Wyoming Lawmaker Reprimanded by House Speaker; Vows to Do Better
Wyoming Speaker of the House Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, announced Wednesday that no disciplinary action will be taken against Minority Whip Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, for a controversial post she made on social media.
Sommers says he was made aware of the post on April 2, which showed an older woman holding at her hip a scoped black rifle with an external magazine and the words "Auntie Fa Says protect trans folks against fascists & bigots!"
Sommers says that while he found it "to be inappropriate, uncivil conduct for a member of the Wyoming House of Representatives that reflects a discernable lack of judgment," he didn't believe it amounted to misconduct.
"I have written Representative Provenza a private letter of reprimand," Sommers said in a statement.
"In coming to this decision, I was guided by my personal belief in the rule of law and the traditions of the Wyoming Legislature, not what may be politically expedient," he added.
Provenza in a letter to her legislative colleagues Tuesday said she was truly sorry for the fallout the post has caused, and that she would "do better moving forward."
"When I shared my post, I had intended it for my personal account where my friends and community members who know me intimately would understand the tone that it was intended to have," said Provenza. "Had I known that something I posted would be shared for millions to see, I would have chosen otherwise."
"I apologize for failing to consider the impact my words could have on you as members of this body and I strive to make better choices in light of these consequences," she added.
You can read Provenza's letter and Sommers' statement below.
April 11, 2023
Members of the Wyoming House of Representatives 67th Legislature of the state of Wyoming
Dear esteemed members of the 67th Legislature:
It is with a heavy heart that I write to you today.
As you are likely aware, several of my social media posts have been widely distributed for the world to see. While the accusations ascribed to my posts that I support terrorism and intended to incite violence are false, the fallout has brought shame to this body and to the great state of Wyoming – for which I am deeply sorry. I accept responsibility for my role in this and I will do better moving forward.
Regardless of the intentions behind my post, it has undoubtedly had negative impacts that I regret and for which I feel great remorse.
Because the post was shared so widely and printed in national news outlets, it has now been viewed by potentially millions of people across the country in a way that harms the integrity of the Wyoming House of Representatives and paints the great state of Wyoming in a negative light.
It pains me to consider the hurt that families in Tennessee are feeling and that they may believe that a legislator in Wyoming does not take their pain and grief to heart. That is absolutely not the case, and it tears me up to think they might believe otherwise. It also deeply saddens me that loved ones of other victims of violence are also grieving, and do so with each new school shooting. We have a nation that is constantly hurting, and my failure to recognize how my words could be used to hurt people is something that I am truly sorry for.
I also recognize that my actions have inadvertently increased violent rhetoric against trans people because of what this has blown up into. This is absolutely the opposite of what I want, and I am sorry that I did not have the foresight to prevent it.
I also recognize how my post is being used to potentially target members of this legislature. It has placed many in difficult situations and may continue to do so. When I shared my post, I had intended it for my personal account where my friends and community members who know me intimately would understand the tone that it was intended to have. Had I known that something I posted would be shared for millions to see, I would have chosen otherwise. I apologize for failing to consider the impact my words could have on you as members of this body and I strive to make better choices in light of these consequences. I apologize that my
words have been used to create weapons.
It takes a person holding a loaded gun to shoot someone—intent is not required, but ammunition is. I am sorry for having provided ammunition that has further divided this body and created distraction from the important work that must be done on behalf of our constituents. I hope that you can forgive me for my role in this mess, and I will continue to work to earn your respect as your colleague and your trust as a friend.
Sincerely yours in service to Wyoming,
Karlee R. Provenza
Representative, House District 45
Statement of Speaker Sommers Dismissing Complaints Against Representative Provenza
April 12, 2023
As Speaker of the House, I have received signed complaints about images and audio that Representative Karlee Provenza has posted on social media. These social media posts occurred outside of a legislative session or legislative meeting.
Social media has become the preferred platform for political attacks in Wyoming and the Nation. People and politicians no longer have to come face to face with someone to attack them or make a political point. Behavior on the internet has become beyond the pale at times. Social media can be used to spread misinformation, foster polarization, and aggregate tensions, representing the
worst in politics and personal behavior. Still, it is imperative to remember that political expression is protected speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 20 of the Wyoming Constitution. With this constitutional right also comes personal responsibility. We must remember that even constitutionally protected actions have the potential to deeply hurt others. Free speech is at times a messy thing.
I personally find Representative Provenza’s posts on social media to be inappropriate, uncivil conduct for a member of the Wyoming House of Representatives that reflects a discernable lack of judgment. The House has Joint Rule 22-1 to examine ethics complaints made against individual House members. Joint Rule 22-1 only applies to misconduct involving legislative duties. I asked
the Legislative Service Office for a legal analysis of misconduct within the scope of legislative duties as well as the protections afforded to legislators under the First Amendment. I am releasing that analysis along with this letter.
Misconduct involving legislative duties is defined in Joint Rule 22-1 as a violation of Article 3 of the Wyoming Constitution; the Ethics and Disclosure Act, W.S. 9-13-101, et seq; any of the Wyoming Conflict of Interest Statutes; violence or disorderly conduct during legislative meetings, sessions, or during the performance of legislative duties; or bribes or offers of bribes. Representative Provenza clearly did not post these images during “performance of legislative duties.” Further, Representative Provenza did not appear to violate Article 3 of the Wyoming
Constitution or the Ethics and Disclosure Act. Based on my review of the LSO analysis and after having consulted with Majority Floor Leader Chip Neiman, and Minority Floor Leader Mike Yin, I do not believe that Representative Provenza's communications on social media amount to misconduct involving legislative duties that is actionable under Joint Rule 22-1.
The Wyoming Legislature runs on its rules and traditions. Only one Wyoming legislator in recent memory has been completely removed from committee assignments, and that was an action taken by the body for a course of alleged conduct during legislative sessions and legislative meetings. In another instance, a legislator during a legislative session posted a violent meme on social media in
response to the body's action on a bill, and no disciplinary action was taken.
As Speaker of the House, I have held that civility towards each other is the mechanism to ensure we can work together. Civility is the basic expectation of how a member of the Wyoming House of Representatives should conduct themselves, both on and off the floor of the House. There is no doubt that social media can have a destructive impact on political discourse in Wyoming. I do believe the Wyoming Legislature needs to examine and debate the issue of social media with respect to legislative decorum. It is my intent that the Management Council's Legislator Ethics Complaint Procedure Subcommittee examine this issue.
Representative Provenza has recognized that her conduct was hurtful and inappropriate. Representative Provenza has written a letter of apology to her legislative colleagues, which I appreciated and accepted. I have written Representative Provenza a private letter of reprimand. If Representative Provenza in the future engages in conduct on the internet or during her performance
of legislative duties that fails to meet the decorum of the Wyoming House of Representatives, then I will take further action. I do not believe it is my role as presiding officer to police all legislators’ online activity, especially when they are not performing legislative duties. If I become aware of any further escalation of uncivil behavior online by members of the House that breaches the decorum of the Wyoming House of Representatives, I will take appropriate action.
At the end of my acceptance speech for Speaker of the House, I asked members of the 67th to show each other some grace in difficult moments because we all make mistakes. I have tried to utilize that philosophy with each representative that has made a mistake during my term as Speaker while ensuring the representative understands the severity of their actions. During the Easter Season, I am particularly reminded of the importance of compassion for one another. In coming to this decision, I was guided by my personal belief in the rule of law and the traditions of the Wyoming Legislature, not what may be politically expedient.
Representative Albert Sommers