CASPER — Wyoming’s most populous county moved a step closer Thursday to losing nearly all of its delegates to the Wyoming Republican Party convention.
The state GOP’s credentials committee recommended the Laramie County Republican Party lose most of its delegates over a rules violation. The vote was 15-8.
At the same time, the committee rejected attempts to punish four other counties for minor rule-breaking, raising questions again of selective enforcement.
The credential committee’s decision is only a recommendation, and the full body will vote on the matter Saturday morning before the main business of the convention kicks off.
If the body votes in favor of the recommendation, Laramie will have its delegates reduced from 36 to the minimum three.
Thursday’s vote is the latest episode in a broader battle between traditional and hard-line elements within Wyoming’s Republican Party.
The number of delegates each county is afforded is based on population. Laramie is the most populous in the state, but would have four fewer delegates than the smallest county in the state; Niobrara has seven delegates to the convention.
The size of a county’s delegation can affect its influence in the broader policy discussions held at the convention, which include votes on party platforms, resolutions and rules.
The decisions made and adopted at the convention can influence the state’s politics — including which bills are brought to the Wyoming Legislature.
Laramie County is in the crosshairs because the party admittedly broke a rule at its county convention. Critics of punishing Laramie say that the infraction did not affect the business of the convention. Some have suggested Laramie County’s clashes with the party’s hard-line leadership is motivating Thursday’s action.
In the case of Laramie County, the state GOP’s executive committee received a complaint that alleged the delegate and alternate delegate selection that took place at that party’s GOP convention violated party bylaws.
Specifically, Laramie County did not accept nominations from the floor or use secret ballots.
“The county chair is going to have to go back to her own voters and explain why she disenfranchised them,” said Susan Porden, Sheridan County GOP credentials chairwoman, who voted in favor of cutting Laramie’s delegates. “We did not. She did.”
The motions on seating Laramie County’s delegates sparked a debate over the philosophies of the Republican Party.
“I feel that, as a Republican, that we want local rule and county rule,” said Mary Martin,
chairwoman of the Teton County GOP, speaking in opposition to removing Laramie County’s delegates.
Those in favor of cutting the delegates argued that it was under the purview of the state party, while those against it argued the contrary. Minor breaches in rules have not been scrutinized in the past, but this year there’s been a new emphasis put on it among the state and county-level Republican parties.
“I think we’re trying to kill a fly with a sledge hammer,” said Michael Madden, a Johnson County Republican and former state lawmaker.
At a Wyoming GOP executive committee meeting in early April, the panel unanimously passed a motion that stated that the party will “vigorously support and enforce all state and county bylaws at the 2022 State Convention.”
The focus on rule-following and enforcement on the Laramie County GOP spurred a call for state party officials to treat all counties equally when it comes to punishment.
“We really need to be careful,” said Jeb Hanson, a Niobrara Republican delegate. “We could be opening the door to allow any faction of the party to target any county that they don’t like. And it is not viable to audit each and every county. This is cherry picking.”
When it became clear last week that Laramie County was at risk of losing its delegates, Gail Symons, a Sheridan Republican, filed a complaint with the state party alleging that Sheridan, Sublette, Albany and Crook County Republican parties also broke minor rules.
At the credentials committee meeting Thursday immediately following the vote on Laramie County, Elizabeth Bingham, chairwoman of the Sweetwater County GOP and a Laramie ally, made a motion to not have Albany, Crook or Sublette’s County’s delegates sat.
“I’ve been quietly sitting back and watching how we cherry pick,” Bingham said. Bingham told the Star-Tribune that she didn’t want to be making such motions, but after the Laramie vote she was spurred to speak up.
“I think this is all utter nonsense and we should be working together,” she said.
“I do absolutely believe that every delegate should be seated,” Olsen said following the Albany County vote. “However, a precedent has been set.”
Only Laramie County allies voted in favor of Albany and Crook counties losing their delegates: Bingham, Laramie GOP Chairwoman Dani Olsen and Natrona County Republican Party Secretary Lesley Hendry.
The Sublette County matter was a voice vote, but also failed.
Olsen said the Sublette County result “shows obvious bias” against Laramie County because its offenses were similar.
Natrona County, the second most populous in Wyoming, has already lost most of its delegates to the convention over a lack of dues payments. That county has also clashed with Wyoming Republican Party leadership.