By Maggie Mullen, WyoFile.com
Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan has referred a complaint lodged against Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne) to the Wyoming House of Representatives. The complaint, lodged by Zwonitzer’s own party, concerns his residency status.
“After consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, I hereby refer this matter to you, as the presiding officer of the House of Representatives, for investigation and resolution,” Buchanan wrote in a letter Thursday addressed to Speaker of the House Eric Barlow (R-Gillette).
The complaint alleges that Zwonitzer is living outside his legislative district. It comes as the lawmaker plays a major role in the state’s redistricting process, a role in which he has been repeatedly at odds with the state party’s positions.
“I am forwarding you this documentation, which indicates that Representative Zwonitzer is not residing in House District 10, the district he is representing, and has not resided in the district since perhaps February of 2021,” Wyoming GOP Chairman Frank Eathorne wrote in the complaint.
Zwonitzer has actually served House District 43 since 2005; the complaint incorrectly refers to House District 10. Eathorne filed it with the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office after the Wyoming Republican State Central Committee unanimously voted in favor of doing so at its Jan. 22 meeting. Carbon County GOP Chairman Joey Correnti was the first to raise the issue at the meeting.
“We do have — I don’t want to say evidence — we have documents that legitimize the concern that I’m about to present to you,” Correnti said before accusing Zwonitzer of moving out of his district and “practicing as an illegitimate representative.”
Zwonitzer maintains that he does live in his district. The lawmaker and his spouse own several properties in House District 43, he told WyoFile. That includes an apartment complex where he primarily lives. Zwonitzer said he and his youngest child moved into the apartment after his family sold their house and bought a farm outside his district in 2021. That way, Zwonitzer said, his youngest child could remain enrolled in the same school for the duration of his junior high years.
“It’s no secret to anybody that we bought a farm east of town,” Zwonitzer said, referring to the dozens of chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys his family now owns and the extra eggs he has delivered to the secretary of state and the Legislative Services Office, among others.
Zwonitzer characterized the complaint as “a political hit” and a “distraction to take away from the action of the State Central Committee over the weekend.”
Zwonitzer pointed to the voting process the state Republican Party used to select three candidates for state superintendent of public instruction. A group filed a lawsuit in federal court this week claiming that process was “unconstitutional.” Judge Scott Skavdahl on Wednesday temporarily blocked Gov. Mark Gordon from making a selection from the three candidates. Then on Thursday, Skavdahl denied the plaintiffs’ case. Gordon had not selected a candidate by press time, but is statutorily obligated to do so before Friday.
This is far from the first time that residency has come up in Wyoming politics.
Dr. Taylor Haynes’ residency was challenged when he ran for governor in 2018. As was Matt Greene’s when he ran for House District 45 in 2010.
Wyoming law is clear when it comes to residency of candidates, but not as clear for those in office.
According to state statute 22-5-102, a candidate must live in the legislative district they are seeking on the date they file for office, as well as the year prior. The statute does not indicate whether those requirements also apply to sitting lawmakers. More legal research was requested at the time of Greene’s controversy, Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) told WyoFile. The Legislative Service Office could not comment on the matter since it “will be required to provide legal guidance on the issues,” an LSO staffer wrote in an email.
It’s not clear whether the issue will be resolved before or during the legislative session in February. Correnti told WyoFile it is “a perfect storm of urgency,” since Zwonitzer also co-chairs the Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee, which is currently tasked with redrawing the state’s legislative districts.
While the secretary of state is generally tasked with resolving election-related complaints, Buchanan wrote in his letter that because the House of Representatives “is vested with the power to judge … qualifications of its members” the matter now lies with the House. That’s one more task added to lawmakers’ long to-do list.