Lacey Jones of Gillette drove through a snowstorm to speak in favor of Senate File 115 prohibiting discrimination against gay and transgender workers. Her son, not shown here, is gay. She agreed with the decision to eject Rep. Harlan Edmonds (R-Cheyenne) from the meeting. “My problem is that he (Edmonds) wanted to antagonize, and he was saying intentionally spiteful, hurtful things,” she said. (Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile)

Rep. Harlan Edmonds (R-Cheyenne) will not face further reprimand for saying Friday that he wanted a bill prohibiting discrimination against gay and transgender workers to become law “when hell freezes over.”

Edmonds made the comment during a committee meeting as a part of his proposed amendment to Senate File 115. In response House Labor Committee Chairwoman Elaine Harvey (R-Lovell) asked Edmonds to leave the room, and counted him absent during the vote on the bill. (Read the full story here.)

Rep. Harlan Edmonds listens to amendments of SF 115 during debate Friday. He was later ejected from the meeting for saying that he wanted a bill prohibiting discrimination against gay and transgender workers to become law “when hell freezes over.” (Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile

Edmonds later apologized to Harvey, and she accepted his apology.

“I have spoken with him several times since — we’re good,” Harvey said. “I am hoping that he’ll learn from this and become a good legislator. He is a freshman, he’ll learn.”

Harvey characterized Edmonds’ actions as a lapse of judgment, but not something that is irreparable. Edmonds will be welcome to participate in future meetings of the committee, she said.

Speaker of the House Kermit Brown (R-Laramie) said Edmonds also spoke with him about the matter, but would not elaborate in detail because their exchange was a private conversation. He said he would not hold the incident against Edmonds.

“We all do things from time to time that maybe we don’t exercise total discretion on, and heaven knows I’ve made my mistakes on the floor of the House,” Brown said.

“There is no vendetta or lasting reprisals against Rep. Edmonds, and I really want him to come along and be a good contributing member of the House. That’s over with as far as I am concerned.”

A ‘higher standard’ for civility

Before each session, all lawmakers attend a mandatory training on civility. “We have a pamphlet about it,” Harvey said. “It boils down to respect.”

When respect doesn’t prevail, House leaders have broad authority to act.

According to House Rule 15-2, the presiding officer over floor debate or committee hearings “shall direct any force needed to remove any and all persons … who in any way hinder the orderly progress of the House of Representatives.”

Members of the public raise their hands in response to Rep. Harvey’s question about who would like to testify against SF 115. (Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile)

Harvey said she’s seen one senator ejected from a committee meeting for uncivil comments. That happened when she was a freshman legislator in 2003. In her own committee meetings she’s also asked members of the public to stop talking when she believed they were being disrespectful, but she’s never ejected anyone until now.

“That’s my job, to maintain order,” Harvey said. “I think we as legislators need to be held to a higher standard.”

Edmonds’ “when hell freezes over” amendment was inappropriate, disrespectful, and did not follow etiquette, Harvey said. She felt a duty to respond quickly to prevent any further disorder in the packed committee room, particularly during debate on a potentially volatile issue.

She said his comments violated the rules of decorum that she established at the opening of the meeting. “We demand civility, and anyone not displaying that will be ejected from the meeting,” Harvey said.

Former Wyoming Attorney General Pat Crank testified in favor of SF 115 at Friday’s meeting, and he agreed with Harvey’s decision to eject Edmonds. “Chairman Harvey set the rules at the outset,” Crank said. “He broke them, so she took action.”

Edmonds told WyoFile on Friday that his amendment was meant as a joke, but it fell flat.

“I watched it go down in person. It didn’t seem like he was joking,” Crank said. “His actions throughout the hearing seemed to disregard the importance of what the committee was doing that day.”

During the committee hearing, Edmonds attempted a “poison pill” — as he described it — to make discrimination by businesses legal, which ran counter to the purpose of the bill. Edmonds also asked bill sponsor Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) whether the non-discrimination bill could be used to protect pedophiles. Harvey felt that comment came close to being uncivil, and she gave him a non-verbal warning that she called “a mother’s look.”

“When people come from across the state to bare their most intimate details, whether it be their religious beliefs or their personal lives, I think we have even a higher responsibility to respect those feelings,” Harvey said. “They are all our constituents.”

