Sen. John Schiffer (R-Kaycee) listens to debate during the 2014 legislative session. (Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

Sen. John Schiffer remembered for service to Wyoming

— By Gregory Nickerson 
June 19, 2014

Gov. Matt Mead (R) ordered flags to fly at half-staff at the Capitol in honor of state Sen. John Schiffer, a Republican from Kaycee, who died Thursday morning.

Flags also will fly at half-staff in Sheridan and Johnson counties until Schiffer’s burial.

Schiffer served more than 20 years in the Wyoming Legislature. The senate president from 2007-2008, he chaired numerous committees, and was known for his moderate views and formidable debating skills. He was 68 years old, and had recently been diagnosed with liver cancer.

Schiffer ranched on Powder River east of Kaycee, where he and his wife Nancy owned the 48 Ranch Partnership with Wyoming Treasurer Mark Gordon (R). Earlier in his career Schiffer operated the Hat Ranch on the North Fork of Powder River west of Kaycee. He is survived by his wife, a son and daughter, and several grandchildren.

As the senator from District 22, Schiffer represented nearly 19,000 people living in Johnson County and the eastern half of Sheridan County, including several neighborhoods between Sheridan and Big Horn, and the small towns of Clearmont, Arvada, Leiter, and Ucross. Today, about 55 percent of the voters in District 22 reside in Sheridan County.

Sen. Bruce Burns (R-Big Horn) said Schiffer was a mentor who will be greatly missed in the Legislature. Burns represents the western half of Sheridan County that adjoins Schiffer’s district, and his desk is next to Schiffer’s on the Senate floor.

“All I can say is he was my best friend in the Legislature, and the best legislator I ever worked with,” Burns said. “Frankly, he’s going to be a sore loss, not only to the Sheridan County delegation, but the Legislature as a whole.  He provided a depth of knowledge and a thoroughness that is increasingly rare. He really did his homework.”

Former Sen. Tom Kinnison of Sheridan called Schiffer, “One of the most outstanding legislators I have ever known. … If he didn’t agree with you he would tell you why, but he would still listen. He was very quiet and respectful. He did extensive research, but he was not a flashy person. He was a good, honest, hardworking person.”

Schiffer was a skillful  collaborator and coalition-builder, Kinnison said.

“He was sensible,” Kinnison said. “He didn’t wear a party affiliation on his shirtsleeve. He had friends all across the board in all walks of life.

“He was one who could maneuver on different sides of an issue and pull people together to do something,” Kinnison said. “He could talk to the Democrats, the Republicans, the mining, the agriculture, and he was very, very good at that.”

News of Schiffer’s death was a shock, Kinnison said.

“It just set me back on the floor,” he said. “This state really lost somebody extraordinary.”

Schiffer’s service

Schiffer was appointed to the Wyoming Senate in 1993 to replace Sen. Bob Trent, who moved out of state. Schiffer entered the legislature in the middle of a long period when Wyoming state government faced low revenues and tight budgets. Within two years he was appointed to the Joint Appropriations Committee. He became chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1999.

By 2003, Schiffer was selected as Senate chair of the Joint Appropriations Committee, a position previously held by Kinnison. Schiffer went on to become chairman of the Senate Revenue Committee, the Senate Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee; and the Management Audit Committee, before returning as chairman of the Judiciary Committee in 2013 and 2014.

Before his term as Senate president, Schiffer served as Senate vice president (2003-2004), and Senate majority floor leader (2005-2006). Schiffer also served on the Select Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, and the Senate Rules and Procedures Committee.

Schiffer was born in Chadron, Nebraska in 1945 and raised on a ranch near Kaycee. He graduated from Colorado College in 1967. He then joined the Navy to serve in Vietnam, where he became an lieutenant (junior grade) on a swift boat. He returned to Kaycee to ranch following the end of his military service in 1970.

Schiffer’s other service includes time on the Johnson County school board, and the boards of the Ruckelshaus Institute at the University of Wyoming and the Wyoming Chapter of the Nature Conservancy. Notably, he served for several terms as chairman of the Energy and Public Lands Committee for the Council of State Governments — West, a post which is usually held for a single term.

In 2012 Rep. Rosie Berger (R-Big Horn) and former Rep. Ed Buchanan (R-Torrington) nominated Schiffer to receive the CSG-West Fahrenkamp Award, which “recognizes leaders whose legislative careers demonstrate the ability to see and work beyond the border of their own states in the interest of the West.”

Gov. Matt Mead (R) issued the following statement in remembrance of Schiffer:

“John had true common sense and such a love of Wyoming. It was in his blood. He was a cowboy, a statesman and an advocate for making this state a better place. … As a person, as a legislator, as a statesman his legacy will benefit Wyoming for generations to come. Carol and I send our condolences and our prayers to his wife and children. We will miss him. Wyoming will miss him.”

Editor’s note: This article was updated to explain Schiffer’s appointment to the Wyoming Senate in 1993, and to list his Navy rank as lieutenant (junior grade).

— Gregory Nickerson is the government and policy reporter for WyoFile. He writes the Capitol Beat blog. Contact him at greg@wyofile.com.

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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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