By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily
Members of Wyoming’s Republican Party voted Saturday to bar most of Laramie County’s delegation from the party’s convention, prompting a walkout by most of the county’s delegates.
Nearly all of the 37 of the county party’s delegates walked out of the Sheridan County Fairgrounds Exhibit Hall single file, handing off their credentials to the GOP executive committee without a word. Three, however, did return to the convention in the afternoon to represent the county party’s leadership.
At its convention on Saturday, the Wyoming Republican Party voted to seat the minimum three of 37 possible delegates from Laramie County, the county with the most registered Republican voters in the state.
The action was recommended by the convention’s Credentials Committee and was taken as punishment for alleged violations of party rules by the Laramie County party at its own convention in March.
“I’m not surprised,” said Dani Olsen, chair of the Laramie County GOP, citing divisions in the party she believes led to the decision.
The vote was taken by roll call, with an overwhelming majority of the convention delegates voting to block 34 Laramie County delegates from taking part. The other three delegates, members of the county party’s leadership, were entitled to participate in the convention, but walked out with their colleagues.
Olsen said she suspects the county party’s members will vote to not pay their county’s roughly $15,000 dues to the party moving forward. Natrona County had earlier taken a similar position on dues and is now involved in a lawsuit against the state GOP.
The decision not to seat the delegates was made after more than two hours of debate on the topic. Laramie County delegates were not allowed to take part in any vote on the topic, a decision made with a 232-44 vote earlier in the meeting.
In the end, party members voted 225-63 against allowing Laramie County’s 34 delegates to be seated, resulting in the walkout.
Carbon County GOP Chairmen Joey Correnti earlier suggested that the convention allow 32 of the 37 possible delegates to participate, but the motion failed failed on a vote of 157-119.
“I stood up for giving them an opportunity,” Correnti said, explaining he wanted the body as the whole to have the opportunity to rule strictly on Laramie’s non-leadership delegates. “It came down to the people.”
Correnti said he needed a commitment from Laramie’s leadership to hand over their credentials to normal committee members for this to take place.
Most of the support for Laramie County came from delegates from Sweetwater, Natrona, Campbell and Sheridan counties.
Olsen said she was encouraged by the support she received from the other counties. She did not attend the rest of the meeting despite having the right to do so. Olsen said there is already chatter about which county party other delegates will target next.
“We’ve definitely got some ideas,” she said.
The actions stem from allegations the Laramie County party violated party bylaws at its county convention in March, including failing to take votes for delegates and alternates on a secret ballot.
The State GOP’s Credentials Committee voted 15-8 vote on Thursday to recommend only three of Laramie’s 37 delegates be seated at the convention’s business meeting Saturday.
There were rumblings before the convention started that a compromise would be made to allow more Laramie delegates to be seated.
Laramie County delegate Kathy Scigliano said prior to the start of the convention a compromise still wouldn’t be ideal for the county.
“Do we want big government?” she asked. “Do we want the state telling the county what to do?”
But Scigliano also said if anyone must be held accountable for the mistakes made at the county convention, it should be the county’s leadership.
As the discussion progressed, Olsen appeared to become overwhelmed by emotion, breaking into tears, and was consoled by a few of her fellow party members including Laramie County GOP Vice Chairwoman Kyle Taylor.
“I just told her it’s not her fault,” Taylor said. “She did her best and fought for the county. As chair, she feels responsible for this.”
Olsen said although “the buck stops with her,” she doesn’t feel her actions merited the final result.
Opinions on the action were divided, with both supporters and opponents of allowing Laramie County’s delegation to stay speaking out.
“Do we set the precedent to capitulate,” Michael Lundgren of Lincoln County said. “Stand with those who want to stand with their fellow brethren because they don’t get their way?
“If they file a lawsuit and use a lawsuit as warfare like their leftist brethren, then so be it,” he added.
Many of Laramie County’s opponents cited a need to follow rules and said the county’s delegates were not certified because of the county’s actions.
Olsen disputed this and said all their delegates were certified, despite possible flaws in the process.
Even members within the Laramie County party expressed contrasting views on the issue.
“As a Republican who is concerned with voter integrity, Laramie (County) has had several issues with voter integrity in the past,” said Laramie County delegate Freddy Flores-Salieb. “There have been miscounts of precinct people, legislators of county areas representing areas they don’t live in. I strongly urge the body to stand for voter integrity and accountability.”
Ben Hornok, a Laramie County party member whose complaint launched the action at the convention, asked the state leadership to seat all of the county’s delegates.
“To borrow a phrase, there are good people on both sides,” he said. “The Republican Party is the only party able to make America great again. If Laramie (County) wants to be involved in the process they should be allowed. We proved that by paying our state shares last year.”
Hornok was referring to a delay the county made in paying its dues. The state GOP argues Natrona owes dues dating back to 2019.
Taylor said there will be a trickle-down effect for the decision that was made, with a likely continuation of events similar to what transpired on Saturday.
“It shows there is a clear division within the party,” she said. “It shows this will be the case moving forward.”
Correnti on the other hand was more optimistic for the future of the party based on the selflessness he saw exemplified by Laramie County’s leaders.
“That’s what we’re doing here is building teams,” he said. “Laramie showed a lot of teamwork and that’s pretty cool to see.”
(Editors note: This story was updated on May 9 to correct the name of one of the Laramie County delegate who spoke during Saturday’s GOP convention to Freddy Flores-Salieb. Due to reporter error, the person who spoke was originally misidentified as Frances Caster. Cowboy State Daily apologizes for the error.)