Senate reverses course and reappoints Powell engineer to board

French and Laursen say governor forced the senate to ‘kiss the ring’

Posted 3/7/23

A day after blocking Powell engineer Dusty Spomer’s reappointment to the state’s Industrial Siting Council, state senators reversed course.

At the request of Powell’s two …

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Senate reverses course and reappoints Powell engineer to board

French and Laursen say governor forced the senate to ‘kiss the ring’


A day after blocking Powell engineer Dusty Spomer’s reappointment to the state’s Industrial Siting Council, state senators reversed course.

At the request of Powell’s two senators, the Wyoming Senate voted 24-7 last Wednesday to reject Gov. Mark Gordon’s recommendation to keep Spomer on the council for another six years. However, after the governor and others lobbied on Spomer’s behalf, the Senate reconsidered his appointment Thursday and confirmed him on a 17-13 vote.

“I was pretty thankful to have those folks show up for me,” Spomer said in a weekend interview. He said he’s glad to continue serving on the council, a volunteer panel tasked with reviewing the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of major industrial facilities like mines or energy projects.

Of Gordon’s 112 nominees that were taken up by the senate, Spomer was the only one to be rejected, and after Wednesday’s vote, the governor and his office began lobbying lawmakers to reconsider. The Petroleum Association of Wyoming, Powell Mayor John Wetzel, former state Sen. R.J. Kost of Powell and others also took up Spomer’s cause.

Ultimately, a total of 10 senators changed their vote from no to aye.

“After six years on the Council, it was clear that Dusty [Spomer] is qualified. Once members of the Senate learned of his contributions to the Industrial Siting Council, including the hours of time he had spent preparing and participating in hearings, they made the correct decision,” Gordon said in a Thursday statement. “The initial vote was an unfortunate example of a local spat trumping the qualifications of a well-vetted appointee.”


Dueling views

Sen. Dan Laursen (R-Powell) said the Senate had privately objected to Spomer and a couple other appointees Gordon announced Feb. 22. While the governor pulled the other nominees, he opted to stick with Spomer, leading to Wednesday’s vote on the floor, Laursen said.

When he and Sen. Tim French (R-Powell) asked their colleagues to reject Spomer’s appointment, they offered few details. Laursen referenced unspecified “concerns” and a desire to have someone “more closely tied to our energy sector.” In interviews, he and French said political disagreements with Spomer — who publicly endorsed their primary opponents in 2020 and 2022 — factored into their opposition.

“I would assume he [Gordon] would do the same thing, you know, when you got somebody that’s fighting to keep you off of something,” Laursen said. “If people don’t agree with you politically, that’s the way it goes.”

For his part, French offered, “When somebody has no qualms about getting in your face over things, when it comes down to appoint that very person to a board, sometimes you hesitate and say, ‘This guy’s been in our faces. Why on earth would we want to keep him on a board?’”

French also said he just didn’t think Spomer — a civil engineer and aviation consultant with the firm Ardurra and a member of the Northwest College Board of Trustees — was the right person for the job.

“I wanted somebody with [a] big time oil background for it,” French said. “But I lost my argument.”

The group representing the state’s oil and gas producers, the Petroleum Association of Wyoming (PAW), was among those to back Spomer.

“The Industrial Siting Council plays a significant oversight role in major development across the state, and it is poised to receive a record number of applications in the coming year,” PAW President Pete Obermueller said in a statement. “For the benefit of all Wyoming, members of the Council should be knowledgeable, forthright and unbiased. Mr. Spomer’s record on the Council speaks for itself.”

Mayor Wetzel also contacted eight or nine senators, encouraging them to reconsider their votes against the Powell resident.

“I think the community as a whole is strongly behind Dusty [Spomer],” Wetzel said in a Friday interview, “so I think it [confirmation] was the right decision.”


‘You gotta kiss the ring’

However, the governor’s lobbying effort and the Senate’s subsequent reversal left a bad taste in the mouths of both Laursen and French.

“It just turned into something other than about Dustin Spomer,” French said. “It just turned into a pure power play.”

The governor summoned Laursen and French to his office on Wednesday, one at a time, to express his displeasure after Spomer’s initial rejection. Laursen said Gordon informed him that the vote would be reconsidered.

“And you want to say, ‘Are you a senator? How do you know?’” Laursen said. “Well, he [Gordon] knows. He’s got the pitbulls and they were sent out.”

Given the reversal, Laursen questioned what the point is of holding confirmation votes in the Senate.

“It’s pretty disappointing and frustrating,” he said. “You gotta kiss the ring.”

French was similarly dismayed, saying the governor destroyed their friendship through his actions.

“He [Gordon] just flat wanted to show me and Laursen who was in charge. That’s all it was, and he forced over half of the Senate to bow down and kiss his ring,” French said Thursday. “What a bunch of baloney.”

He said Gordon “had no right” to meddle in what was the Senate’s business.

“... They flipped it. So kudos to them,” French said. “But it was pretty ugly how they did it and what they did.”

He charged that lobbyists and the governor “are in charge of the bulk of that Senate.”

“How do you fight that?” French asked rhetorically, “when you just want to do good, and there’s lobbyists or the governor’s office [that] has that type of hold on them?”


Moving forward

In his statement, Gov. Gordon thanked the senators who changed their votes — and thanked Spomer “for his tireless work and efforts to make Wyoming a better place.”

Spomer, who currently chairs the Industrial Siting Council, said he’s looking forward to the work ahead of the council, which typically flies under the radar.

Much of his work over the past six years has dealt with large wind and some solar farms. Upcoming projects include a review of a planned gold mine west of Cheyenne and, potentially in the future, Natrium’s proposed nuclear reactor near Kemmerer.

“These are big, big projects that mean a lot of jobs and income in the state of Wyoming and a boost to the economy,” Spomer said. 

He added that, “I think that Wyoming is going to continue to have to reimagine [its] energy portfolio in the future. And things like the Natrium nuclear plant are part of … figuring out what that next 50 or 100 years looks like. So, yeah, I’m excited about that.”

Spomer called the dispute over his appointment unfortunate, but “I guess I look at it [as] it’s a bump in the road, and we’ll keep looking forward. And, you know, hopefully everybody can put that behind us.”