Message Received: Driskill Makes Surprise Picks For Wyoming Budget Negotiations

Wyoming Senate President Ogden Driskill made some surprise picks to hash out the state budget Tuesday, saying the Senate “spoke really clearly that they wanted a conservative approach.”

LW
Leo Wolfson

February 28, 20245 min read

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Senate President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, said he received the message loud and clear from state senators about the direction they want to go for their biennial budget.

“The body spoke really clearly that they wanted a conservative approach,” Driskill said.

So, he gave them what they wanted by appointing an ultra-conservative Joint Conference Committee (JCC) for the biennial budget discussion.

Driskill raised a few eyebrows with his Tuesday selections to represent the Wyoming Senate to work with the House as both advocate for each chamber’s respective biennial budgets.

There is a roughly $1 billion difference in spending between the Senate and House versions of the state budget.

Although Sens. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, and Tim Salazar, R-Riverton, weren’t surprising picks as current members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, more unexpected were

Driskill’s selections of Sens. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, Dan Laursen, R-Powell, and Troy McKeown, R-Gillette. The trio are some of the most conservative members of the Senate.

Driskill said he chose the latter three because he believes the Senate and Kinskey sent a clear message that they want a more conservative budget than what they were originally presented at the start of the session. He believes Kinskey has made it clear he doesn’t think the Senate has been conservative enough in the past.

The first order of business to open the 2024 session for the Senate was reversing an interim decision Driskill made to replace Kinskey as chair of the Appropriations Committee. An emotional Driskill at the time said that was a clear no-confidence vote in his leadership.

“I chose a committee to support my Appropriations chairman to represent the conservative stance the Senate came out with,” Driskill said Tuesday.

Past Experience

None of the three surprise appointees ever served on the Appropriations Committee, which plays an integral role in crafting the biennial budget, although Laursen served on the House Revenue Committee from 2017-2020 and McKeown now sits on Senate Revenue Committee.

Conversely, every member of the JCC selected by House Speaker Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, is a current member of the House Appropriations Committee.

Since reversing Driskill at the beginning of the session, he said Kinskey and Salazar voted against many aspects of the biennial budget that came out of their own Joint Appropriations Committee.

“Even though they helped form it they voted against it,” Driskill said.

Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, who initiated many of the main spending cuts that separated the House and Senate budgets, declined to comment on Driskill’s selections.

Kinskey did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, who was replaced by Kinskey as chairman after originally replacing him, said she’s optimistic Driskill’s choices can bring “a fresh perspective to the budget and the process.”

Rep. Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs, a member of the House JCC, said although he was surprised by Driskill’s selections, he’s also looking forward to working with the Senate JCC members.

Some Past Baggage

Bouchard, Laursen and McKeown all have a little past baggage from their time in the Legislature.

Bouchard, an often outspoken second-term senator, was stripped of his Senate committee positions in 2022 after what was described at that time as a “long pattern” of verbal legislative misconduct.

Although he was eventually given back a committee seat, as recently as last spring, Bouchard was still feuding with Driskill over various social media posts Bouchard made during the 2023 legislative session.

Bouchard said past issues shouldn’t play a role in him being selected for the JCC.

“The Senate members kicked off this session with a clean slate,” he said. “Are there times we disagree? Sure, but we have put aside personalities, instead putting our constituents first.”

Laursen was the only one of 93 legislators to not be selected for a standing committee entering the 2023 session for repeated comments he made during his 2022 Senate campaign, pledging to challenge and take out legislative leadership. Driskill eventually gave Laursen a committee seat after the session thanks to the Powell Republican’s “unbelievably” good behavior.

McKeown hasn’t had any major issues with Driskill but did spark some backlash in 2021 when he said people should proverbially “fix bayonets” against COVID-19 restrictions.

Why Does It Matter?

The first round of JCC discussions will involve a hearing between both teams where they will attempt to find middle ground on the large differences between their budgets.

If they aren’t able to do so, a second JCC meeting will be called where any change can be made to the budget, even if there wasn’t a difference between the two chambers.

While the House JCC team is reasonably versed in the budgetary process, the Senate team will be a little bit newer to the process.

If no solution can be found on the budget between the two chambers by March 8, the session will either have to be extended or a special session will need to be called.

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

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LW

Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter