- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 28, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Wyoming State Rep. Sue Wallis, a fiery debater known for sticking up for individual rights and the state’s agricultural community, died Tuesday. She was 56.

Wallis, a rancher and daughter of former legislator Dick Wallis, was found dead Tuesday morning at a hotel in Gillette.

Wallis started in the House in 2007. In recent sessions she had opposed proposals to restrict the right of Wyoming women to seek abortion services and stood up for granting equal rights to same-sex couples.

Wallis also had attracted national attention for her support of opening horse-slaughtering plants in the United States.

“Wyoming lost a great voice today,” Gov. Matt Mead said Tuesday. He ordered the state flag to be flown at half-staff at the Capitol and in Campbell County in her honor.

Representative Wallis was a poet, and her eloquence was on display whether she was writing or debating on the floor of the House or in my office,” Mead said. “The strength of her convictions was clear as was her commitment to the West and our way of life. I will miss her.”

The Gillette News-Record reported that Campbell County Sheriff Bill Pownall confirmed the lawmaker’s death Tuesday. No cause of death was given for Wallis, 56, but the paper quoted Coroner Tom Eekhoff as saying an autopsy is planned.

Gillette police responded to an EMS call at the Tower West Lodge shortly before 7 a.m., the newspaper reported. Fellow legislators said Wallis was probably staying at the hotel because an annual breakfast was scheduled Tuesday for legislators to meet with the public.

House Speaker Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette, called Wallis “a fine and dedicated citizen who wasn’t afraid to stand up for her principles and speak her mind.”

Lubnau said he didn’t always agree with Wallis on policy issues. But he added, “I’ve always respected her and her dedication to doing what she believed was right for the state of Wyoming.”

Wallis, a Republican, lived on her family ranch in Recluse, in Campbell County. Her husband, Rod McQueary, died in late 2012 just days before last year’s legislative session.

In an interview in December, Wallis said she intended to push a bill in the legislative session that begins Feb. 10 to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes. She said her husband’s death brought the issue of legalizing medical marijuana into sharp focus for her. She said he benefited greatly from medical marijuana from Colorado in his last days.

In debates on the House floor, Wallis often mustered a passionate debating style that drew on her own experience.

In 2011, for example, Wallis spoke against a bill that would have required Wyoming doctors to inform women seeking an abortion that they could view an ultrasound image of their fetus before the procedure. The bill, which was defeated, would have required doctors to inform the women in person, at least 24 hours before the procedure.

Wallis said that years earlier, as a young, single mother who already had three children, she made the difficult decision to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

“If the intention is to offer women some information, why can’t that be provided over the phone?” Wallis said. “Why can’t that be provided on the day that she travels across the state? It seems to me that the only reason that’s put in place is to make it more difficult.”

Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, said Tuesday that Wallis‘ death was a shock to other area legislators.

Sue was well informed, a very articulate speaker,” Von Flatern said. “I don’t know where we’ll find a replacement for her. She studied her subjects, she contributed greatly to our county delegation, and we’re so sorry to see her go.”

Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devil’s Tower, said Tuesday that Wallis‘ death was a tragic loss to the state and to the Wyoming’s agricultural community.

“She was a bulldog you know, she was really an incredible force on it, and was phenomenally respected, particularly on her ag issues on a nationwide basis,” Driskill said.

The News-Record reported a committee comprised of Republican Party precinct committee members from her district has 15 days to meet and nominate three people to the Campbell County Commission. Commissioners then have five days to appoint her replacement.

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