Colleagues remember longtime senator as legislative ‘sage’

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SHERIDAN — Longtime Wyoming Sen. John Schiffer, R-Kaycee, died Thursday morning at age 68 after a battle with liver cancer.

Colleagues described him as an unassuming leader, a straight-shooter and one who put family above all else.

Wyoming State Treasurer Mark Gordon, a business partner and friend of Schiffer, said he’d known the late senator for decades.

“He’s a godparent to my kids and the joy he had with children was just extraordinary,” Gordon said. “They just meant so much to him.”

Gordon went on to say that Schiffer has served as a mentor and friend to many legislators over the years.

“He was one of the greatest warriors for Wyoming,” Gordon said.

Schiffer had represented District 22 in Johnson and Sheridan counties since 1993. He was president of the Senate in 2007-08 and Senate Majority Floor Leader in 2006-07.

He was currently serving as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee after winning re-election unopposed in 2012.

Friend and former legislator Tom Kinnison of Sheridan had known Schiffer for a couple of decades and said some of the late senator’s accomplishments included his ability to listen to constituents and bring people together to accomplish common goals.

Kinnison said Schiffer was key in making Whitney Benefits student loans available to Johnson County students as well as helping to make the Whitney Academic Center at Sheridan College a reality.

Schiffer also worked with various groups — including the Wyoming Department of Transportation, landowners and the city of Sheridan — to develop a plan for the reconstruction of the North Main Street interchange in Sheridan.

“He was so diligent, he did his research and he shot straight with you,” Kinnison said.

Sheridan Mayor Dave Kinskey recalled Schiffer as a gentleman, who was very effective in representing his district and the state of Wyoming.

“He always operated in a very subtle, easy going, understated manner, which might lead you very often to underestimate him,” Kinskey said. “I think it was part of his approach.”

Kinskey added that when he was newly elected, he asked Schiffer for advice on whether as mayor he needed to lobby. Kinskey recalled Schiffer replying that he didn’t need to lobby, he needed to educate people.

Kinskey also credited Schiffer with helping to establish what was known as CBM impact funding, now called consensus funding. The funding was meant to offset impacts of coal-bed methane development in the state and continues to this day.

Rep. Rosie Berger, R-Big Horn, said Thursday morning that Schiffer had been feeling ill for a couple of months, but believed it to be pneumonia. On May 31, he was diagnosed with liver cancer.

Berger said Schiffer had received chemotherapy in Casper recently, but he died at home Thursday morning.

“He was such an unassuming man,” Berger said. “He’s been my mentor since I started in the Legislature. He was always the first person I called to say, ‘John, how do I do this?’”

Berger worked with Schiffer in the Legislature for 12 years and on the Council of State Governments for the western states. In 2012, when Berger was chair of that organization, Schiffer received the Distinguished Leadership Award.

Berger noted Schiffer’s enthusiastic support for juvenile programs and the major role he assumed in budget planning, wildlife and hunting issues, judicial matters and health care programs in Wyoming.

“I know that I will miss John’s friendship and leadership in many ways,” Berger said. “I believe that all of us in Wyoming have lost one of our greatest assets.

“John had the highest regard for his wife, Nancy,” Berger continued. “She inspired him to run for the Senate and continued to encourage him as he did the people’s work over the last two decades. We should all be thinking of Nancy and the rest of John’s family at this time as they have suffered a great personal loss.”

A rancher by trade, Schiffer was born in Chadron, Nebraska. He and his wife, Nancy, had two children.

Local Republican Party officials will nominate three people for the Johnson and Sheridan county commissions to consider as a replacement to fill out the two remaining years on Schiffer’s term.

By |June 20th, 2014|

About the Author:

Kristen Czaban joined The Sheridan Press staff in 2008 and covered beats including local government, cops and courts and the energy industry. In 2012, she was promoted and now serves as the managing editor for The Press. Czaban has a journalism degree from Northwestern University.