Wyoming’s state legislative session kicked off last week, and the Jackson Town Council is getting down to business. Council members hired their first legislative advisor, Andy Schwartz, to help the town get its voice heard on the state level.
Schwartz has nearly a decade of experience in Cheyenne: He represented Teton County’s House District 23 for eight years and was one of few Democrats in the legislature. He just retired from the role, partly because the legislature was becoming “less collegial,” he said.
KHOL sat down with Schwartz to discuss his transition to a more behind-the-scenes role. We asked about some of the town’s top priorities this legislative session, and he said property tax relief is number one.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity. It was recorded on Wednesday, Jan. 11.
Andy Schwartz: Citizens are just being hit with incredible rises in home values. They’re consequently paying more taxes. It’s causing an exodus of longtime residents. It’s making it harder to bring people in. I would put that at the top of the list.
Other things are smaller issues. For instance, there’s a bill about allowing WYDOT to enforce HOV lanes, which would be new, which is something both the town and the county are very interested in. There’s a number of other taxation issues they’re paying attention to. As always, there are a number of liquor bills.
Hanna Merzbach/KHOL: I know our town and county usually swing Democrat. I imagine it’s challenging to have our voices heard in this legislature, which is majority Republican. How do you overcome those obstacles?
Schwartz: That is the common wisdom, that because we are Teton County — which is very different from the other twenty-two counties in the state, and we have a primarily Democratic delegation — that we have a problem being heard. I think I was able to deal with that issue pretty effectively in my eight years down there. You can’t always be emphasizing your own issue. By learning how to work with the other legislators on their issues, they are then more inclined to work with you on your issues.
KHOL: I know this session is a little bit different. We opened with this really divided Republican Party. How do you think that’s going to impact the work being done in Cheyenne?
Schwartz: I am hesitant to put too much emphasis on the divisions in the Republican Party. I know they exist. I think it is to be determined how that will play out. I think what’s more significant is that there are 27 new members of the House with no legislative experience. That, to me, is going to be more interesting to see, because most of them align themselves with the far right. There will be somewhere between 400 and 500 hundred bills and the bulk of them will not be based on ideology. They are going to be related to governance, and we’ll just see how that goes.
KHOL: You represented House District 23 for eight years in Cheyenne. Can you tell me some of the reasons why you stepped down?
Schwartz: It was a number of reasons. Partly it was personal just to have more time to spend with my family, which is the stock politician line, but there’s some truth to that. Part of it was a feeling that the legislature was becoming less collegial. Clearly, in my eight years, specifically in the last two years, it just wasn’t as much fun. And part of that was the increase in they call themselves the Freedom Caucus. It was just changing the nature of the legislature, and I figured I had had enough.
KHOL: The Jackson City Council hired you as its first legislative advisor. How does this represent a shift in how the town tries to get its voice heard on the state level?
Schwartz: I think there’s two parts to it. One part will be being in Cheyenne and representing the town of Jackson on the bills they consider priorities. But I think the other component is working with the council to prevent problems from occurring in the first place so that they’re aware of how they are perceived in Cheyenne and how their actions will be perceived around the state and making sure they’re doing that in a way that they can make their positions clear ahead of time. So I think the ideal is to be proactive instead of reactive to what’s happening down in Cheyenne.