By Jasmine Hall
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE — Facing a deadline today to provide a written response to allegations of misconduct, Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, is not backing down from defending himself and criticizing some colleagues.
He has been called upon for a response following a complaint filed against him by Wyoming Hospital Association President Eric Boley at the end of the 2022 budget session.
While the investigation process itself remains confidential, Bouchard has been outspoken in his opposition.
The complaint could have been dismissed by Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, after consultation with floor leaders. Instead, things are moving forward so far. More points for legislators to make decisions about Bouchard may be ahead.
“These are tyrannical dictators,” Bouchard told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle this week. “I don’t work for so-called leadership. I work for the people. They abused their power, and it’s because I won’t bow down to them.”
Toward the end of the session, the full Senate voted to strip Bouchard of membership in legislative committees due to behavior unbecoming of a senator.
The lawmaker said there was a “whisper campaign” that started with Senate leadership to misuse the state Constitution and the Legislature’s rules. He does not believe the allegations, nor that individuals can have a complaint substantiated because he disagrees with them or because of the way in which he disagrees.
Misconduct is defined as violation of Article 3 of the Wyoming Constitution; the Ethics and Disclosure Act; any of the Wyoming conflict-of-interest statutes; violence or disorderly conduct during legislative meetings, sessions or during performance of duties; and bribes.
It has not been confirmed by Senate leadership which of these they are considering investigating.
“These are serious charges in the Constitution,” Bouchard said. “It’s not, ‘Somebody needs a safe space, and Bouchard is hindering our tranquility.’”
The senator has also responded privately to the Senate’s vote and members of Management Council’s decision.
After his formal response Friday, the panel may meet to determine if any additional evidence should be presented; the review would happen in executive session. All recordings, findings and proceedings would remain confidential.
Minority Floor Leader Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, said if the council does find probable cause for the complaint, then a formal investigation would occur. A special committee consisting of five senators would also be appointed by the Management Council, turning the process public.
After due process, in accordance with the rules, a decision would be made as to whether the complaint is substantiated. If it is not dismissed, then the special committee would make a recommendation to the Senate based on the investigation and any hearings.
Possible actions include dismissal of the complaint, censure or expulsion.
The Senate would still need to give an affirmative vote of two thirds to remove Bouchard from office, and it would have to occur during the next special or regular session.
While Bouchard is the only senator currently being reviewed in this manner, other legislators’ actions and alleged lack of civility have been brought into question.
Sen. Tom James, R-Rock Springs, was accused of recording during a private caucus on redistricting. Rep. John Romero Martinez, R-Cheyenne, allegedly made threatening comments to a third party about Rep. Andi Lebeau, D-Lander, and a former legislator.
Those lawmakers have not commented on the allegations.
James has defended Bouchard on social media, and made claims that many of his fellow senators have broken the Wyoming Ethics and Disclosure Act. If he were to file a formal complaint that was then deemed appropriate, others could be at risk of an investigation.
“I believe these people have no room to talk about the actions of another senator when they themselves are doing things that are far worse than anything Bouchard is accused of,” James posted to a political discussion forum on March 16. “These people should be investigated for what they have done, and are currently doing, and at the very least remove themselves from this honorable position, as it is clear (if found guilty) they do not have people’s best interest at heart.”
Other lawmakers say they are concerned about the atmosphere of the Senate overall, citing the past session.
“This Legislature demonstrates the least respect for the institution of any that I’ve served in,” Rothfuss said. “It is disappointing to see the infighting, poor behavior and acrimony among senators. And I am hopeful that future legislators will hold themselves to a higher standard.”
He said in his 12 years in the Senate, the focus used to be on policy and avoiding personal attacks on individual legislators. He said he has seen an erosion of the integrity of the institution.
University of Wyoming political science professor Jim King said that civility is one of the most important aspects of the lawmaking process. He said that in Congress and in state legislatures, debate is necessary, but keeping discussion at a higher level revolves around standard procedures, such as not directly engaging with one another and addressing the chair.
“The idea is simply, if you’re going to have an open discussion, you need to be polite to one another, you need to be civil,” King said. “That is the way issues get resolved, as opposed to personality conflicts coming into the debates on policy questions.”