The 2022 election results appeared to enhance the ability of far-right Republicans to not only maintain their dominance in Wyoming politics, but build on it.


That grip on the GOP, however, has taken a hit. Party leaders’ actions this year appear to be a catalyst for more traditional Republicans to gain ground, and perhaps even retake party control. The return of many more moderate central committee officials in recent county elections may be a harbinger of this power shift. 

More establishment conservative and moderate Republicans made a concerted effort this year to file for precinct committee seats, which in previous years were given to more hardline conservatives.

Long-time right-to-life advocate and former legislator Marti Halverson lost her spot as Lincoln County Republican chair to former treasurer Wade Hirschi, who called for more party civility and unity.

Why does he think those qualities have been missing? Perhaps it has something to do with Halverson’s call in November for an investigation of Republican Gov. Mark Gordon. The resolution was baseless nonsense, but Lincoln County Republicans helped pass a state resolution alleging Gordon is in cahoots with billionaires George Soros, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett over development of the TerraPower nuclear project near Kemmerer.  

Admitting she had no evidence to back up the explosive charge, Halverson told Cowboy State Daily, “It seems very likely that this was planned amongst these subversive enemies of freedom.” No, she wasn’t kidding.

Laramie County Republicans, the largest GOP delegation in Wyoming, elected traditional Republican Taft Love as chair over Stacey Leach, whose daughter, Jessica Rubino, is state director of the far-right Freedom Caucus. 

Love offered an olive branch to the state party, saying Laramie County plans to pay the Wyoming GOP $12,000 that it withheld from its state dues because of internal conflicts. If the county party gets back in good graces with state Republicans, who refused to seat its 37 delegates at the 2022 state convention, perhaps Love can rise in the party’s ranks.

In Uinta County, where moderates in the party sued conservative officials over alleged improprieties in 2021 leadership elections, voters tossed out the entire far-right slate of leaders, including Chair Elisabeth “Biffy” Jackson, State Committeeman Karl Allred and State Committeewoman Jana Williams. Traditional Republicans led by new Chair Joy Bell have taken over, but calming down this dysfunctional family is a tall order.

Mike Madden, former chair of the House Revenue Committee who — to the horror of the state party — has actually called for some tax increases, was elected to lead the Johnson County Republicans. Scott Harnsberger, who denies he’s a RINO although he’s certainly fielded the allegation often, takes over as head of the Fremont County Republicans.

By no means have the winds shifted so far to bring about a wholesale leadership change. Ultra-conservatives like Bryan Miller in Sheridan County, Scott Clem in Campbell County and Martin Kimmet in Park County also racked up wins. Still, the impressive showing by many “RINOs” must make state party officials nervous.

The most vulnerable is likely Frank Eathorne, who led the party’s rapid rise of hard-line, take-no-prisoners conservatives with his election as Wyoming GOP vice chair in 2017 and chair two years later. 

Eathorne’s reign has been controversial, to say the least. He was outside the U.S. Capitol for two hours during the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021. Eathorne downplayed his show of support for rioters, sending out a press release that claimed he barely walked by the place and didn’t see any violence.

Eathorne has also been identified by a whistleblower as a member of the Oath Keepers, a militant right-wing group present at the Capitol that infamous day. 

Eathorne’s leadership style consists of rewarding loyal supporters and punishing detractors. His attack of former U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney for voting to impeach former President Donald Trump was perfectly in tune with Wyoming Republicans who felt betrayed.

Despite a state law prohibiting a party from favoring any Republican candidate over another in the primary, Eathorne supported Cheney’s Trump-picked rival, Harriet Hageman, who trounced her.

Hageman wasn’t the only far-right victory in the 2022 election. Rep. Chuck Gray (R-Casper), who said the election was stolen from Trump and made false claims that Wyoming elections are not secure, defeated centrist Sen. Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne).

Democrats will get tired of changing registration and simply stay Republican.

At least 14 freshmen in the extremist Freedom Caucus, the lapdog of state GOP officials, won House elections. The most startling victory happened in the Senate, when Bob Ide, who was with Eathorne outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, knocked off former Senate President Drew Perkins (R-Casper).

But when the Legislature convened in January, the GOP’s dream of passing everything it wanted, no matter how extreme, quickly died.

The Freedom Caucus controlled much of the agenda, forcing debates on alt-right priorities like banning teaching critical race theory in public schools, which isn’t happening, and jailing librarians who make LGBTQ-themed books available. Thankfully it didn’t get any of these bills passed.

But what “victories” the caucus did have may come back to haunt its members and the Wyoming Republican Party’s leadership. Since 2018, the party’s top legislative priority has been eliminating Democrats’ ability to change their affiliation and vote in the GOP primary. The bill failed every year until this one.

With unanimous Freedom Caucus support, the Legislature passed a House bill to ban “crossover” voting, but just barely. The Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee rejected it, only to have the chamber revive this “zombie” bill and send it to the friendlier Senate Revenue Committee.

Even then, weak support in the Senate made passage questionable, so the final vote was delayed for a day until it had enough votes to comfortably pass. Gov. Gordon didn’t even sign it, though he allowed the bill to become law.

Most contests are decided in the Republican primary since low Democratic voter registration and lack of candidates don’t offer many choices.The new law requires voters to choose a party by May 1 to vote in its primary. That’s 96 days before the election, when candidates haven’t even filed for office.

Democrats will get tired of changing registration and simply stay Republican, giving the party a massive margin over Democrats, already about four-to-one in the last election. The progressive voting bloc Republicans charged was “stealing” their primary will be even more of a presence, and the GOP will have only itself to blame, though it will still whine like crazy whenever “true conservatives” lose to moderates.

