Members of the state Republican Central Committee passed contentious resolutions on Saturday that uproot the GOP’s headquarters and challenge the Wyoming Legislature's Cindy Hill game plan.
Republican leaders from the 23 counties met in Cheyenne to tackle the two hot-button issues. The outcome is likely to perpetuate the festering rift within the party ranks both inside and outside of the heavily Republican Legislature.
One resolution asked Gov. Matt Mead and the Legislature not to respond to the Wyoming Supreme Court’s recent ruling on Cindy Hill.
The resolution asked the elected officials to accept the court’s decision that deemed unconstitutional the legislation that stripped Hill of much of her authority as the state superintendent of public instruction.
“The Republican Central Committee requests the Legislature and governor to accept the court's ruling, stop the fiscal spending, and allow the superintendent of public instruction to resume her constitutional position and duties under the court's ruling,” the resolution said.
The Hill issue has driven a wedge between members of the central committee and is likely to keep dividing its members until all branches of state government iron out the details revolving around the embattled superintendent.
Since the Supreme Court decision in January, state officials have taken steps or have discussed alternatives to deal with Hill.
Attorney General Peter Michael is appealing the Supreme Court’s ruling. The Legislature’s Management Council sponsored a bill on Monday that outlines the process for calling a special session to address the court's decision.
Committee member Karl Allred proposed the Hill resolution, saying Republicans in Uinta County are “sick and tired” of hearing about the battle between Hill and elected officials in the state.
A special session would be a waste of money in an ongoing expenditure paid for by taxpayers, he said.
“They’re just using stalling tactics to keep from going back to what it’s supposed to be,” Allred said. “This whole debacle has already cost us more than $1 million. That’s taxpayers’ money. It’s time to put this issue to bed and get on with it.”
Republicans in the state have been waiting for the court’s decision to act. When the court’s opinion became public, the committee consensus was that the Legislature attacked a constitutionally elected official, said Larry Lawton, chairman of the Lincoln County Republican Party.
Bonnie Foster, the party secretary and chairwoman for the Natrona County GOP, voted against the motion. She said the party was out of line to try influencing the decisions of the state’s elected leadership.
“That is not our job as a state central committee to dictate the governor and the Legislature,” she said. “We have a process in place to do that. It’s called elections and the ballot box. As Republicans, we are frustrated with our current administration in the White House trying to control us. But we’re turning around and doing the same thing with our Legislature and governor. We’re trying to control, and that’s not what Republicans are about.”
The other issue roiling party ranks is the plan to move the party headquarters to Cheyenne.
Casper has been home to the Republican Party for more than 40 years, but the office has been closed since the fall of 2011 after the Internal Revenue Service fined the party more than $12,000 for failing to file taxes on time.
The GOP will begin its transition to Cheyenne immediately, said Rochelle Miner, chairwoman for the Platte County Republican Party.
The party doesn’t have a location for its new headquarters but has a designated a committee to scout properties and plan the move, Miner said.
Republican parties in 44 states have their headquarters in capital cities, Allred said.
“I do not see the logic in having a political party having its headquarters outside of the political center of the state,” he said.
Proximity to lawmakers and lobbyists were two of the biggest arguments for the party to head south.
Relationships between party members and state lawmakers were strained after the drama revolving around Hill and other incendiary issues during the last session. An office near the Capitol will help the party develop closer ties with lawmakers and other politicians in Cheyenne, Allred said.
“We want to be a resource for our elected officials,” he said.
Another motive was being able to keep a close watch on the Democratic Party, which has a Cheyenne office.
“Since when did we care about what the Democrats are doing?” Foster asked.
Foster is opposed to moving the party’s home base, citing Casper’s central location as strategic hub for working on elections in all areas throughout the state.
“We’re sad to see it go,” she said.
During a press conference Monday afternoon, Senate President Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne, said the move wasn't a good idea.
“I think it’s the wrong thing,” he said. “This is my own personal thing. I think the state office should be in Casper, where it is centrally located to most people in the state of Wyoming.”
Star-Tribune reporter Laura Hancock contributed to this story.