Bill would let political parties fill vacant county offices

By Jonathan Gallardo

Gillette News Record

Via Wyoming News Exchange

GILLETTE — A proposed bill would give local political parties the power to fill vacant seats in county elected offices.

House Bill 121, sponsored by Scott Clem, R-Gillette, would amend state statute to essentially cut the commissioners out of the process of filling vacancies on the County Commission.

The bill, which has been introduced, also has the support of six other legislators, including local Republicans Roy Edwards and Timothy Hallinan.

Commissioner Mark Christensen said the statute is “genius” and “already works fairly well.”

“Gillette is the perfect example. The party and the larger population aren’t on the same page,” he said. “If you attend any of the party meetings, you’ll find the majority aren’t in favor of the 1 Percent (tax), yet the voters regularly renew the 1 Percent.”

Now, if there is a vacancy in a county elected office, the central committee of the office-holder’s party gets to pick three finalists for the seat. Commissioners then select one of those three. If they fail to do so, a district judge makes the selection.

The bill, if signed into law, would let central committees fill a vacancy at a meeting of precinct people. The commissioners would get involved only if the central committee fails to make a selection at that meeting.

Christensen said the bill is “just bad blood” and a reaction to what happened at the end of 2018.

In October, Commissioner Clark Kissack resigned for unspecified reasons. After a four-hour meeting to find finalists for his replacement, the Campbell County Republican Central Committee selected Jeff Raney, Troy McKeown and Elgin Faber from a pool of 19 applicants.

Faber received support from two commissioners, which was one short of a majority, so the decision was then made by District Judge Michael N. “Nick” Deegan, who picked Del Shelstad.

The central committee is made up of precinct people, some of whom were elected in a primary, but there also are many who were selected by the local GOP, Christensen said.

“If you don’t keep the commissioners involved, you’re letting a group of unelected people pick the replacement,” he said.

He compared it to the president selecting members of his cabinet. He can choose anyone he wants, but those people have to be confirmed by the Senate first before they can begin serving.

“This has been the priority of the state (Republican) Party for a while,” Christensen said, adding that it has put forth a similar bill in the past, but it didn’t get much traction. “I’d imagine the state party will put a lot of pressure on these people to support this.”

With all the issues facing Wyoming, such as a deficit in education funding and the decline in coal production, “I’d like to know why this is the highest priority for those local legislators,” Christensen said.

Calls to Clem were not returned by press time.