An agenda for the 2019 Central Committee Meeting — including a copy of a draft resolution that seeks to empower the county-level organization to “disqualify” candidates for elected office — is posted on the Campbell County Republican Party Website.

UPDATE 4.29.19: The Campbell County Republican party rejected the proposed resolution at its Saturday meeting with a 57-16 vote, according to a video of the meeting posted on the county party’s Facebook page.

“State law does not include a litmus test of how republican you must be to register as a Republican,” said precinct committeeman Doug Camblin before the vote.

Tom Raney, a resolution proponent, said if state law doesn’t exist to give county party officials an authority to choose who can run for office than the Campbell County GOP should push for a statewide change by passing the resolution.

After the vote, county party chairwoman Vicki Kissack said that “when you have this much energy,” she anticipates county parties will see more similar resolutions, according to the Gillette News Record.

—Ed.

In an effort to guard against “the infiltration of the Wyoming Republican Party by liberals and moderates,” the Campbell County Republican Party will consider a resolution on Saturday that declares the party has the “authority to disqualify” Republican candidates for elected office.

As written, the draft resolution conflicts with state law, according to both the Secretary of State’s office and a longtime chairman of the Senate Elections, Corporations and Political Subdivisions Committee. Major political parties are open-membership organizations in Wyoming which can not legally restrict membership or participation on ideological or other grounds.

The resolution’s author, Campbell County Republican precinct committeeman Bill Fortner, wasn’t certain on the idea’s legality but was clear on his determination.

“We’re gonna clean up this party,” he said.  

Campbell County Republican Party Chairwoman Vicki Kissack directed questions about the resolution to Fortner, but said the county party officials would “absolutely” look into any legal issues in the resolution.

Asked about the party’s legal ability to block candidates from running for office, Fortner suggested the party would remove the Republican designation from a candidate’s name on the ballot. That can’t legally be done without statute change, said both the elections divisions chief at the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office and Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) the former head of the legislative committee in charge of election law.

“I don’t think that such a platform could possibly survive a court test, even if state law could somehow be changed to permit local parties to have a veto,” Case said. “Our constitutions and the body of constitutionally upheld election law and practices thankfully prevent such practices.”

Pressed on the question, Fortner implied the party could choose not to endorse a candidate, which would be legal.

“The party would say these guys aren’t Republican,” he said.

At the Campbell County GOP meeting Saturday, the county central committee will be able to amend his resolution “until it does [comply with the law],” Fortner said. He suggested he’d push for steep changes to enforce ideological party purity.

“If its because we’re publicly funded that we can’t [disqualify a candidate] then we’ll get un-publicly funded,” Fortner said.

Whatever measure they might pass, Fortner intends to see it applied to election candidates all the way down the ballot, he said.

“We’d say this guy is not a Republican and he’s [got] non-Republican values and whether you’re the city council, the county commission, the state government, this would go clear down … whether you’re the [county] assessor any of that,” Fortner said.

Fortner’s resolution would call for the disqualification of any candidate who does not vote in accordance with the party platform 80 percent of the time.

The resolution cites long standing dominance of Wyoming politics as its justification. “Whereas; The Republican Party has held the majority of members in the Wyoming Legislature since 1937” and “the infiltration of the Wyoming Republican Party by liberals and moderates” as its reasoning.  

“They’ve been doing just about everything they can to get the majority,” Fortner said, “and they’re not doing it under the Democratic party they’re doing it under the Republican party.”

By “they,” Fortner said, he meant “liberals and moderates.” Fortner does not believe a moderate Republican can exist, he said.

“That’s like trying to interbreed a cat and a dog,” he said. “You got no founding principle behind that, [suggesting] ‘well we can [vote] one way this time and this way another time.”

To Fortner, a moderate or liberal running as a Republican “is like you standing outside the door of Walmart with a sign that says ‘I’m a parakeet’ on your head, he said. “Everyone knows you’re not a parakeet.”

If legally dubious, Fortner’s resolution aligns in principle with increasing efforts by Wyoming Republican Party officers to bend the state’s elected officials to their will. The 80 percent adherence to the party platform standard is one adopted by the GOP’s state central committee, which backed a pledge for elected officials asking them to follow the rule at a November meeting, according to meeting minutes obtained by WyoFile. 

