CASPER, Wyo. — The Wyoming House of Representatives on Tuesday, Feb. 15 considered a motion to form a special committee to investigate a complaint concerning the residency of Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (Laramie County).
Zwonitzer, who represents House District 43, has served in the legislature since 2005. Wyoming Republican Party Chair Frank Eathorne (who has been listed as a member of the far-right Oath Keepers that the F.B.I. describes as a paramilitary organization, according to WyoFile) requested “immediate investigation” into whether Zwonitzer has been residing outside of the district he was elected to serve in a January 24 letter to Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan, Speaker of the House Eric Barlow and Senate President Dan Dockstader.
Eathorne’s request for an investigation came pursuant to a resolution passed by the Wyoming Republican Party’s Central Committee and the letter purported to show evidence that Zwonitzer had not been residing in the district he was elected to represent “since perhaps February of 2021.”
The allegations against Zwonitzer regarding his residency center around his having sold a residence within the district and purchasing a different residence in House District 10, also within Laramie County.
While members are required to have resided within the district they are elected to serve for the twelve months leading up to an election, the Wyoming Constitution does not explicitly require a member to continue residing in that district after being elected, according to the Legislative Service Office. LSO adds that the constitution and Wyoming Supreme Court precedent show that the House of Representatives is the appropriate entity to resolve complaints about whether one of its members is qualified to serve.
Zwonitzer does not dispute that his family purchased a residence east of Cheyenne, but maintains that he has maintained residency in House District 43.
On the House floor on Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Tim Hallinan (Campbell County) motioned to convene a special committee to investigate the complaints regarding Zwonitzer’s residency. He called for the committee to be comprised of five members of the House appointed by the speaker.
Hallinan said that he brought the motion because he thought some members, including himself, did not feel they have seen enough evidence to make a decision regarding the complaint into Zwonitzer.
“I know many of you have already made your minds up based on the evidence you have found, but I have not,” Hallinan said.
He said that his call to form a committee was not made out of ill will toward Zwonitzer.
“We’ve all worked with Rep. Zwonitzer; we respect him and we want to support him but we also have an obligation to the honor of the House to maintain our honesty in dealing with these issues,” Hallinan said. “For that reason I made this motion … not because I have any animosity toward Rep. Zwonitzer. I don’t think anybody here should have any animosity towards him. I think that would be a big mistake if we did that.”
Rep. Bob Nicholas spoke against the motion to form a special committee to investigate the complaint into Zwonitzer, arguing that he has clear evidence that Zwonitzer has a residence within House District 43.
“I have a copy of where he lives,” Nicholas said. “I have driven by it. … I have a copy of his lease agreement.”
Rep. Scott Heiner (Lincoln, Sweetwater, Uinta) argued in favor of forming the special committee because the House’s investigation into the complaint against Zwonitzer would set a precedent that could be referred to in future complaints that arise. Heiner said that he thinks the committee would vindicate Zwonitzer, who he said he respects and has received guidance from during his freshman year in the legislature.
“We’re not on a witch hunt,” Heiner said. “We’re setting a precedent here. … Let’s not get myoptics [sic].”
Rep. Clarence Styvar spoke in favor of forming the special committee: “We need to get to the facts.”
Minority Caucus Chairman Rep. Mike Yin (Teton) asked what kind of additional information the proposed special committee would be seeking since the House has already been presented with information regarding the complaint.
“What kind of information are we looking for more than we already have?” he asked.
Rep. Mark Jennings (Sheridan) argued in favor of forming the committee and said that he would want such a committee formed if complaints were raised about him: “If it were me, I would want for the truth to come out.”
After the brief debate, the House voted down the motion to form a special committee to investigate the complaint into Zwonitzer. Barlow then said as Speaker of the House that he considers the matter closed.
“I consider the question of Zwonitzer’s qualifications to serve in the 66th House of Representative to be resolved in and before and by the 66th Wyoming House of Representatives,” Barlow said.
The consideration of the complaints into Zwonitzer occurred on Tuesday afternoon with the House looking to resolve that matter before taking up consideration a redistricting bill since Zwonitzer serves on the Joint Corporations, Elections & Political Subdivisions Committee that worked on a redistricting plan during the interim.
Prior to communicating the complaints concerning Zwonitzer, Eathorne appeared at the Joint Corporations Committee’s meeting in September 2021 urging it to approve draft runoff elections legislation.
After Eathorne told the committee that the party is watching the way legislators vote on the concept at all points in the legislative process and that Republicans are asking the party to track which elected officials are supporting runoff elections, Eathorne was chastised by a former member of the House who thought he was attempting to intimidate legislators.
Former Wyoming Rep. Bruce Burns, who said he has been a member of the Republican Party for 42 years, said during the September 2021 committee meeting the he thinks legislators should vote their conscience on runoff elections and no matter which way they vote, they shouldn’t be swayed by pressure from Wyoming Republican Party leadership.
“I get concerned when I see a chairman of the GOP sit up here and tell you they are going to take names,” Burns said. “Any legislator who is craven enough to change their vote because of intimidation tactics doesn’t deserve to be re-elected. And frankly, I’m very concerned when the leadership of the Republican Party threatens legislators and I don’t like it.”
Further context regarding the complaints into Zwonitzer shared on the Wyoming Legislature’s website include:
- Speaker Eric Barlow’s Letter to the Members of the 66th Wyoming House of Representatives
- Frank Eathorne’s Letter to Legislative Leadership and Secretary of State Ed Buchanan
- Representative Dan Zwonitzer’s Letter to Speaker Eric Barlow
- LSO’s Legal Memo to the Members of the 66th Wyoming House of Representatives