January 4, 2022 |
As the Wyoming legislature draws new maps for state House and Senate districts in light of the 2020 census, lawmakers in Laramie and Albany Counties want a bigger slice of the political pie. If they have their way, the slices will come from Carbon County.
Laramie County wants an 11th House Seat even though the population falls short of requiring an additional seat. Representative Dan Zwonitzer of Cheyenne co-chairs the Corporations Committee, which is developing a redistricting plan. Zwonitzer wants to create the extra house seat for his county by dissolving House District 47 in Carbon County.
Under Zwonitzer’s plan, rural Carbon County would vote in House and Senate districts in Sweetwater County. House District 47 would disband. The Town of Rock River, now in HD 47, would return to Albany County.
The Zwonitzer plan is getting a big assist from Albany County lawmakers. House minority leader Cathy Connolly of Laramie told the corporations committee last week that her county has the numbers needed to create single districts for both the state House and Senate.
Changes in population are driving the issue. Between 2010 and 2020, the population in Laramie County grew by nearly 10 percent, according to the U.S. Census. Much of the urban sprawl occurred east and north of Cheyenne. Meanwhile, Albany County grew by more than seven percent, most of it around Laramie. During that same period, Carbon County’s population declined more than seven percent. Rawlins saw the biggest numerical decline of any city in the state. Nearly 1,100 residents moved out. Over that same decade, Cheyenne added the most new residents, 5,666.
House District 47 is the largest geographical voting district in the country. It stretches from Rock River to Farson in Sweetwater County. While large in size, it is dotted with small ranching communities which face similar issues.
Senate District 11 includes much of the same area. It, too, will be redrawn in a way that will take away the seat now held by Senator Larry Hicks of Baggs. Hicks told the Corporations Committee last week that small, isolated ranching communities will lose representation in the legislature under the Zwonitzer plan.
House District 15 is unaffected by any of the plans, although Rawlins would move into a Senate district that includes Green River. Senator Hicks spoke in favor of an alternative districting plan that would preserve the status quo in house and senate districts across Albany, Carbon and Sweetwater Counties.
Hicks said the “Sommers” plan is superior to the Zwonitzer plan because it keep recognizes the similarities of small towns and does not favor one region over another. Representative Albert Sommers, the House Majority Floor Leader, developed the plan. The five-term representative from Pinedale told the committee his map maintains the status quo and does not district anyone out of their seat.
Residents of Rock River have been voting in House District 47 going back to the 1990s. House minority leader Connolly backed up her claim that Rock River wants to return to the pre-1990 districting map, when it was included in Albany County, with testimony from County Clerk Jackie Gonzales and Rock River Mayor CJ Leslie.
Clerk Gonzales reminded the committee that an attempt ten years ago to rope Rock River back into Albany County failed.
The mayor of Rock River, CJ Leslie, told the committee that her town is not represented adequately in the legislature now. Leslie said politicians from Carbon County only visit her town during election season.
Leslie said she understood Rock River is just numbers on a map to lawmakers. The number for Rock River is 250. That’s the number of residents that would be drawn into Albany County under the Zwonitzer plan. Interestingly, that’s how many votes Rock River resident Julie McCallister received in the 2020 primary against incumbent Jerry Paxton. A precinct breakdown was not available to see if those votes were all from Rock River.
Carbon County Republican Party Chair Joey Correnti is sympathetic toward Albany County preserving the integrity of its boundaries with voting districts. Maintaining county lines is a goal of the state Republican Party during this process. Correnti told Corporations that Carbon County doesn’t need Rock River to maintain the status quo — as long as the Wyoming State Penitentiary is counted in 47 and not in Rawlins House District 15.
Correnti said part of the problem with the districting is that some counties, especially Laramie, are arguing that their more special and need more representation even though the numbers don’t support their claim. Zwonitzer’s argument is that Laramie County is growing and will reach the number before the next census – a kind of counting the eggs before their hatched proposition.
What the ultimate districting map will look like is anybody’s guess at this point. At least three major plans are in play — with multiple variations of each. House Speaker Eric Barlow of Campbell County — another district with controversy — expressed his frustration with the committee’s progress at last week’s meeting.
The Corporations Committee scheduled their next meeting for Wednesday, January 12th. The budget session convenes on February 14th.