Rep. Harlan Edmonds (R-Cheyenne) will not face further reprimand for saying Friday that he wanted a bill prohibiting discrimination against gay and transgender workers to become law “when hell freezes over.”
Edmonds made the comment during a committee meeting as a part of his proposed amendment to Senate File 115. In response House Labor Committee Chairwoman Elaine Harvey (R-Lovell) asked Edmonds to leave the room, and counted him absent during the vote on the bill. (Read the full story here.)
Edmonds later apologized to Harvey, and she accepted his apology.
“I have spoken with him several times since — we’re good,” Harvey said. “I am hoping that he’ll learn from this and become a good legislator. He is a freshman, he’ll learn.”
Harvey characterized Edmonds’ actions as a lapse of judgment, but not something that is irreparable. Edmonds will be welcome to participate in future meetings of the committee, she said.
Speaker of the House Kermit Brown (R-Laramie) said Edmonds also spoke with him about the matter, but would not elaborate in detail because their exchange was a private conversation. He said he would not hold the incident against Edmonds.
“We all do things from time to time that maybe we don’t exercise total discretion on, and heaven knows I’ve made my mistakes on the floor of the House,” Brown said.
“There is no vendetta or lasting reprisals against Rep. Edmonds, and I really want him to come along and be a good contributing member of the House. That’s over with as far as I am concerned.”
A ‘higher standard’ for civility
Before each session, all lawmakers attend a mandatory training on civility. “We have a pamphlet about it,” Harvey said. “It boils down to respect.”
When respect doesn’t prevail, House leaders have broad authority to act.
According to House Rule 15-2, the presiding officer over floor debate or committee hearings “shall direct any force needed to remove any and all persons … who in any way hinder the orderly progress of the House of Representatives.”
Harvey said she’s seen one senator ejected from a committee meeting for uncivil comments. That happened when she was a freshman legislator in 2003. In her own committee meetings she’s also asked members of the public to stop talking when she believed they were being disrespectful, but she’s never ejected anyone until now.
“That’s my job, to maintain order,” Harvey said. “I think we as legislators need to be held to a higher standard.”
Edmonds’ “when hell freezes over” amendment was inappropriate, disrespectful, and did not follow etiquette, Harvey said. She felt a duty to respond quickly to prevent any further disorder in the packed committee room, particularly during debate on a potentially volatile issue.
She said his comments violated the rules of decorum that she established at the opening of the meeting. “We demand civility, and anyone not displaying that will be ejected from the meeting,” Harvey said.
Former Wyoming Attorney General Pat Crank testified in favor of SF 115 at Friday’s meeting, and he agreed with Harvey’s decision to eject Edmonds. “Chairman Harvey set the rules at the outset,” Crank said. “He broke them, so she took action.”
Edmonds told WyoFile on Friday that his amendment was meant as a joke, but it fell flat.
“I watched it go down in person. It didn’t seem like he was joking,” Crank said. “His actions throughout the hearing seemed to disregard the importance of what the committee was doing that day.”
During the committee hearing, Edmonds attempted a “poison pill” — as he described it — to make discrimination by businesses legal, which ran counter to the purpose of the bill. Edmonds also asked bill sponsor Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) whether the non-discrimination bill could be used to protect pedophiles. Harvey felt that comment came close to being uncivil, and she gave him a non-verbal warning that she called “a mother’s look.”
“When people come from across the state to bare their most intimate details, whether it be their religious beliefs or their personal lives, I think we have even a higher responsibility to respect those feelings,” Harvey said. “They are all our constituents.”
Lacey Jones, a member of Latter-Day Saints Church and a mother of six, drove through a snowstorm from Gillette to testify in favor of the bill. Her oldest son, who attends Campbell County High School, is gay.
“I felt like the right action was taken,” Jones said later of Edmonds’ ejection over the amendment. “I think he saw the writing on the wall and it was pretty obvious it was going to pass, and the only reason he had to do that was to try to put in a cheap shot.”
Jones took offense at Edmonds’ comments equating LGBT people with pedophiles. “My own representative voted against it, I don’t have a problem with that,” Jones said. “My problem is that he (Edmonds) wanted to antagonize, and he was saying intentionally spiteful, hurtful things.”
Jones attends church every Sunday and considers herself a religious person. “I completely respect people’s religious beliefs. I just want them to show respect as they do so,” she said.
It’s not unheard of for lawmakers across the nation to treat each other poorly, even resorting to fistfights to make their point.
“Is that the way the public wants this job done?” Brown said. “I say no. I say the public wants this job done in a rational and measured manner, and to do that everyone has to have tolerance for everyone else.”
It’s been a long time since Wyoming lawmakers resorted to blows. One such incident happened in the early 20th century, resulting in a picture being taken from the wall and smashed over an unidentified lawmaker’s head. The torn image still hangs outside the third floor gallery of the House. (See page 14 of this document for a longer description.)
As for SF 115, the House will hear the measure this week in a debate Brown expects will bring out “raw feelings” and “a lot of passion.” Such debates call for tolerance of all views, he said.
“You can’t handle these diametrically opposed views if one side is so rude and crude and intolerant that the other side can’t have what the Australians call ‘a fair go,’” Brown said.
“Everybody ought to have a fair go of it,” Brown said. “Everybody gets their say. They may not get their way, but they may get their say.”