Zwonitzer: GOP residency challenge “came out of the blue”

CHEYENNE — A longstanding Cheyenne lawmaker said he does live in the district he was elected to represent, responding to a complaint his own party filed Tuesday with the Secretary of State’s office. 

“We own multiple properties in my district, and we have a large ranch south of town,” Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, said Tuesday evening. “We have an apartment complex, and so throughout the last year, after I did sell my house in 2021, we did move four blocks away to an apartment.” 

In a letter to the Secretary of State’s office dated Monday and received Tuesday, Wyoming Republican Party Chairman Frank Eathorne presented documentation the state GOP said would “indicate that Representative Zwonitzer is not residing in House District 10, the District he is representing, and has not resided in the District since perhaps February of 2021.” 

In fact, Zwonitzer was elected to represent House District 43, adjacent to House District 10, and has served that district since 2005. 

HD 10 is represented by Republican John Eklund, but maps attached to the complaint alleged that Zwonitzer’s primary residence is not inside HD 43 boundaries. 

Zwonitzer said that when he filed for office in May of 2020, he planned to live in his residence within HD 43 for the duration of his term, but a place that better fit his family’s future inside HD 10 became available in 2021. 

Zwonitzer said that while he has remained in town mainly for family reasons, he has not kept the fact that he purchased the new home a secret. 

“It is not a secret at all,” Zwonitzer told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. “Everybody in the Legislature knows this. The county party chairwoman knows this, the majority speaker knows it, the floor leaders know it.” 

The complaint from the state GOP came as a surprise, he said. 

“This came out of the blue, nobody has talked to me about this yet,” Zwonitzer said. “This has been out of nowhere, and it all came down very quickly.” 

Zwonitzer’s current term ends in December of 2023. 

Eathorne did not respond to a Wyoming Tribune Eagle request for comment Tuesday. 

Joey Correnti IV, chairman of the Carbon County Republican Party, said he brought his concerns to the Wyoming Republican Party at a Central Committee meeting over the weekend after weeks of hearing from people who “were concerned” about Zwonitzer’s residency.

Correnti said that according to documentation available to the state GOP, Zwonitzer had changed his primary residence, or at “least his name came up” on a title of a property outside HD 43 district beginning in the spring of 2021. 

“When you look at it in a linear sense, starting in late January, early February 2021, we started to have concern that Rep. Zwonitzer no longer occupied or owned the home that he registered in, and is also registered to vote at,” Correnti said. “Property records and tax records showed that original property had been transferred to someone else, and that individual was listed as an owner/occupant.” 

Correnti said he brought his concern to the state Republican Party on Saturday to seek a consensus that, as a party, the issue represented a legitimate concern. 

“The thing that clinched what I felt was a legitimate concern, whether Rep. Zwonitzer maintained the residence in his district or not, was because of his involvement as the co-chair of the Corporations Committee,” Correnti said. “Many of the (redistricting) plans being named ‘Zwonitzer Plan number whatever’ – almost every single one of them expands his current district to include the property which is now in his name.” 

According to the complaint, “evidence of potential gerrymandering” includes a conceptual plan presented to the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Interim Committee in mid-January that draws Zwonitzer’s residence within a proposed new district that the documentation calls “New District 35.” 

There is already a district outside Casper numbered House District 35. The Corporations Committee continues to discuss redistricting, and whether Cheyenne will have 10 or 11 representatives – or somewhere in between. 

Where those district lines will be drawn remains to be seen. 

The committee is scheduled to meet again all day Thursday. 

But Zwonitzer said if he were gerrymandering, “I would be gerrymandering myself out of my current district.” 

He also pointed out that he has not announced whether he will even run for another term after this one expires. 

Monique Meese, communications and policy director for the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office, said the official complaint was received Tuesday morning. She pointed to Wyoming State Statute 22-18-101, which covers vacancies in elected office, explaining that a vacancy will occur, if, during an elected official’s term, a member of the state Legislature “fails to reside in the legislative district from which he is elected.” 

“We will review (the complaint), and we will confer with the Attorney General’s office about how to proceed,” Meese said. “That is the process. We have shared it with the Attorney General’s office. They are going to tell us what to do. And we are going to listen.” 

The initial question, Meese said, is whether the Secretary of State’s office is even the correct place for such a complaint. 

The Attorney General’s office will likely weigh in on that. 

“Tons of folks have called today to ask, what is going to happen?” Meese said. “The answer is, we will review it, the AG will review it, and we will follow the directions of the lawyers. But the seminal question is, does this even belong with us? We don’t want to go out and be making determinations about what may or may not have occurred if it is not properly before us. 

“If you want to complain about some things relative to elections, we are the spot. When a complaint comes to us and we aren’t sure, we have a lawyer to tell us what to do, and that is where we are at,” she said.