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Editorial board: Opportunity or catastrophe?

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Wyoming’s financial situation calls for experienced leadership in the upcoming legislative session. It would be ideal if the lawmakers who are confronting the budget crisis head-on were knowledgeable, pragmatic and familiar with the process.

But that’s not entirely the situation in which the state finds itself. Three of the top four House leadership positions will be open this year: House Speaker Kermit Brown of Laramie is retiring. Majority Floor Leader Rosie Berger of Big Horn, who had planned to run for the speaker position, was unseated in a primary challenge. Speaker Pro Tempore Tim Stubson vacated his seat to pursue an ultimately unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives. The single remaining member of Republican leadership is Majority Whip Hans Hunt of Newcastle.

That loss of leadership is significant. Those positions carry an enormous amount of responsibility — these are the leaders who assign bills to committees for debates, decide which measures will be discussed, limit distractions and ensure proceedings move along as quickly as possible to make the most of the limited time available. In the upcoming legislative session, those last two elements will be as important as it has ever been. Lawmakers have a lot of important work to do on the state’s budget and other pressing issues, and there’s no time for frivolous measures or unproductive squabbling.

The sudden turnover, however, doesn’t have to be a bad thing, if other legislators are willing to step into the void. It means more junior lawmakers have a chance to demonstrate their abilities in both leadership and statesmanship. That opportunity is a valuable one, because impressions left in the wake of this critical session will be lasting. In the span of just a few weeks, lawmakers will address our state’s deteriorating economic situation as well as unrelated measures, since this a general session, not a budget-specific one.

That’s where lawmakers’ perspective and ability to focus will be most valuable. There is so much to do that they will have to prioritize very carefully. They’ll have to prepare to make tough choices as expediently and carefully as possible, whether those decisions are on budget cuts, Medicaid expansion, school funding or another topic. That ability is best acquired through experience — but we believe the state will elect passionate and dedicated lawmakers who will put in the work to ensure they are as prepared as possible to guide Wyoming through its budget crisis.

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