A faction of the GOP is aiming to reaffirm its support for Trump-endorsed Republican Secretary of State nominee Chuck Gray amid an attempt by some lawmakers to strip the position of some powers ahead of his likely victory in the November election.
The Park County GOP put its stamp of approval on a resolution earlier this month stating that the group “wholeheartedly supports” Gray and “condemns” the effort to take away elections administration duties from the secretary of state position. The resolution, signed by Park County GOP Chairman Martin Kimmet and dated Sept. 1, will go before the Wyoming GOP State Central Committee in its upcoming public meeting on Saturday.
The resolution doesn’t have legal weight and is symbolic more than anything; Kimmet told the Star-Tribune on Monday that it’s meant to “support the voters of Wyoming, pure and simple.”
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Rep. Gray, R-Casper, beat out his closest Republican challenger, attorney Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, by roughly 9 points, or 13,000 votes, in the August primary. He doesn’t have a challenger from another party for the upcoming general election, which means that he almost certain to succeed Secretary of State Ed Buchanan.
Gray focused his primary campaign on getting rid of ballot boxes and rooting out voter fraud, even though cases of voter fraud in Wyoming are extremely rare. Those who back Gray say he is a champion of “honest and fair elections,” per the words of Kimmet. But critics see Gray as a serious threat to fair elections because of the narratives of widespread voter fraud that he’s pushed.
That narrative has pervaded American politics since former president Donald Trump lost the 2020 election to President Joe Biden, even though there isn’t evidence that voter fraud was prevalent enough to have changed that outcome.
“I think the state of American politics that we’ve seen in other states has finally arrived in Wyoming,” Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, said.
Gray’s likely ascendance to the secretary of state position galvanized a group of traditional and more moderate-leaning Republicans, as well as some Democrats, to search for an independent candidate to challenge Gray in the November election. That effort ultimately failed. But at a Joint Corporations Committee meeting last month, Zwonitzer proposed drafting a bill that would curtail some of the secretary of state’s powers.
“I do have some concerns that the most likely person who will be our next chief elections officer, our secretary of state, has alleged that there may be nefarious activities at the ballot box in Wyoming, which I don’t agree exist,” Zwonitzer, who chairs the House Corporations Committee, said at the meeting. “I think our elections are safe and secure, probably more than any other state in this country.”
Zwonitzer told the Star-Tribune on Monday that, having worked alongside Gray in the Legislature for the past six years, he sees “concern in the back of everyone’s mind” about how Gray’s potential tenure as secretary of state could go.
“I think it’s fair to have some options on the table should it not go well,” he said.
But during the committee meeting, Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, said those who voted for Gray would “rightfully feel insulted” if the committee tried to take away “a major portion” of the secretary of state’s responsibilities “before the guy’s even had a chance.”
“Republicans correctly see this for what it is,” Gray texted the Star-Tribune, “big-government politicians are shamelessly ignoring the will of voters and our right to have our elected officials represent us.”
The committee ultimately voted in favor of drafting a bill that would take away elections administration duties from the secretary of state position. A separate agency with an appointed director would take up these duties instead. Lawmakers will look at a draft version of the bill at committee’s October meeting.
The GOP quickly came out against that move, framing it as an attempt to “silence the conservative Republican voice in Wyoming,” per the words of a Sept. 2 email notice from the GOP. By Friday, the GOP had the resolution attached to the State Central Committee’s meeting agenda (Wyoming GOP Executive Director Kathy Russell confirmed on Monday that the Friday version of the resolution is the most current draft).
But Zwonitzer said the potential bill is meant to address the very concerns around elections that Gray — and other candidates — have emphasized.
“If people believe there’s clearly fraud in our elections, then we probably should, for the future, ensure that there are adequate safeguards over that (secretary of state) position,” he said.
“It’s the Legislature’s duty to at least discuss if it’s good or bad to have all of our elections under one individual, or is it better to spread it out between four of our statewide constitutional officers on the canvassing board,” he said.
When asked if he had any comment in response to Zwonitzer’s explanation for the bill, Gray texted a similar message to his first statement:
“Republicans across Wyoming correctly see Zwonitzer’s and (Sen. Cale Case’s) effort for what it is — a couple of big-government insiders who are shamelessly ignoring the will of voters and our right to have our elected officials represent us.”
(Case, R-Lander, was involved in the attempt to find an independent challenger to face Gray in the November election).
Gray added in another text that he believes Zwonitzer is “lying to hide his true motivation of stripping power away from elected officials who the people have already chosen.” He said that, if Zwonitzer cared about secure elections, he would support the measures that Gray has pushed during his campaign.
The GOP State Central Committee will also vote Saturday on a resolution to censure Case for his efforts to find a challenger to face Gray, among other grievances. The resolution also states that the party will deny Case “any financial or physical support” in “any political endeavors…” and requests that he change his party affiliation.