Wyoming’s House of Representatives voted against forming a special committee to investigate a residency complaint lodged against Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne) by his own party.
The motion, which would have directed House Speaker Eric Barlow (R-Gillette) to form a five-member committee to hear the complaint and evidence in executive sessions, fell short of the simple majority needed with only 24 votes Tuesday. Rep. Tim Hallinan (R-Gillette) made the motion.
For some, the matter — the latest development in a tense back-and-forth between Wyoming’s Republican dominated Legislature and the state’s Republican party — hasn’t been put to bed completely.
Bad and getting worse
“The GOP has every right to insert themselves,” Rep. Landon Brown (R-Cheyenne) said about the party and the Legislature.
Party involvement was common in the Capitol when Brown took office in 2017, he said, but largely confined to political-party issues and bills, such as runoff election and party affiliation legislation. While the party remains interested in those things, Brown said, the GOP’s targeting of moderate legislative stances has “gotten progressively worse and worse.”
“I think it’s pretty clear that they’re going after [Zwonitzer] because of his moderate stances on many items,” Brown said. He also pointed to Zwonitzer’s power in the Legislature as the co-chairman of the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee.
“When you have people that aren’t in power, and they want to be in power, you’re going to find any way that you can try to grab and pull in that power,” Brown said.
Brown was one of 36 lawmakers to vote against the motion for an investigative committee. He said he did not make his decision lightly, and he had questions when the complaint first came to light. But Zwonitzer answered those questions, Brown said.
“Dan has done his best to work with every single legislator that had any questions, [and] personally talked to them … And, you know, that’s exactly what sold me. He showed me everything I needed to see,” Brown said.
“Absolutely not surprised that the House of Representatives did not take the requests of the Wyoming Republican Party seriously,” Joey Correnti, Carbon County GOP chairman, said Wednesday. Correnti first raised the residency concern at the Republican Central Committee meeting in Douglas in January.
Correnti denied that the complaint had anything to do with Zwonitzer’s stances or his committee seat. And as to whether the issue has been properly resolved, Correnti said, “it’s back in the hands of the people where it belongs.
“The people are going to be taking some kind of action,” Correnti said, pointing to Cheyenne residents calling on the Laramie County Clerk Debra Lee to file voter fraud charges against Zwonitzer.
Lee confirmed to WyoFile that her office has already received “a few” of those concerns.
The vote and summons for information
Rep. Mark Jennings (R-Sheridan), who was one of 24 House members to vote in favor of the motion to form an investigative committee, also said the issue is now up to the voters.
Jennings doesn’t see a problem with the GOP lodging the complaint since the party is an “independent entity,” he said.
Speaking in favor of the motion on the House floor, he said, “If I were in [Zwonitzer’s] shoes, I would want for a good committee to be thorough, and to be honest and to bring us the truth.”
Before the vote, lawmakers were provided documents related to the complaint, including a legal memo prepared by the Legislative Service Office.
After a handful of lawmakers spoke in favor of the investigative committee, citing a need for more information, Rep. Mike Yin (D-Jackson) asked his colleagues, “What kind of information are we looking for more than what we already have?”
Shortly after, Jennings responded with “the truth,” and told the floor, “our constituents are watching us.”
A day before the House took up the matter, four of Zwonitzer’s constituents filed a summons for information, seeking the lawmaker’s address. They included Kathyrn Kij, who also wrote a letter to Barlow about the residency complaint.
“I will be taking note of every representative that doesn’t come to our aid on this,” she wrote. Kij did not respond to WyoFile for comment.
Zwonitzer felt a “little relief” following Tuesday’s vote, he told WyoFile. But he also doesn’t believe “everything’s totally going away.”
“There will be the people who weren’t my biggest fans who now have more ammunition against me,” he said.
Wyoming Republican Party Chairman Frank Eathorne did not respond to WyoFile’s request for comment. Nor did the state party’s Executive Director Kathy Russell.