Guest Column

Difficult legislative session should have consequences

By Khale Lenhart
Posted 4/9/24

The 2024 legislative session was a tough one. More than any other time in recent history, political divisions and personal grudges impacted the work of our elected officials. This is a …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in
Guest Column

Difficult legislative session should have consequences


The 2024 legislative session was a tough one. More than any other time in recent history, political divisions and personal grudges impacted the work of our elected officials. This is a troubling development and does not bode well for our future if we cannot quickly change course.

Historically, Wyoming’s Legislature has been more focused on problem solving and less focused on partisanship. After the election, legislators have tended to look at the idea, rather than the person proposing it. That is not to say that party or political identity have not mattered, but instead that good proposals have tended to get a fair shake, even if they came from someone on the outside of political power.

The same cannot be said about this legislative session. The best word to describe the 2024 legislative session is dysfunctional. Our Legislature formed into tightly connected political blocs, with only occasional deviations. It got to a point where, if certain legislators rose to speak for or against a bill, you could almost pencil in the vote count based solely on the fact that they had taken a position.

The tragedy in this is that it resulted in less careful consideration and more political gamesmanship. It felt as if a number of the bills brought forth on the floor were not intended to solve any problem but were instead designed solely to provide campaign fodder for future elections. When legislators begin legislating with the goal of getting themselves reelected, rather than do what is best for the state, that sets a dangerous precedent.  

As this was a budget session, the one constitutionally required obligation of our Legislature was to pass a budget. That almost did not happen. Fortunately, there are still statesmen in our Legislature that were able to complete the necessary business of our government, but they had to wade through self-serving colleagues to get there.  

As in every budget session, the House and Senate each passed a version of the budget before coming together to work out any difference. Unlike other sessions, however, this process was at genuine risk of failing to produce a budget. The Senate proposal cut every dollar of school construction, as well as many other items initially included in the proposed budget. The Senate’s approach was like using an ax, rather than a scalpel, to perform surgery. The cuts certainly occurred, but in a far less thoughtful way and with a lot of unnecessary damage.

The House budget approach left more funding intact, which meant that the two chambers were far apart in their numbers. The conference committee, where members of each chamber meet to negotiate the differences, was where the real danger arose. Given a ticking clock before the end of the session, the Senate negotiators decided to play chicken. When the House committee members made a first proposal towards reaching a compromise, the Senate negotiators did not respond for four days. The House, rightfully, took this as the Senate committee failing to negotiate in good faith and walked away. Fortunately, a new Senate committee was appointed and, rather than play chicken, the new members acted like adults, and quickly reached a compromise.  

The legislative wrangling this year felt personal. Political differences and difficult personalities are nothing new in the legislative process. What is new is allowing those factors to drive the agenda. Wyoming has typically had a Legislature that at least tried to focus on the issues, even if it was imperfect in its execution. This year, many in the Legislature seemed more focused on trying to put their opponents in difficult positions or deprive them of a legislative “win,” even if the result would have been good for the state.  

There is only one solution to this problem, and it lies with the voters. We cannot allow our politicians to let their own squabbles get in the way of good government. We cannot afford to let our Legislature devolve into self-serving or petty drama. The games being played have real-world impacts and this is not the place for settling scores. Those who have let their own interests cloud their judgment need to be voted out.  

Fortunately, we have an election coming up this year, so we can quickly correct bad behavior. There is no better way to get results than to show that actions have consequences. Simply put, there are some instances where we need to improve the quality of our representation. Playing games with our state budget, and the important things that it funds, should be disqualifying. Failing to negotiate in good faith violates the very spirit of the legislative process. We voters should take note and should show those legislators that we want them to work for Wyoming’s benefit, not for their own egos.  


(Khale J. Lenhart is a partner at the law firm Hirst Applegate in Cheyenne, where he has practiced since 2011. He is a former chairman of the Laramie County Republican Party.)