with health care. Gierau usually remembers a bill not by its number or title, but by who sponsored it.
“It’s a lot of the people I have a lot of respect for,” he said.
He receives many co-sponsor requests from people looking to put a bipartisan image on their bills.
Furphy takes a different approach and tries not to play favorites with his friend’s bills, giving each co-sponsor request a great deal of deliberation.
“We all have friends, you don’t just sponsor a bill because it’s from a friend,” Furphy said. “It’s hard. But that’s the name of the game. You have to do what your constituents want.”
Crago and Newsome said they are also picky about what bills they co-sponsor. Newsome only put her name on six other lawmakers’ bills during the session.
“I am pretty cautious when I am asked to co-sponsor a bill,” she said. “It is a big responsibility and I feel that I have an obligation to not only vote for the bill but to speak in favor of it.”
Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, co-sponsored the most bills during the session at 49. Hutchings had a 22% success rate.
Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, had the lowest success rate for bills he lead-sponsored, going 0-for-10. Sen. Bob Ide, R-Casper, had the lowest success rate for bills he co-sponsored, going 4-for-30.
Sen. Stacy Jones, R-Rock Springs, had the highest co-sponsor success rate out of any freshman legislator at 63%. Jones credited the focus she put on relationship building over the course of the session.
“I really think it helps with people when you are connecting on a deeper level, it makes a difference,” she said. “I think they do think of that when they go to vote.”
Crago said the amount of experience a legislator has will absolutely play into the chances their bills will pass.
“It takes time to build a relationship with fellow lawmakers,” he said.
Baldwin agrees and says maturity and kindness play a big part in the legislative process.
“In the end, it is not supremely important that any legislator passes 100% of their bills or 0% of their bills or even if they sponsor any bills,” Baldwin said. “What matters is that they apply critical thinking skills to all of the issues presented and not get caught up in any gang mentality or pressure from any outside influences.
“With those thinking skills and then maintaining good relationships with departments, agencies, and the much maligned lobbyist as well as constituents, a legislator can produce the best results and be proud of the product that comes forward.”
Does It Matter?
Of course, there’s a lot more that goes into legislating than the quantity or rate a legislator passes bills.
For instance, a legislator could have a bloated success rate if they never sponsored controversial bills. Strock said this is what led to her 100% sponsor success rate.
“One bill benefits the people and the other benefits the children,” she said.
Crago said he wouldn’t hold it against a lawmaker with a low success rate who doesn’t bring many bills but might judge a legislator who has a similarly low rate and signs on to a large quantity of bills. He said there are great legislators who are more focused on shepherding committee bills rather than carrying their own water.
Rep. Donald Burkhart, R-Rawlins, had one of the lowest rates of success for getting his bills passed, but was proud to say that every Minerals Committee bill was successful. Burkhart chairs the committee.
The Rawlins Republican said he nitpicks bills and puts more of a priority on killing bad legislation rather than passing new laws.
“It’s not so much about the bills that get passed, as the bills I help defeat,” he said. “If a bill will cause problems in the present and future, it probably shouldn’t go forward.”
Laramie Rep. Karlee Provenza was the only Democrat to successfully sponsor a bill in this year’s session. House Bill 147, prohibits the unlawful posting of trespassing signs.
Gierau said he is very aware of the optics of having a Democrat as a lead sponsor on a bill and will often turn his bills over to committees to adopt as their own bills.
“It’s amazing what you can get done when you don’t care about taking credit for it,” he said.
During this year’s session, 61% of committee bills passed in both chambers, compared to 30% of the bills that passed that were brought by individual sponsors.
Lawmakers who serve as attorneys in their private careers had some of the highest rates of success for getting bills passed.
Crago is a Johnson County attorney. Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton, is a prosecutor for the Fremont County Attorney’s Office. She had a 62% rate of getting her co-sponsored bills passed.
In the Senate, Cheyenne Republican attorney Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, passed six out of her seven lead sponsor bills. Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, a private practice attorney, had a 68% success rate for the bills she co-sponsored.
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