Party officials have also tied campaign funding to voting records and distributed secret lists of bills approved or disapproved by state party officials to lawmakers, according to previous WyoFile reporting. The party lobbied heavily during the 2019 legislative session in a failed bid to limit voters’ ability to change political parties for primary elections. That effort raised the hackles of some Republican lawmakers.

The party has been more successful at blocking efforts to reform Wyoming’s tax structure away from its dependence on the volatile minerals industry.

Fortner: Critical infrastructure, coal plant bills not conservative

State party chairman Frank Eathorne and other leading Republicans have demurred on the idea that Gov. Mark Gordon’s victory in last summer’s contentious Republican gubernatorial primary drove their efforts to restrict primary voting. That denial came despite the role of one of Gordon’s vanquished opponents, Foster Friess, in the drive for change.

The party later cheered Gordon’s efforts to push back on some legislative budgeting maneuvers disliked by conservatives, and Gordon was the keynote speaker at a recent state GOP event.

Fortner remains unconvinced, and unlike state party officials, didn’t pull any punches. “In my opinion the Governor’s a Democrat,” Fortner said.

Still, Fortner opposes the party’s effort to restrict voters’ rights to change political parties. “That’s putting boundaries on our vote,” he said. He considered his resolution an alternative manner to prevent the election of moderates.

“Let’s not limit people’s free choice but let’s purify the party,” Fortner said.

Fortner, a veteran coal miner of more than 19 years, opposes new taxes and wants to see ever steeper budget cuts to compensate for the decline in Wyoming’s crucial coal tax revenues. “Every time [elected officials] need revenue they should take something away,” he said.

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Asked which bills were prime examples of Republicans betraying conservative principles, Fortner cited two controversial bills backed by industry lobbies. One was a failed bill to create steep penalties for protesting energy infrastructure, which Fortner said sought “to take people’s voice from them.”

Another bill Fortner thought was falsely conservative was a Senate bill to to keep aging coal plants in operation even when private-sector owners want to close them. The bill was popular among Republican lawmakers and passed with wide margins despite questions about its consequences for both the environment and free markets. The bill was brought by lawmakers from southwestern Wyoming concerned about the fate of the Naughton coal-fired generation plant near Kemmerer.

Fortner saw it as an effort by lawmakers to “seize and control private business,” he said.

 

CORRECTION: This story was updated to note that lawmakers from southwestern Wyoming brought a bill related to coal plants, not southeastern Wyoming as originally written in error. -Ed.

Andrew Graham

Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from Laramie. He covers state government, energy and the economy. Reach him at 443-848-8756 or at andrew@wyofile.com, follow him @AndrewGraham88

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  1. Politics has always been one of my chief forms of entertainment though out my life. I would describe myself as a flaming liberal Democrat, living most of my life among very self described conservatives. My gestation into a flaming liberal Democrat is mostly due to my work experience. I was very active in my local union trying to carve out a fair deal for myself and my co-workers. The thing I find in Wyoming is that it is not all that conservative, the support of public education is big to me and Wyoming gets an A+ in my book, Not the same as in the most conservative States. The abortion issue never seems to gain much ground in Wyoming, we like to keep private things private. I lived part of my life in North Dakota, which was pretty Democratic at that time. North Dakotans were famous for crossing over in the primaries to vote for the weakest Republican in the primaries. I remember a Republican candidate for Governor, who lived in my neighborhood, winning the Republican nomination and being crushed in the general election. I have to laugh at Bill Fortner from Campbell County in trying to keep the Republican county pure. Those scab coal miners of Campbell County are going to have to reap the whirlwind of the future.

  2. Dismayed by Wyoming Voters’ ability and willingness to choose a candidate dispreferred by Republican Party Leadership, Republican Party Leadership would now instead like to insist on choosing the candidate for Wyoming Voters.

    Limited-government, freedom-loving, we-the-people, constitutional conservatives I presume?

