CHEYENNE — Wyoming’s Speaker of the House has asked that a fellow legislator respond in writing to allegations that he does not live in the district he was elected to represent.
On Friday, House Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, said in a public statement that he received a complaint from the Secretary of State’s office initially filed with that office by the Wyoming Republican Party, requesting attention regarding allegations that the residence of Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, “may render him unqualified to serve the remainder of his term.”
Barlow cited Article 3, Section 10 of the Wyoming Constitution, which states that only the House of Representatives is qualified to judge whether a member “possesses the necessary qualifications to be elected to or continue to serve in the House of Representatives.”
“As such, the Secretary of State has properly referred the complaint to us,” Barlow said.
Barlow said he is conferring with House leadership and Legislative Service Office legal staff on the manner in which to proceed, under the Wyoming Constitution and the Rules of the House of Representatives.
“Additionally, I have requested Representative Zwonitzer respond to the allegations in writing,” Barlow said Friday. “Once I have received his response, and understand the options available for resolving this matter in an appropriate and expeditious manner, I will propose a course of action.”
Earlier this week, Zwonitzer told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle that he and his family own multiple properties in House District 43, which he was first elected to represent in 2005.
While he did sell a house in HD 43 in early 2021 and purchased a residence in HD 10, he said he has been living in town at an apartment building he also owns.
“We have an apartment complex, and so throughout the last year, after I did sell my house in 2021, we did move four blocks away to an apartment,” Zwonitzer said early this week.
Zwonitzer said he will put together an affidavit over the weekend to have notarized and submitted to Barlow by the middle of next week.
“I trust in the process and fully believe I am in compliance with the state Constitution and state statute regarding my residency,” Zwonitzer said Friday. “I will do anything asked of me, and if the process continues after my statement, if there is any further issue, I will work within the process to address it.”
The complaint was brought to the Wyoming Republican Party last weekend at its Central Committee meeting in Douglas.
Carbon County Republican Party Chairman Joey Correnti IV said he brought his concerns to the Central Committee after weeks of hearing from people who “were concerned” about Zwonitzer’s residency. He said he ultimately decided to bring his concerns to the party when considering the role Zwonitzer plays in the ongoing redistricting process.
The complaint letter was signed by Wyoming Republican Party Chairman Frank Eathorne and included attached maps under the label “evidence of potential gerrymandering.”
Zwonitzer serves as the co-chair of the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Interim Committee, which has been tasked with the state’s decennial redistricting process following the 2020 Census.
Correnti has often commented during committee meetings this winter. According to meeting minutes dated Aug. 16, 2021, Correnti, who serves as chairman of the Wyoming Republican Party Statewide Redistricting Committee, proposed a general plan for redistricting “with a county-line focus that pushes back against the one person, one vote principle and would require a constitutional amendment,” meeting minutes read.
“What we are planning to bring forward is a posture, not an entire plan, mostly an equation, that leans back towards the original constitutional language,” he said at that meeting. “I would like to speak to a county-wide focus. It is something we are going to stand hard on.”
According to a memo from the Wyoming Legislative Service Office presented to the committee early on in the redistricting process, the U.S. Supreme Court has found that state legislative districts are required to be “substantially equal in population under the Equal Protection Clause.”
The court has specifically considered “whether the Senate of a state could be determined by county boundaries, similar to the allocation of two U.S. senators to each state, despite substantial population deviations between the states.”
However, it found that unlike an entire state, “political subdivisions” of states, like counties and cities, “never were and never have been considered as sovereign entities,’” the LSO memo read. “The Court then went on to say that: ‘Since we find the so-called federal analogy inapposite to a consideration of the constitutional validity of state legislative apportionment schemes, we necessarily hold that the Equal Protection Clause requires both houses of a state legislature to be apportioned on a population basis’,” according to the LSO.
On Dec. 28, Correnti addressed the committee, asking for an amendment to the Wyoming Constitution.
“Carbon County has very little argument. We have the population we have, and we have always needed to share with another county,” he said. “The one problem I have is that none of the plans have ever come to the people of Carbon County. We have not had any public meetings. It is basically, we are going to do whatever makes the northwest corner and southeast corner work the best.
“I will come with the ask that the Wyoming Republican Party Statewide Redistricting Committee has had at every meeting since the beginning,” Correnti said. “If this process is going to continue to go ahead in the manner it is, based on the judicial relief, I would like to see a resolution drafted by the LSO to adopt an amendment to the constitution making this process what our constitution says we are going to do.”
That, he said, is draw lines based on county boundaries.
Zwonitzer often spoke about how the redistricting plan should shift based on 14th Amendment principles of one person, one vote, as delineated by the most recent census data.
Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, also said during the redistricting process that he has heard the argument that states are miniature versions of the U.S. Constitution, but that that argument has “failed at every single level.”