Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne) during the 2022 Legislative Session. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

At some point during the Wyoming Legislature’s just-completed budget session, one representative walked up to another and asked why his cohort had to be so mean. 

Rep. Bob Wharff (R-Evanston) was on the receiving end of that question, posed by Rep. Cyrus Western (R-Big Horn), and he recollected the exchange to WyoFile. The representative from Evanston stood his ground. 

“I told him, ‘The problem is, we are fighting a battle, we are at war,’” Wharff recalled. “These people are attacking our Second Amendment rights. If we don’t stand up and push back — and I honestly believe this — if we don’t defend our Second Amendment rights, all our other rights go out.” 

Western relayed his view of the conversation: “I said it in the context of watching other legislators being very uncivil or disrespectful toward other legislators.” 

The view that decorum and decency has declined within the Wyoming Legislature in recent years was pervasive among eight senators and representatives that WyoFile talked to for this story. Civility slipping in the statehouse isn’t a uniquely Wyoming problem. Nationally, pundits have bemoaned the decline of political discourse, which has become more confrontational — a phenomenon most prominently exhibited by former President Donald Trump’s communication style. 

That was the backdrop of a Senate vote last week to punish one of its most firebrand members for allegedly using intimidation tactics in violation of Senate rules. In a 19-10 vote, the chamber stripped Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne) of his committee assignments, a stringent formal punishment that veteran members of the Legislature could not recall occurring during their tenure. 

Sens. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne) and Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) exchanged words without facing each other in the entrance hallway leading to the Wyoming Senate floor. The two senators were not on particularly good terms. “Look at the way he looks at me, that sneer,” Bouchard said of Hicks. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

“When you go out on social media and impugn every member of the Legislature by calling them a swamp, slimeball, liars, that is not conduct becoming of a Wyoming state senator,” Senate Vice President Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) told WyoFile.

Over the line

In the days before the Senate took action, a lobbyist lodged a complaint against Bouchard, who’s gained a reputation for making inflammatory statements.

“We’ve had numerous instances where people said that I just don’t feel comfortable going to testify, because I know I’m going to get confronted,” Hicks said. “Now we’ve finally had a formal complaint to that effect.”

Hicks said the complaint was “completely immaterial” to the Senate relieving Bouchard of his committee assignments. Previously, he was a member of the Labor, Health and Social Services Committee; the Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee; and the Management Audit Committee. 

“The most compelling reason that an action was taken was a long pattern [of behavior],” Hicks said. 

On the floor, Senate President Dan Dockstader (R-Afton) described Bouchard’s actions that were in violation of Senate rules. Bouchard, he contended, showed support for “vulgar and threatening” attacks on other Senate members, and he used “intimidating tactics” against other senators and members of the public. 

“All this impugns the integrity of the legislative bodies, which leads to a lack of respect for the Senate and the House,” Dockstader said. 

On the floor, Bouchard defended behavior others construed as intimidation before his fellow senators cast their votes. He read the text of a social media post that concerned the complaint: “I told the hospital lobbyist that video is coming on their COVID fear tactics.”

Bouchard explained that his intention was to cut a video from existing footage of the lobbyist testifying — video that’s already online — and he was undeterred by the potential for disciplinary action.

“I’m still going to do it,” Bouchard said. “I don’t think we understand free speech in this chamber if this is where we’re at right now.”  

After fellow sentators voted to take action against him, Bouchard called the punishment “stupid.” 

“It sets a bad precedent,” he said. “I’ll be able to float around more committees now. And maybe, since I’m not a committee member, I’ll be able to bring my own camera.” 

Ripple effect

Some legislators say that discourse within the Legislature has taken a turn for the worse since Bouchard was elected in 2017. That is Rep. Landon Brown’s (R-Cheyenne) perspective, he said, although he didn’t pin the decline of civility on Bouchard alone. 

Sen. Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) has been publicly targeted by Bouchard before, but said that he harbors no ill will for his Cheyenne counterpart. 

“It’s about the sanctity and decorum of this body,” Driskill said of punishing Bouchard’s conduct. That decorum, he said, is part of the way the Legislature does business and the old guard tolerated “no coloring outside the lines” when he was a freshman legislator: “You stayed well within the lines, or you could expect to be in the president’s office.” 

Rep. Bill Fortner (R-Gillette) supports Wyoming Legislature policies that are designed to maintain decorum and respect among legislators. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

Rep. Bill Fortner (R-Gillette) said that he’s supportive of rules and customs that are geared toward maintaining civility in the Legislature, so long as they’re applied equally to everybody. Those rules — like not naming fellow legislators on the floor, and always addressing the presiding officer — were an adjustment for the oil field welder after he was elected in 2020, he said. 

“When I talk to people, I might not use the best choice of words,” Fortner said. “My slang might just offend somebody … and if a guy is offended I say, 100%, I need to apologize to him.” 

In House Speaker Eric Barlow’s (R-Gillette) view, decorum and respect amongst representatives has not declined significantly in his chamber, made up of a larger pool of lawmakers that hasn’t seen as much turnover as in the Senate. 

“Let’s be clear, we always want things to be better,” Barlow told WyoFile. “But do I think there was a marked degradation [in civility]? I don’t believe there was.” 

Rep. Steve Harshman (R-Casper), a 20-year veteran of the Legislature, said there’s been a long-term erosion in civility in the statehouse, but he pinned that dynamic on the effect of social media banter and on societal shifts more generally. If there was any internal factor that has hurt legislator relations, he said, it was the 2010 arson that destroyed the Hitching Post Inn, where almost all of the Legislature’s 90 members once spent their evenings while in Cheyenne. 

