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GOP official says change to delegate selection process would give outsize influence to Wyoming's small counties

GOP official says change to delegate selection process would give outsize influence to Wyoming's small counties

Capitol Building Reopens

Dani Olsen wears a buffalo necklace with the year 1890 honoring Wyoming becoming a state during the official reopening of the State Capitol building in Cheyenne last week. Olsen wrote a blog post Monday night criticizing some GOP officials, saying they were trying to give more power to smaller counties and make the party more conservative.

The top GOP official in the state’s most populous county accused the party’s central committee of “corruption” this week, alleging certain officials in the party from smaller counties are using their positions to jockey for power, marginalizing party members from large counties.

In a blog post Monday night, Laramie County GOP chairwoman Dani Olsen called for Republicans around the state to “open (their) eyes to what is happening behind closed doors” in the Wyoming Republican Party’s State Central Committee. This followed discussions among committee members about rule changes that would give each individual county a delegate to the Republican National Convention, rather apportioning them on the basis of population.

Currently, the bylaws regulating the delegate selection process are already well-established through a sister county system, where all counties — minus Laramie County — are paired off. Every convention cycle, one of those counties gets a delegate. Thirteen additional delegates are elected at large, offering some opportunity for smaller counties to gain additional representation.

Laramie County, however, gets a delegate every cycle in the current system, a point that has caused bitterness in the party in recent years. This, Olsen said, has led smaller counties to pursue limiting the southeastern Wyoming county’s influence, through what she characterized as an “extremely liberal” reading of the party’s bylaws.

“They’re selling it this time as something that doesn’t matter, because (at the next Republican National Convention), every delegate from each county is going to go for Trump,” Olsen said in an interview Tuesday. “I don’t doubt that either — it doesn’t matter what county a delegate is from, every county gets to go support Trump.”

“But that’s not going to be the case in 2024, when we’re going to have a contested primary season,” she added. “Larger population bases like Laramie County are going to be limited to one vote for the 22,000-plus registered Republicans and Niobrara County gets one vote for the 1,200 registered Republicans they might have.”

The policy change will be voted on at the GOP’s meeting in Lovell next month.

“We are only in a discussion phase,” Wyoming GOP chairman Frank Eathorne said in an interview. “There is no decision-making in the near future. What we’re trying to accomplish as a party is (to) meet a set of criteria in order to get our national delegates selected properly for the national convention in 2020.

“How we do that, there is some leeway, and some of the counties are working on trying to find something agreeable that fits all the counties. So that’s the stage we’re at — trying to come up with a solution that fits all Wyoming Republicans.”

A slippery slope?

Olsen said the majority of members in the group pushing for these changes come from smaller counties with significant tenure in the party. They’ve used that level of credibility, she said, to push the issue forward in what Olsen argues is a violation of the party’s bylaws.

But their actions, she added, could also be indicative of a growing trend in the state party where representatives from more conservative areas of the state are working to move the direction of the party further to the right — undermining a majority of more moderate party members from larger population centers like Laramie and Natrona counties.

“The smaller counties tend to be represented by a group that really does not align with most Republicans in Wyoming,” Olsen said. “Whereas Laramie County has a more diverse group of Republicans we’re representing, some counties view Laramie County Republicans as ‘too moderate,’ because of the fact we have more diversity, that we’re not ‘Republican enough.’”

“They try to decide a Republican as being what aligns with their beliefs,” she added. “And if you don’t align with those, you’re not Republican enough to represent Republicans, and they don’t want you to have that voice.”

Drawing a line in the sand

Around the state, county committees have been in deep discussion over establishing “litmus tests” for their members. In Campbell County, the local party voted in favor of litmus test resolutions. In the state GOP, there is currently a committee looking into enforcing a stricter litmus test for politicians in the Legislature to evaluate how often they vote with the party’s position.

Eathorne said if local parties pursued that change at the state level, it would be allowed under their procedures.

“As county parties discuss this independently, they may bring that discussion to the state party,” Eathorne said. “That’s allowable under our procedures. I think the basis of that discussion needs to hinge on subjective and objective, and so we’re working together, teaching each other, learning from it. And in the end I believe we’ll have a clearer set of expectations that will bring a greater level of unity to the party.”

Though a small, inside-baseball issue, Olsen said it’s important to draw a line in the sand at the delegate selection process in order to prevent what she characterized as a “select few” individuals from steering the party toward a more conservative position.

“Most on the state central committee aren’t taking us down this path, but they’re not stopping us from going down this path,” Olsen said. “At the end of the day, they might vote against this resolution, but without others and myself standing up strongly to oppose what I view as an illegal action, I feel like most counties might have gone with it.”

“I want to open up their eyes and say it’s OK to go against this, because it’s against the bylaws,” she added. “What’s the point of having the bylaws if we’re not going to follow our bylaws?”


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Politics Reporter

Nick Reynolds covers state politics and policy. A native of Central New York, he has spent his career covering governments big and small, and several Congressional campaigns. He graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport in 2015.

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