Albert Sommers (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

Down at the capitol, the Wyoming Freedom Caucus roasted House Speaker Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale) last week for holding back a trio of bills that were unconstitutional, discriminatory and as freedom-squashing as they could be written.


Perhaps the extreme-right caucus, bigger this year but without many successes, is just letting off steam by focusing its ire on Sommers. With a week left of the session as I write this, it’s too early to give the Freedom Caucus a final report card. 

But several of the group’s top goals were not realized. Librarians can still lend LGBTQ-themed books without fear of being locked up. Hospitals, businesses and other facilities must still follow federal mask and vaccine mandates. I am grateful for both outcomes, and I thank moderates for making them happen.

The bills Sommers held back — or kept from being heard, a prerogative of the speaker that helps determine which bills end up on the governor’s desk — were already controversial. One would ban talk of sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms, another was a school voucher program and the third would criminalize gender-affirming care for minors.

Andy Roth, chairman of the State Freedom Caucus Network, parent organization of the Wyoming group, tweeted that he can’t believe Sommers is blocking conservative legislation “in the most Republican state in America.”

That set off Wyoming’s freshman U.S. Rep. Harriet Hageman, who retweeted Roth’s message and added her own: “This is about protecting our children. In Congress, I’m fighting for these very issues. I hope the Wyoming Legislature will do the same.”

With all due respect, Hageman — who has never before held public office — is still learning the ropes back in D.C., and should stay in her lane. She’s got more pressing duties than telling Wyoming’s speaker of the house how to do his job. 

The highest profile of the three bills is Senate File 117 – Parental Rights in Education, Wyoming’s version of Florida’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” law, which that state signed last year. Sponsored by Sen. Dan Dockstader (R-Afton), the Senate approved it 18-12 before it went to the House.

The bill spent 24 days on Sommers’ desk without any action, which prompted the Freedom Caucus to eventually tweet about how the bill “solves the problem of parental exclusion [because it] prohibits classroom discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity for students in grades K-3.”

What about the exclusion of LGBTQ parents and their kids? In Jacksonville, Florida, Dan VanTice, who has a husband and twin 7-year-old sons, said it’s families like his who are excluded, by the same law hard-line Wyoming conservatives want to pass.

“If our kids aren’t allowed to talk about their families, it’s basically saying [our families] are less-than,” VanTice told The 19th, a nonprofit news organization that reports on gender, politics and policies. “It’s ironic that it’s called a parental rights bill. I’m a parent and I have rights and my family has rights. But those rights are the ones that the bill is trying to diminish and eliminate.”

Sommers told reporters he has always fought “against taking authority away from local school boards, town councils, county commissioners … And in my view that’s what this bill does.”

Freshman Rep. Jeanette Ward (R-Casper), a Freedom Caucus member, challenged Sommers’ decision to not send the bill to a committee. A legislative rule allows any member to call for a vote to revive it, and Ward wanted this education bill assigned to the House Agriculture Committee — yes, agriculture — but her motion was defeated 34-27.

If Bear and his crew would hand Sommers a few more bills that aren’t unconstitutional, maybe the caucus could defend self-sufficiency and liberty, not violate it.

A similar fate awaited Senate File 143 – Wyoming Freedom Scholarship Act-2, sponsored by Sen. Cheri Steinmetz (R-Lingle). It narrowly passed in the Senate, 17-14, but then ran into the Sommers buzzsaw. His reason for killing it was once again spot-on.

An identical bill, House Bill 194 – Wyoming Freedom Scholarship Act, had already been tabled by the House Education Committee, so it was dead. The panel identified myriad problems with that bill,  beginning with the fact it’s obviously unconstitutional, meaning the Senate version was similarly flawed.

Both bills would have diverted $6,000 in public money per every K-12 student outside the public school system, which parents could use to pay for their child’s private, religious or home schooling. The Wyoming Constitution says, “No money of the state shall ever be given or appropriated to any sectarian or religious society or institution.”

Here’s one thing I always have trouble understanding: many far-right groups, including the Freedom Caucus, pledge undying loyalty to the federal and state constitutions. Would it be too much trouble for them to actually read what the documents allow or forbid?

The State Budget Office, tasked with administering the new scholarship program, made it clear it wanted no part of that responsibility. The Wyoming Education Association said the bill would siphon off even more money from an already underfunded public K-12 system. 

Sommers explained why he didn’t assign SF 143 to the House Education Committee. The panel had already rejected the twin version so the Senate iteration would have met the same fate. 

I guess Sommers could have sent it to the House Agriculture Committee, which would rubber-stamp anything GOP legislative leaders want. But the speaker recognized it was a bad bill. 

Rep. Ocean Andrew (R-Laramie) tried to get SF 143 recalled, but the House rebuffed him on a voice vote. Why waste time on an unconstitutional lost cause?

The third bill that agitated the Freedom Caucus was Senate File 144 – Chloe’s law-children gender change prohibition, an anti-trans measure sponsored by Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne).

“Chloe’s Law” is named after California teen Chloe Cole, a self-described “former transgender kid.” After taking puberty blockers for years and getting a double mastectomy at 15, Cole “detransitioned.”

Senate File 144 would have made it illegal for doctors to prescribe gender-affirming surgery to anyone under the age of 18. That makes sense, but guess what? Medical professionals told lawmakers such surgeries aren’t performed in Wyoming.

But Bouchard’s bill would also outlaw hormone blockers used to delay the onset of puberty. 

That might sound like a way to give kids more time to figure out if their gender identity is persistent, but the Mayo Clinic advises that for adolescents with gender dysphoria, hormone blockers can improve mental well-being, reduce depression and anxiety, improve social interactions with other kids, eliminate the need for future surgeries and reduce suicidal ideation.

