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Tom James

State Senators Get Heated Following Contentious Debate On Gun Bill

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*Editor’s note: The story has since been updated. Sen. Driskill has apologized for the incident with Sen. James.

By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Two lawmakers were involved Tuesday evening in what some are describing as an altercation involving pushing on the Senate floor following a heated debate regarding a gun bill.  

State Sen. Tom James, R-Green River, on Wednesday confirmed to Cowboy State Daily that he and Majority Floor Leader Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, were involved in an incident on the floor after debate on Senate Floor 102, the “Second Amendment Protection Act.”  

However, James said he would not comment further until he obtained video footage of the incident, which was recorded but not streamed live to the public on YouTube. Video streams from both the House and Senate generally stop when official work in the chambers is completed at noon or evening recess.

The lawmaking session had just ended for the day when the altercation was reported to have occurred.  

In a text message to Cowboy State Daily, Driskill disputed that there was an “altercation” and said he would return a phone call for comment after a break from Senate floor action Wednesday.

Floor Fireworks

The Wyoming Senate had just approved, on its first reading, a gun rights bill sponsored by Senate Vice President Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, that Hicks called “constitutionally sound.” The bill would prohibit Wyoming government agencies from using state resources to enforce federal gun restrictions that are seen as an improper infringement on Second Amendment rights.

State Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, spoke against the bill, calling it a mere re-working of the Wyoming Firearms Freedom Act, which forbids gun commerce enforcement against individuals with Wyoming-made, Wyoming-marketed firearms.  

Bouchard said he was denied the chance to testify on the bill when it was discussed by a Senate committee.

“I wanted to speak in committee and that got shut down pretty quick,” said Bouchard during the discussion.  

But other senators, including Driskill, objected to Bouchard’s statement.

“You need to stick to the facts,” countered Driskill.  

“That is the facts,” said Bouchard. “The facts are, I was not allowed to speak in committee.”  

At that point, James stood to speak.

“On that point of order,” he said, “our language in here is actually protected under Article 3, Section 16 (of the Wyoming Constitution), so technically he wasn’t out of order.”  

The portion of the Wyoming Constitution referenced by James states that legislators are not to be arrested during the lawmaking session or on the way to or from it, except in cases of “treason, felony, violation of their oath of office and breach of the peace.”  

Earlier That Day… 

There had been detectable tension between Driskill and James earlier that morning in the Senate Corporations, Elections, and Political Subdivisions Committee. James visited the committee as a guest presenter promoting his bill, Senate File 50, which would establish a hotline for public reporting of government fraud, waste, or abuse.  

The bill also would protect whistleblowers from workplace ramifications for any reporting of government misconduct.  

Driskill, who chairs the committee, pressured James multiple times to assign a dollar amount to the proposed law.  

“What do you think this bill should cost and where is that at?” asked Driskill.  

“It shouldn’t cost any more than a phone line and setting up an email,” answered James.  

“The suicide hotline is ($1.5 million),” said Driskill.  

James said that unlike the suicide hotline, his proposed system would not require constant monitoring. 

“Give me a number so I can get an amendment, and we can talk about your bill,” said Driskill.  

James said, “$10,000, maybe, at most.” 

“That solves it,” answered Driskill.  

But action on the bill was postponed until Thursday, because both the House and Senate floor sessions were about to start.

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Website ranks 60 percent of Wyoming Republicans legislators as RINOs

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

An anonymous website created by an unknown organization has judged 60 percent of the Legislature’s Republicans to be “Republicans in Name Only.”

Using voting records on 10 bills from the 2019 Legislative Session, during which legislators reviewed hundreds of pieces of legislation, www.wyoRINO.com assigned percentages values to the votes cast by each Republican member of the Wyoming House and Senate. If a  legislator did not toe the party line on at least seven of the 10 bills, their names were highlighted in red to indicate RINO status. The website attributes its creation to Ride for the Brand, Wyoming, a political organization Wyoming Republican Party Chairman Frank Eathorne said he didn’t know existed.

“This is nothing new, though,” Eathorne said. “We’ve seen other interest groups put out their opinions, ranking and analysis.”

The Wyoming Republican Party website on Nov. 11 published a clarification stating it has no affiliations with other individuals, organizations, groups or publications. 

“The party makes it positions known through its platform and planks adopted at its State Convention,” the website states. 

Nearly verbatim, the wyoRINO website also states its independence, following the declaration with a caveat specifying that  Ride for the Brand, Wyoming, reserves the right to revise its opinions and conclusions.

While Eathorne said wyoRINO was not a product of the party, he said there was no problem with the website claiming to represent party ideals. 

“It’s fine that they tie to the timeless principles of the Republican Party,” he explained. “But, we need to continue to clarify the WYGOP does not engage in that.”

Of the 77 listed Republicans, 46, about 60 percent, were labeled RINOs, while only 10 scored perfect rankings.

“They proved exactly the opposite of what they were hoping,” said Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette. “They proved there’s very few ‘true’ Republicans.”

The site rated Von Flatern at 30 percent.

“(Smear campaigns have) come up about three times for me — about every four years around election time,” he said. “The ultra-conservatives are behind this site. They’re not inclusive. If you are gay or a little different than their conservative, Bible-thumping group, you are less of a person. You are a threat to them.”

Von Flatern said though he had suspicions, he wasn’t sure who created the website. He added he’s never heard of Ride for the Brand.

Wyoming. Sen. Tom James, R-Rock Springs, received a ranking of 100 percent and hosts a personal web page with several similarities to www.wyoRINO.com, but said he was not involved with the website.  

“I don’t rate other legislators, I just put out the spread sheets with the votes,” James said. “I think it’s good there’s outside people getting involved. I always feel that more data is better, but I think the website is a good start.”

Republicans may not see eye to eye on every topic, but he said if their voting record dips below 70 percent — the ratio of votes in line with published Republican values — they are lying about their affiliation.

“That speaks for the lack of integrity of the official,” James said. “If they are lying to the people — ‘I’m going to vote this way’ — then they don’t do it, that’s on the elected official.”

James said he was not familiar with Ride for the Brand, Wyoming.

While Gov. Mark Gordon was not available for comment, his office responded to an interview request via email. 

“The Governor doesn’t believe that an anonymous website with ‘rankings’ based on a small sampling of votes is an accurate way to characterize legislators’ beliefs,” wrote Michael Pearlman, Gordon’s communications director.

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