A bucketful of bad blood was spilled onto the Wyoming Senate floor during the recent budget session, which ended with members voting to strip Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne) of his committee assignments.
The action was unprecedented, but hardly surprising. Bouchard is such a lightning rod for political controversies it’s a wonder he hasn’t spontaneously combusted.
The Senate’s 19-10 vote to kick him off four legislative panels was in response to a lobbyist’s formal complaint, but the complaint had many precursors.
In announcing the Senate’s position, the body’s President Dan Dockstader (R-Afton) charged that Bouchard has displayed “a continued pattern of intimidating and disorderly conduct and other behavior which is unbecoming of a member of the Senate.”
While he didn’t detail specifics, Dockstader said Bouchard showed “open support for vulgar and threatening attacks on a member of the Senate, [and] continued support of such statements even during the session.”
What could Dockstader be referring to?
In March 2021, after the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected Bouchard’s bill to ban COVID-19 mandates, a Park County official sent a threatening email to the panel’s chairwoman, Sen. Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne).
Troy Bray wrote to Nethercott, “If I were as despicable as you, I would kill myself to rid the world of myself,” before signing off with an ugly profanity.
Dockstader and House Speaker Eric Barlow (R-Gillette) called out Bray’s “violent and threatening statements.” Bouchard, though, used the controversy to call Nethercott “an absolute tyrant.”
“I’m tired of being told to be nice to liars and tyrants,” Bouchard wrote on Facebook.
Bouchard is vying to unseat U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney in the Republican congressional primary. In November he used his campaign’s Facebook page to call Senate Majority Floor Leader Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) a “flat-out liar” and “swamp monster.”
“Slime ball” is how Bouchard described Senate Vice President Larry Hicks (R-Baggs), who derailed Bouchard’s gun-rights bill in 2021. Both vowed to bring the issue back and they did, with plenty of fireworks.
First, senators rejected Bouchard’s new measure, Senate File 87 – Second Amendment Preservation Act. Then on Feb. 22, Bouchard opposed the introduction of Hicks’ Senate File 102 – Second Amendment Protection Act, which the Senate later passed, and Gov. Mark Gordon signed into law. Bouchard complained about how Nethercott treated him in the Judiciary hearing on the bill.
“Frankly, I’m offended,” he told the Senate. “I wanted to speak in committee, but it was shut down pretty quick.”
Driskill responded by telling Bouchard to “stick to the facts,” which led to a brief shouting match across the chamber.
The Cowboy State Daily literally went to the tape to reconstruct what happened, using footage from two security cameras. One showed Bouchard standing at the back of the room for about 25 minutes as six people individually came to the front to testify. He had ample opportunity to join them before Nethercott ended public comment so the committee could work on the bill.
Aaron Dorr, who took over as head of Wyoming Gun Owners in 2017 after Bouchard left the organization to serve in the Senate, complained he was also prevented from testifying. But Dorr sat in the front row the entire time and never attempted to speak.
After the committee unanimously approved the bill, Dorr intercepted Hicks as he tried to leave. Bouchard photographed an intense stare-down between the pair, and the image ran on the group’s website later that day under the headline, “WYGO Blocked from Judiciary Committee!”
In a video, Dorr ranted about Nethercott and the other “backstabbing RINOs” — Republicans in name only — who supposedly silenced Bouchard and WYGO.
I’ve covered Wyoming politics for more than four decades, and I’ve never seen such an orchestrated display of phony outrage.
Bouchard has also used “intimidating tactics” against members of the public, Dockstader said. That’s what Wyoming Hospital Association President Eric Boley alleged in his formal complaint about Bouchard’s behavior.
Boley said he was accosted by Bouchard and Sen. Tom James (R-Rock Springs) in the Senate lobby March 8. Bouchard threatened him “with a video that would ‘expose the fear-mongering and fear tactics hospitals were using during the pandemic,’” according to Boley.
I’d ask Bouchard about these incidents, but he refuses to talk to me. But in remarks to the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, he remained defiant.
“These are tyrannical dictators. I don’t work for so-called leadership,” he told the paper. “I work for the people. They abused their power, and it’s because I won’t bow down to them.”
Bouchard said he was informed of Dockstader’s motion 15 minutes before it was read to the body. If that’s true, the senator should have been given more time to prepare his defense.
I think the entire process was flawed. Bouchard, the full Senate and the public should have been informed about the specific alleged misconduct before any vote was taken.
Without such transparency, Bouchard has been able to politically exploit what happened. In a Cowboy State Daily interview, he called all 19 senators who voted against him “RINOs who decided that I’m dangerous to their agenda.”
“The vote was preordained,” he added. “It’s called a kangaroo court.” Bouchard has mastered playing the victim.
The Senate removed him from four committees: Senate Labor, Health and Social Services; Management Audit Committee; Senate Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources; and Select Committee on Legislative Facilities. That punishment will be in effect until at least next year.
But the controversy may be far from over. After hearing from Bouchard, the Legislative Management Council may meet to determine if any additional evidence should be presented. Any review will be conducted in executive session, with recordings, findings and proceedings kept confidential.
If the council finds probable cause for the complaint, a formal investigation would begin.
If the case is not dismissed, the committee could recommend several possible actions, including censure or expulsion. The latter would require at least a two-thirds Senate majority next year.
James suggested on social media he may file complaints against other senators for violations of the Wyoming Ethics and Disclosure Act, but did not make specific allegations.
A day after the Bouchard vote, the leadership ejected James from a Senate Republican caucus. James said he wasn’t recording the private meeting, which is against the rules, but witnesses said he refused to put away his cell phone.
Capitol security asked James to leave, and he complied. Naturally, Bouchard’s campaign pounced on the issue.
“This is what happens when you stand with Sen. Bouchard and with the people, against the Nazi RINOs,” Bouchard’s campaign spokeswoman, April Poley, wrote on James’ Facebook page. Notice a trend here?
Expect Bouchard to up his game before the Aug. 16 primary, when he plays the spoiler in Cheney’s race with party favorite Harriet Hageman. And yes, he calls Hageman a RINO, too.
I’d say it’s up to voters to close down this circus at the polls, but half of Wyoming Senators, including Bouchard, aren’t up for re-election until 2024.
Senate leadership waited too long to act, and it’s playing into Bouchard’s hands. Like it or not, for now the far-right’s most incorrigible bad boy has taken over as ringmaster.