By Leo Wolfson, State Political Reporter
The Uinta County Republican Party has decided to endorse a write-in candidate in the general election instead of the candidate who won that county’s Republican primary.
Uinta County GOP Chairman Elisabeth Jackson sent out an email early Thursday morning announcing the decision. Jackson had sent an email earlier in the week asking the party to consider endorsing House District 19 write-in candidate Joe Webb in preference of Jon Conrad, who was the majority choice of Republican voters in August.
“The Uinta County Republican Party enthusiastically endorses the write-in candidacy of Joe Webb,” Jackson says in her announcement. “Joe’s lifetime of community service and his steadfast dedication to conservative principles make him an outstanding candidate to represent House District 19 in the Wyoming Legislature.
“It is not often that we have a candidate of this caliber at a time when the need for principled leadership in our government is so great.”
Jackson said the “consensus that I received back was that we should endorse Joe Webb’s write-in candidacy for House District 19.”
It is not clear how many people responded to Jackson’s email with a vote. There were people on Jackson’s mailing list who are not party committee members.
Jackson did not respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment.
Conrad provided Cowboy State Daily a response to the county party’s consideration to endorse Webb last week.
“As the Republican nominee and the primary winner elected by the voters in a free and fair election, I will fight and lead every day for quality jobs, economic vibrancy and property tax reform for all Southwestern households,” Conrad said. “I am the Republican nominee who will advocate, promote and protect Wyoming families.”
Breaking With Tradition
The GOP has a longstanding tradition of supporting candidates from its party who win primary elections.
Conrad beat Karl Allred and Andy Stocks in the Aug. 16 primary by more than 10% of the vote. Allred and Stocks combined received more votes than Conrad, a Mountain View resident.
“I get it, you want and deserve your quality of life to be protected and you want your leaders to be fearless in fighting inflation and this administration’s war on Wyoming jobs,” Conrad said.
There have been complaints made by some members of the state GOP that too many Republicans are running in primary elections, leading to a dilution of the candidate pool.
Stocks, who finished third in the primary, has endorsed Webb’s campaign. In a Sept. 1 Facebook post, Allred spoke out against Conrad.
“So who owns Jon Conrad? Is he representing the people of Uinta County? How about all the PACS (political action committees) who gave him money and expect his performance for them,” Allred wrote.
Allred was recently appointed interim secretary of state by Gov. Mark Gordon.
Voice Of The People?
Webb, a resident of Lyman, has said he will show a complete adherence to the Republican Party platform and said in a Sept. 6 Facebook post that he started his campaign because he is “not comfortable with the results of the 2022 Primary Election results for House District 19.”
Also running in HD 19 is Democrat Sarah Butters.
“I feel I have more to offer than the two nominated candidates,” Webb wrote. “I strongly believe my ideals, beliefs and values more closely align with those ideals, beliefs and values shared by most Uinta County and Wyoming residents.”
Conrad is running against Butters for the seat now held by Rep. Danny Eyre, R-Lyman, who is retiring from the Wyoming Legislature.
Eyre is considered to be a more moderate Republican. He has served in the Legislature since 2017 and beat Allred in consecutive elections in 2018 and 2020 by significant margins.
According to his campaign website, Conrad plans to protect conservative Republican values and guard “against infringement of increased political agendas that are counter to our conservative Republican values, platform and beliefs.”
Conrad wants to ensure American Rescue Plan Act money is accounted for in Wyoming and to make “common sense solutions that are constituency based.”
The Uinta County GOP’s endorsement may set a precedent for other county-level GOP parties in the state to follow suit and use party money to support write-in candidates in preference over Republicans who were supported by registered Republican voters.
Another potential target could be write-in candidate Roger Connett in northeast Wyoming, a former Crook County Republican Party chairman who is running a write-in campaign against state Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower. Connett was supported in the primary by a few leading Republicans like Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette.
Karen Wetzel, a Lander resident who was recently voted in as a precinct committeewoman in Fremont County but is not a current member of the county party, encouraged people in a Sept. 14 Facebook post to support a slate of write-in candidates that includes Shawn Olmstead. Olmstead narrowly lost to Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, in the primary election.
There is a growing group of campaigns evolving statewide for write-in candidates, many of whom lost their primary elections.
The group includes gubernatorial candidate Brent Bien; Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder, who lost his election; Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, who unsuccessfully ran for secretary of state; and Mary Throne, a 2018 Democratic governor candidate who some Democrats are encouraging to undertake a write-in campaign for secretary of state.
Anyone can theoretically be a write-in candidate, but it typically takes an organized campaign to be successful. There are formal, organized campaigns behind Webb and Connett.
Others Weigh In
Ginger Bennett, Fremont County GOP chairperson, said that although she would consider a resolution brought by party members to support Olmstead, she would not support the proposition on a personal level.
“It sets a precedent that decreases the value of the Republican Party,” Bennett told Cowboy State Daily last week. “It decreases the value of the primary (election).”
She said changes need to be made at the Legislature to shrink government and create an environment where more Republicans can represent the party platforms again.
Bennett would not comment as to whether she would support Olmstead’s write-in bid, but said she is supporting Rep. Pepper Ottman, R-Riverton, and Sen. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton.
Contradicts State Platform
Any endorsement of a write-in candidate by a county or state GOP party comes close to contradicting a resolution passed at the state GOP Central Committee meeting in mid-September to not endorse Independents running against Republicans in the general election, whether they identify as Republicans or not.
Uinta County GOP committeewoman Laura Krichbaum spoke against Jackson’s idea.
“I am confused here,” Krichbaum wrote in a response to Jackson. “I thought that after the primary, the County and State parties supported the candidates that had won the Primary. So I’m not sure why would we support a write in candidate? My vote is NO.”
The state GOP’s bylaws state that it’s the responsibility of the party to recruit people to join the party, establish a platform for the party and to elect Republican candidates who “substantially” uphold the platform of the Wyoming Republican Party.
Lyle Williams, a former Uinta County Republican Party chairman, current precinct committeeman and Jackson’s father, said he supports his daughter’s proposal.
“Jon Conrad has declared open warfare on the Party and it’s platform,” Williams wrote. “He most certainly DOES NOT meet the criteria spelled out in the bylaws while all indications are that Joe Webb does.”
Williams said Conrad was helped by Democrats crossing over to register and vote as Republicans in the primary so they could vote for U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney.
There is much more to Conrad’s relationship with Williams, Jackson and Allred than the most recent election.
They are now engaged in a lawsuit Conrad and others filed related to Jackson, Allred, Lyle and Jana Lee Williams being allowed to vote in the county party’s leadership election in 2021, despite each losing their respective precinct committee elections in August 2020. The 2021 leadership elections resulted in Jackson and Williams’ daughter becoming county chairman, Allred state committeeman and Jana Williams elected as state committeewoman. Lyle Williams has never been elected to any position within the party through a primary election.
The Secretary of State’s office declined to follow up on Conrad’s complaint and a District Court judge also dismissed the case. It’s now being heard before the Wyoming Supreme Court.
This lawsuit has cost the Uinta County GOP more than $22,000. On Sept. 15, the party voted to censure Conrad and other plaintiffs on the lawsuit that include Eyre and Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston.