Nels Jensen Smith, born on January 29, 1939, has left an indelible mark on the political landscape of Wyoming. As a dedicated member of the Republican Party, he made significant contributions during his career in the Wyoming House of Representatives, eventually serving as Speaker of the House from 1977 to 1979. But there’s more to his story than just politics. Let’s delve into the life and journey of Nels Jensen Smith.
Early Life and Education
Nels Smith was born in Newcastle, Wyoming, into a family deeply entrenched in politics. His parents, Peter and Helen Smith, were no strangers to the political arena. In fact, Nels’s birth coincided with his grandfather’s tenure as the Governor of Wyoming. The governor’s mansion served as the backdrop for Nels’s christening, along with his sister, Connie Smith.
However, the Smith family’s story took a tragic turn in 1952 when 10-year-old Connie disappeared while attending a summer camp in Connecticut. To this day, her disappearance remains an unsolved mystery, casting a shadow over the family’s history.
Nels pursued his education at the University of Wyoming, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1961. With his academic journey completed, he ventured into ranching, becoming a hands-on ranch manager in Sundance, Wyoming, where he oversaw several ranches.
Nels Smith’s political journey began in 1962 when he clinched the Crook County seat in the Wyoming House of Representatives. As a Republican, he became a staunch advocate for various important bills, including pioneering the first strip mine reclamation law in the West. Smith’s dedication extended to championing populist causes, such as authoring a state constitutional amendment that barred the implementation of a state income tax and advocating for a sales tax rebate for elderly and disabled citizens.
In 1975, Smith was selected by his party to lead the Legislative Management Council, a position he held until 1978. His illustrious career saw him take on roles as the Majority Floor Leader and Speaker Pro Tem. In 1977, during his eighth and final term in office, Smith ascended to the position of Speaker of the Wyoming House of Representatives.
Post-legislature, Nels Smith remained deeply engaged in Wyoming politics. He presided over the Wyoming Taxpayers Association and played a pivotal role in the establishment of a state Budget Adjustment Account. In 1982, Smith aimed for the governor’s office, leading in polls leading up to the primary. However, he withdrew from the race due to ongoing health concerns.
In 1983, Smith assumed the role of Wyoming’s Public Service Commissioner. Actively involved in the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, he continued to serve on the state Public Service Commission until 1991.
Nels Jensen Smith’s legacy as a dedicated public servant and his family’s enduring impact on Wyoming’s history remind us of the rich tapestry of politics and life in this remarkable state.