By Carrie Haderlie
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE — Both chambers of the Wyoming Legislature gave final approval Friday night to a redistricting plan that increases their numbers by three to 62 representatives and 31 senators.
With less than two hours left until a midnight deadline, the Senate voted 17-12, with one absent, to adopt the plan finalized earlier in the day by a joint conference committee. The vote came shortly after the House had approved the plan by a 44-12 vote, with four absent. The votes came at the end of a long day of debate, which itself followed a six-month redistricting process.
Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, said he was disappointed in the way the map changed so late in the game, and read a message from a constituent on the floor.
“This is a different map coming out at the 11th hour,” Brown said. “I am going to carry forward a message from one of my constituents. It was pretty sobering when I got this message, which was pretty derogatory toward me, and I took a little issue.
“But it said, had we been dealing with more of this, this bill first, sent it down the hall first, we would have had more time on this issue,” Brown said. “We would have had more time instead of the last day, than the two hours we have left. But instead, we were busy debating guns. We were busy debating abortion, we were busy debating non-issues in this state instead of our constitutional obligations.”
Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, said he was concerned that the map remained out of deviation and with unnested Senate and House districts in Sheridan County.
“We basically ran out of time, and it is kind of like when you run out of time and have to submit your homework,” Rothfuss said. “It isn’t living up to the standards and the obligations that we are supposed to put forward. We had an opportunity to have a constitutional map.”
Lawmakers from both chambers went into multiple private meetings throughout the day Friday to discuss changing lines on the statewide redistricting map before convening in public to vote on amendments.
A joint conference committee appointed to reconcile differences to House Bill 100, “Redistricting of the legislature,” made three amendments to the plan Friday before it hit the House and Senate floor.
The first was to Sheridan and Johnson counties, which will remain the only area in the 62-31 plan that is out of deviation. It would keep the rural communities of Arvada and Clearmont with a desired voting block in Johnson County. That means three districts in Sheridan and Johnson counties would be over an allowable 5% deviation.
“At this point, it looks like our map is in deviation except for Sheridan County,” Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, said.
Landen noted that both the Senate and the House had passed plans on third reading that also moved Arvada and Clearmont to Johnson County, rather than putting those residents into a district in Campbell County to better meet standard deviation requirements.
Landen asked the committee for support for the amendment.
“This one is important to our Senate, and I think that it would help some folks get to the idea that 62-31 could work,” Landen said.
Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, said the amendment represented a “great compromise.”
“Out of deviation is out of deviation,” he said. “It is a small price to pay for getting what everybody wants.”
The amendment received a 4-2 favorable vote.
Even after multiple meetings in private, details about how lines would affect individual legislators came forward in committee meetings, although lawmakers did not often refer to each other by name in public meetings.
The second amendment to come out of committee was to redraw lines within Casper, specifically adjusting Senate District 27 and Senate District 28 lines.
The changes would make the districts more understandable to the public and would leave the Casper area within deviation, according to Landen.
He brought forward the motion, which received a 4-2 favorable vote. That change did not come easily, however.
“I wasn’t going to necessarily bring this amendment, but as I talked to the other delegation in my county, this clearly makes the most sense,” Landen said. “But there is a further reason. I have been very disappointed. My integrity has been impugned, I have been threatened, and there have been pieces of disinformation and untruths that have been shared around this building, and I cannot leave that unanswered.
“I think it is despicable and think some of the actions by a member of the other body were unacceptable,” Landen said. “So, today, I bring you that amendment, and I think it is the best thing for our community.”
Landen did not explain further, but in an earlier meeting had said that Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, had “worked the floor” against his proposal.
In previous joint conference committee meetings, Gray had spoken against the Casper change and how it would affect House District 57.
“I stand in opposition to this proposed amendment on Natrona County,” Gray said Thursday at a committee meeting. “We had an agreement … and now it is being abandoned at the last minute.
“You can’t just draw these lines last minute with a crayon,” Gray said.
Friday night, on the House floor, Gray said that the things said in committee about him were “totally false.”
The third amendment came as one, but was divided in two for the purposes of a vote by the committee.
The first division, which was approved, moved seven people from the town of Bairoil in Sweetwater County into a district shared with Rawlins, where Bairoil is a part of Carbon County School District 1, to avoid a split ballot for those seven residents. That change was the only one proposed by the Wyoming County Clerks Association.
The other amendments, including the second portion of the third amendment, came from legislators themselves.
It would have moved a rural corner of northeastern Albany County into Senate District 11 primarily in Carbon County. That portion of the amendment failed, meaning that Albany County will move forward with four complete House districts.
Before the amendment failed, Sen. Ed Cooper, R-Ten Sleep, said that region of Albany County tied in well with northeastern Carbon County, and was accessible through either Wheatland or the Shirley Basin.
Before the amendment failed, Landen explained that it was an area “requested in the Senate chamber as we worked on 62-31.”
“It is an area of the world that that senator (referring to Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs) would like to continue to represent,” Landen said.
The redistricting map, he continued, “takes away a lot of folks in Albany County he used to represent,” including the town of Rock River.
During discussion about the seven residents near Bairoil, Malcolm Ervin, president of the Wyoming County Clerks Association, said he appreciated the level of detail the committee had paid to even the most rural communities.
“The level of detail that we are going into here is incredibly minute. We are talking about seven people; we are talking about shifting the boundary a block,” Ervin said. “These are very small changes, and I can’t tell you how much we appreciate the opportunity to do that. We are going to be stuck with this for 10 years, and we want to make sure it is in the best shape we can possibly make it.”
The redistricting votes were the last action taken before Gov. Mark Gordon delivered brief closing remarks and the 66th Wyoming Legislature’s budget session adjourned.