Freshmen Legislators Reflect On Their Experience

Mar 3, 2017

2017 Wyoming Legislature
Credit Bob Beck

Early in the Wyoming legislative session, we heard from some new lawmakers about what they were expecting. With the legislature ending its 40-day session, the freshmen say they found that they have a healthy respect for the process, but leave with some disappointments.

Few people had a bigger upset victory during the election season than Sheridan County Republican Bo Biteman. He defeated the presumptive Speaker of the House Rosie Berger. He said that inspired him to work to get some languishing issues resolved. Biteman notes that he and other newcomers helped the more veteran conservative lawmakers to finally get some gun and abortion issues through the legislature.

"We had some momentum behind us, we kind of had a mandate from the people, and I think it helped push some of these bills that hadn’t seen the light of day in a long time kind of come around."

But he says there were disappointments. The biggest for him was the failure of the Criminal Justice Reform measure.

"Being on judiciary I thought that bill was good to go.  It needs to happen, we’ve gotta' get it done. I was a co-sponsor on the severance tax for coal reduction, I think coal’s hurting right now, I don’t see why they need to be paying one and a half percent more than oil and gas."

Fellow Representative Jamie Flitner of Greybull had high hopes for the House version of the education funding measure.

"I was hoping for a lot more unity and I was really hoping we would have found some tangible solutions and also begun a clear conversation that would have allowed us to find a solution. And right now I feel like all the work that we did in the first few weeks went for naught."

But Senator Anthony Bouchard of Cheyenne says getting his feet wet in a tough funding debate was actually a good thing. He says he and other freshmen will be more prepared in the future.

"But I hope it gives the new legislators that have come in, I hope they have an opportunity to reflect on it, because when they come in for a budget session, it’s going to be the same animal all over again."

Bouchard was not an unfamiliar figure among legislators. He was the leader of a very aggressive gun lobby whose methods were questioned. Bouchard wasn’t sure how he’d be accepted.

"Understand I was in a little bit different position because I was a lobbyist that pushed really hard on the outside and I had a few fences to mend, and once we did it was great."

Senator Lisa Anselmi-Dalton of Rock Springs said the days were long and sometimes the nights were even longer.

"Some things will really affect me, I’ll go home at night and start thinking that maybe I should have done something differently or I’ll start worrying about a vote and start researching it and actually driving my husband crazy by asking his opinion and maybe worrying about it a little too much, but that’s part of the process."

Cheyenne Senator Tara Nethercott said explaining a difficult vote to voters was new.

"Maybe explaining why to the constituency why those decisions are made, finding the time to do that in a meaningful and thoughtful way, knowing that there’s much more to the issue than just the headline. That there’s a lot of depth and a lot of substance that goes into many of these decisions."

Nethercott is someone who likes to go to bed early, but that was difficult. She was impressed with how hard everyone has to work.

“I had a sense for that before, but I now I have a true appreciation for what those long hours really look like, the significance of what it is we are doing, how poor decisions are made when we are tired and how we have to fix those decisions on the fly.”

While the positives and disappointments vary, the one thing lawmakers all agree on is the comradery.  Representative Bo Biteman said he developed a good relationship with Democrats who see the world much differently.

“You know we get along, we can debate issues civilly and respectfully disagree with each other and no it’s not personal it’s politics. That’s a breath of fresh air in today’s politics.”

In other words, this isn’t Congress.