Wyoming Republicans At Crossroads With Election, Couched As Battle For ‘Grassroots’ Or ‘Unity’

Teton County Republican Chair Mary Martin said she was disappointed with the state party’s recent lawsuit with Natrona County and feels that it could’ve been avoided with better leadership instead of “shooting arrows at each other.”

Leo Wolfson

April 28, 20239 min read

GOP Chairman Frank Ethorne, left, will have a challenger for leadership of the Wyoming GOP in Douglas sheep rancher Frank Moore, right.
GOP Chairman Frank Ethorne, left, will have a challenger for leadership of the Wyoming GOP in Douglas sheep rancher Frank Moore, right. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Members of the Wyoming Republican Party are saddling up behind their preferred candidates for what’s shaping up to a party election that could determine the future of the party for years to come.

The race between two-time Wyoming GOP Chairman Frank Eathorne and challenger Frank Moore highlights a Republican split that’s been growing between a more far-right faction of the party and those seen as being more moderate conservatives.

During Eathorne’s four years leading the state GOP, the party has narrowed the definition of what it means to be a Republican within its platform and taken a more hard-edged, aggressive tone to its politics. Those who don’t adhere to at least 80% of this platform are typically castigated by Eathorne and his supporters as “RINOs” (Republican in name only) or “liberals,” as Eathorne referred to them in a recent interview.

Running for a rare third term, Eathorne represents a group of populist conservatives he claims to be the “grassroots” of the party. 

What is the grassroots and what is not is subjective, but in many ways Eathorne has used the term to determine the who's is and who’s not of the party. Furthermore, it’s been used by many from his camp as a shot against the “establishment” wing of the party many Republicans like Secretary of State Chuck Gray also have openly spoken against. 

Unity, Or Lack Thereof

Although Moore said he is very conservative and voted for former President Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020, the challenger said he would accept a wide range of views within the party if elected chair.

Eathorne is not so open minded, reiterating a strict loyalty to the party platform.

The state GOP is largely split along two main camps that support and oppose Eathorne and his wing of the party. Eathorne has openly criticized some of the most vocal county level parties that have opposed him in Natrona and Laramie. Both were stripped of most of their delegates at the 2022 State GOP Convention.

The Natrona County Republican Party sued the state GOP about a bylaws change approved at the 2020 convention. A Laramie County district court judge ruled against the county party in the case. It briefly appealed to the Wyoming Supreme Court, but rescinded the appeal.

Teton County Republican Chair Mary Martin said she was disappointed with the state party’s recent lawsuit with Natrona County and feels that it could’ve been avoided with better leadership instead of “shooting arrows at each other.”

“That was not necessary for us to have experienced,” she said. “The whole process was very disappointing.” 


The continuing turbulence in the party under Eathorne’s reign led to the resignation of respected longtime Republican Tom Lubnau from the central committee.

Lubnau, a former speaker of the House in the Wyoming Legislature, cited differences with the actions and ethics of the state party as a reason for his departure.

“The lack of integrity, toxicity and the move toward secrecy have convinced me to resign from this position,” he wrote in his resignation letter. 

Lubnau was referring to the creation of an Investigative Committee and Dispute Resolution Committee that is designed to resolve in-party disputes.

“The system provides for secret proceedings, without notice or rules, standards of conduct which may be enforced, and unappealable legal judgments rendered in secret by a panel which cannot be challenged for bias,” Lubnau wrote. “The program is an affront to our legal system and reminds me of the Star Chamber proceedings under King Charles I.”

“The willingness of constitution-loving Republicans to subjugate themselves to the whims of the Party Chairman is frightening,” he wrote. “The willingness to give up constitutionally protected rights in the name of expediency and quashing dissent is appalling.”

Taking Sides

Sheridan Republican Jeff Wallack, a nonvoting member of the party, said he supports Eathorne. He said any criticism of the chairman and the state of the party is coming from the “moderates” and the “liberals” within its ranks and believes the “principled conservatives” still hold the majority.

“The principled Republicans do dominate the state party,” he said. “I think we’re in good shape.”

