Wyoming Senate Overturns Driskill, Reinstalls Kinskey As Appropriations Chair

Despite an emotional plea from Senate President Ogden Driskill not to overturn a decision he made to remove Dave Kinskey as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, they voted 17 - 14 to reinstall him on Monday.

LW
Leo Wolfson

February 13, 20249 min read

Senate President Ogden Driskill addresses the Senate about a motion to overturn his decision in the interim to remove Sen. Dave Kinskey as chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
Senate President Ogden Driskill addresses the Senate about a motion to overturn his decision in the interim to remove Sen. Dave Kinskey as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

An emotional Wyoming Senate President Ogden Driskill told the members of his chamber Monday to not overturn a decision he made in the interim to remove the chairman of a committee, saying it would amount to a vote of “no confidence” in his leadership.

But despite pleas from Driskill, R-Devils Tower, and other legislators, the Senate voted to overturn the removal of Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, from his position as chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

Driskill had appointed Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, to replace Kinskey, who retained his membership on the committee. Since last April, Nethercott has served as co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee, overseeing with the House co-chairman from the House all discussions of the 2025/2026 biennial budget.

In a 17-14 decision, the Senate voted to revert the original appointment Driskill made in 2022 to have Kinskey chairman, which the chamber ratified shortly after. Monday’s vote also essentially stripped Nethercott of the position.

The Joint Appropriations Committee (JAC) is one of the integral committees during a budget year as it is most directly involved in crafting the state’s biennial budget.

Driskill made the decision to replace Kinskey in April 2023 after what he described as a recurring pattern of poor communication from the Sheridan legislator.

An Apology, And A Plea

His voice choking with emotion at numerous points, Driskill apologized for putting the Senate in a position to question his decision, but also expressed grave disappointment his fellow legislators would consider overturning his decision, which basically amounts to a vote of “no confidence” in his leadership and decisions for the Appropriations Committee.

“You effectively told me I don’t make good decisions as far as that committee, and we have a personality problem between me and the chairman,” he said. “It’s on all of us.”

He urged the Senate to vote against the motion and asked what benefit it would serve the state of Wyoming and the Legislature to reverse his action.

“You’re going to fix a wrong that I did, at least that’s what this vote is, you’re going to fix a wrong I did, I take ownership of that,” Driskill said. “And by fixing it, you’re going to create another one.”

Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, made the motion objecting to Driskill’s move Monday and reappointed Kinskey as chairman. Steinmetz and others who supported the motion said they did so not as a personal slight against Nethercott, but because they believed the rules did not allow Driskill to make the decision he did.

“I object on the basis of process, not personalities, or the people this will affect today,” Steinmetz said. “We only steward the public trust for a short time and must preserve the institution for the people and their representatives in the state to come.”

Sitting about 10 feet away from Steinmetz as she made her motion was Nethercott.

Nethercott took the high road when reached by Cowboy State Daily after the vote.

“I was honored to serve as chair of Appropriations and have a conservative practical budget bill for the Senate,” Nethercott said. “I look forward to assisting the vice president in fulfilling our constitutional obligation to pass a budget.”

Kinskey said he was “gratified” to receive the support of the majority of his colleagues.

“The effort to remove me as JAC chairman was unfortunate, and now it’s time to put that behind us and get to work delivering a fiscally responsible budget for the state of Wyoming,” he told Cowboy State Daily.

Sens. Larry Hicks and Dave Kinsey talk during the first day of the 2024 legislative session. The first order of business for the Senate was overturning a decision by Senate President Ogden Driskill in the interim to remove Kinskey as chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
Sens. Larry Hicks and Dave Kinsey talk during the first day of the 2024 legislative session. The first order of business for the Senate was overturning a decision by Senate President Ogden Driskill in the interim to remove Kinskey as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

Point Of Divide?

Legislators on both sides of the vote Monday expressed concern that it could create a divide within their chamber.

Whether the vote is a sign the well-documented division in the Wyoming House is starting to trickle over to the Senate remains to be seen.

“I’ll leave that up to everybody’s self determination,” said Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, who voted in favor of the reversal.

Those against the motion spoke about the importance of keeping relationships in the Senate and warned that re-inserting Kinskey would be disruptive. While the divide in the House has been well documented, the Senate has been a more united body.

Laramie Democrat Sen. Chris Rothfuss said Steinmetz’s motion was inappropriate because of its timing and argued against even having a floor debate on the matter.

“This is not the time, this is not the method, and this is not the place,” he said.

