Colleagues and friends are remembering John Schiffer, a Republican state senator from Kaycee who died Thursday morning, as a mentor and leader.
Schiffer was 68 years old. He had liver cancer, said his friend and longtime business partner, Wyoming Treasurer Mark Gordon.
Schiffer has served in the state senate since 1993. He was president of the Senate in 2007 and 2008.
Gov. Mead ordered the state flag be flown at half-staff at the Capitol in Cheyenne and in Johnson and Sheridan counties, which is where his district was located, from Thursday until sunset the day of Schiffer's interment.
Schiffer was dedicated to preserving the integrity of the Legislature as an institution. He even wasn’t afraid to confront the governor when he felt it was threatened.
On Thursday during an editorial board meeting at the Casper Star-Tribune, Mead recalled with laughter angering Schiffer on a controversial bill before a committee on which he served.
Mead disagreed with the bill. Schiffer also disagreed with the bill and reassured Mead it wouldn’t pass. But Mead was worried and sent an advisor to visit with lawmakers. Schiffer was not impressed, suspecting the governor’s office was lobbying.
“He was upset about that,” the governor recalled. “He said, ‘Listen, you have got to let my committee do its work. And you’ve got to let the legislative process work. I told you we were going to address this. Some of my members have disagreements. Some agree. Some are in between. But this is my committee.’”
Both Gordon and Rep. Rosie Berger, R-Big Horn, said Schiffer mentored them.
In 2012, when former Treasurer Joe Meyer died, Gordon’s wife encouraged him to throw his name in for the job. He thought about it.
“My first phone call was to John,” he said.
“I had known him in my professional life,” Berger said, “And when I became a legislator, he was the first legislator I contacted. He has truly been my mentor, helping me maneuver the process.”
Berger said she recently learned Schiffer had cancer a couple weeks ago.
"But we thought we’d have much longer with John," she said. "And he had just started his chemotherapy last week on Thursday. We are all very much in shock. Our delegation (in Sheridan County) cannot even imagine not having John as part of our team.”
In 2013 and 2014, Schiffer was president of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. The two committees met during the interim period between legislative sessions to draft bills.
“If we’d lose a vote, he’d come find me and tell me how we could get it passed the next day,” Gingery said. “He was incredibly politically savvy and at the same time he truly cared about people, especially people with special needs, people who don’t always have a voice. He always spoke up for them, especially people with developmental disabilities.”
Schiffer, a lifelong rancher, knew the law better than most attorneys, said Gingery, an attorney for Teton County.
Schiffer was a fiscal conservative but he was also a conservationist, Gordon said.
“I think if you talk to anybody they’d say he was absolutely fair,” Gordon said. “He was one of the wisest souls.”
In 2003 and 2004, Schiffer was chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.
He also served as chairman on the Senate Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee, the Management Audit Committee, the Senate Revenue Committee, the Senate Rules and Procedures Committee, the Select Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse.
Gingery served with Schiffer on the mental health and substance abuse committee.
“He was the architect of pretty much our entire mental health and substance abuse system we use today in Wyoming,” he said. “It was an amazing committee, probably the best committee I’ve ever served on.”
Aside from his work in in the Wyoming Capitol in Cheyenne, Shiffer was a community leader. Gordon recalls him helping other ranchers during branding season.
“John was very much engaged in the whole process, and I watched with admiration as he sort of helped his son take more of a leadership role in the ranching operation,” Gordon said. “Just a very calm, quiet, thoughtful guy that had a very good sense of humor.”
In the 1980s, Gordon and Schiffer formed a ranching partnership together called 48 Ranch Partnership. Additionally, Schiffer had other ranching interests.
"My kids are his godchildren, and I’m a godfather to his,” Gordon said.
Schiffer is survived by his wife, Nancy, and two adult children. Funeral arrangements are pending.