Legislative leaders led a post-session news conference Thursday not with a report on the bills adopted but to warn about the attack on the 2013 Legislature by special-interest groups.

"This institution is under attack, and I mean that seriously," Senate President Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne, said. "When legislators receive death threats to themselves or to their families, it is time for civility. It is time for us to act in a better fashion."

House Speaker Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette, continued the theme of legislators under siege. When interest groups say to use their language in a bill or they will get even, that's a threat to the legislative process, Lubnau said.

"I'm concerned for the future of this institution and for the openness we try to encourage in this capitol because of the actions of a very few people who are doing things not necessarily for the interest of the state or for the interests of better legislation, but to further their own interests," Lubnau said.

During their speeches when the Legislature opened in January, Ross and Lubnau had lamented the deterioration of civility and warned about radical fringe groups and their tactics. They said Thursday they had been prophetic.

Democratic leaders, Sen. Chris Rothfuss of Laramie and Rep. Jim Byrd of Cheyenne, agreed with the majority leaders.

"When we have individuals outside the process trying to circumvent it, trying to create situations where we have divisiveness, when people will be voted out of office if they make any changes to a bill, we need to move away from that,” Rothfuss said.

"We will not tolerate this type of abusive behavior to our members, and we stand together as an institution," Rothfuss added.

Legislative leaders have expressed their outrage over attacks on Sen. Leland Christiansen, R-Alta, because of changes he made in a bill aimed at curbing potential federal gun restrictions within Wyoming borders.

Ross said Christiansen, a "warrior" with special forces and a former law enforcement officer, received 1,500 emails from gun rights advocates who were angered because of his amendment.

The emails contained statements the writers never would have made in person, he added.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, did not bring up that gun rights bill for debate along with another proposal to give the state authority over gun laws in cities and towns. Both bills died.

Nicholas said Thursday information apparently was flowing back and forth through Facebook between senators on the floor and lobbyists in the gallery.

As majority floor leader he decided that there was undue influence on certain legislators, not only legislators cozy with the lobby groups but legislators who were not and that "debate was being stifled.”

Nicholas said he was reluctant to identify the lobbying group, but other legislators have said it was the Wyoming Gun Owners Association.

New law

A proposed new law adds electronic messages including emails to an existing law that makes it a crime to make threats of bodily harm or death. Senate File 159 cleared the Legislature this week and awaits Gov. Matt Mead's signature. It carries a penalty of up to one year in prison or a $1,000 fine, or both.

Anthony Bouchard, executive director of the Wyoming Gun Owners Association, said later Thursday that he heard the assertion in the House about death threats. He said he asked Capitol Police and was told the officers were concerned about some emails but they were not death threats.

Bouchard said he doesn't coach his members on being civil in writing emails to legislators. "I think they're adults," he said.

Bouchard also claimed the Legislature changed its rules to require people in the galleries to remain seated because of him. He said he has to stand to record voice votes on bills and was advised he could no longer do that.

The legislative leaders are "thin-skinned," he said. "We've never seen leadership do this before."

WyWatch Family Values is a group that lobbies on abortion and same-sex marriages issues, among others. "Every email we sent to our members we instructed our members to be polite and courteous, and the legislators are well aware of that," said Becky Vanderberghe, WyWatch's executive director.

Dan Neal, executive director of the Equality State Policy Center, said the first step should be to look at the laws already on the books to see if the criminal statutes are being violated.

"I think some of these organizations pursuing some of this legislation need to be sure they're communicating clearly with members," Neal said.

"They had plenty of security at the capitol this year," he added. "It's sad to be necessary but it seems they are trying to get ahead of it."

"You can't stop people from being stupid, but you can stop them from being criminal," he said.

David Picard, a seasoned lobbyist for many organizations, said it's difficult to come up with a solution because of the First Amendment constitutional right to free speech.

He is a member of the Capitol Club as a professional lobbyist before the Legislature. The club has a code of ethics that, if violated, can result in expulsion from the organization.

"I don't submit to bullying tactics to force legislators to vote one way or another. Our job as a lobbyist is to provide accurate and meaningful information to our policymakers,” Picard said.

"The only thing we have is our word and our credibility and our handshake. And that's the way we do business in Wyoming."

If he were to use some of the tactics that occurred this session he said he would diminish his voice and would harm the issue he is working on.

"And I wouldn't be in this business much longer," he added.

It would be very bad for policymaking to put any additional restrictions on how people interact with their elected officials, Picard said.

Yet Lubnau said in the news media conference the issue is one for the legislative management council to consider. The council, which includes legislative leaders, can figure out how to maintain openness and friendly relationships "and still protect our membership from these kinds of vile abuses, from folks who, because they're sitting alone in a room in front of a keyboard will say things to somebody  they wouldn't say to their face."

"It's happened to the point where it's affecting our processes, and we can't allow that," he said.

 

Contact capital bureau reporter Joan Barron at 307-632-1244 or joan.barron@trib.com

(12) comments

Sassy
Sassy

This problem is the Legislators started right out the gate with SF104. They did a Pi$$ poor job of trying to educate the citizens of Wyoming on why this bill was so important- to date they have not provided the facts on what Sup Hill did other than she chose not to clean their boots.

Secondly the citizens became very frustrated when the Legislators they "hired" thumbed their noses at them and their views.

What is wrong with citizens writing "their" elected lawmakers and let them know they wont be" hired " again.???

