Park County should be well-represented in the Wyoming Legislature on issues related to education, agriculture and travel in the coming years. For the 2019 and 2020 sessions of the Legislature, local lawmakers have scored a trio of seats on the permanent committees dealing with those three subjects.
Two Park County lawmakers — Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, and Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell — will continue to co-chair the Joint Education Committee. This area also has a third voice on the education panel, as Rep. Jamie Flitner, R-Greybull, will remain on the committee for the 65th Legislature. In addition to serving northern Big Horn County, Flitner also represents the Garland and Frannie areas.
Meanwhile, newly elected state Sen. R.J. Kost, R-Powell, has been assigned to both the judiciary committee and the agriculture, state and public lands and water resources committee.
A longtime Powell educator and current Powell Valley Hospital District board member, Kost said that, in addition to agriculture, he asked to be considered for the education and the labor, health and social services committees.
However, “because I am new to the Legislature I was open to wherever they assigned me and will do my best to represent the citizens of our state and the Big Horn Basin in all areas and will be happy to learn and help in the areas I was assigned to,” Kost said. “Obviously, I have strong passion for education and health and even though I am not on those committees, I still have a voice and will be active in all the areas as much as possible.”
On the joint ag committee, Kost will serve with state Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, and Rep.-elect John Winter, R-Thermopolis, who represents Meeteetse.
Another newcomer, Rep. Sandy Newsome, R-Cody, was assigned to the Legislature’s transportation, highways and military affairs committee and the travel, recreation, wildlife and cultural resources committee. Flitner and Winter will work alongside Newsome on the travel committee.
Meeteetse’s representative in the Senate, Sen. Wyatt Agar, R-Thermopolis, was tabbed to join the Legislature’s powerful appropriations committee; every two years, the panel crafts the initial draft of the state’s budget, recommending which programs should receive funding and which should be cut. Since he’s getting on the time-consuming committee, Agar will no longer serve on the corporations and transportation committees.
See the accompanying table for a complete list of committee assignments for the eight lawmakers who represent parts of Park County. Assignments for other miscellaneous committees will be announced at a later date, likely toward the end of the legislative session next year.
In addition to finalizing committee rosters, Republican and Democratic lawmakers chose their leaders on Nov. 17 and 18. No lawmakers from the Big Horn Basin made the cut, though Powell’s Laursen unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Tyler Lindholm of Sundance for House majority whip.
Laursen, who will start his third term in January, said he ran for the GOP’s No. 3 post because he “wanted to give legislators a choice.”
After four years in the House Republican Caucus’ leadership — as secretary/treasurer and then as vice chair — “I am ready to move forward in helping where I can,” he said.
In a break with a tradition of serving just one term, Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, ran for and was re-elected as speaker of the House for two more years.
Northrup acknowledged the election of Harshman to serve as speaker for back-to-back sessions is out of the ordinary, if not precedent-setting, but he supports the Casper Republican in that move.
“With the past election and the gutting of leadership, we really didn’t have anyone in the House with experience and psychologically prepared to be speaker,” Northrup said. “That really becomes a second job. The speaker is required to be at meetings in different places for days at a time all during the year.”
Laursen, meanwhile, favored Harshman’s challenger, Rep. David Miller, R-Riverton.
“It is not good for Wyoming,” Laursen said of a speaker serving a second straight term, adding, “For 110 years it has worked fine not having a repeat speaker.”
The Powell representative added that, “having both the House and Senate leadership from the same area is probably not so good, either.”
Another Casper Republican, Sen. Drew Perkins, was picked as president of the Senate. He’ll replace retiring Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton.
A pair of Laramie lawmakers, meanwhile, will lead the Democrats, with Rep. Cathy Connolly tabbed as minority floor leader in the House and Sen. Chris Rothfuss re-elected to that position in the Senate.
State Sen. Ray Peterson, R-Cowley, had hinted that he might run for president of the Senate in 2020, but in August, Republican voters in Park and Big Horn counties decided to replace him with Kost. In contrast with Peterson — who was seeking a fourth term in office — Kost ran on a platform that included support for term limits.
The new leadership teams were officially announced Monday, Nov. 19, following closed-door meetings that the two parties held over the prior weekend.
Members of leadership and all newly elected legislators will be sworn in on Jan. 8, when the legislative session opens in Cheyenne.
(Tribune Publisher Dave Bonner contributed reporting.)