Former United States Senator Alan Simpson (R) from Cody, speaks at a Buffalo Bill Historical Center event.

Al Simpson feuds with Tea Party over Wyoming GOP

By Gregory Nickerson
— April 10, 2014

A recent exchange of letters between former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson (R) and  the Big Horn Basin Tea Party underscores the ongoing tensions between the moderate and far-right factions of Wyoming’s Republican Party.

In a March 19 letter to the Cody Enterprise, Powell resident Robert Ruckman wrote, “The Tea Party has merely acted as the conscience of the Republican Party to the chagrin of establishment Republicans.” Ruckman called his fellow Tea Party members “sheepdogs” who are, “geared toward protecting and helping others.”

Simpson, writing in an April 2 letter to the Cody Enterprise, implied it was time for GOP “shepherds” to round up Tea Party elements of the Park County Republican Party. “If the Tea Party is the self appointed ‘conscience of the Republican Party’ we are all in trouble,” he wrote.

That jab is the latest in a series of exchanges Simpson has had with the Tea Party. A year ago, Big Horn Basin Tea Party co-founder Robin Berry wrote to the Torrington Telegram that Simpson’s views don’t mesh with today’s GOP. “I am sorry that the good senator does not believe in his party’s platform,” Berry wrote. “[Perhaps] he should consider changing to a party whose platform he does support.”

Simpson’s April 2 letter laid out his positions as a GOP moderate. He is pro-choice, and favors reforming Social Security, Medicare, and defense spending to address the national debt.

Simpson is a long-time proponent of small-government when it comes to social issues. In the run up to the 2000 presidential election, he advised the Republican Unity Coalition, which sought GOP support from gays and lesbians. 

“Why should the sheepdogs force and foist their religious and political ideas on the rest of us?” Simpson wrote. “I thought the Republican Party was about these things: Government out of your life, the precious right of privacy and the right to be left alone. Did I miss something?”

Simpson actively supports same-sex marriage on that libertarian basis. Earlier this week he appeared in an ad in support of Freedom to Marry, a group advocating for same-sex marriage in conjunction with the Utah case being heard in a federal appeals court in Denver today.

The Big Horn Basin Tea Party responded to Simpson’s statements in the Cody Enterprise with a letter from Cody resident John Verderame. It read in part:

“[Why] is it that those of us who prefer to defend normal marriage, not support homosexual activism, not kowtow to the feminist agenda regarding abortion … are now branded as ‘haters?’”

Big Horn Basin Tea Party member Ray DiLorenzo had this to say about Simpson:

“Mr. Simpson has either forgotten, never understood or IS the liberal that looks at every compromise as getting closer to their goal of secular socialism … and they never give up! They have compromised our nation to near oblivion. I don’t need a political ‘shepherd’ to guide me through this life. … I’m an American!”

Over the past two election cycles, Tea Party supporters who live in the Big Horn Basin have worked their way into leadership positions of the Park County GOP Party, which was already widely considered one of the most conservative counties in Wyoming. The Big Horn Basin Tea Party group has taken particular aim at Sen. Hank Coe (R-Cody). Former state senate candidate Bob Berry, who challenged Coe in the 2012 election, is among the Tea Party members on the Executive Board of the Park County GOP. The local party fell just six votes short of censuring Coe in a convention held in March. Simpson criticized censure as a way of communicating frustrations against Coe.

“Let’s get to the nub of things. Sheepdogs hate Henry Coe,” Simpson wrote. “There is a very American way to handle folks like Henry Coe and it is done at the ballot box – not within little cabals and cults within the Republican Party.”

Coe’s opponents have been sharply critical of his work to pass Senate File 104 during the 2013 session. That law transferred most of the duties of state Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill (R) to an appointed director. Big Horn Basin Tea Party organizer and attorney Robert DiLorenzo subsequently represented Hill in a successful state Supreme Court challenge of Senate File 104, which ruled the law unconstitutional for removing Hill from “general supervision” of the public schools.

The opposition to Senate File 104 is not unique to Park County. In recent weeks, both the Platte County GOP and the Hot Springs County GOP voted to censure Gov. Matt Mead (R) for his role in signing Senate File 104. Read this Casper Star-Tribune article for more.

In an April 9 press conference Gov. Mead said he will continue to focus on his job without being distracted by the censures from the county parties:

“My job is to make sure I do as well as I can as governor. I am not going to be distracted by that issue. For the citizens of Wyoming, politics isn’t priority one. It’s how they are doing and how the community and state are doing. In my view, the state is in good shape. I try to do all I can to make sure that stays so. If they support the Superintendent they will vote for her, and if they are supporters of me they will vote for me.”

— Gregory Nickerson is the government and policy reporter for WyoFile. He writes the Capitol Beat blog. Contact him at greg@wyofile.com.

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Gregory Nickerson

Gregory Nickerson worked as government and policy reporter for WyoFile from 2012-2015. He studied history at the University of Wyoming. Follow Greg on Twitter at @GregNickersonWY and on www.facebook.com/GregoryNickersonWriter/

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  1. TEA party supporters do not ‘hate’ anyone. We do not approve of some elected officials ‘selling’ our children’s education to the federal government as is being done with the acceptance of the substandard Common Core and the next generation science standards. There are far better options available and less costly as well. My definition of ‘extreme’ does not include standing up for and defending traditional and long accepted moral values. Funny, but the people who are doing the ‘name calling’ by hatefully calling us “right wing extremists,” ‘haters,’ “conservatives,” “flag waving patriots,” and “freedom loving Christians,” is it not they who are the people who would shove the unsavory, amoral activities down the throats of our innocent unsuspecting children. When you sit down and look at what they are proposing it becomes Isaiah Chapter five in our lifetime. This is not about the ‘freedom to live,’ it is about the ‘control’ over what is taught to our children about right and wrong.

  2. As a Wyoming citizen, I’m enormously proud that our elder statesman, Al Simpson, supports the freedom to marry the person you choose. His positions of freedom to choice reflects the patriotic values of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

  3. It is interesting to note that the Tea Party folks think of the electorate as “sheep”. I guess this explains their idea that a “sheepdog” or a “shepherd” is needed so that we don’t “stray from the flock”…

  4. No fan of Simpson given that he equates collecting SS benefits (which we pay into all of our working lives) with being on the government “teat.” But I agree with him that the Dick Armey/Grover Norquist/Koch Bros astroturf Tea Party sham has radicalized the Republican party and made moderacy all but impossible. It’s tempting to cheer them on since they’ve made Republicans unelectable in most national elections, but deeply polarizing the country isn’t good for anyone. It sure hasn’t worked out for the Ukraine and Crimea.

  5. These are people using the tea party for their own agenda. Because there are too many branch offs people start to think it is all one movement.

  6. Take the liberal element eating away at our freedoms, taking more and of our hard earned money with their taxes and regulations. If it wasn’t for the liberal element, we wouldn’t need a tea party.

  7. The evangelic/tea party types & the environgelic/green tea party types are a equally scary. Go Al