Rothfuss also warned that the move could take away from what he sees as the balanced and humble nature of the Wyoming Legislature.

“This is a challenge to that sensibility,” he said. “It’s certainly not a way to start the day off, start the Legislature off this session.”

Shouldn’t Be Personal

The vote to reject debating the motion was defeated 18-13. Nethercott was one of the 18 people to vote in support of having a debate, but later voted against removing herself as chairman.

Sen. Charlie Scott, R-Casper, also expressed disappointment that the Senate was being asked to handle this matter, but voted to return Kinskey and told Cowboy State Daily afterward he believes Driskill didn’t rule correctly.

He urged the Senate to start and end the debate as friends.

“I really dislike the personal aspect of this,” Scott said.

Hicks and Scott later told Cowboy State Daily they saw the vote as purely a reaction to the move Driskill made, which they didn’t believe was allowed by the Senate rules.

Nethercott apologized to the chamber for having to take the vote and offered full support for Kinskey after he was made chairman again.

“I am confident that we will all move forward with our history behind us,” she said on the Senate floor. “We are the Senate, and we will move forward.”

Kinskey, who endorsed Nethercott’s 2022 campaign for secretary of state, said he told his committee on Sunday that no matter what happened in Monday’s vote, he would hold no hard feelings.

Driskill also apologized to the Senate for the situation they were put in, but implored his fellow lawmakers to choose maintaining the status quo and stability by voting against the reversal. He and others commended the job Nethercott did chairing the Appropriations Committee, which Driskill said was a responsibility she never wanted.

He apologized to Nethercott during the discussion and expressed fear he had harmed her life. Driskill urged the Senate to consider removing him as president rather than taking the vote to remove Nethercott.

“I’m the one who caused this and I’m responsible for it at the end of the day,” Driskill said.

Sen. Tara Nethercott was removed as chair of the Appropriations Committee after the Senate on Monday voted to overturn Senate President Ogden Driskill's decision in the interim to remove Dave Kinskey as chairman and appoint Nethercott.
Sen. Tara Nethercott was removed as chair of the Appropriations Committee after the Senate on Monday voted to overturn Senate President Ogden Driskill's decision in the interim to remove Dave Kinskey as chairman and appoint Nethercott. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

How It Got To That Point

Driskill said four members of the Appropriations Committee approached him last session and complained about Kinskey’s performance as chairman because of a lack of communication. When he approached Kinskey about the issue at the Capitol, Driskill said it did not go well and resulted in a shouting match.

After the session, Driskill said he continued receiving complaints, so he drove to Sheridan to meet with Kinskey to try and resolve the issue in person. Kinskey was not able to meet with Driskill at this time and Driskill eventually informed him he was removing him as chairman.

When he got home to Devils Tower, Driskill said he received what he said were “a dozen” voicemails from the press already asking him about the situation at Kinskey’s behest.

Further and recent attempts to meet with Kinskey, Driskill said, went unanswered.

“What will be better for the state of Wyoming and our state budget, and our relations with the other side and the people of the state, by changing chairmen again?” Driskill questioned.

After speaking with several past governors, former committee chairmen and a Senate president, Driskill said they all backed his decision. The only person from the Senate who complained about the move, Driskill said, was Steinmetz.

“I don’t want to fuel any hate or discontent, but I feel very compelled to put facts out there,” Driskill said. “I still made the right decision, folks.”

Although Steinmetz said never in the history of the Wyoming Legislature has a chairman been removed, Driskill said that’s not right. He said when Diemer True was president of the Senate, he removed former legislator and future state governor Jim Geringer from his role as a committee chairman in the early 1990s.

Driskill also mentioned a commitment he received from all his committee chairmen upon becoming Senate President in late 2022 that they would immediately resign if Driskill didn’t like their performance.

The Rules

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’s nothing that prevents him from removing a chair while keeping him on the committee, as that scenario is not specifically addressed.

“We need clearer rules, clearer concise rules,” Hicks told Cowboy State Daily. “The ambiguousness on rules is in itself its own poison pill.”

Hicks later brought a rule proposal that states no changes can be made to committee membership without a vote from the full Senate.

The Senate’s rules committee will discuss this issue at a later date.

Sen. Charlie Scott makes an appeal for the Senate to conduct business in a civil manner during the 2024 session, which began Monday.
Sen. Charlie Scott makes an appeal for the Senate to conduct business in a civil manner during the 2024 session, which began Monday. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter