House Speaker Steve Harshman, R-Casper, smiles during the opening day of the 65th Wyoming Legislature’s 40-day general session in 2019. Harshman spoke out Wednesday against a bill that sought to elect candidates for UW’s board of trustees.

LARAMIE -- The University of Wyoming Board of Trustees will continue to be selected through gubernatorial appointment after House Bill 83 failed introduction Wednesday.

The bill — which died in a 43 to 16 vote in the Wyoming Legislature’s House — laid out a plan to shrink the board, cut term lengths, and publicly elect trustee candidates.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, defended the bill under the banner of accountability.

“One of the reasons why I think the legislative branch is so important is because we are accountable to the people — we’re elected,” Gray said. “The state’s only land-grant university does not have this elected aspect.”

Speaker of the House Steve Harshman, R-Casper, spoke against the bill, calling it a “runaround” of the state constitution, which decrees that the governor will appoint trustees.

“I think if we want to run a bill like this, let’s run a resolution that changes the constitution to make it clear to our people what we’re doing,” Harshman said.

Constitutionality was not the speaker’s only objection, however. He said hosting an election for trustee positions, as some other universities do, turns the selection process into a popularity contest.

“Everyone that has these elected trustees regrets it,” Harshman said.

Gray responded that his bill was in line with the constitution and demonstrated trust in the electorate. Both previously, and during the bill’s introduction, Gray cited the dismissal of former UW president Laurie Nichols — as well as the board’s subsequent secrecy — as a reason for the bill.

House Bill 83 would have reduced trustee terms from six to four years, and would have reduced the board from 12 to eight trustees. It also could have done away with the political party quota that restricts how many members of a major political party can be on the board.

Under the dead bill’s proposed schema, the two candidates receiving the most votes from each of Wyoming’s seven appointment districts would represent the electorate’s choice for trustee candidates.

A statewide election to determine two candidates for the board chair would take place simultaneously. The governor would then select one candidate from each district, as well as a statewide chair, from the choices provided by the people of Wyoming.

An unrelated senate joint resolution — sponsored by Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton — also seeks to alter the UW Board of Trustees. The resolution would amend the state constitution to allow the appointment of trustees living outside Wyoming. That resolution is still awaiting an introductory vote.

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