Without its leader, blockchain looks toward an uncertain future

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House Majority Whip Tyler Lindholm enters the Supreme Court Chambers in February at the Wyoming Capitol. Lindholm, who has been a key advocate for blockchain technology, lost his reelection bid in August.

When a powerful incumbent Wyoming legislator loses, the defeat usually doesn’t make headlines outside of the state.

Then again, most lawmakers aren’t Tyler Lindholm.

After losing his reelection bid to Crook County GOP vice chairman Chip Neiman, Lindholm, the House majority whip and a burgeoning celebrity in the blockchain and cryptocurrency world, quickly became the subject of articles in Forbes and the cryptocurrency industry publication CoinTelegraph. Both publications questioned what Lindholm’s loss meant for a technological sector he played a large part in building in Wyoming.

“It’s kinda wild when Forbes is paying attention to a little old House race in northeastern Wyoming,” Lindholm said in an interview Monday.

With help from Lindholm, Wyoming has quickly become a leader in the blockchain world. The technology works like a digital ledger book spread out over a system of computers. Because the data is kept in so many locations, it becomes more difficult for someone to hack the system. That added security has many uses and is perhaps best known for its role in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.

In the last three years, nearly two-dozen cryptocurrency and blockchain bills have passed the Wyoming Legislature. Major players in the cryptocurrency world – Kraken and IOHK – have announced their intentions to move operations and jobs into the state. Meanwhile, a new legislative committee specifically committed to drafting legislation around blockchain and technology has begun work and will start introducing bills for consideration this coming session.

This winter, however, those bills – and the industry they are designed to support – will no longer have their champion. And in Lindholm’s place, others will need to step up. While Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, remains the industry’s clear voice in the Senate, Lindholm’s exit creates a significant hole in the House of Representatives.

“He was easily one of the best legislators I’ve worked with in my career,” Rothfuss said. “It’s going to be a big loss to the Wyoming Legislature not to have him around in a number of different capacities. It’s disappointing the folks in his district clearly didn’t understand what Tyler was bringing to the Legislature and the state, and I think they made an egregious error. But we need to move forward.”

While first-term Reps. Shelly Duncan, R-Torrington, Mike Yin, D-Jackson, and Cyrus Western, R-Sheridan, have advocated for blockchain technology, the lawmaker most experienced in the blockchain world is likely to be Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, who faces a tough reelection battle this fall against Democrat Amy Spieker. And whoever picks up the ball will have to work within a chamber with dramatically different power dynamics than prior sessions.

“This is innovative and very technology forward legislation,” Rothfuss said. “And not everyone is enthusiastic about an approach that makes Wyoming a leader. We have so many unknowns in the House and the Senate as we try to rebuild coalitions that will continue to support blockchain in both chambers.”

That said, Rothfuss and industry leaders alike believe the Legislature has already accomplished the difficult work of laying down foundations for the industry to build on. As the state starts to see the results of that work in the form of new jobs and revenue, Rothfuss said, the Legislature’s willingness to embrace new legislation will likely continue, causing few interruptions to the momentum that has already been built around blockchain technology.

Caitlin Long, a critical player in Wyoming’s blockchain and cryptocurrency sectors, says the industry doesn’t have much to recuperate, noting that most of the recent laws tied to the technology have advanced with veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate.

“Obviously, Tyler is a big loss,” Long said. “But most of the blockchain work is done. Really, the first two years of legislative sessions in 2018 and 2019 were the critical ones for blockchain bills, and the 2020 ones were not as important.”

The concern, however, is whether lawmakers are willing to embrace that momentum, and to embody the vision of a lawmaker who not only understood the blockchain industry, but was one of its most efficient advocates. As lawmakers move past building foundations for the technological sector, their focus is now shifting to more complex regulations centered around online security and other sophisticated pieces of legislation that will require a nuanced spokesperson in the House to push them over the finish line.

“That’s where I do have concerns moving forward,” said Rothfuss. “Without Tyler’s ability to really understand all of the pieces that are in place, all of the stakeholders and their interests and his position to clearly communicate with those stakeholders, I’m hopeful someone else will step into that role and pull those threads together as Tyler did.”

When he leaves the Legislature, Lindholm will need to find a new role to play. It’s just not clear what that will look like yet as his Select Committee on Blockchain, Financial Technology and Digital Innovation begins rolling out its 2021 legislative agenda this winter.

“I’m definitely always going to advocate for sound policy to help create opportunities for these companies to expand in the state,” Lindholm said. “As far as what role that is – whether it’s as a hobby or professionally – I don’t know. But I will always be a voice in ensuring we keep attracting new businesses. Because we desperately need those new companies.”

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