By Leo Wolfson, State Political Reporter
The Crook County Republican Party has taken a vote to reject a request by Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, for a campaign donation and the county party’s endorsement.
The result of the vote comes on the heels of a contentious party meeting Monday where the longtime state lawmaker vented frustration about the Crook County GOP spending money to support other candidates around the state.
Driskill was notified of the decision in an email Thursday night from Jeff Burian, chairman of the Crook County GOP, informing Driskill the majority of the party voted to “not comply” with his demands.
“They’re on scorched earth,” Driskill told Cowboy State Daily on Friday morning.
Driskill is one of the highest-ranking members of the state Senate, serving since 2011 as its vice president.
Driskill v. Connett, Part II
The vote took place after a contentious Monday meeting in Sundance where Driskill chastised the party for not offering him financial support while giving around $27,000 to other candidates around the state and locally. He requested the party offer him financial support and an endorsement for his general election campaign and take a vote on the matter.
Driskill has no official opponent in the general election, but is facing a well-organized campaign working on behalf of write-in candidate Roger Connett, former chair of the Crook County GOP. Driskill beat Connett in the August Republican primary.
Driskill said the Crook County GOP is breaking its own bylaws by not supporting him as the Republican nominee.
Along with chairing the county party, Burian also is the treasurer for the Roger is Right campaign committee. He was in this role before accepting the role of vice chair to the county party. When previous chairman Brad Marchant stepped down Monday, Burian became chairman.
Burian and Dave Holland, vice chairman of the Wyoming Republican Party, said Monday that Driskill never requested money from the party. Driskill countered that he didn’t know he needed to ask.
Burian did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the vote. Ted Davis is the chairman of the Roger is Right campaign. He also did not immediately respond to a Cowboy State Daily request for comment.
Ethics And Optics
Burian rejected Driskill’s request to step down during the meeting because of a perceived conflict of interest.
Driskill said Connett originally announced his primary campaign at the Crook County GOP’s Lincoln Day Dinner in the spring. After giving the already announced candidates for Senate District 1 about three minutes to speak about their campaigns, Driskill said Connett, chairman of the Crook County GOP at the time, announced he was stepping down as chairman to run against Driskill.
Driskill said Connett then used this platform to talk about his own campaign for about five to seven minutes.
“It speaks volumes about their ethics and morals,” Driskill said about how the announcement was handled.
Connett lost to Driskill in the primary election by 442 votes. Also running in the race was Rep. Bill Fortner, R-Gillette, who received 1,735 votes and finished third in the election.
“The voters spoke,” Driskill said.
Unopposed And Unsupported
The Crook County GOP also didn’t give money to Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, who does not have a challenger of any kind in the primary. The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported that on Tuesday, the Laramie County Republican Party refused to give money to Ben Hornok for his House District 42 campaign because he does not have a general election opponent.
Driskill said Crook County’s lack of opponent argument doesn’t hold weight, as the party gave $1,500 to Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, for his Senate bid. Laursen doesn’t have an official challenger but like Driskill, is facing a write-in opponent.
Driskill said he is weighing his legal options about the situation with the Crook County GOP, and specifically a campaign advertisement for Connett recently released. This advertisement includes Connett’s campaign Facebook page on the flier.
Driskill was supported by a few different political action committees during his primary campaign, but none of them directly linked to his campaign committee. Wyoming’s election laws forbid political action committees from working directly with candidates.
The Roger is Right campaign, however, isn’t a PAC and is considered an official campaign committee for the general election. Even though Connett has said he is not involved in the write-in campaign, the Secretary of State’s office has clarified there is nothing in state law precluding write-in candidates from campaigning from themselves.
The optics of not endorsing the county’s nominee by the Crook County GOP could upset some within Republican Party ranks. During a state GOP Central Committee meeting in September, the party voted to not endorse Independent candidates running against Republicans in the general election. The action did not specifically include write-in candidates.
The Uinta County Republican Party took similar, albeit more aggressive, action than Crook earlier this month when that party voted to formally endorse a write-in candidate against the Republican primary winner.
State law considers the winner of a primary the representative of that party.
Driskill said although “everything that happens to you has an effect on the job,” his main concern is the support of the voters.
“You weigh out what your constituents want, it has little to do with what the party wants,” he said.
Driskill said he believes many county Republican parties across the state are not effectively representing the views of the Wyoming Republican voter base.
“You have a group of people who weren’t elected as precinct committee people who are trying to impose their will over the entire Republican party,” he said. “It’s the job of the Republican Party to represent the Republican voters. I have the endorsement of the Republican Party. Our own voters are dissatisfied with them.”
Biffy Jackson, chairman of the Uinta County GOP, finished seventh in her precinct election. Karl Allred, interim secretary of state and state committeeman for the Uinta GOP, finished fifth in his precinct election and lost his House 19 primary election. Jon Conrad, the Republican nominee the party has supported a write-in against, finished third in his precinct election, which was still high enough to be considered a precinct committeeman.
Connett lost his precinct committeeman election. Davis finished second in his precinct race, which was still good enough to be elected for the position. His wife Sherri Davis, who Driskill says also is a major player in the Roger is Right campaign, finished second in her precinct committeewoman election, also a high enough finish to qualify for the job. Burian lost his precinct committeeman election in 2020 and did not run in August.
Ted Davis ran unsuccessfully for House District 1 in 2014 and 2016. In 2016, Davis lost to former legislator Tyler Lindholm in the primary. On Monday night, Lindholm backed Driskill and got into a small argument with Burian.
In multiple August Facebook posts, Ted Davis made complaints about crossover voting. Forty-seven Democrats voted in the Crook primary election, while a total of 378 people voted for President Joe Biden in the 2020 general election in Crook County.
Driskill said he is a staunch conservative, representing the views of everyone from coal miners to school teachers.
Not Republican Enough
Some of Driskill’s detractors, like Fortner, have said he is not conservative enough. Specifically, Driskill has drawn criticism for his vote on Senate File 1012, a bill considered during the 2021 special session that would have allowed doctors to prescribe any medicine for the treatment of COVID-19 and pharmacists the ability to fill such prescriptions without penalty. Driskill got into a fiery discussion about the vote during a June forum in Newcastle.
He received a 50% “failing” grade from Wyorino.com, while WyoVote labeled him as a “center” Republican and the 35th most conservative member of the 90-member Wyoming Legislature.
Fortner Not Happy
Fortner said he was misled by the Roger is Right campaign.
Shortly after his primary election loss, Fortner said that campaign reached out to him for an endorsement. Fortner said he would allow the campaign to say he preferred Connett over Driskill on a small postcard, but would not offer an official endorsement.
“I said I would vote for Roger over Ogden but I could not endorse him,” Fortner explained. “I screwed up.”
Fortner said he was later solicited by the Roger is Right campaign to do video and radio commercials on their behalf, which he declined.
Fortner said he gave the Roger is Right campaign “an inch and they took a mile,” disbursing numerous pieces of literature saying Fortner was fully supporting Connett. A recent mailer sent out by the Roger is Right campaign quotes Fortner in large letters as saying, “Roger gets my vote!”
Fortner said he considers both Driskill and Connett to be of a “liberal status” and is supporting neither.
“They’re both for taxes,” he said. “They’re two peas in a pod as far as I’m concerned.”
Fortner specifically criticized Connett for being a former member of Northeast Wyoming Economic Development and president of the Sundance Area Chamber of Commerce, groups Fortner said have favored higher taxes.
“They’re always looking to push the 1% taxes,” Fortner said. “I’ve been fighting against that for the last 10-11 years.”
Fortner said he believes Connett was picked to run by Reps. John Bear, R-Gillette, and Neiman against him because those representatives knew he wouldn’t be “the puppet” of the House Freedom Caucus. Driskill took a different stance, believing Bear and Neiman chose Connett to run against him because they knew he wouldn’t do what they wanted.