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Rex Arney

Despite Failed Lawsuit, Plaintiffs Hope Legislature Will Change Nomination Process for Vacant Seats

in News/Legislature

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A federal lawsuit filed over the way nominees are picked to fill vacant statewide offices may convince the Legislature to take action to change the existing process, according to a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

“My hope is that once the public is made aware of the nomination process … and they see who were nominated as a result of the procedure followed by the Wyoming GOP central committee, the Legislature will amend the statute to require that all such nominations be based on the principle of ‘one person, one vote’ …” Sheridan attorney Rex Arney told Cowboy State Daily.

“After all, Jillian Balow was elected on that basis and it should not be any different when selecting a person to replace her,” he said.

Arney’s comments came after a federal judge refused to grant a temporary restraining order that would have prevented Gov. Mark Gordon from appointing a new superintendent of public instruction.

“I respect the judge’s decision, even if I disagree with it,” Arney said.

Judge Scott Skavdahl on Thursday rejected a request to block Gordon from selecting a new superintendent from a list of three nominees given to him by the Wyoming Republican Party’s central committee.

Shortly after the judge’s decision, Gordon named Brian Schroeder the new superintendent to finish out the unexpired term of Balow, who resigned earlier this month to take a similar job in Virginia.

The request for a temporary restraining order was filed at the same time as a lawsuit filed by Arney and 15 others seeking to overturn the way the Republican Party selected the nominees whose names were submitted to Gordon.

Under state law, Gordon was required to select a person to fill out Balow’s term — which expires in January 2023 — from a list of three nominees provided by the Wyoming Republican Party.

The party’s central committee selected three nominees Saturday, but the selection was challenged by the lawsuit filed Tuesday claiming the process was unconstitutional. The group, which included several other former legislators, claimed that because every county got three votes in the selection process, counties with small populations had a disproportionately large influence over the outcome.

Wyoming Republican Party Chairman Frank Eathorne, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, did not respond to Cowboy State Daily requests for comment about Skavdahl’s decision.

But Joey Correnti IV, chairman of the Carbon County Republican Party, said if the former legislators involved in the lawsuit were truly worried about the process, they could have changed the law while they were in office.

He pointed specifically to Tom Lubnau, a former Wyoming House Speaker.

“This is clearly a legislative issue,” he said. “If there was a legitimate concern about how our replacement process is conducted, you’d think the former speaker .. would have had those concerns and addressed them when he had an opportunity.”

Correnti said he was not surprised by the judge’s ruling.

Correnti described the legal action as an assault by a minority group of Republicans against the mainstream of the party in Wyoming.

“My take is it’s another attempt by a splinter group of progressives, called the Frontier Republicans, to bankrupt the legitimate Republican Party,” he said.

Frontier Republicans, according to the group’s website, is a “grassroots organization dedicated to promoting civility, engagement, and conservative values in Wyoming politics.” The group is registered with the secretary of state’s office as a political action committee.

Gaily Symons, treasurer for Frontier Republicans, noted that the plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Republicans, Democrats and independents.

“This lawsuit has nothing to do with the Frontier Republicans,” said Symons, who is also a plaintiff in the action. “Basically, Frontier Republicans has become the boogie man for the state Republican structure.” 

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Rex Arney: Liz Cheney Deserves Profile In Courage Award

in Rex Arney/Column

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By Rex Arney, columnist

Liz Cheney was recently nominated for the Profiles in Courage Award.  This award is given to recognize displays of courage similar to those John F. Kennedy originally described in his 1956 book, Profiles in Courage, which won the Pulitzer Prize.  This award is given to “individuals who, by acting in accord with their conscience, risked their careers or lives by pursuing a larger vision of the national, state or local interest in opposition to popular opinion or pressure from constituents or other local interests.”

In his book, Kennedy included biographies of eight U.S. Senators and described their acts of bravery and integrity.  All of these senators, who defied the opinions of their party and constituents to do what they felt was right, were roundly criticized and suffered losses in popularity because of the stands they took.  The first of those was John Quincey Adams, a senator from Massachusetts, who switched parties in the early 1800s after supporting efforts in Congress to enact an embargo against Great Britain to shut off international trade to retaliate against British aggression towards American merchant ships, which would have had a disastrous effect upon the economy of his home state.  A storm of protest ensued and Adams resigned from his seat in 1808. 

The most recent senator featured in JFK’s book was Robert A. Taft, an Ohio Senator who became known as “Mr. Republican” for helping to rebuild his party after the Great Depression and the Democratic dominance of the New Deal years. Unfortunately for him, in 1946 he strongly opposed the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials believing that the defendants in those trials were being tried under ex post facto laws, which are expressly forbidden in the U.S. Constitution. He was condemned in the press, by his constituents and by his fellow senators.  The reaction to this speech is believed to have led to his unsuccessful presidential bid in 1948. For Taft, his strongly held belief in the wisdom of the Constitution was more important than his political ambitions.

In nominating for Liz Cheney for the prestigious Profile in Courage Award, one of her House colleagues said: “There is no greater principle or ideal in America than the principle put forth by our founding fathers: democracy – a ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people.’ . . .  [I]n the face of violence and vitriol, one woman stood fast against the Big Lie and those who attacked the Capitol in order to overturn a free and fair election. She had a lot to lose, and she still might lose her seat in office, but Congresswoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) refused to be bullied or threatened.” 

Cheney’s Republican credentials are impressive.  She served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs in the George W. Bush administration and, more recently, chaired the House Republican Conference, the third-highest position in the House Republican leadership, from 2019 to 2021. In addition, she voted with Trump 92.9 percent of the time while he was in office. 

However, Cheney’s strong Republican credentials came crashing down when she had the audacity to vote to impeach President Trump.  For starters, she was stripped of the chair of the House Republican Conference and was replaced by a congresswoman from New York whose support of Trump much less than Cheney.  Then, she came under attack from Republican leaders in Wyoming when several Republican County central committees, as well as the state central committee, censured her for her lack of loyalty to Trump.  Finally, the State Central Committee voted to kick her out of the Republican party.  All this happened in spite of her winning House race in 2020 by about the same margin as Trump did, which was nearly 70%, not to mention her voting record being in strong support of Trump as well as being one of the leaders in Congress.   

When Cheney took her bold and courageous stand, she had to know that she was taking on a Republican Party captivated by Trump, not to mention serving in Congress from Wyoming, a state where Trump is embraced like no other political figure.  But, as she said, “The Republican Party has to make a choice. We can either be loyal to our Constitution or loyal to Donald Trump, but we cannot be both”.  She chose the former at her political peril.

In Liz Cheney, we have someone who stood on principle – the Constitution, at the expense of popularity or her political career.  Had JFK written his book in 2021 and included people other than U.S. Senators, I have no doubt but that Liz Cheney’s biography would have been included.  Her actions are the embodiment a profile in courage.

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Rex Arney: How Wyoming Dealt With the Roe v. Wade Decision in 1973

in Column

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By Rex Arney, guest columnist

On December 1st, as I listened to the oral arguments in Mississippi abortion case that seeks to overturn Roe v. Wade, I had a flashback to 1973.  In early January of that year, I was sworn in as a freshman member of the Wyoming House.  Just 13 days later the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Roe v. Wade.

The Roe decision, and its timing, caught the Wyoming Legislature by surprise and it was unprepared to address an issue as controversial as abortion during the 1973 session.  Nonetheless, since Wyoming’s abortion law only permitted abortions in cases when necessary to preserve the life of the mother or in cases rape and incest, this landmark decision rendered Wyoming’s law unenforceable.  This meant that the Legislature needed to act if Wyoming was to have an abortion law that was enforceable.

On January 29th, just seven days after Roe decision, two bills were hastily drawn up and introduced in the Wyoming Senate, one provided penalties for performing abortions, and the other included the “viability” stage in the pregnancy before which abortions could be legally performed.  Given that nearly one-half of the 40-day legislative session had already passed, both houses of the Legislature had to act quickly on this legislation.

After approval by the Senate, both bills were referred to the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Alan Simpson.  I was one of the nine members on that committee.  The bills were thoroughly discussed and amendments were proposed, following which the bills were submitted to all members of the House for further consideration.

My “flashback” took me to the debate on the “viability” bill.  After 48 years, one’s recollection tends to fade, but my memory of the debate was almost as if it took place yesterday.  The debate began late one afternoon and extended into the early evening hours – probably not the best time to debate a subject of this magnitude.

The gallery was jampacked with observers, many of whom were recording the debate or taking notes, while others were leaning over the railing in an attempt to get a better view of members who were speaking.  I didn’t know if this was an effort to intimidate members, but as a legislative newbie, I was not about to stand up and say anything. 

The discussion on the bill was long and the heated, reaching a fever pitch at times.  At least one member broke down and cried.  Yet, the debate was civil and the members were respectful of one another’s views.  Following the debate, the bill was approved on a voice vote and two days later the bill passed the House by a vote of 49 to 11. 

So far so good, but the Senate did not concur with the House amendments to the bill.  A conference committee was appointed in an attempt to work out the differences between the two versions of the bill.  However, no agreement was reached and the bill died. 

On the other hand, the bill providing for penalties of up to a $10,000 fine and five years in prison for violating the law passed and was signed into law, only to be struck down by the Wyoming Supreme Court in August, 1973, leaving Wyoming without an enforceable abortion law.

By 1977 I had moved to the Senate when the Legislature next tackled the abortion issue.  A comprehensive bill passed and became law that included Roe’s “viability” provision and, also, provided penalties for violating the law with imprisonment up to 14 years for performing or assisting in an abortion after “viability”. 

This law is essentially the same today as when was passed in 1977 with only a couple of amendments.  There have been numerous efforts to further amend the law, as recently as during the 2021 session, but they have failed. 

Given that the composition of the Supreme Court is far different from what it was in 1973, most observers expect that the Court will either repeal or modify Roe v. Wade. 

If this happens, there will be a flurry of activity in the state legislatures around the country seeking to reduce allowable abortions to 15 weeks after conception, as in the case of the Mississippi law, or even to shorter period.  It is likely that the Wyoming Legislature will be among those legislatures taking it up.

While abortion was controversial before the Roe decision, the debate largely took place outside the political arena.  That has since changed. 

Today, abortion seems to be even more controversial than it was prior to Roe, partly because it has become politicized. The polarization along party lines is highlighted in Jonathan Lange’s December 1st column in the CSD in which he pointed out that Wyoming’s three Republican members in Congress, along with several Wyoming GOP legislators, have signed onto amicus briefs supporting Mississippi’s efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade.  

While I enjoyed my years in the Wyoming Legislature, I am glad not to be serving in that body when abortion is next debated.  I have been there and done that.  This time I will be an interested observer; perhaps sitting the gallery, if there is room. 

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