CHEYENNE – After four years of attempts, state lawmakers are close to passing legislation that would reduce Democratic representation on the powerful and traditionally non-partisan legislative committee that sets the agendas, rules and protocols for the entire body.

Sponsored by Rep. Dan Laursen (R-Powell), House Bill 36 – Management council membership would reduce the overall number of positions on the Legislature’s Management Council and effectively reduce the proportion of minority-party lawmakers that must be included by making several of the seats available to “at-large” candidates.

If passed into law, the bill would immediately impact the makeup of the Management Council, a leadership committee that designates the legislative agenda, disciplines members and sets rules and regulations for the entire Legislature.

Rep. Dan Laursen (R-Powell) speaks at the podium on the House floor during the 2020 legislative session. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

Bill proponents argue that despite Democrats representing just 10% of the Legislative membership, members of the minority party currently occupy five of Management Council’s 13 seats, giving them an outsized influence on the Legislature and its operations.

HB-36 would likely reduce that influence even further. By cutting two slots from the committee and turning two other positions into at-large rather than partisan positions, Republicans will have no obligation to support a Democrat seeking to join the Management Council beyond those required by statute, clearing the way for Republicans to have even greater influence on the policies steering the Legislature’s work.

Laursen said his legislation is not intended to politicize the Management Council’s operations, but to bring the priorities of the Legislature’s top committee more in line with those of the individuals they govern. 

“I just kind of wonder if those that are involved in the [Management Council] might have a different opinion from what the members they’re currently supposed to manage do,” Laursen told members of the Senate Rules Committee Tuesday before they advanced his bill to the floor by a 3-2, party line vote.

Laursen is unconcerned with the potential politicization of the body, he said, telling WyoFile that the Legislature’s Management Council should reflect the body that the people elected. The only factor that has thus far prevented that from happening were a few “wobbly Republicans” who wouldn’t support the bill in the past, Laursen said. 

But critics argue the Management Council was never intended to operate the way that’s envisioned in Laursen’s bill. 

In testimony on the bill on March 9, Rep. Mike Yin (D-Jackson) noted that the Management Council’s creation in 1971 coincided with that of the Legislative Service Office — a non-partisan entity that assists lawmakers with drafting bills and conducting research. At the time, Yin said, the intent of the Management Council was not to serve in a political capacity, but instead to manage the LSO operations and ensure that the agency’s time and resources were used in a prudent fashion.

Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, chats with Rep. Shelly Duncan, R-Lingle, during the 66th Wyoming Legislature’s session Friday, March 19, 2021, inside the House chamber of the state Capitol.
(Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle/Wyoming News Exchange)

“If we make it possible that 10 members can be of the majority party and create a supermajority of one party, you have a concern where that single party can essentially tell LSO whatever it wants to do. Including denying resources to the minority party,” Yin said. 

“…The LSO is non-partisan because it’s meant to serve all members of the Legislature,” he added. “If we make it possible to deny service to other members, I think we’re going to have a very dysfunctional government.”

Wyoming’s political environment has changed since then as well. According to a copy of the 1971 Legislative Digest obtained from the LSO office, that year’s Wyoming legislature counted 11 Democrats in the Senate (compared to two today) and 20 Democrats in the House (compared to seven today).

The implications of altering Management Council to match partisan ratios can be wide-ranging, critics argue. Since the Management Council was established in 1971, its powers have expanded significantly to encompass duties far beyond that of managing the day-to-day duties of the LSO, according to a 2020 policy brief. 

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By altering the traditional structure established by that body, some — including Rep. Pat Sweeney (R-Casper) — fear the Legislature could become even more partisan.

“Sometimes, moderate voices should be heard and valued, even if I’m not seen that way by the conservative majority,” Sweeney said.

Others, like Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) argued that state Democrats — who represented more than 25% of the vote for president in the 2020 elections — are actually underrepresented in the Legislature. Nobody is rushing to compensate for that, Rothfuss noted.

“Don’t get rid of us because we’re pesky,” he told committee members this week.

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  1. Ah yes, and while they are at it shouldnt they be against the electoral college? Since it gives Wyoming minority voters exponentially more power than other states?

    Or do we only care about things that benefit the Republican party.

  2. And why wouldn’t we want to increase the strangle hold of the majority party? It is working out so well for us so far. The economy is booming, the state coffers are overflowing, new businesses are knocking each other over to set up operations here, our children are building new homes here and inviting their friends from other states to relocate. It is obviously due to the magnificent leadership of the Teapublicans. To my many friends from the Grand Old Party, my sincere condolences, I mourn it’s passing with you.

  3. This is obviously of the same Genus as all the various Voter Disenfranchisement bills being herded at the statehouses around the country …Georgia , Texas, AZ etz. It’s just a different species…GOP lawmakers disenfranchising their duly elected Democratic colleagues, just because they can.

    The Republicans really do not believe in democracy or upholding the Republic they claim to best represent , do they ?

  4. Thanks to Sen. Rothfuss and Rep. Yin for speaking up. The GOP’s right-wing has been relentless in its efforts to impose its views of life on both the moderates in its own party and the Democrats. The drive to isolate the the minority party and minimize the influence of a quarter of the state’s voters imperils the future of Wyoming.

  5. In my experiences of politics in Wyoming, this movement was started in 2002. The progression turned sour when Fredunthal left office. The progression of the Democratic leadership became a struggle to survive, for the big world of high corporational inputs took over and every year their ranks diminish. Face the facts Wyoming has a ONE PARTY system that is now swinging into authoritarian rule. The current bill like voter registration indicates such a move and the right-wing swing only means Wyoming’s Open Elections for all factions will be under the Republican rule and will never come to pass.