“You ate dinner every night with somebody else, and you had to talk to them,” Harshman said. “I just don’t think there’s any opportunities for that anymore. The gavel goes down, and everybody just vanishes.”

Being disrespectful to others comes easier, he said, when you don’t know them.

An image of former Rep. T.C. Diers, a Democratic member of the 1913 Wyoming House of Representatives, still has a tear in it today from when the picture frame was broken over the head of member of the House more than a century ago. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

Harshman added that it’s worthwhile to look farther back into history when judging the current state of incivility. As long ago as 1913, he said, the Wyoming House of Representatives was so at odds that the Democrats and Republicans refused to put their pictures within the same frame. And the print of the Democratic representatives from that year has a tear in the middle.

“That picture got smashed over a member’s head, they were so pissed on the floor,” Harshman said.

Mike Koshmrl reports on Wyoming's wildlife and natural resources. Prior to joining WyoFile, he spent nearly a decade covering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild places and creatures for the Jackson...

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  1. The assertion that you must be rude and abusive to speak your truth is absolutely absurd. The inability to positively express your position without trying to harass and intimidate those who disagree is possibly evidence of a mental, emotional or moral deficiency. The Wyoming Legislature functioned for generations without that kind of behavior. There have been spirited and hard-fought debates on any number of issues but civility and decorum was nearly always maintained (when it wasn’t the offenders’ own party took them aside and corrected them).

    The Rules of the Senate are not secret, as a matter of fact they are available online to anyone who would like to read them. They are clear and unambiguous. When you take the oath of office you also agree to abide by those rules. If you don’t like one there are clear procedures for amending it. To whine about having to follow those rules after you have agreed to is childish. If you no longer want to follow the rules you agreed to then be an adult and resign.

  2. There once was a lad named Bouchard,
    Who fancied himself quite the card.
    Though known only as a GQP dupe,
    He endlessly pumps his own poop,
    ‘Til he’s hoisted by his own big petard.

  3. I support Senator Bouchards right to speak freely and to the point. To those of you folks that voted against him, I only support your right to not listen to words you don’t agree with. Shame on you for not supporting the 1st amendment and Bouchards right to free speech.

    1. His freedom of speech isn’t being restricted. He can still act like an idiot all he wants. He’s just not on any committees.

      Freedom of speech doesn’t mean you can be an ass and escape accountability.

  4. I think that the style of politics that Sen. Bouchard practices is why Trump was dis-elected.

  5. Bouchard should not and can not be silenced for being a loud, ignorant, reactionary and demagogue. That is what the voter of his district wanted and that is what they got. He can, however, be stripped of his committee assignments for being a bully and a boor. If there is any lesson, that is it.

  6. Bouchard’s whole social media shtick is childish and infantile. Perhaps that is why he is attracted to it?

    1. I did a restoration of the T.C. Diers photo, but can’t figure out how to post it. It won’t copy and paste to the comments box.

  7. with Rino’s like Liz Cheney and the Rinos in the Legislature one can’t be too extreme. “Extremism in the defense of Liberty is no vice”

  8. “You’re an idiot! There is absolutely knowing in the constitution regarding the separation of church and state.”

    I just love hypocrisy….Senator Hicks sent me the above response to an email copy of my testimony on SF0128 during the 2019 session. I thought it was funny and did not whine like a baby about it.

    Would you like more hypocrisy, the hallmark of the GOP, then look no further than Rep Wharff as he is hysterical over the #2a, for no good reason, but when it comes to the #4a, the Right to Privacy, he could care less and voted to look up a woman’s dress.

  9. You stated in this article: “Civility slipping in the statehouse isn’t a uniquely Wyoming problem. Nationally, pundits have bemoaned the decline of political discourse, which has become more confrontational — a phenomenon most prominently exhibited by former President Donald Trump’s communication style”. I agree that President Trump communication style is honest and to the point. He brought attention what has been going on behind closed doors with the Democrats & Republicans the past 30 years. Politics in the USA has become a blood sport. We as citizens are the spectators watching the gladiators. Read comments on Twitter to see first hand. HRC blind passion to become the first woman President fueled this type of communication politics. Clintons, Obama, Pelosi and the democratic party did what they did to Trump. He fought back because he is NOT a career politician. His style sucks. His policies were working for America. Today we have war, inflation and gas prices at all time high. Good job Democrats and Republican’s. Instead of fighting each other how about we come together. I love the statement below: “Elect Clowns, Expect a Circus”.

    1. Ms. Jernagan–The war in Ukraine was not of Democrat’s choosing–it is the result of extended isolation of a Russian tyrant and his messianic visions. High gas prices are a result of a global marketplace, not the Biden administration. Inflation is a global phenomenon, driven by Covid-snarled supply chains and shuttered manufacturing facilities worldwide (with substantial help from Trump’s juvenile, ill-conceived tariffs)–again, not the fault of the Democrats or the current administration. Broadening your horizons to more than Faux News, OAN, Newsmax and the Washington Enquirer and Breitbart might give you some actual facts on which to speak authoritatively!

    1. Yes. The voters of his district are to a large degree responsible for this. But the electorate in general has deteriorated and in a sense his district just mirrors much of hte rest of Wyoming for having lazy and thoughtless voters.