The Wyoming Republican Party voted to bar the state’s most populated county from participating in its convention this weekend in Sheridan, effectively shutting out about 28,700 voters from deciding the business of the party. The decision stemmed from a state party credentials committee recommendation Thursday that Laramie County lose most of its delegates due to a rules violation. The committee did not make similar recommendations to discipline other county parties that also committed minor election infractions.
The larger body of the convention ultimately heeded the committee’s recommendations and ejected all 37 of Laramie County’s delegates. Many in favor of the motion cited the party as being one of “law and order.”
The controversy is the latest example of party infighting, and some say it’s evidence of the party leadership’s retribution tactics for members who do not fall into lockstep with its far-right trending positions. Laramie County is perceived by some to be more moderate, and is one of the few county parties to have voted against censuring U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming).
“We could have been doing good county work, good state work [at the convention],” Laramie County GOP committeeman Ben Sherman said. He pointed to thoughtful philosophical and policy debate that characterized conventions in the past.
This was not thoughtful debate, Sherman said. He called the two hours the body spent Saturday deciding the fate of his county “a waste of time.”
When Sherman and the other Laramie County delegates filed out of the fairgrounds building in a single marching line — some crying visibly and each defiantly tossing or slamming down their delegate badges onto the desk of leadership — many in the room applauded and cheered their exit.
“It is my distinct pleasure to move on to the business of this convention,” GOP State Chairman Frank Eathorne told the room before turning attention to other matters.
The division in the details
In even-numbered years, the Wyoming Republican Party holds a state convention to allow delegates to vote on the party’s bylaws, resolutions and platform. Outcomes can shape policy, including what issues the Wyoming Legislature takes up.
Before the convention, delegates are elected at the county level, typically in proportion to the county’s population size. But those proportions have shifted in recent years. State party leadership slashed Natrona County’s delegate count from 33 to six in January, for example, for failure to pay dues. Like Laramie County, Natrona is one of the state’s largest population centers and is perceived to be more moderate. It also has not censured Cheney.
Despite being the second-largest county by population in the state, Natrona’s delegates now hold less voting power at the state convention than Niobrara County — Wyoming’s smallest county by population — which has seven delegates.
As of Saturday, Laramie County now has zero delegates.
The trouble began when a party member filed a formal complaint about how Laramie County carried out its election for delegates. In particular, the complaint accused Laramie County of neglecting to accept nominations from the floor. Laramie County GOP Chairwoman Dani Olsen said the issue had been remedied at the local level. But it also had no material effect, such as preventing someone who wanted to be a delegate or alternate from being one, according to Olsen and others in Laramie County.
Nevertheless, the complaint was forwarded to the state credentials committee, which tackled the issue first thing Thursday in Sheridan as the first business of the convention began.
“We’re not here to show mercy. We’re not here to have somebody say they’re victims,” Sheridan County delegate Susan Porden said during the meeting. It is up to the committee to enforce bylaws, Porden said, and Laramie County broke them.
“The [Laramie] County chair is going to have to go back and explain to her own voters how and why she disenfranchised them. We did not,” Porden said.
Not everyone on the credentials committee was as eager to intervene in county business, including Jeb Hanson, a Niobrara County delegate.
“We could be opening the door of any faction of the party to target any county that they don’t like,” Hanson said.
After the credentials committee voted 15-8 to recommend Laramie County lose its delegates, it resumed its usual business with Wyoming’s other 22 counties, some of which had been named in a second complaint.
Gail Symons, a Sheridan County Republican, filed that complaint. It alleged that Albany, Crook and Sublette counties broke state bylaws when they failed to notify their respective county clerks about when they would hold county conventions.
“I’ve been quiet for two years, sitting back and watching how we cherry pick things,” Liz Bingham, chairwoman for the Sweetwater County GOP, said. Bingham brought motions not to seat the three counties named in the second complaint. Not because she didn’t want to seat them, Bingham said, but in order to apply the rules uniformly.
“I just wish that we would hold that one standard,” she said.
Failing to notify the county clerk is not the equivalent to what happened in Laramie County, according to Rafael Delgadillo, an Albany County delegate.
Ultimately, the credentials committee agreed with Delgadillo’s argument and recommended seating Albany, Crook and Sublette counties.
The final say
“What is done today will set the course of action for the Wyoming Republican Party,” Ben Hornok, a Laramie County delegate, said Saturday morning as the body debated whether or not to seat his county. He had filed the original complaint, but was nonetheless asking the body to seat Laramie County.
Hornok’s plea was not enough, nor were other attempts to rectify the situation.
One motion, for example, would have allowed the bulk of Laramie County delegates to be seated if its top five delegates, including Chairwoman Olsen, would surrender their badges. Joey Correnti, Chairman of the Carbon County GOP, brought the proposal, but it failed in a 119-157 vote.
For some, like Karl Allred, Uinta County State GOP Committeeman, compromise was out of the question. Seating Laramie County delegates, Allred said, would be the equivalent of throwing the bylaws “out the window.”
After the final vote, Laramie County delegates gathered outside, along with Rep. Jared Olsen (R-Cheyenne), who said he was “extremely disappointed” in the decision.
“Those making those decisions today do not represent the majority of voters,” Olsen said.
“They’ll have this voice inside of this room today. But their voice doesn’t carry on into actual policy in the state,” he added.
Olsen believes the primary fracture in the state party mostly has to do with a division between urban and rural Republicans, he said, which does a disservice to voters. He pointed to Natrona County’s slashed delegates and predicted other larger counties, like Campbell or Sweetwater, will be next on the chopping block.
Chairwoman Olsen said her party plans to go back home and focus on its candidates in the upcoming elections, since several Democratic challengers are expected to run.
Ben Sherman, Laramie GOP state committeeman, is concerned infighting in the party is only going to help their opponents, he said.
“Wherever there’s division, there’s a crack, right? Wherever there’s a crack, that means there’s weakness. And so I guarantee all of the Democrats are going to try to find a way to exploit this,” Sherman said.
Eathorne, the state GOP chairman, did not respond to WyoFile’s request for comment.