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By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
A complete takeover of the Uinta County Republican Party’s leadership Tuesday night may be a sign of a new trajectory for the Wyoming Republican Party.
Every member of the Uinta County GOP’s executive committee was ousted during a Tuesday party meeting.
During the reportedly contentious meeting, party chairperson Elisabeth “Biffy” Jackson was replaced by former Evanston Mayor Joy Bell in a close 33-31 vote.
Also, former state lawmaker, gubernatorial candidate and former Wyoming Secretary of Agriculture Ron Micheli and his wife Patty Micheli replaced the county party’s State Committeeman Karl Allred and Committeewoman Jana Williams by similarly close margins.
The group’s new Secretary-Treasurer is Stacy Wallace, and the West/East vice chairs are Randy Barker and Jay Anderson.
“We’re obviously pleased,” Ron Micheli told Cowboy State Daily about the outcome of Tuesday’s vote. “We appreciate the effort the past officers made. We hope they continue to be involved. Hopefully, this will patch up some of the tension in the county and state.”
Is This A Sign?
The outgoing leadership represented the more populist wing of the Republican Party that has taken over many Wyoming Republican Central Committee seats in recent years.
Ron Micheli said he believes the Uinta County leadership change may be a sign the party is turning back to being run by traditional Republicans, whom he believes the new leadership in Uinta represents.
“I think it’s fair to say we’re more traditional Republicans,” Micheli said. “I don’t think they’re necessarily more conservative than us. I will not yield my conservatism.”
Micheli said traditional Republicans also took back precinct committee seats in Johnson and Fremont counties during the last election cycle, which he believes is a sign of more turnover to come between the two factions of the party.
“I really hope we would begin to see a turnaround in the state for a return to traditional Republican philosophy,” he said.
Allred and Jackson did not immediately respond to Cowboy State Daily requests for comments.
Tuesday’s Uinta County GOP election came under the cloud of an ongoing lawsuit between members of the party and the outgoing leadership team.
Micheli, state Rep. Jon Conrad, R-Mountain View, Clarence Vranish and others filed a civil lawsuit being considered by the Wyoming Supreme Court about the party’s 2021 leadership elections.
In the lawsuit, they argue that party officers should not have been allowed to vote in the 2021 leadership election because they lost their respective precinct committee elections in August 2020. None of the six appointed leaders were elected in the precinct elections that August either, but that’s partially because a few didn’t run.
“Allred engineered (a) bylaw change because they saw this coming down the pike,” Vranish said.
The 2021 elections resulted in Jackson being elected chairman, Allred becoming state committeeman and Williams state committeewoman, despite none being elected through the precinct committee process.
The defendants argue that political parties are private organizations that can make rules that may run contrary to state elections laws.
An Organized Effort
At the state GOP convention last spring, the Wyoming Republican Party passed a resolution supporting the Uinta County Party for how it conducted its leadership elections.
A district court judge ruled that way in July 2022, then Conrad appealed the case to the Supreme Court in August.
Even so, the old guard couldn’t hold their leadership positions Tuesday.
Vranish said the takeover effort was coordinated and members of the county party’s new leadership met beforehand to align their message.
He said Conrad helped recruit more people to run for precinct committee positions in 2022, expanding the party’s central committee membership from 36 to 58.
Vranish said this expansion was not well received by the old guard because, “They can usually fill the vacancies with people they want.”
Conrad was targeted by the Uinta County GOP in 2022 as the party chose to endorse a write-in candidate over him in his general election campaign.
“I look forward to working with all Uinta County Republicans and all of my Uinta County constituents as I do my very best to represent them in the Wyoming state House,” he told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday.
Not Without A Fight
Vranish said the old leadership made many references to the lawsuit while making stump speeches during Tuesday’s more than three-hour meeting.
“There was a lot of contention,” he said. “Those people have been using the party to support their personal agendas.”
Vranish mentioned a resolution brought up Tuesday supporting state legislation that would override local school board control by prohibiting public schools from teaching about gender identity or sexual orientation to children through third grade.
“I can’t believe they’re telling local school boards how to do their jobs,” Vranish said. “That doesn’t sound like the platform of the Republican Party.”
They also considered another resolution in January to make all party leadership elections at the state Legislature a public roll call vote.
Kemmerer resident Dale Towery compared new chairman Bell to California Democrat U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi on Facebook prior to the meeting Tuesday.
“These liberals are trying to take over true conservatives organizations with gobbledygook, and deceptions,” Towery wrote. “Stop falling for it. The people serving you in the party of the true conservatives are not swamp people. Even though some have been there quite a while. The difference, they’re volunteers. They have nothing to gain. “
Evanston resident Roger Houghton commented on the post Wednesday morning.
“I have a hard time getting to sleep last night after that meeting. It was obvious and anybody who didn’t see it, any true conservative Republican doesn’t know what happened then we’re in trouble,” he said.
With the lawsuit still ongoing, Micheli is now technically suing himself as it was filed against the leadership of the Uinta County GOP.
Although he admitted this makes for an awkward situation and that he and the other new officers will pay the legal debts, he said he still wants the Supreme Court to rule in their favor.
“It comes down to do you follow or not?” Micheli questioned. “They contend private organizations don’t have to follow state statute. With that logic, there’s no end to the mischief you can commit. We thank them for their service though.”
Last week, Jackson put out a request to help the party pay for the legal debts incurred from this case, now at about
$50,000. She said that if the debt could not be paid, party leadership could have their wages garnished and personal property confiscated, which she claimed could result in her losing her home.
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