CHEYENNE — The Wyoming Freedom Caucus is pushing legislation that would change the attorney general from an appointed to an elected position, another move by the group seeking to change some of the ways in which governance in Wyoming operates.
The caucus admonished Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill in a statement on Tuesday for not joining an “important letter” signed by 21 Republican state attorneys general that admonished proxy-voting advisory firms for “placing radical social activism ahead of the financial interests of their clients.”
The caucus’ statement accuses “radical environmental and social activists” for taking advantage of proxy votes to “bully America’s largest corporations” into pushing “unpopular dictates.” (Two such dictates that the caucus highlighted as “unpopular” were net-zero emissions and affirmative action hiring policies.)
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It turns out that Hill wasn’t given the opportunity to sign the letter, according to the statement. But the caucus still called on the attorney general “to take a stand and protect Wyoming’s extractive industries and way of life.”
“Wyoming deserves an Attorney General who is accountable and responsive—this lack of advocacy proves that now is the time for Wyomingites to popularly elect our Attorney General,” the statement says.
Wyoming’s attorney general is appointed by the governor. The office holder provides legal opinions to elected and appointed state officials and represent state agencies in court. Because Wyoming attorneys general are appointed, they aren’t as beholden to the sway of politics as elected officials might be.
There is legislation this year — House Bill 107, sponsored by Rep. Scott Heiner, R-Green River — that would make the attorney general an elected position starting in 2026. (The bill hasn’t been assigned to a committee yet.)
Heiner, who is also a member of the Wyoming Freedom Caucus, sponsored a similar bill in 2021 when he was a freshman lawmaker, but it was never introduced in the House. That bill was also supported by members of the Wyoming Freedom Caucus, including caucus chairman Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette.
“It’s really a legal first line of defense for the state,” Bear said of the attorney general’s office during an interview by the House floor.
“As that first legal line of defense, we need that person to be promoting the values of the people around them.”
It’s one in a series of moves by the Freedom Caucus that demonstrates not only members’ determination to drive policy changes, but also a focus on changing some of the ways in which Wyoming government works on a more fundamental level.
Back in November, Wyoming Freedom Caucus members and sympathizers broke with tradition and ran for legislative leadership positions in the House against more senior lawmakers.
The Republican Caucus ended up choosing Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, to be speaker of the House over Wyoming Freedom Caucus member Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan. But one Freedom Caucus sympathizer — Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett — ended up being selected as House majority floor leader in a 29-28 vote against Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne. Neiman’s victory was unusual, given that he was preparing to enter just his second term as a lawmaker at the time.
Then last week, the Freedom Caucus scored a win when the House voted to up the requirements for overruling the powers of the speaker and House majority floor leader. The whole discussion around these requirements came from a Wyoming Freedom Caucus complaint stating that the House rules, which are reviewed every time there is a new Legislature, served “to concentrate power” in the speaker of the House.
Lawmakers aligned with the caucus focused in particular on a rule that said the House majority floor leader’s general file list, which sets the order in which bills will be discussed each day, could be changed with a simple majority vote. That’s been changed to a two-thirds vote. A two-thirds vote is also required to pull a bill from the speaker’s drawer.
In a statement, the Wyoming Freedom Caucus said the win was important because it prevents moderate Republicans from relying on Democrats to “get them to a simple majority on crucial votes.” Some lawmakers argued on the floor, however, that this move diminished the power of the body, and in turn diminished the power of voters.
While the Wyoming Freedom Caucus has upended some of the rules of the game, Bear pointed out that bills sponsored by other lawmakers have also sought to change the powers of certain government positions.
Rep. Kenneth Chestek, D-Laramie, for instance, is sponsoring a bill that would transfer the secretary of state’s elections administration duties to the State Canvassing Board. (One of the members of the State Canvassing Board is the secretary of state.)
The bill is similar to one that Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, proposed before the legislative session started, but ended up dropping because he didn’t see much appetite for it. Zwonitzer drew a line directly between the bill and Secretary of State Chuck Gray’s win in the primary election, citing concerns that the state could be “in a precarious position when it comes to election administration for the next four years” given Gray’s skepticism around certain voting practices, particularly the use of ballot drop boxes.
In the past, lawmakers have also pushed bills to strip powers from the state superintendent of public instruction and treasurer’s posts.
Beside the attorney general position, Bear said the caucus would also like for the University of Wyoming trustees to be elected. That makes sense given the caucus members’ past complaints about the university and its culture.
Bear didn’t support, however, a bill that would have put in place special elections to fill vacancies for some elected state and federal positions in certain situations, a process over which political parties (mostly the Republican Party) currently hold significant sway. (The bill died in committee last week.)
Right now, when there are vacancies in certain elected state or federal positions, the governor notifies the chairman of the political party that the last incumbent represented. Then, the party’s state central committee has to choose three candidates to forward to the governor. The governor appoints one of those three options to fill the vacancy.
Bear described the vacancies bill as a “direct attack” on the GOP State Central Committee and on the “grassroots” of Wyoming, though others argued that having special elections to fill these positions “puts the decision making back on the electorate,” as Gail Symons, owner of the nonpartisan blog Civics307, put it.
Last year, Gov. Mark Gordon filled two vacant positions through the current procedure. Both appointees – former state superintendent Brian Schroeder and former secretary of state Karl Allred – had been rejected by voters in the August primary elections.