Handling of censure resolution stirs conflict
By Sarah Pridgeon
During a contentious State Republican Convention on Saturday, delegates from across Wyoming voted against a resolution to censure Governor Matt Mead for his actions in passing SF104 and introducing Common Core Standards.
It was an unusual convention, says Ted Davis, fraught with political pressures and manipulations. No matter which side of the argument a delegate fell, there was reason to be disappointed in the process.
Of Crook County’s delegates, Wade Dennis, Charity Lindholm, Tyler Lindholm and Ted Davis voted to approve the censure, while David Holland and Nels Smith voted against it. A censure, says Davis, is a way for the party to give a verbal reprimand for a person’s political activities – it’s a “slap on the wrist,” he explains.
Davis voted for the censure, he says, because he feels that Governor Mead violated the party platforms that should be a “major consideration” for all candidates who run on the Republican ticket. One such platform says that the Republican Party respects the Constitutions of the United States and of Wyoming and believes they should be honored.
“Many of the delegates felt that the governor had acted on SF104 on a way that was directly contradictive to the Constitution of Wyoming,” he says.
“From a personal perspective, I voted for the censure because I wanted to protect the platforms and resolutions and the work that goes into them from the precinct and caucus level all the way to the state level. I wanted our leaders and legislators to respect those platforms and I felt that the governor was not honoring those ideas and was therefore worthy of censure.”
Regarding Common Core Standards, Davis points to a party platform that says the national education department should be dissolved and education should be handled at the state and local levels. Common Core Standards, he says, are regarded by many as being projected from a national perspective.
“When you have a governor who has pledged to be a Republican and reduce national influence, a lot of people found advocating for national standards to be a direct violation of the platforms,” he explains.
Not every delegate agreed with Davis’s opinion. Smith, who voted against the censure, strongly believes that it would not have been appropriate.
“The whole idea of the party censuring one of its officeholders is absurd and counterproductive,” he says.
If those who sponsored the censure are upset about SF104, he explains, their displeasure should be directed towards the legislators who passed it, rather than the governor. When the bill was signed, there was little indication that it would be deemed unconstitutional.
“The language both in the resolution and the debate seemed to ignore or be unaware of the fact that there is a presumption of constitutionality to a legislative enactment,” he says.
“In other words, when an act comes out of the Legislature and goes to the governor, as a matter of procedural law there is a presumption of constitutionality. It’s not an absolute, but it is a presumption.”
That presumption, he adds, was supported by evidence at the time.
“The review, before the governor signed it, indicated no problem. For the Supreme Court it was a very narrow decision,” says Smith.
“A resolution of censure is just absurd; the basis upon which it was being promoted had some wrong assumptions and a lack of knowledge. Having said that, I think that the Legislative Leadership handled it badly – but to beat up on the governor just makes no sense.”
Though he was not part of the committee responsible for writing the resolution, Davis believes that it was directed at members of the Legislature who voted for SF104 as well as the governor.
“That question was asked in the debate. I think the people who put the censure resolution together believed that, if they projected that censure to the governor, everybody else would get the hint,” he says.
“I don’t think they felt it was necessary to name every legislator who was involved.”
Davis suspects that the resolution failed partly because of the language used.
“I will tell you that the resolution was written poorly and had some language that smacked more of a personal attack than an actual political discourse. It had some bad wording that points to the governor being a leader in the Republican Party when he’s not,” he says.
“I’m sure there were people who voted against the censure because of the wordage.”
He also believes that, when a motion was passed to make the vote public, some delegates felt that reproaching the governor would create enemies for them in the Capitol. Others, he says, may have felt that the censure would have created an “irreparable split in the party” and didn’t want to take that risk.
While SF104 was being considered by the Legislature, says Davis, the executive committee of Crook County’s Republican Party unanimously passed a resolution brought by Smith to oppose the bill. This took place just after Senator Ogden Driskill cast his vote, which meant that he supported the bill without the party’s input.
He adds that Representative Mark Semlek did know of the resolution, however, and voted against the bill. In Davis’s opinion, neither legislator disrespected the party’s wishes.
Before the convention, says Davis, he believes that the local party asked for affirmation from delegates planning to attend as to whether they would stand against the censure. Those individuals who did agree to vote against the censure upheld their pledge during the convention, he notes.
“I think it’s important that people know the delegates stood by what they pledged to do,” he says.
The convention as a whole was unusual in several ways, says Davis, and seemed to have been manipulated in an attempt to prevent the vote from ever taking place.
Delegates were not checked in by the credentials committee, for example, leading to a first vote in which 134 voted against a measure and 139 for it, though the convention chairman had announced only 246 delegates in the room. A motion was later passed to move discussion of the bylaws ahead of the resolutions, pushing the vote further down the list of activities.
According to Davis, it felt as though the day turned into “one giant chess match between the people who supported censure and those who did not.” Delay tactics appeared to have been used in an attempt to put the censure vote off until time ran out.
“It felt like the whole day was set up to pressure the party not to vote for the censure. You wonder, was it intentional?” he says.
“Maybe I’m the only one who felt like that, but it was an incredibly unconventional convention. I don’t know that I’ve ever been as angry as I was that day and part of it was because the normal workings of our party did not function as they should have.”
Smith agrees that the convention was an unusual affair.
“I’ve never seen one like it – and I hope I never see another one like it,” he says.
Nevertheless, Davis is not of the opinion that the structure of the convention had great bearing on the outcome.
“Had they run the convention in the normal way, with the normal format, I don’t think it would have altered the results,” he nods, adding that this should not dissuade the community from getting involved in local politics.
“I would encourage people to get involved at the precinct level of party politics and then, if they feel comfortable, at the state level. It is a good process and a right process if it is followed.”