The chairman of the Teton County Republican Party is considering challenging Wyoming State Republican Chairman Frank Eathorne for his seat at the state party's elections the first weekend of May.
Mary Martin said she is only considering the possibility of running at this time and is primarily doing it so there will be a contested election. She mentioned how she encouraged members of her county party to run against her in their recent leadership elections.
"People should have a choice," she said. "It's the sign of a healthy election."
Sweetwater County GOP Chairman Elizabeth Bingham agrees.
"Contested races are good races," she said. "How most people feel is they'd like to have a choice. They might like somebody else or they might like Frank."
No one is officially running against Eathorne at this time.
Eathorne became chairman in 2017 when the former chairman stepped down. He was then reelected in 2019 and 2021.
Jack Speight, a former Wyoming Republican Party chairman from the 1970s, said he has no knowledge of a chairman serving more than two terms since first becoming involved with the state party around 1965.
Martin and Bingham told Cowboy State Daily that Eathorne communicated to the party during its January Central Committee meeting that he is running again. Eathorne did not return a request for comment.
State GOP Vice Chair David Holland said he fully expects Eathorne to run again and will support him 100% in his bid.
"I think hes done an excellent job," Holland said. "If Frank is running thats great and all I need to know."
Holland is also running again. He aligned himself with Eathorne.
"The leadership in this party, I dont know if it gets more 'traditional Republican' than me and Frank," Holland said.
Eathorne and other party members have spoken against the "big tent" approach to the Republican Party, which is welcoming of different viewpoints in or around the conservative spectrum of beliefs. Eathorne and others have said they prefer a more rigid adherence to the party platform, which is voted and approved by party delegates at county and state conventions.
"There's a part of the party that wants to just go along to get along," Holland said. "The true conservatives react to the times that we're living in and we as a team feel like we represent the grassroots of Wyoming. We've got a party platform and it's determined from the ground up, not the top down."
Eathorne has overseen the state party during a rather significant time in its history. Under his watch, the state voted for former President Donald Trump with a larger margin than any other state in 2020. It also saw a record number of Republicans register and vote for the 2022 elections.
Trump had glowing remarks about Eathorne when he held a campaign rally for Wyoming U.S. Rep. Harriet Hageman in May 2022. More than 10,000 people attended.
"Youve done an outstanding job," Trump said to Eathorne. "But this is politics, so if you don't win Frank, you did a lousy job."
Trump was referring to Hageman's candidacy in the speech, not another chairman run from Eathorne.
Eathorne had similar remarks for Trump, telling the audience he would run through a barbed wire fence for the former president.
Over the last few years, the state party has also initiated a relative uptick in censures, condemnations made against certain lawmakers for their behavior or voting history. Most notable was the party's censure against former congresswoman Liz Cheney. This move was later followed by a similar censure from the National Republican Committee in February 2022.
A spokesman for Cheney told Cowboy State Daily in May 2022 she would not be attending the State GOP convention because Eathorne was purported to be a member of the "Oath Keepers," a far-right militia group.
"Were the grassroots and the grassroots isn't very happy with her (Cheney) right now," Eathorne told Cowboy State Daily earlier the same day.
Eathorne has also drawn criticism for being much more involved and closer than he originally claimed to be during the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot in Washington, D.C. He rejected a few calls for his resignation in light of the revelations.
Whomever is selected chair of the party for the next two years will play a critical role in guiding the party through its presidential nomination process for the 2024 election. There could be some type of split within the party between supporters of Trump and expected frontrunners like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. .
Eathorne has had his fair share of detractors within the Republican Party, mainly from the more moderate and 'traditional' wings of the party that support the 'big tent' approach.
Martin said without a "devil's advocate" being considered in conversations, groupthink starts to take over.
"We need to have differences in opinion and healthy discussion," Martin said. "It's not so much that we have to agree, but it's important that we can explain why we are taking the positions we are."
Members of the big tent faction took back leadership seats in about five counties during the most recent county party elections in March. Martin, who was reelected in March, remarked that "some of the bullies got unelected."
Holland feels confident he still represents the majority of the party. His wing of the party has held an overwhelming majority for the last two years.
"I think we have some outstanding conservatives in our new Central Committee members," he said.
Who Is Martin?
Martin was commended at a State GOP meeting shortly after the November 2022 elections for her fundraising and campaigning efforts. A Republican State House candidate in her county set the all-time record for fundraising during the election cycle.
Describing herself as a "big tent Republican," Martin said although Eathorne conducts himself like a "consummate gentleman" at meetings and allows discussion from all voices in the party, she believes he has not spoken out when certain party members have exhibited poor behavior. She said there are "really good things'" about his leadership and "things I shouldnt see."
"There are individuals who should've been taken to the woodshed," she said. "When people are allowed to use the process to attack others, thats wrong."
"People arent learning things they should be learning."
When the Laramie County Republican Party lost most of its delegates at the 2022 state GOP convention, Eathorne was noticeably silent on the matter during discussions.
An even earlier event stuck out for Sheridan County Republican Party Precinct Committeeman Gail Symons when Eathorne was vice chair of the state party. Symons said inappropriate gag gifts with an insulting note attached were given to two members of the Natrona Republican Party at one State Central Committee meeting. She found it extremely telling that neither Eathorne or any member of the executive spoke publicly against the act.
"The chairman should speak out against scatological humor," Symons said. "There should be a very public slamming of sophomoric humor."
Symons said Eathorne "basically ducks out on anything controversial," allowing other party members to dirty themselves in mudslinging.
"Theres a lack of leadership,"bshe said. "When leadership allows unprofessional behavior to go unchecked, they lack leadership skills."
But Martin said Eathorne cant be blamed for the actions of all individuals.
She reiterated to Cowboy State Daily she is only considering running for chair and will likely drop all consideration if another person commits to running. Martin also cited the time commitment that being chair of both her county and state parties and a full-time job would bring and said she wouldn't expect to win the election.
"I think someone should run against him," she said. "We have great talent in the state. I don't think any organization is better without a little competition."
The only requirement to run for state chairman is that an individual be a registered Republican. But the only people who can vote in the election are Central Committee members, made up by state committeemen and committeewomen and county chairmen.
State Rep. Scott Heiner, R-Green River, is a precinct committeeman in the Sweetwater County Republican Party and a member of the Wyoming Freedom Caucus. Heiner said although he supports Eathorne and doesn't follow State GOP activities, he believes the party should stand behind whomever is elected at the state party's elections next month in Jackson.
"Whoever wins the election, the Republican Party needs to support 100%," he said. "We as the GOP dont need fractures."