EDITORIAL: New generation of legislative leaders must move to the front

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Right up there with the November election itself, there’s drama playing out in legislative circles about who will be the face of leadership, particularly in the Wyoming House of Representatives, when the next legislative session convenes in January of 2017.

Convergence of events makes this more than a normal year of succession in leadership positions in the Wyoming State Legislature.

There’s nothing out of the ordinary about turnover, and retirements from the top occur with regularity. In the Wyoming House of Representatives, for instance, the last four speakers of the House — retiring current Speaker Kermit Brown, Tom Lubnau, Ed Buchanan and Colin Simpson — have left the Legislature after their term as speaker. The current Senate President, Phil Nicholas, is also stepping down this year.

Typically, there are legislators working their way through the chairs of leadership to fill the vacated positions.

Not so this year in the House of Representatives. Consider that in addition to the speaker’s retirement:

— Majority Floor Leader Rosie Berger of Big Horn was defeated in the primary.

— Speaker Pro Tempore Tim Stubson of Casper ran for Congress (unsuccessfully) rather than seeking re-election to the Legislature.

— Only Hans Hunt of Newcastle, House Republican Whip, remains of those who served in the top four House leadership positions in 2015-16. Hunt won nomination in the August primary for his fourth term in HD 2.

Don’t misunderstand. This is not a crisis situation. The institution is strong. There are capable, experienced legislators to assume the top spots. And they will carry on.

The only question is who they will be, an answer that will be provided in caucus by the majority party after the November elections. Republicans hold a 51-9 advantage in the House at the current time, and that majority may be altered, but is not going to be tipped in this year’s election.

This might be dismissed by some as inside baseball. But it is more than that. Legislative leaders set the agenda and speak for the body; in effect, speaking for the people. We should be interested.

We should also be interested in developing future leaders in the Legislature. That means encouraging younger legislators to prepare to step to the front. No less than 26 of present House members have served four years or less. Another 14 House members with longer tenure are not coming back to the House in 2017. Two-thirds of House members will have four years or less in office when the next session is gaveled in.

The learning track for leadership generally includes chairing committees, taking an active role within legislative activities. Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, is a prime example. Just finishing up his fourth year of serving HD 50 (Willwood, Heart Mountain, East Cody and Clark), Northrup has chaired the House Education Committee for nearly two years. During that time, he has also been House chair of Select Committees on Statewide Education Accountability and Statewide School Finance Calibration.

He has more than passed the test of “chairing something.”

Northrup properly feels it would be presumptuous to announce he is going to seek any leadership position within the House before the November elections even take place; he is being challenged by Democrat Mike Specht of Clark. However, Northrup has said he would consider stepping forward to take on greater responsibility if re-elected.

For starters, Northrup eyes as an entree to leadership a House spot on the Management Council, the joint House-Senate body that governs the conduct of the Legislature and the Legislative Service Office. From this quarter, that’s good news.

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