Senate File 144 would punish doctors who prescribe hormone blockers by revoking or suspending their medical licenses. Wyoming Insurance Commissioner Jeff Rude said the bill’s ban on insurance coverage for gender-affirming care would violate the Affordable Care Act’s prohibition on sex-based discrimination.

Sommers sent the bill to the House Appropriations Committee, an experienced panel. It voted 5-2 to not recommend the bill, which put it at the bottom of the House’s general file. Those bills had a Monday deadline to be approved by the Committee of the Whole, or die. The move all but assured its demise. 

A furious Bouchard demanded the Wyoming Republican Party censure Sommers, which I don’t expect to happen.

I also have a hunch Sommers could care less about getting a verbal slap on the wrist from the Freedom Caucus, whose chairman, Rep. John Bear (R-Gillette), claims it “exists as a reflection of the God-fearing, self-sufficient, liberty-loving people all across our state.”

If Bear and his crew would hand Sommers a few more bills that aren’t unconstitutional, maybe the caucus could defend self-sufficiency and liberty, not violate it. 

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

Join the Conversation


Want to join the discussion? Fantastic, here are the ground rules: * Provide your full name — no pseudonyms. WyoFile stands behind everything we publish and expects commenters to do the same. * No personal attacks, profanity, discriminatory language or threats. Keep it clean, civil and on topic. *WyoFile does not fact check every comment but, when noticed, submissions containing clear misinformation, demonstrably false statements of fact or links to sites trafficking in such will not be posted. *Individual commenters are limited to three comments per story, including replies.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Speaker Sommers, thanks for your stand against the wack-a-doodles. Never give up and never surrender!

  2. It seems to me in our rabid desire to not be California that a certain caucus has chosen to make us Florida/Texas. Neither chose is good for Wyoming.

  3. Excellent article. Thank you Speaker Sommers for knowing and abiding by our State Constitution.

  4. “exists as a reflection of the God-fearing, self-sufficient, liberty-loving people all across our state.”

    Speak for yourself, son! I qualify on all the above adjectives, and loathe the Un”Freedom” Caucus from the bottom of my heart. No, my world has no place for an extreme right-wing group intent on shoving “Christian evangelical” values, state imposed, on all of us. My family came to this country to escape state imposed religious orthodoxy and 400 years later I STILL will NOT sit in your pews!

  5. The Freedom ‘From Democracy’ Caucus’ solutions in search of a problem campaign is really irresponsible. The gravest danger to our children is obviously, being a victim of the gun violence epidemic in this country. If the Legislature were truly committed to the safety of our children, they would do all they could to address mental health problems that lead to this violence. In addition, Wyoming is short-staffed in teachers, prison guards, and highway patrolmen. What is the governor and the Legislature doing about these REAL problems? Or are they just too busy reducing the tax on cigars?

  6. I never could have believed I would be saying this publically. Given what he’s been given to work with and who he has to deal with , Speaker Albert Sommers is doing a good job this session . Going into this session with the cast of characters , I anticipated much worse outcomes.

    Just remember to apply the Doppler Red Shift correction factor when doing the final analysis.

  7. This “Freedom Caucus” should be called the “Let-us-tell-all-of-you-how-to-live Caucus.”

    Their legislative acumen resembles GOP State Chairman Frank Eaton’s roping skills. Doesn’t look good. So they whine.

  8. Have you ever heard of a tribe of savages who live on an island isolated from the rest of the world? That’s what the Wyoming GOP wants for us. We might as well be living in caves and grunting at each other to communicate. I love this beautiful state and the talented people who live here. Unfortunately, the cave people drive the good ones away. It’s not only embarrassing, it’s hurting us.

    The childish reaction, “if you don’t like it, then leave” is another example of how the state that claims to love freedom has been hi-jacked by teenage cave people who never learned how to evolve. I don’t mean to insult anyone – just using an analogy that seems to fit.

  9. I think Albert is doing a very fine job in a tough position. I remember reading a framed poster many years ago in an old ranchers home that said ‘We here in Wyoming really don’t care how you did it back from wherever You came from.’ I surely don’t believe we here in Wyoming live with our heads stuck in the sand, but maybe there are some here who might need to think about this statement and go back to wherever they came from.

  10. For starters, THANK YOU (!) Landon Brown: “If she wants to have a say in our legislative body maybe she should run for that office. Otherwise, bugoff!” Indeed. And once again thanks to Steve Harshman, “I hope we close the gate on all that and everybody just stays in their lanes and [does] the work,” …. “We’ve got enough work to get done instead of all the gotchas.” And the shameless hypocrisy spewing from the Freedom Caucus is galling: The state director of the Wyoming State Freedom Caucus Network has whined that Speaker Sommers refusal “to pull bills from his drawer” was unfair and lacked transparency, yet Ms. Rubino was silent when House Floor Leader Neiman did pretty much the same thing with the Medicaid Expansion Bill. Shameless. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, as a member of the Wyoming State Board of Education, that we needed to do things “the Wyoming way.” Since when does the State Freedom Caucus Network, Fox News, former Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) represent Wyoming? How dare Congresswoman Hageman and others in the the FC Network talk of “Wyoming values” when they have turned their backs on the Wyoming value of local control and have instead invited a national dictate to drive our policy making. Whereas the Wyoming Legislature agreed this session to focus upon civility, the Congresswoman has inserted the ugliness of what has become the norm in the U.S. House of Representatives (specifically among the far right GOP … MTG, Loren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, et al) to our legislature. How dare her. How dare Congresswoman Hageman chastise State Representative Landon Brown accusing him of neglecting his constituents! What constituents is she referring to? Oh the gall of the congresswoman’s hypocrisy.

    1. G

      Thank you. I know there is sanity in this state. It needs to stand up and take the state back from these clowns.