With only five Democrats in the 62-member House and two in the 31-member Senate, the crossover voting ban is an example of pure greed by a party that wants to hold every single seat.

The Freedom Caucus’ other big wins were two bills criminalizing abortion and prohibiting transgender females from competing in girls’ sports. The abortion laws are being challenged in court as unconstitutional, as will the anti-trans law.

The GOP leadership that backs such terrible laws has literally dragged the party so far from the mainstream to the radical right, the “establishment Republicans” I covered for decades as a reporter wouldn’t even want to be in the same room as these yahoos, let alone party. A change needs to happen, and it can’t be soon enough.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct election result details in Natrona County. – Ed.

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. With the rise of the “Freedom Caucus,” which does not in fact embrace the Wyoming values of freedom and tolerance but takes its orders from out-of-state extremists, there is only one thing for true Wyomingites (who are right leaning moderates in the mold of Al Simpson) to do: get more deeply involved in the party and expel the demons. The Democrats, in the meantime, would be best served by moving to caucuses rather than primaries, so that they can register for Republican primary ballots and likewise help to steer the supermajority party back from the brink while still offering alternative candidates. We need to reclaim our government and restore Wyoming values.

  2. When we moved to Wyoming in 1978 from Colorado I told my friends that Wyoming was the “land of the free”. Back then, it felt like you could do and believe almost anything as long as it didn’t infringe on someone else. Now it feels like you are only free to believe and behave like your told, bounded by the attitudes and laws passed by the Freedom Caucus. When did Wyoming turn into an authoritarian State?

  3. I moved to Wyoming in the 1990s and learned fairly quickly that being registered as a Democrat was not terribly useful since the “real” election, the one that really matters, occurs in the August Republican primary. I switched permanently to the “R” column over 20 years ago and am possibly the “RINO-est” RINO in the state. Every primary year I download both party’s primary ballots and decide to stay a Republican for another election. I wish the state were more balanced, but until it is, a RINO I will stay.

  4. What I love about Wyofile is how politically “unbiased” it really is! Right. No hate no negativity. Just pure ‘nonbiased’ facts.

    1. Great opinion article Kerry. As a lifelong Wyoming resident I agree with you all the way. The first time I voted Richard Nixon was on the ballot so I’ve been doing this awhile. What I remember my father telling me was never just vote for the R or D
      Things like honesty, integrity, and compassion are important. Character is important. And I really don’t see a lot of that in some parts of the current Republican Party.
      And one thing that seems to get lost in all this is politicians on both sides need to realize they represent all of us and not just those who voted for them.

  5. Politics in our country has moved to the extreme left both in governing and the media. The tendency of Wyoming voters to favor “extreme right” conservatives is clearly a correction-response to the leftist trend. People are afraid that our country is being lost to leftist extremism. You seek “moderate” politicians – those who compromise and “get things done “. The Left compromises with NO ONE. They propose radical agendas and then conservatives are expected to compromise, and basic family values always lose. In this climate, if voters don’t seek solid fiscal AND social conservatives, politics even in Wyoming trends toward the Soros agenda, which is the direction you all seem to want to go. I submit that the most uneducated voters are phony democrats that jump back and forth and try to subvert the other party in order to follow the national party’s marching orders which is leading our nation to its demise.

    1. Excellent job of repeating right wing talking points, for which you have absolutely no evidence. BTW a lot of people are afraid the country is being lost to right wing extremism, which is clearly on display in this state and what this editorial is about.

      1. Just in case, these are my own thoughts and observations as I have followed what has happened throughout my lifetime here. Pregenerated responses are really only found in leftist echo chambers like this misnamed news site.

        1. If sweeping generalizations not based on any evidence are your own thoughts and observations that explains why they sound so ridiculous.

        2. You claim that your fear mongering is based on original thoughts on observations.

          It’s convenient that your “manifesto” can be heard multiple times a day on a certain “news” station that has openly admitted to lying for ratings.

          The low information, angry, and hateful voters are being manipulated and refuse to see it.

          1. Hate to disappoint you Chuck but I am not angry. Fear mongering is defined by the pro death folks that claim if we don’t have unrestricted abortion on demand, all will perish. It sounds like you don’t think that I or anyone who tries to defend traditional American values and faith has any right to speak up. Sorry, we will not be silent, our country is worth too much.

  6. Yep, all the Republican crossover voting restrictions accomplished was strengthening their GOP numbers with crossovers (like me) that will just have to fight the fire from within the GOP. I regret that it results in less registered democrats in our growingly far right state, but the GOP dominance doesn’t leave us any other options now. Hopefully, we crossovers can help restore some moderation and cooperation in the GOP, ‘cause our Wyoming way depends on it.

  7. Wyoming is not an equality state. I am a 4th generation Wyomingite. My great-grandfather was in the state legislature. I am embarrassed by the actions of this state’s law makers. We are losing our young people because of it. But I feel this is exactly what the alt-right wants.

    1. I too am a fourth generation wyomingite on one side (mother’s and a tenth generation on my father’s side. )Yes, my family built a stable near the location Rock Springs in 1832. One of my Grandfathers was a major Republican in Rawlins. When the Republicans re-elected Nixon, it broke his heart. Now Republicans are openly corrupt, see our current Secretary of State. Tragedy.

  8. The problem that remains is that many Wyoming Republican voters are historical and political illiterates. You won’t have better leaders until you have better voters.

    1. That’s 100% the problem. It’s happening all over the country in both parties, though I would say less so in the Democrat Party. The Republican Party may have dominance over the Democrats on their membership list, but there’s going to be a lot of Democrats on that list now. They know they are only winning by drowning out the other voices, certainly not with their draconian ideas.