Legislators snag leadership roles
Driskill to become Senate President; Neiman elected House Majority Floor Leader
December 1, 2022
Continuing the recent tradition of punching above its weight, the small county of Crook can once again boast that both of its legislators hold positions of leadership in the Wyoming State Legislature.
During a vote held on Saturday, Senator Ogden Driskill was voted the new President of the Senate, while Representative Chip Neiman will start his second term in office as the House Majority Floor Leader.
As Senate President, Driskill will select committee members, appoint committee chairs and decide which bills are sent to which committees, and in which order.
Driskill was elected for his fourth term earlier this month. He served as Senate Majority Floor Leader from 2021-22 and Vice President from 2019-2020.
He most recently served as the chairman of the Corporations Committee and presided over redistricting efforts. He has also chaired the Travel, Recreation and Wildlife Committee and the Blockchain Taskforce, as well as serving on committees ranging from agriculture and revenue to appropriations, labor and health.
In addition, Driskill has served on the Select Water Committee; as a liaison for the State Lands and Investments Board liaison, state construction and Wyoming Gaming Commission; on the National Conference of State Legislators committee; on the Wyoming Energy Council; and in three governor’s task forces for forestry, state park concessions and wildlife.
In a press release announcing his election, Driskill notes he is the first senator from Crook County to be elected Senate President since Leslie Hauber in 1963 and also the first senator in Wyoming history to serve five different counties.
He points to a number of successes during his Senate career so far, including reform of eminent domain, legislating for charter schools to increase school choice, forming the gaming commission, revising the building code to allow for private rentals without onerous regulations, co-authorship of blockchain bills that brought almost 1000 new jobs and millions in revenue “without any government dollars being spent”, co-authorship of the “Food Freedom” legislation and legalizing firearm silencers.
He also notes that the general fund budget has been cut by more than $1 billion since he was first elected and state employee numbers have dropped by up to 700.
Over the next two years, he says his major focuses will include continuing to be “a budget hawk” and creating jobs and businesses without government spending. He is also, he says, “Working to tackle school choice, education budget stability and civility in the Capitol”, as well as looking for solutions to what he describes as “meteoric property tax increases”.
Cutting regulation and red tape while diversifying the economy will also be an important goal, he says, while continuing to support the energy, agriculture and tourism industries.
House Majority Floor Leader
As House Majority Floor Leader, Neiman will control which bills are heard and in what order once they have passed out of committee.
It’s an honor, he says, and humbling. To the best of his knowledge, the House has never before selected a freshman legislator for the role.
“This is completely unheard of – to their knowledge, this has never happened before. It’s kind of interesting to be part of a history-making decision,” Neiman says.
“The vote was tight, but over half of the representatives in the caucus…[supported me] as a freshman to take on the second position in House leadership.”
Neiman was nominated by Representative Scott Heiner (H-18) to run as part of what he describes as “a more conservative slate” for the top four positions.
Following a secret ballot, Neiman was named majority floor leader. He found this a surprise after hearing that his fellow nominees in the conservative slate had not been successful.
“I’m just so completely humbled and blessed,” he says. “I really wanted to do it for the right reasons and I believed I had support.”
Neiman’s opponent was Representative Jared Olsen, who was elected earlier this month to serve a fourth term in the House and was widely expected to win the position. When Neiman’s name was announced instead, he says, “It sent shockwaves through that room.”
“It was surreal – I still can’t really believe it, but I can tell you it’s quite real,” he laughs.
Neiman believes Crook County’s success in the legislature is indicative of its recent outsized role in politics as a whole.
“You talk to people around the state and there are so many who are so thankful and so blessed by what Crook County and its party has done to make a change – a paradigm shift – in the state. They watched it two years ago when my class came in and the party [financially] supported multiple candidates across the state,” he says. “Crook County and its people up here are changing the political climate of the State of Wyoming and people all over the state are thrilled.”
The county party repeated its success this year, he says, throwing its support behind winning candidates including replacing two Democrats, one Libertarian and one that was previously held by an independent who was not running again.
“There’s some major changes happening and people are going more to the right, more conservative in their thinking. I think a lot of these issues we’ve seen nationally and even statewide, and some of the stuff that’s being offered in our schools, I think people are very disenchanted and frustrated with some of the choices being made and parents need the right to have more say in what’s going on,” he says.
“That resonates with people who are more conservative and the people have spoken and Crook County is in the thick of it and has been supporting candidates who are going down there and making a real difference in who’s got the hand on the rudder of the state.”
Three of the four elected to House leadership are more moderate, traditional Republicans, he says, “But for whatever reason, that same body elected me to share those duties and responsibilities.”
“I think it’s indicative and a testimony to where the people of the state are going,” he says. “In my mind, it’s a huge opportunity for the folks who have been there for a while to reevaluate and have a look at what’s happening and read the writing on the wall.”
Neiman notes that this was the largest freshman class since the legislature was established in 1890.
“To me, that’s evidence that people are wanting change and are moving to a more conservative mindset,” says Neiman. “I hope people in the legislature see that and respect that and take advantage of that and do good work for the people of our state.”
Neiman intends to use his new position to ensure that legislation he feels is truly important to the people of Wyoming gets onto the floor and can be heard. For example, he says, one critical issue for the upcoming session will be trans athletes in women’s sport, which he is hearing from both constituents and legislators needs to be addressed, and also trans surgery for minors.
“School choice is an issue that people are very, very, very interested in,” he continues, stating that he has lost track of how many parents he has heard from who want schooling options for their child.
“Freedom is choices, so why would we restrict the parents’ ability to take the dollars that child is entitled to if they go to a public school [and apply them to] a private school, a home school, a Christian school or a charter school.”
Property taxes will also be on legislators’ minds, he says. The recent steep rises need to be addressed, he believes, because, “If we don’t, people are going to be pushed out of their homes.”