Come on put your "man panties" on.........

Sassy
Sassy

So now the black helo's and black Suburbans ( to be replaced with Subaru's on NG) will be tailing suspect citizens around the state.

I'm sure they will find a way for the $250,000.00 to be used by DCI ( AG's cops) to help defend the second amendment.

ken

I know Anthony Bouchard. He is no Charlton Heston. He makes a piss poor case for gun owners. He is an overbearing bully, who is a disgrace to true second amendment constitutionalists. His gun bills are not meaningful in our second amendment State. Want to lose the rights we in Wyoming we have been able to keep support the Wyoming gun owners club? A clown like Bouchard will fix that for us, forever for us.

Don Wills

I too know Anthony Bouchard. No, he's no Charlton Heston. So what?

Do you like the right to carry concealed without a license? That's one of Wyoming Gun Owners Association's "not meaningful" bills. You may not like Wyoming Gun Owners tactics, but they get results. The whining by legislators is the best evidenced of that. The good old boy network that has controlled the Wyoming legislature for a long time doesn't like citizens who send emails. Too bad! Yep, WyGOA is doing something right.

The NRA and GOA have been completely absent in all of the 2nd amendment legislative issues in Wyoming for the last decade. WyGOA has filled a void that is desperately needed to stop the gun grabbers at the Wyoming border.

You're the clown, Ken, for throwing mud at a truly effective organization without even identifying yourself.

pappy

I would certainly agree that making threats to legislator or their families is very inappropriate and should be dealt with by turning them into law enforcement. They should also make it known who these people are and organizations are. further more they should give in to the threats as it appears they may have done by passing the unconstuitional gun law they did at the last minute of the legislature.

With that said I think this was probably the worst session I have ever seen. I would agree with Sassy that this session started off anything but open in the way they handled the superintendent legislation. This should have and could have been brought well before the session. It could have also been referred to an interim committee for study. This would have allowed for the various audits to be completed and an open discussion with the voters to occur. The session went down hill from there.

Legislators need to realize that lobbists aren't there representing what is best for the state or the voters; they represent what is best for their interest group. This may be what is best for the state or it may not. For a legislator to construe a statement from a citizen that they won't vote for them again if they vote a particular way as threat is outrageous. They are supposed to represent the voters and if they don't they shouldn't be re-elected. Some legislators feel they are entitled to the position. Senator Rothfuss evidently feels that he shouldn't have to listen to the voters because they are outside the process. Maybe that's why voters are frustrated with the legislature because legislators feel they are outside the process. there is an attitude from many legislators that since you elected me I'm the expert and I will tell you what's right for you.

Sassy
Sassy

pappy- spot on - I hope each and every legislator reads this and takes action within themselves.

I also agree most people are strong and passionate in their beliefs - sometimes WE ALL say things we wish we could take back and "do over".

Nick M

Don Wills

“You may not like Wyoming Gun Owners tactics, but they get results.”

That’s what people just like you said about Hitler’s SA (for Sturmabteilung - the Brownshirts), especially throughout 1932 and 1933. The SA’s maxim? “All opposition must be stamped into the ground.”

Don Wills

What a ridiculous comparison! Defending the 2nd amendment in Wyoming vs. Hitler's brownshirts. It's amazing that this thread degenerated into meaningless drivel in just 7 posts. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin's_law

Nick M

Well, let’s see, now. A gang of right-wing thugs determined to advance their neocon ideology and get their way resort to heavy-handed intimidation tactics directed against serving government officials and your reaction is “You may not like Wyoming Gun Owners tactics, but they get results.”

No, Don, it’s a very apt comparison.

(And Wikipedia? No wonder oddball splinter-group political parties always splutter and die.)

Pops

Under attack or just being scrutinised by the constituents?

Wyoming Gun Guy

Is that the "Ken" from Casper that gets paid to push candidate’s propaganda? It's no wonder you're so bitter. Just like the politicians, you too don't like it when the lights are turned on during the backroom show. If the folks only knew what fibs people like you print for candidates that are only in it to win...and the fact that the candidate really doesn’t believe what they campaigned on. Oh yes, the "Tighten Wyoming’s Belt" campaign was truly brilliant Ken! Of course now we’re on to you and will be watching the candidates that you work for a lot closer.

SimplyAmerican

Ross, Lubnau, Rothfuss, Byrd, Christiansen and Nicholas?! What kind of threats? That they will be voted out of office? That they need to pound sand? Citizens should not make the mistake of actually believing these guys. All of them have no problem whatsoever in violating their Oath of Office, so they will have no problem in lying, exaggerating or distorting the truth to achieve their goals.

I question if there was more than the 1 threatened letter sent to a legislator mentioned in an article early in the session. I think the legislators mentioned above are using that specific event as a blanket excuse to ignore ALL communications from their constituents - which many of them have already been doing consistently for the past few years.

FOIA should be used to see all of their email. WY citizens deserve proof that what they are saying is actually true. We should not take their word for it. EVER. My guess is that this is a Saul Alinsky tactic being utilized to shift focus away from the real issue - their determination to move fwd with their agendas and run right over the Rights of WY citizens whenever they feel like it.

They always resent it when WY citizens watch them closely and communicate dissatisfaction with their performance as public servants. Next thing you know they will write their own anti-bullying legislator law to protect their fragile progressive feelings.


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