  3. If there’s no party discipline there’s no party. Most voters don’t have time to “get to know” the candidates – that’s a ridiculous suggestion. How many times do you need to have a beer with each candidate before you’re sure they’re not lying? It’s the party that should get to know the candidates. Let the Democrats run with the ‘D’ displayed proudly after their names. The Republican Party must do more to guarantee to the voters that and ‘R’ is actually an ‘R.’

  4. I hear the new dance craze in Campbell County is the ” Gillette Goosestep “.

    Remember, when doing a proper Goosestep, one never bends the knee.

  5. RINO – Republican In Name Only are filthy thick in Wyoming. Do the work in the voting booth, not through resolution. Get to know your candidates.

  6. We have a great “two-party” system in this country. One party offers racism and fascism. The other offers fascism and racism.

  7. True test for Conservative Republican characteristics: they should be fluent in Latin and be able to whistle all of Beethoven’s piano sonatas.

  8. So the party platform means nothing? You can say THIS is what I stand for even though I voted for THAT? Typical political sidestep. We see large numbers of switches from (D) to (R) in order to elect a candidate flying under false flags in Idaho all the time. If you aren’t going to stand on the party platform, why are you in the party, because you want to get elected! You can’t get someone out of the party because they don’t stand for what the party stands for? Too many people just vote a party line to not have some method of weening out those that have no intent of supporting what the party stands for, because too many voters have little interest in following the details of individual candidates and would rather vote the party line. Too many candidates DON’T pay attention to the party line and incumbents are very hard to unseat. This article applies to us in Idaho in many ways.

  9. This letter to the editor appeared in the Gillette News Record, today.

    Committee shouldn’t decide who’s Republican

    On this Saturday, at a meeting of party officials only, the Central Committee of the Campbell County Republican Party seeks to snatch the right of voters to choose who serves as an elected official away from the voters and “centralize” it with the Central Committee.

    A resolution has been submitted for consideration at the meeting (which can be found here: https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/ccwygop/pages/244/attachments/original/1556131797/Submitted_Resolution.pdf?1556131797).

    It says in part, “The Campbell County Republican Party has the authority to disqualify any candidate running as a Republican who does not uphold the beliefs of the Party as outlined in the Platform of the Party.”

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    Who gets to decide who is qualified as a candidate? The “Central Committee,” of course. Despots who headed “central committees” in the past, like Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and Fidel Castro, would be proud of the efforts to take away rights of the voters and centralize them in party hands.

    If only the resolution demonized others and stressed the need for only the pure to be decision makers, the attempted power grab would parallel those bloody power grabs from history.

    Oh, wait, it does: “The infiltration of the Wyoming Republican Party by liberals and moderates who have sought office by changing their political membership to the Republican Party have changed the appearance of the Party; and … The Republican Party believes that change begins at the local level.” This move to party purity is frightening and dangerous.

    We need to stand united against the power grabs of the few, who think they should make unelected decisions for the many. Call your precinct committee people or the central committee leadership — Vicki Kissack, Ed Rebich, David Horning and Janet Mader — and tell them you can choose your own candidate without “central committee” approval, thank you very much.

    Tom and Rita Lubnau, Charlene and Doug Camblin, Michael and Margie Von Flatern, Chad Trebby, R.N. “Nick” Jessen, Bill and Kelley Sims, Heidi Gross and Jerry Tystad, Rusty and Toni Bell, Mandy Reynolds, Mary and Fran Silvernell, Casey Elkins

    Gillette

  10. In the early 90’s, I was a Party Chair in Johnson County. The only gift of office I received was a copy of the Wyoming Electoral Code. That was our front line defense against voter and party suppression. The Wyoming GOP county and state leadership doesn’t need to fear liberal, progressives or social democrats like me, but the ornery Wyoming independents who are going to resist these Leninist party purity pogroms. Proof stands despite three bills with heavy handed rule bending and GOP threats did not get a party affiliation change bill through Cheyenne, they need to think again, I have served as an Election Judge in two Wyoming Counties, usually as a Registrar, and from that experience with folks changing and updating their registrations, a full third of Wyoming voters are those ornery independents.

    1. I do not believe that is what is going on here. first look at the party platform as it was originally intended and how it was hijacked going back to the first Cheney and a few others. The so called neocons.