CHEYENNE - After a seven-year hiatus, former Wyoming House Speaker Eli Bebout will return to the state Legislature - this time as a rank-and-file member of the Senate.
The Fremont County Commission voted 4-0 Tuesday afternoon to appoint Bebout over two other candidates to replace the late Sen. Bob Peck, R-Riverton, in Senate District 26.
The other candidates were Doug Thompson of Jeffrey City, a member of the county commission, and Lois Herbst of Riverton, outgoing president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. Thompson recused himself from the discussion and vote, Bebout said Tuesday evening.
Bebout not only attained the highest leadership spot in the House, but he also was the Republican Party's standard bearer in the 2002 gubernatorial election. He lost to Democrat Dave Freudenthal, who now is in his second term as the state's chief executive.
After occupying such a position of power in the Legislature, Bebout's desire to start over in the Senate was puzzling to many political observers.
"I'm actually number 90 out of 90, so there's only one place to go, and that's up," Bebout said in a telephone interview.
He said he always enjoyed the legislative process and working on issues and bills. After losing Peck, who was a good friend, he said he felt it was time to "step up and offer another choice."
"And I think I can bring some things to bear quicker maybe than other people possibly because of my experience," he added.
"I look at it as an opportunity to serve and work on some important issues," he said.
Working on a statewide campaign for governor, he added, was a great experience, "but all that is in the past now."
Senate President John Schiffer, R-Kaycee, said Tuesday that he will confer with Bebout before he appoints him to a couple of committees.
Because Bebout works in the minerals industry, he might want to serve on the Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee, Schiffer said.
"I try to match them up with something that at least they have some background in," Schiffer said.
"It's got to be quite a change in perspective for him," he added.
Senate Majority Floor Leader John Hines, R-Gillette, said being a freshman in the Senate will be a marked change for Bebout.
"After you're speaker, it's all downhill," Hines said. "You don't have the power."
Bebout was House speaker in 1999 and 2000. He will serve out the remainder of Peck's Senate term, which expires next year.
Peck, who died March 6 at 82, had served in the Senate since 1991. He was chairman of the Senate Revenue Committee and a member of the Senate Education Committee.
Traditionally, House speakers retire from the House, and very few have run for the Senate. The last speaker to do so was Bruce Hinchey, a Casper Republican who served one term in the Senate and did not seek re-election in 2002 after accepting a position as president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming.
Hinchey served on the Senate Appropriations Committee for his four-year Senate term.
Capital bureau reporter Joan Barron can be reached at (307) 632-1244 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.