Tempers Boil Over On Wyoming House Floor After Accusation Of Vote Swapping

Wyoming House Speaker Albert Sommers didn't hold back in chastising a Gillette legislator on the House floor Tuesday after he accused another member of “logrolling” — political speak for trading votes.

LW
Leo Wolfson

February 21, 20247 min read

State Reps. Cody Wylie, R-Rock Springs, and Christopher Knapp, R-Gillette
State Reps. Cody Wylie, R-Rock Springs, and Christopher Knapp, R-Gillette (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

Tensions quickly escalated between Wyoming House Speaker Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, and Gillette Republican Rep. Christopher Knapp on Tuesday afternoon when Knapp accused another legislator of trading votes.

Trading one vote for another is called “logrolling,” a term used in political circles to describe the practice, which is prohibited in the Wyoming Legislature and by the state Constitution.

Sommers’ sharp warning came in response to a comment Knapp made about a motion from Rep. Cody Wylie, R-Rock Springs, last week to table a bill to the interim session because of “the temperament and the atmosphere on the (House) floor right now.”

Sommers told Knapp that if he’s going to raise questions of unethical behavior, it must be done through an ethics complaint because of the severity of the allegation.

“You raised that issue, and I’m telling you to stop now or go file your complaint,” Sommers said.

When Knapp tried to respond, Sommers cut him off, forbidding him from speaking more on the topic.

“If you don’t like the way I’m treating you, bring it up to the body,” Sommers said. “That’s a serious accusation.”

What’s All The Hubbub About?

Wylie had explained earlier on the House floor that he believed an amendment proposed by Secretary of State Chuck Gray during a Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee meeting completely changed the nature of the bill and prompted his call to table the bill.

Knapp is vice chair of this committee and said Wylie’s statement infers that because of the action taken on other bills, he would vote to table another. He said that “crossed the line” and that he felt obligated to protect the legislative process from logrolling bills.

“It rises to the level sometimes of logrolling or reverse logrolling,” Knapp said. “To bring that motion off the floor for defeated bills and bring it into committee and start tabling bills for that reason. I’m not inferring that, and I’m not guessing that. That’s what was stated on the record, and it was stated again this morning.

Wylie said Tuesday’s accusation by Knapp represents the very same political climate he’s concerned about.

“I thought that being brought up during committee would sour the mood on this floor even more, because the day before we lost half the work that we did during the interim,” Wylie said, before being chastised by Sommers for referring directly to Gray. “Moving forward, I think we need to trust our committees.”

Wylie stood by his comments to Cowboy State Daily after the confrontation on the House floor.

"After investing a significant amount of time throughout the interim on this bill, which involved seeking input from people around the state, including agencies, clerks and Secretary Gray, I made the motion to preserve the integrity of the good work that was done during the interim," he said in an emailed statement.

Shortly after their confrontation, Sommers allowed Knapp to explain that he brought up logrolling because of what Wylie said on the House floor.

Shortly after, the two met and then walked towards Sommers’ office.

What For?

Wylie’s comments also drew accusations from members of the Wyoming Freedom Caucus like Knapp that he had failed to rule on the merits of House Bill 42 when offering his motion to table it during a Feb. 14 Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee meeting. Knapp is a member of the committee.

A Tuesday motion by Rep. Daniel Singh, R-Cheyenne, to remove HB 42 from the Corporations Committee and suspend the House rules to move the bill to the House for direct consideration died on a 33-28 vote.

Knapp and others tried to have the bill taken away from Wylie’s committee because of his comment.

“I think it’s important that no matter what the philosophies, no matter what the ideologies, no matter how things are going, in any way that day from temperament, it is important that each and every bill is voted on by its merits,” he said.

Pushback

A few lawmakers like Reps. Cyrus Western, R-Big Horn, Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, and Mike Yin, D-Jackson, warned against disturbing and gumming up the legislative process by pushing the contested bill back to the House, which they said could set a precedent for lawmakers attempting to remove bills from committees that take action they didn’t agree with.

“I think that’s a bad precedent where we start sending as a body committee bills to a bunch of different places, especially ones that have already been decided by the committee,” Yin said.

HB 42 would have prohibited government officials and election officials in Wyoming accepting money from private donors to help facilitate elections. This bill passed unanimously during the interim session and on an introduction vote in the House.

“I feel there’s an overwhelming desire to see this bill go move forward,” Singh said.

Two days before on Feb. 12, the House voted to kill 13 committee bills, a quantity some like Sommers said was unprecedented.

Gray Connection

Gray advocated for HB 42, seeing it as a solution to “Zuck Bucks,” a reference to Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who helped fund nonprofits that dumped millions of dollars into election offices in battleground states during the 2020 election.

“The people of Wyoming don’t want a repeat of what happened in the 2020 election,” Rep. Jeanette Ward, R-Casper, said in favor of the motion.

During the Feb. 14 meeting, Gray said there has been no evidence produced that any private parties have funded Wyoming elections.

Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland, also a member of the Corporations Committee, said he appreciated Gray’s amendment and believes the Legislature should consider as many amendments as possible.

“We should be looking for ways to make them (bills) better,” he said.

He urged the House to move the bill away from his committee.

Others like Reps. Scott Heiner and Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, agreed, and argued that tabling the bill goes against the will of the people.

“This precious process was abandoned in committee,” Rodriguez-Williams said.

Rep. JT Larson, R-Rock Springs, disagreed.

“What is the reasoning to why we have interim committees to deliberate on bills over the course of months to get a bill that’s fine-tuned, that everyone has been involved with, then to have an individual that’s not even a legislator come with an amendment that completely changes the nature of the bill?” he questioned. “I just don’t think that’s part of the process.”

Senate Restores Funding

Gray was targeted by the Joint Appropriations Committee last month when it added a footnote to the biennial budget prohibiting him from using state money to file out-of-state lawsuits.

This was in response to amicus briefs that he had filed with the Colorado and U.S. supreme courts to keep former President Donald Trump on election ballots.

Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson, a member of the Appropriations Committee, was rather blunt about the reason for the footnote on Monday.

“I have no intention but to ask the secretary of state to not get involved in frivolous lawsuits that distract from the real issues at hand,” he said.

On Monday, the Senate voted 19-11 to remove the footnote.

Although Gray said he didn’t pay for the amicus briefs with state money, he told Cowboy State Daily he should be allowed to “defend election integrity and ensure that the people of Wyoming can choose who to elect for themselves” moving forward.

“I’m very thankful that the Senate removed this problematic footnote,” Gray said. “I stand by our work to make sure that Trump will be on the ballot. As secretaries of state, we must stop the radical Left’s unAmerican and unconstitutional attempts to weaponize the 14th Amendment.”

Despite there being discussions about it on Friday in the House, on Monday, the House defeated an attempt to remove the footnote.

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

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter