There’s nothing like standing up to a bully to earn people’s respect. Just ask Sen. Cale Case.
Case, a Lander Republican, is a 30-year veteran of the state Legislature. He’s had plenty of political battles, but probably never expected one would be with his own party.
The GOP’s leadership, at both the state and local levels, has taunted him for several years as a dreaded “RINO” — a Republican in name only.
Case has fought back. “Increasingly, party officials and events and our government meetings are characterized by hate, threats, and even violence,” he wrote in a Cowboy State Daily op-ed last month. “Yet I am convinced that most Republicans trend more towards the real issues and value civility and collaboration in service to the state.”
That theory was tested last week when the Fremont County Republican Party Central Committee voted 11-7 to censure Case for writing the column and daring to buck party leadership by supporting Medicaid expansion.
“I’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response,” Case told me. “There’s a lot of energy out there for some kind of change. People are really tired of this.
“This could be the best thing that’s happened to me all year,” he added. “It was a brutal budget session.”
The censure unwittingly bolstered Case’s argument: intolerant, ideologically rigid GOP officials are running people off. Ronald Reagan’s “Big Tent” that housed Republicans of diverse interests is long gone in the Equality State.
That’s the way State Republican Chairman Frank Eathorne likes it. “In Wyoming, we don’t necessarily embrace ‘Big Tent,’” he told Fox News last year.
No kidding. Case is only the latest Republican with rock-solid conservative credentials to be attacked for refusing to kiss the ring.
Most famously, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney was censured by several county groups and the state party for voting to impeach former President Donald Trump after he incited the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021. The Republican National Committee also censured her.
Republicans, how does your party hate you? Let’s count the many ways.
In 2020, the state GOP censured Natrona County State Committeewoman JoAnn True. Her “crime” was co-founding a nonpartisan political action committee, the Cowgirl Run Fund, which aims to get more women on the ballot, regardless of political party.
In January 2021, the state executive committee censured Natrona County Republican Chairman Joe McGinley for allegedly tarnishing the state GOP’s reputation, violating party bylaws, and — I kid you not! — telling the media that he’d been investigated and censured.
Rep. Evan Simpson of Afton was censured by Lincoln County Republicans for not voting in line with the party’s platform. The action was later rescinded for procedural reasons, but the county’s State Committeeman, Mike Lungren, said the censure vote was “a way of saying, ‘We don’t like what you’re doing right now.’” Duh.
Sometimes whole county groups draw the state party’s ire. Eathorne has been in a long-running battle with McGinley and the Natrona County GOP, which has withheld its state dues since 2020 and sued the Wyoming Republican Party over an alleged violation of its bylaws.
Last November, McGinley — who did not vote with the majority of the state party’s central committee to no longer recognize Cheney as a Republican — told CNN the party has been taken over by extremists very willing to embarrass and harass their own members.
“I mean, you can’t tell someone that they’re not a Republican,” McGinley said. “If they register as a Republican and say they’re a Republican, then they’re a Republican.”
Natrona County was punished at the recent state GOP convention in Sheridan when its delegation was sliced from 33 members to six. Niobrara, Wyoming’s least populous county, had seven.
But that was nothing compared to what the party did to Laramie County, originally allocated 37 delegates. A complaint to the state party charged that Laramie County officials violated state bylaws by not voting by secret ballot.
The state convention voted 225-63 to seat only three Laramie County delegates. All 37 walked out in protest. A committee determined that several smaller counties also violated state rules, but only Laramie County — Wyoming’s most populous — paid any price.
It’s a sure bet Laramie County will find a better way to spend the $15,000 in dues the state party expects this year, after its delegates were given the heave-ho.
It was no surprise Cheney didn’t attend a convention run by people who don’t recognize her as a Republican or their congresswoman. Still, I loved how she informed them.
“The Wyoming GOP, led by an Oath Keeper who was at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and advocates secession, rejected the vast majority of delegates from our two largest counties,” Cheney tweeted. “Our state party is broken. Wyoming deserves better.”
A whistleblowers’ group in December outed Eathorne as a member of the notorious Oath Keepers militia group.
Oath Keepers leader Elmer Stewart Rhodes III and 10 other members have been charged with seditious conspiracy for their role in the Jan. 6 riot. In a press release the next day, Eathorne said he attended Trump’s rally near the White House but did not witness any violence or property destruction.
I wondered why Wyoming’s Republican chairman wanted to make his Jan. 6 itinerary clear. Now, it makes sense: Eathorne wanted to put a lot of distance between himself and his other group.
Two weeks later, Eathorne’s loose lips plunged him head-first into an embarrassing controversy. He discussed Wyoming’s possible secession from the union on Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast.
“We are straight-talking, focused on the global scene, but we’re also focused at home,” Eathorne said. “Many Western states have the ability to be self-reliant, and we’re keeping eyes on Texas, too, and their consideration of possible secession.”
After taking a ton of grief over his remarks, Eathorne meekly said the issue “won’t come up again unless the grass roots brings it up.”
So, as Wyoming GOP bosses snipe at members for their stubborn representation of constituents instead of party overlords (or, in Cheney’s case, her vexing insistence on saving democracy from Trump), just what does a censure mean these days?
Pretty much what it’s always meant: a whole lot of nothing. People simply don’t respect who’s doing the censuring.
Case will see at least one far-right primary challenger, but it won’t be the Pavillion man who instigated the censure since he doesn’t even live in the senator’s district. It should only help his re-election bid.
Much of the $10 million Cheney has raised for her 2022 campaign has come from donors far and wide after her national and state censures.
All that success has left me wondering how I can earn my own censure from Eathorne et al.
Granted, I’m a Democrat, which would seem to make me ineligible. But Wyoming Republican leaders have nightmares about thousands of us crossing over to vote in their Aug. 16 primary.
Heck, I’m planning to do that anyway, since it’s probably the only way I’ll get to vote for someone who actually wins. I thought it would only be for a few minutes, just long enough to switch my party affiliation, vote, and then become a Democrat again.
I’m willing to delay that maneuver and remain in the party if the GOP’s head honchos can hold an emergency vote on my censure. Just don’t take more than 24 hours, OK?
It’d be a real badge of honor.