Members of the Wyoming Republican Party voted to censure a member of its Natrona County delegation over the weekend for her role in helping to found a nonpartisan political action committee that gave money to a number of Democratic candidates around the state.
JoAnn True — the Natrona County GOP’s state committeewoman — became the first person censured by members of her party in years. The decision came at the party’s meeting in Worland over the weekend and was centered on her founding role in the Cowgirl Run Fund: a political action committee looking to increase female representation in office, regardless of political affiliation.
Though the fund includes a bipartisan group of founders and donated to a dozen Republicans this cycle, True was ultimately censured by her peers for the committee’s support of roughly 13 Democratic candidates around the state; several of whom are in competitive races against Republicans this cycle. The group is also backing numerous women for nonpartisan positions in municipal and county government.
Uinta County Republican Party Chairman Karl Allred — a losing statehouse candidate this cycle who was voted out of his precinct spot on the county party last month — brought a motion to censure True that was ultimately adopted 36-25, according to sources.
“They voted for this action due to Joann’s commitment, in her personal and private life, to encourage women to become involved in politics in Wyoming,” Natrona County Republican Party Chairman Joe McGinley wrote in an email to members of the county party Monday night. “Joann participates in a non-partisan organization, the Cowgirl Run Fund, which helps support and mentor women in Wyoming to become involved. Their mission statement is: ‘Our mission is to help elect more women so that women’s voices are present in shaping public policy. Our goal is to build a pipeline of women who are seasoned in political leadership.’ I guess encouraging women to become involved is seen as a threat to a majority of the State Party Central Committee.”
It is not unusual for political action committees to support candidates of both parties. Special interest groups like the Wyoming Realtors’ Association, the Wyoming Education Association, and the Wyoming Restaurant and Lodging Association regularly give to candidates of both parties. Cowgirl Run Fund co-founder Jen Simon noted that the PAC has supported candidates running in opposite parties for the same seat like it did in Senate District 6, where it backed both Democrat Britney Wallesch and Republican Erin Johnson.
“Gender is what I believe is the flashpoint here,” she said. “Plenty of other PACs give in a bipartisan fashion, and plenty of PACs have made efforts to unseat incumbents this cycle. This was a broad-based nonpartisan effort to encourage women to run for office because women’s voices are underrepresented at every level in elected office. Unfortunately, we’re being pulled in a direction that sees this as a bad thing when it’s actually a huge victory.”
Frank Eathorne, the chairman of the Wyoming Republican Party, did not respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon, and a news release recapping the event Monday night made no mention of who was censured.
However, Marti Halverson, the party’s outgoing national committeewoman and a former Wyoming legislator, addressed the censure in an op-ed sent to the Star-Tribune that, according to metadata, was written Monday morning.
“Having served in the Wyoming House for six years, I can attest that women are superbly represented,” wrote Halverson, one of slightly more than a dozen women in the 90-person Legislature during her final year in office. “The men are husbands, sons, and fathers of daughters, and they hear from the women in their lives frequently on the issues before the legislature. ‘Woman’s issues’ are always well addressed.”
“Cowgirl Run Fund has succumbed to the gender-shaming heaped upon Wyoming by the mainstream media and progressive, so-called, ‘woman’ organizations that bemoan the small number of female legislators, and other electeds, in this state,” she added.
True, who like the rest of the Natrona County delegation did not attend the meeting, had no other details and said in a text message she was working with her attorney to gather more information. As of Monday night, she said she had not been notified directly of her censure by party officials.
While it is unknown when the party last censured one of its members, the most recent attempt came against Casper Republican Pat Sweeney earlier this year, though that effort went nowhere.
The most notable attempted censure effort came against Gov. Matt Mead in 2014 after he signed the controversial Senate File 104 following the 2013 legislative session, which removed Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill as head of the Wyoming Department of Education. That effort ultimately failed as well.
While the Natrona County GOP has no immediate action plan to address the censure, McGinley said the party plans to update its members on additional action at its next central committee meeting Sept. 28 at the Ramkota Hotel in Casper.