Donna Adler, left, lobbyist with the Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne, spoke with Jason Marsden, executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, after Friday’s hearing. Adler is an outspoken critic of the bill, while Marsden has lobbied for similar bills over the past decade. (Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile)

Lacey Jones, a member of Latter-Day Saints Church and a mother of six, drove through a snowstorm from Gillette to testify in favor of the bill. Her oldest son, who attends Campbell County High School, is gay.

“I felt like the right action was taken,” Jones said later of Edmonds’ ejection over the amendment. “I think he saw the writing on the wall and it was pretty obvious it was going to pass, and the only reason he had to do that was to try to put in a cheap shot.”

Jones took offense at Edmonds’ comments equating LGBT people with pedophiles. “My own representative voted against it, I don’t have a problem with that,” Jones said. “My problem is that he (Edmonds) wanted to antagonize, and he was saying intentionally spiteful, hurtful things.”

Jones attends church every Sunday and considers herself a religious person. “I completely respect people’s religious beliefs. I just want them to show respect as they do so,” she said.

Tolerance required

It’s not unheard of for lawmakers across the nation to treat each other poorly, even resorting to fistfights to make their point.

“Is that the way the public wants this job done?” Brown said. “I say no. I say the public wants this job done in a rational and measured manner, and to do that everyone has to have tolerance for everyone else.”

It’s been a long time since Wyoming lawmakers resorted to blows. One such incident happened in the early 20th century, resulting in a picture being taken from the wall and smashed over an unidentified lawmaker’s head. The torn image still hangs outside the third floor gallery of the House. (See page 14 of this document for a longer description.)

A composite portrait of the 1913 Wyoming Legislature still shows the tear, at upper center, where a legislator smashed it over another lawmaker’s head during the 1913 session. (Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile)

As for SF 115, the House will hear the measure this week in a debate Brown expects will bring out “raw feelings” and “a lot of passion.” Such debates call for tolerance of all views, he said.

“You can’t handle these diametrically opposed views if one side is so rude and crude and intolerant that the other side can’t have what the Australians call ‘a fair go,’” Brown said.

“Everybody ought to have a fair go of it,” Brown said. “Everybody gets their say. They may not get their way, but they may get their say.”

Gregory Nickerson

Gregory Nickerson worked as government and policy reporter for WyoFile from 2012-2015. He studied history at the University of Wyoming. Follow Greg on Twitter at @GregNickersonWY and on www.facebook.com/GregoryNickersonWriter/

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11 Comments

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  1. Oh, Ms. Linn, could you clarify who “those who would harm children” are, and how they would use this law to harm children? I hope you will give great care to your answer, ad it certainly will be scrutinized.

    Steen Goddik

  2. Mr. Edmonds represents the Texas carpet baggers from Wyoming [sic] Liberty Group rather than the Wyoming voters. Clearly, the anti-Wyoming mentality has no place in the Equality State, and clearly, the unbridled hate in Mr. Edmonds behavior is disgusting.

    So, why do we accept the WLG influence in Wyoming?

    Steen Goddik

  3. Senate File 115 is a very controversial bill and bound to evoke strong feelings from a variety of people for a variety of reasons.

    I have to say that, aside from what I think about the bill itself, I am disturbed by the actions described in this story.

    I think that what is being presented as an attempt at enforcing order and civility really amounts to extreme censorship and restriction of free speech.

    Albeit, Rep. Edmonds’s comments may have been offensive to some, I personally question the judgment of house leadership that the comments rose to a level of incivility. I also think that when the leadership of the house is allowed to exercise such subjective and broad discretion and to use that power to censor and shut down free expression on the part of a legislator, we all lose.

    If something said by a legislator is a racial or sexual slur, if it is profane or actual name calling, if it is in any way suggestive of violence, then by all means it would be justified for leadership to ask that legislator to cease and desist.

    Short of the content and manner described above, however, I think that true tolerance requires that we allow people to express views that, although they may be unpopular or even offensive to some, are the views of that person. Those people will be judged by the comments they make. They will and should be expected to own the consequences of their comments whether those consequences result in a lowered respect from their legislative colleagues or a decision of their constituents to not re-elect them.

    But, we all need to ask ourselves the questions: Do we not want every legislator to be free to speak his or her mind and to raise any and all potentially relevant questions when they are vetting legislation on our behalf? If we are to err, should we not err on the side of free and open dissent and exploration of an issue rather than on the side of restricting comment?

