Some Lawmakers Say Ogden Driskill Acting Like He’s King Of The Legislature, Others Defend Him

Senate President Ogden Driskill stripping Sen. Dave Kinskey of a committee chairmanship has divided the Legislature. Some defend his decision, while others say he’s trying to “build his own kingdom.”

Leo Wolfson

May 12, 20237 min read

Sen. President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, and Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan.
Sen. President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, and Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Some members of the Wyoming Legislature are saying Senate President Ogden Driskill is acting like he’s the king of the Senate in the wake of removing Sen. Dave Kinskey as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Driskill, R-Devils Tower, stripped Kinskey, R-Sheridan, of his leadership position last month for what he said was a lack of communication between himself, Kinskey, the rest of the Appropriations Committee and his failure to attend in person a Management Council meeting in person in March.

After making two attempts to meet with Kinskey in person about the matter in his hometown of Sheridan, Driskill said he finally gave up and delivered Kinskey the news in a voicemail.

“It’s an accountability for how the budget session is run that plays directly back to me as Senate president,” Driskill told Cowboy State Daily about why he made the decision.

Driskill did not remove Kinskey from the Appropriations Committee entirely.

Ripple Effect

While some state legislators have said they support Driskill’s decision, others don’t.

Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, sent an official letter of objection to Driskill about his decision last week.

“This kind of maneuver creates unnecessary chaos and is not conducive to the methodical and deliberative nature of the Senate nor consistent with our governing rules,” she writes.

King Or Servant?

The Senate president has the power to name members of all his committees, including appointing lawmakers as chairman. Driskill's membership and chairman selections were ratified by the Senate on Jan. 10. 

In a separate letter dated May 4, Steinmetz said the role of Senate president is one of service, not a kingship, and accused Driskill of trying to “build his own kingdom.”

Because the Senate certifies the president’s choices, Steinmetz said the Senate to be the true appointing authority, not solely Driskill. She also cited a Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedures rule that states “the authority of a presiding officer is derived wholly from the body itself” and is “the servant of the body to declare its will and to obey its commands.”

“I would urge you to change course and restore order in the Senate so that we may continue to conduct the orderly business of the State,” Steinmetz writes.

Steinmetz also was bothered by the fact Driskill made his decision outside the legislative session, making it highly unlikely the Senate could immediately assemble and contest his decision during the current interim. She said decisions of this magnitude should not be made based on personalities or small squabbles.

“I’m not sure what can be done about it,” said former state legislator Scott Clem. “That’s what was so callous about the president’s decision.”

A Matter Of Interpretation

Driskill said just like he has the power to name the members of his committees and their chairmen, he also has the power to change chairs as long as he keeps the substituted members on the same committee. 

Although Senate Rule 2.8 clearly states Driskill is not allowed to remove a senator from a committee without a majority vote from the entire Senate, there is nothing in the rule that explicitly prevents him from removing a chair while keeping them on the same committee, a scenario never addressed in the rule.

But the rule could be interpreted differently depending on how it’s read, as it says no change can be made to a committee without a vote of support from the majority of the Senate.

Driskill replaced Kinskey with Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, as chair.

In a letter sent to the Senate body April 28, Driskill officially confirmed the decision and cited his power to name members to committees and his retention of five members on Appropriations as justification for the move. 

Steinmetz said she was informed by Legislative Service Office staff there has never been a chairman removed from a committee in the history of the Legislature, a move she described as an “unprecedented manipulation of legislative power.”

“Clearly this has never been done before and is unprecedented in both process and custom,” Steinmetz said. “I would urge you to change course and restore order in the Senate so that we may continue to conduct the orderly business of the State.”

Power Play?

One of the main duties solely bestowed on a committee chair is determining the scheduling and organizing the other clerical duties related to their committees.

Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said there’s very little difference between the power a chair holds compared to a normal committee member. 

“It’s not if we all work together,” he said.

Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, disagrees with Gierau, saying the chairman plays a critical role in deciding what bills will or will not be heard by a committee. 

“You set the topic, you set the tone,” he said.

A chairman has the power to prevent any bill from being heard in a committee, but a bill can also be easily moved to a different committee with a simple majority vote in the Senate. 

Although Brown believes delivering the news to Kinskey over voicemail may not have been the best practice, he said Driskill was fully in his rights to remove Kinskey as chair. He said the move would be no different if it had been made by House Speaker Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, or Majority Floor Leader Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett.

“The discussion on that I find completely false,” he said. “They all have that inherent power.”

Too Much Power For Cheyenne?

But Brown expressed concern that there may be a perception that Cheyenne legislators will have a heavy hand in next year’s budget, as now both the chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are from the capital city.

The Appropriations Committee in both chambers of the Legislature play integral roles in helping craft the biennial budget that will be considered by the 2024 Legislature.

“I certainly don’t feel that way, but I can understand the optics of how that looks,” Brown said.

In an April 30 guest column, Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, described Driskill’s action as “politically motivated” and believes conservatives in the Legislature are being held to a different standard than other members. 

Bear mentioned an incendiary remark Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, made while in session in 2021, which Harshman received no punishment for despite being chairman of the House Revenue Committee.

Possible Splits Before the Decision

There may have been more at play with the Kinskey demotion than a simple lack of communication or failure to attend one meeting in person.

Driskill appointed two new members to Appropriations this year, a small but notable change on the five-member committee Kinskey has been a member of since 2019.

Unofficially, there were three new additions counting Sen. Tim Salazar, R-Riverton, although Salazar was appointed to Appropriations for the last meeting of 2022.

Kinskey voted against an early version of the 2023 supplemental budget in the Appropriations Committee, a rare move for a chairman to make on his own committee’s bill. Driskill then took Kinskey’s seat during the Joint Conference Committee discussions aligning the House and Senate’s proposed budgets.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter