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By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily
A dispute over the way Laramie County’s Republican Party selected some of its delegates to the upcoming state GOP convention could result in the county’s party losing almost all of its convention representatives.
But the proposed action on the part of the state Republican Party just days before its biannual convention is being criticized by the chair of the Laramie County Republican Party as selective punishment. Dani Olsen told Cowboy State Daily the state party has never before punished a county party for such infractions.
“It is a shame that the Chairman of the State Party would use his position to spout falsehoods as a means of not seating the largest county in Wyoming and thereby disenfranchising over (20,000) Republican voices in Laramie County,” she said.
At issue is a complaint about the way Laramie County’s GOP selected delegates to the state convention. If the convention’s Credentials Committee decides to punish the county party for its actions, it could limit the county to only three delegates at the convention — the lowest of any county in the state.
A separate dispute involving Natrona County will see that county represented by only six people, meaning the state’s counties with the highest populations will have some of the lowest representation.
The state GOP convention is held every two years. During the convention, representatives of county parties from across the state meet to decide issues such as the party’s platform and express their support for various Republican candidates seeking office.
This year’s convention is to be held May 5-7 in Sheridan.
Laramie County Republicans have been accused of multiple violations of their own rules in selecting convention delegates.
The infraction was reported directly to the state Republican Party Executive Committee by Ben Hornok, a Laramie County precinct committee member.
Hornok reported that the county party, at its convention March 5, took a voice vote when nominating delegates and alternates to the state convention, in his opinion violating its own bylaws requiring “some form of secret ballot.”
He also said no additional delegate nominations were allowed to be taken from the floor after the initial 34 “pre-selected” names were accepted. Counting the three county executive committee members, who have a guaranteed spot at the convention, the party is sending 37 delegates to the convention.
Hornok, who was present at the county convention on March 5 and was one of the chosen delegates, did not bring the infraction to the attention of county leaders, but rather took it directly to state GOP leaders at their meeting March 28, an approach some have said was politically motivated.
“I don’t have a dog in the fight,” Hornok told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. “I just decided to speak up and write the complaint. The complaint speaks for itself.”
After Hornok made his report, the issue was submitted to the Credentials Committee, whose members decide which delegates are to be seated at the convention.
“Following Laramie County leadership’s admission of its failures to follow Bylaws in conducting the election, the State Republican Convention’s Credentials Committee will now review the matter and make a recommendation to the convention body as to how many delegates from Laramie County will be seated,” state GOP Chairman Frank Eathorne said in a Tuesday press release.
Laramie County, the county with the state’s biggest population and most registered Republican voters, could now have all but three of its 37 delegates stripped away, giving it the least representation of any county party at the state convention, less even than sparsely populated Niobrara County’s seven delegates and Natrona County’s six.
Natrona is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with the state party over bylaws that allowed the state Executive Committee to reduce its delegates as punishment for not paying party dues.
But Dani Olsen, chair of the Laramie County GOP, said the state GOP is selectively enforcing the rules.
“It is further alarming that while the State Executive Committee is passing motions to ‘vigorously enforce Bylaws’ that it has consistently stopped its enforcement efforts with only two counties – Laramie and Natrona counties,” she said in a news release.
Later, Olsen told Cowboy State Daily the party has never before enacted punishment for infractions and said she worries about the precedent it will set.
In her initial response to the Executive Committee, Olsen said she agreed the concerns raised by Hornok were legitimate and said the county’s delegate selection process used at past conventions and this spring did not fully follow the party’s own bylaws. She added the county party will consider addressing ambiguity in its voting rules at its next convention in 2024.
But in a later statement, Olsen had stronger words for the state party, referring to Eathorne’s statement as “fake news.”
She also said the only “potential” mistake the county party made was the way it selected its alternates.
In the initial response to the state GOP, Olsen did say some of these alternates will be called up to become delegates, as some of the chosen delegates have already communicated they cannot attend the convention.
Vince Vanata, a member of the state party’s executive committee from Park County, said the state leadership has taken no stance on the issue beyond sending the complaint to the State Credentials Committee.
“We recognized it’s not for us to make a decision,” he said.
The issue will be brought before the committee during the first day of convention on Thursday morning. This committee will then make a recommendation that will be passed on to the all convention delegates to consider and vote on Saturday.
Joey Correnti IV, a staunchly conservative and outspoken member of the party and chairman of the Carbon County GOP, said if the credentials committee refuses to recognize Laramie County’s delegates, an argument could be made that these delegates could be prevented from even voting on their fate.
“As far as I’m concerned Laramie County members tend to only act in their best interest regardless of what the rules, decorum, or conflict would normally demand of them,” he said in an email.
Olsen said she hopes the state party will use “grace” in its decision and recognize Laramie County’s officials made a human mistake.
She said it would be “a shot in the dark” to predict the fate of her county’s delegates at this point but said the party will not let its delegates be removed “without a fight.”
Olsen also said Hornok’s complaint should not be considered because it was not brought up during the county’s convention in March, so bringing up the issue now would violate Robert’s Rules of Order.
Olsen also said if the complaint had been raised at the county convention, the matter would have had to be voted on by the same body that made the mistake.
Hornok said he chose to circumvent county leadership “because everything happens so fast” at convention and he “did not really know how to bring up the issue.” The roster of Laramie County delegates was approved with a 63% vote.
Hornok said other party members were aware of the possible infraction and he was worried the issue would not get brought up until the state convention, leaving the Laramie County delegates little notice they might not be able to vote.
“I did not want to see Laramie County send its delegates to the state meeting and all of a sudden be side-swiped by this issue,” he said.
Olsen disputed Honok’s allegation that no nominations were taken from the floor and stressed the county party has not admitted to any errors regarding its the selection of its delegates.
She said the state GOP has committed its own share of errors and has found at least eight other counties that committed infractions during their conventions.
“We can only hope that the other counties will be able to hold themselves to the same high standard Laramie County has been held to and they will come forward with their own admission of errors, as we have done,” she said.
Olsen said she believes the proposal to strip Laramie County of most of its delegates is politically motivated, spurred on by the county party’s refusal to back the state party on every issue.
“This is not a good reflection of Wyoming politics,” Olsen said. “What they’re doing is a type of voter fraud. By not allowing people to vote, they’re not protecting voter integrity, by selectively choosing which counties to protect.”
Hornok said the Laramie County party is made up of “some conservatives and moderates” and is “not very unified.” He said he would rather the county and state parties be more unified, but if the state decides to strip Laramie County’s votes “so be it.”
Vanata attibuted the situation to decisions by the Laramie and Natrona county GOP’s leaders.
“We’re not bitter towards the people of these counties,” Vanata said. “What caused this is their leadership. They created this situation and it’s unfortunate because Republicans are losing their delegate representation.”
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