Proposed legislative maps highlight Wyoming's rural-urban tension

JACKSON — Wyoming Senate President Dan Dockstader isn’t too thrilled with how redistricting is shaking out.

The way he sees it, losing a seat in the Carbon County area and adding a seat in Laramie County in response to demographic shifts would disadvantage rural areas at the expense of relatively urban ones.

“Once we move that seat it’s going to be difficult to get it back — if we ever get it back,” the Afton Republican told the News&Guide. “These rural areas need support in the Legislature. They need a voice at the table. When you look at Wyoming that’s essentially what Wyoming is. A great rural state.”

But others don’t see it that way. Some feel having more legislators in an area with relatively less population like the southwest part of the state would be unfair and not in line with the “one man-one vote” policy that’s supposed to underlie redistricting.

“I think it’s fine. That’s sort of the basis of our democracy, one man-one vote. So, where the population is needs representation,” said Rep. Jim Roscoe, an independent from Wilson. “It’s the way it should be.”

Dockstader and Roscoe, who both represent parts of Teton County, were reacting to the current state of a complex series of negotiations about how to redraw Wyoming House and Senate districts. On Dec. 1, the Legislature’s Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee advanced a map that would drop a seat in the southwestern part of the state and add a seat in the southeast.

The reason, generally, is demographic shifts.

The populations of Uinta, Sublette, Sweetwater, and Carbon counties have fallen between 2.6% and 7.4% since the 2010 census.

In contrast, the Jackson Hole and Cheyenne areas have grown. Teton and Lincoln Counties grew by 10.3% and 11.9%, respectively. And Laramie County grew by 9.65%.

That had some legislators like Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, argue for maps that would give Laramie County, of which Cheyenne is the county seat, 11 house districts rather than the 10 it currently has.

He told the News&Guide he hadn’t anticipated getting close to that number of seats in Laramie County.

“I guess you start from a position of strength, demanding 11 knowing you’re only going to get 10.5,” he said. “But I think it was a shock to the three of us on the committee, certainly, that we actually got 11.”

The committee’s as-yet top map doesn’t necessarily give the Cheyenne area 11 seats, though.

Rather, it gives Laramie County 10.75 seats in the Wyoming House, which is what Zwonitzer preferred.

But it would make up the other quarter of a seat by moving that district up into Goshen County.

And Goshen County legislators don’t want that.

“There’s very little, if any, interest, and, sure, opposition to being paired with Laramie County from Goshen County,” Sen. Brian Boner, R-Converse, told the Corporations Committee Dec. 1.

So, if the Goshen County legislators get their way, unfolding negotiations could leave Laramie with 11 full house districts.

And that presents a problem for apportioning senate districts, which usually have two house districts nested within them. With 11 house districts in Laramie County, one senate district in that area would likely have to be split between two counties.

Zwonitzer sees that as less than ideal, though it’s happened in Teton County for years.

“I do not believe it has actually helped the statewide plan,” Zwonitzer said of where the committee landed.

So things remain in flux.

In addition to figuring out how the Cheyenne area will be represented, the Corporations Committee needs to figure out how to handle maps in Campbell, Crook and Weston counties — some districts in Campbell are more than 6% above deviation from the ideal house district population of 9,600, Zwonitzer said — and how to handle the Bighorn Basin, which has lost a significant amount of population since 2010.

Zwonitzer is chair of the House Corporations Committee and said the joint body is set to meet again Dec. 14 to hammer out those issues. And there will likely be one more meeting before the Wyoming Legislature convenes for its budget session in February.

And things could change between now and then.

Dockstader, for example, is planning to bring back with Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, a map that would keep 14 rather than 13 house districts in the southwestern part of the state.

Part of that impulse is a desire for western legislators to maintain autonomy over what happens in the western part of Wyoming.

“With all due respect to my fellow senators and representatives, I don’t want them carving up the left side of the state,” Dockstader said. “We can work with it. We can find our own solutions.”

But Teton County legislators aren’t so upset with what’s proposed.

When Region 10 officials — the region that includes Teton, Lincoln, Sublette and Uinta counties — voted to submit a map that would have kept 14 house districts in the area, Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Teton, wasn’t too thrilled. 

He felt that map, which would have shifted Hoback, the Snake River Sporting Club and residents east of both to a House District dominated by Sublette County, was less than ideal for Jackson Hole.

The rub, in Gierau’s mind, was that map would have likely meant more of Teton County would have been represented by legislators from outside the county.

Gierau thinks the lead map, by contrast, would have greater Teton County influence.

Both House District 22 (currently held by Roscoe) and Senate District 16 (held by Dockstader) would encompass comparatively larger parts of the mountainous, tourism-dependent county.

“As time goes forward, the people that represent that district — not only the people who represent it now but also people in future elections — will have to be more cognizant of Teton County,” Gierau said.

That, he said, is better for Teton County.

But it remains to be seen whether the final map will be similar. That will be determined by the full Legislature this winter.