    I think that asking whether a well-intended piece of legislation has the potential to be abused by those who would harm children is fair and absolutely justified. We must be free to ask these kinds of questions about any legislation and to explore all possible consequences of legislation to test and challenge for unintended consequences. And, we hire/elect our representatives to do this due diligence. I don’t think it is wise to put such constraints on their freedom of speech that we shut down free and open discourse.

    For those who were offended by the comments made by Rep. Edmonds I would suggest that they try to apply the standard I am putting forward to other legislative issues as well so that each and every issue debated by our representatives has full and unfettered consideration.

    Rep. Brown said. “I say the public wants this job done in a rational and measured manner, and to do that everyone has to have tolerance for everyone else.” Yet, I would argue that there was no tolerance shown toward Rep. Edmonds. Tolerance means allowing for those who disagree with you to be heard. It is a two-way street. That right of way was denied to Rep. Edmonds, in my opinion. I think the citizens of Wyoming are all better served when we allow open discussion and expression from both sides of any controversial subject. It is uncomfortable and unpleasant at times, but it is the best course to follow. And, when the shoe is on the other foot, we can all say that we truly did show tolerance for all sides.

    Kara Linn

    1. Contrary to Ms. Linn’s opinion, this bill is not controversial. It would extend protections to LGBT people that are already afforded to many groups in Wyoming.
      Edmonds is certainly entitled to his small-minded and loathsome opinions, but he may not dreck up a House committee meeting with such vile comments.

      Comparing anyone to a criminal is not “freedom of expression,” it is intentionally obnoxious and unbecoming a legislator. Let us hope Mr. Edmonds is a one-term legislator!

      Kimberly Holloway

  4. Just a quick reply to Dan Neal: I don’t know Jeran Artery, but I can tell you how Jason Marsden maintains his dignity and composure: By being smart and skilled and determined. He’s a pro who makes lobbying look good just by doing it. I’m glad he’s still on the job, and I’m glad you’re there with him. But I’m also glad I dropped out of it. Good luck, guys.

    John Vanvig

  5. Thank you Greg for your story on Rep. Edmonds. Often times I find myself shaking my head at some of the actions by Wyoming State legislators or lack thereof.

    Pat Gabriel

  6. Cody, your previous comment was declined due to violating our commenting policy, which I will paste below. You may also view WyoFile’s commenting policy here; https://www.wyofile.com/about/commentingpolicy/ You are more than welcome to repost your comment, minus the name-calling.

    — No anonymous comments. To be considered for publication, each comment must be accompanied by the writer’s first name, last name, and city of residence. This identifying information will be published with the comment. You may request an exemption from the editor if there is a reasonable expectation that by associating your name with your comment you may face undue retribution (email editor@wyofile.com).

    — Use your own words. Comments with excessive quotations and hyperlinks may be declined.

    — Comments may be declined for name-calling, personal attacks, threats, derogatory or defamatory comments, racism, sexism or any form of bigotry.

    — Do not discourage others from commenting.

    — Be reasonable with the length of your comment. If you have more to say, submit a guest column proposal to the editor (email editor@wyofile.com).

    Dustin Bleizeffer
    WyoFile editor-in-chief

  7. Editor- You only post views that represent you side? I was polite and professional— also made valid a points I forgot this is liberal rag and common sense has no place here. Censorship is a communist attribute—

    Cody Brinton

    1. Cody, I would be interested to know what you had to say that was deleted. The common sense you speak if is in short supply everywhere we turn, especially in Wyoming politics it would seem. It seems to me common sense, and decency would require some form of censure in this case…but alas, none will come.

      Scott Crist

  8. I don’t always agree with Madame Chairman Harvey. I do agree with her action regarding Rep. Edmonds. Perhaps he should apologize to the entire state, not just Spearker Brown, for his behavior as a representative of the people of Wyoming.

    Frankly, I don’t know how people like Jason Marsden and Jeran Artery have maintained their composure and dignity in the many committee hearings I’ve attended where those who fear attack them with brazen, ugly lies about who they are and how they conduct their personal lives.

    Dan Neal

  9. As a former Wyoming resident who still owns property in the state, I find Edmond’s comment most troubling, not because he said it, but because he believes it. How gay adults can live in a medieval state like Wyoming I do not know. Bring your gifts and talents to Denver. We welcome you.

    Vicki Lindner