Park County Committeeman Vince Vanata also supports Eathorne and says the chairman doesn’t rule with an iron fist as some of his critics claim. In fact, Vanata says Eathorne often defers to his fellow executive committee members and other committee members to run the party’s meetings.

“The grassroots runs the Wyoming GOP right now,” Vanata said. “We have not been given a secret agenda of what to do.”

Eathorne tried to influence the Natrona and Laramie county elections this spring, sending a letter to their committee members in which he says they have an opportunity to “rectify the egregious actions” made by their leadership.

In 2019, former Natrona County GOP Chair Joe McGinley told the Casper Star-Tribune he and several top Republicans became subjects of a secretive investigation carried out by members of the party’s state executive committee.

Vanata said Eathorne has a “very good chance of winning” and that “he has tremendous support in the party.”

Sheridan County Republican Committee Precinctwoman Gail Symons is backing Moore, but does not believe he will win despite being “exceedingly well respected on a statewide basis.”

“He shows a graciousness that’s been missing, frankly,” she said.

Moore has been highly successful in his nonpolitical pursuits.

A former state legislator, he served on the board of directors for the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank. He is co-owner of a local frozen lamb company based out of Douglas. Moore also served as president of the Wyoming Wool Growers Association and the American Sheep Industry Association, and vice president of the Mountain States Lamb Cooperative for 17 years.

State Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas, said he’s very familiar with both candidates, having interacted with Moore for sheep-related ventures and with Eathorne when Boner was vice chair of the Converse County Republican Party.

He said the party will be well off with either as chairman.

Symons said the only weakness in Eathorne’s ranks may be from people who are wary of him running for a third term.

She said the party needs to do a better job recruiting younger voters, who she believes are turned off by the divisive rhetoric and hardline stances of the state and national Republican parties. Very few members of the party’s central committee are younger than 40.

“If we can’t find a way to reach out for new Republicans, when they do vote, they’re either going to be Democrats or Independents,” she said.

Martin, who briefly considered making a run against Eathorne herself, said she supports Moore.

“I think a change of leadership would be good,” she said.

Longtime politico and current Cowboy State Daily columnist Rod Miller has been an outspoken critic of Eathorne.

“Throughout your tenure as chairman, you and your followers have tried to reduce our party to lock-step zombies who are expected to follow top-down dictates instead of thinking for themselves. Your authoritarian streak is showing, and it looks a lot more like Mao than it does Goldwater,” Miller wrote in a Feb. 12 “open letter” to Eathorne.

The Trump Effect

Eathrorne was endorsed by Trump in his 2021 reelection and is highly loyal to the former president. Moore has said he will support whichever candidate the party nominates for president in 2024.

Trump hasn’t weighed on the state GOP chair race so far, but Wallack said he wouldn’t be surprised if he does soon with another endorsement for Eathorne. In January, Trump endorsed a candidate for Michigan GOP chair who ended up losing to another candidate that also denied the results of the 2020 election.

“He (Trump) and Frank are very close,” Wallack said.


Both candidates have been actively campaigning and speaking to different county chairman throughout the state in the run-up to the election. 

Although Eathorne easily won his elections in 2019 and 2021, his 2023 bid will likely be his most challenging. 

There were calls made for his resignation from the Natrona County GOP after a 2022 Casper Star-Tribune and WyoFile story exposed Eathorne’s turbulent private life, in which it was revealed he was suspended from his law enforcement job for having oral sex in a patrol car while on duty in the early 1990s, and other more recent infidelities. 

He was also involved in a federal lawsuit for allegedly trying to pressure a female neighbor into having sex with him.

He stepped down from the Worland Police Department shortly thereafter.

Eathorne rejected requests for his resignation and the party rallied around him, even issuing a press release condemning the story.

Martin, whose county is hosting the upcoming quarterly meeting, said she expects the May 6 election to run fairly and smoothly. She believes Moore, who she worked with in agriculture in the 1980s, has a solid chance of winning.

“I’m really thrilled he’s willing to run,” she said. “He’s an exceptional individual with lots of great life experience.”

Jimmy Orr contributed to this story.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter