Frank Eathorne was reelected for a third term Saturday at the Wyoming Republican Party’s quarterly CentralCommittee meeting in Jackson.
It wasn’t close. Committee members reelected Eathorne 49-25 over former state lawmaker Frank Moore of Douglas.
“Those who didn’t vote for me, I intend to win you over,” Eathrone said after the votes were counted.
Despite criticism about Eathorne’s past personal and professional transgressions and accusations that he let divisions fester within the party, Eathorne’s win shows he still has wide support from Wyoming Republicans.
Sheridan County Republican Party Chairman Bryan Miller said party members have addressed the concerns with Eathorne and appreciated his candidness when talking about them.
“Folks say, ‘Oh OK, he’s sincere,’” Miller said. “That’s huge. People find him really sincere when they see him.”
The race between Moore and Eathorne was largely predicated on their perspectives on how division within the party should be addressed moving forward.
Eathorne said he believes there is an ideological rift among Cowboy State Republicans between those who are hardline conservatives and those seen as not strictly following the party platform.
He also said he doesn’t have too much issue with the rift and that as chairman, he’s always allowed every voice to be heard.
But that’s not what happened at the party’s 2022 convention. At that event, members from the Natrona County and Laramie County parties had most of their delegates removed for various reasons.
Moore said his only focus would be to bring the party back together.
He told Cowboy State Daily after the vote that he congratulated Eathorne on the win, but told him that he “better heal the divide” in the Wyoming GOP. Moore said Eathorne vowed to do so.
The candidates also differed greatly on the issue of dues each county party pays the state party. This money goes to support the state party’s headquarters office in Cheyenne, which costs more than $115,000 a year to operate, including Executive Director Kathy Russell’s $55,000 salary.
Before the vote, Moore promised to lead with a nonconfrontational style that is persuasive and inviting. He told Cowboy State Daily after the votes were in that the party has much bigger races coming up than Saturday’s election.
“This party better get its act together,” he said.
Moore started his speech to the Central Committee members by criticizing President Joe Biden’s administration, saying Democrats in Wyoming are getting stronger every year.
Moore mentioned his work in the lamb industry and his past fundraising efforts, which includes raising $15 million for the Mountain States Lamb Cooperative.
“When I said I’ve got the leadership to run this party, it’s not just empty words,” he said.
Moore said he traveled the state visiting with different county members during his two-week campaign and that some members refused to meet with him, showing the firm grip of loyalty Eathorne has on some in the party.
Eathorne said he listens to the grassroots of the party and considers the party platform to be the standard of being a Republican.
He said he didn’t enjoy the party’s censure of former congresswoman Liz Cheney even though he sharply criticized her actions as vice chair of the Jan. 6 committee and never publicly condemned the censure process. Eathorne brought a resolution to censure Cheney at the Republican National Committee meeting in early 2022.
“I didn’t enjoy that; however, it was coming up from the grassroots,” he said.
Eathorne said it’s important for the state party to have relationships at the national level and now that those have been built, and continue to grow, under his watch.
Eathorne said there will be a new focus placed on county commissioner and school board races.
As far as the 2024 presidential nomination process, he said the state party plans to train local county parties on the process they should initiate.
Moore believes the state party exists to serve the county parties and that he supports getting rid of county shares, or dues. He said he would make up for this roughly $115,000 with increased fundraising efforts.
“Just as I helped raise millions of dollars to get off our sheep industry, I am committed to make fundraising my top priority,” he said.
During the 2022 election cycle, the state party spent $16,500 on candidates statewide, a particularly low sum as its coffers were low at the time. The party’s cash on hand as of Saturday was $55,273.
Eathorne put a positive spin on the state party’s funding, saying it received $30,000 from major donors this year.
Moore said any money county parties wanted to give to the state party would be done so voluntarily.
“Money spent at the local level is the ideal way to spend that money,” he said.
Miller found fault with this argument, saying it encourages big donors to have an outsized influence on the party’s activities. He believes party funding should stem from county parties up to the state level.
“He’s stating, we want the party to push things from top down,” Miller said. “We should not be funding the party from the state level.
Eathorne said the current county shares system works, but it’s ultimately up to those county groups to decide.
He, like Miller, said if mandatory county shares were eliminated, the perception of a top-down approach from the state party could develop.
“This is just a way to keep that grassroots money where the grassroots people can decide how that money is spent,” he said.
‘Sweeter The Victory’
Although Eathorne took 66% of the vote and won by a 32% margin, it was a substantial departure from his previous chairman elections. In 2021, he ran unopposed and in 2019 was elected by an even more overwhelming margin.
State Sen. Bob Ide, R-Casper, said it was a positive for Eathorne to be challenged. Ide said Eathorne was visibly fired up “and pretty ecstatic” when he spoke to him after the win.
“It’s always like the old saying, the harder the battle the sweeter the victory,” Ide said.
Ide and Park County Republican Party precinct committeeman Bob Berry, who supports Eathorne, said it’s good to have a contested race.
“It refines them,” Ide said of those running for leadership positions. “Without that challenger, they’re not put in that position.”
A number of Moore supporters told Cowboy State Daily before the vote that if it was reasonably competitive, they would see it as a positive change in the party.
Vice Chair Race
Wyoming Republican Party Vice Chair David Holland also was reelected by the same 49-25 margin.
Holland, a Crook County resident, was aligned with Eathorne on his platform. He defeated Sweetwater County GOP Chairman Elizabeth Bingham.
Bingham, a homeschool parent, took a hardline conservative tone to her speech, calling the current public school curricula “dictatorial” and filled with “leftist propaganda.” Bingham said the threats of the Democratic Party are very real and devalue what it means to be a human being.
“I want to help bring back a sense of excitement to do this work,” she said. “Make our message of freedom, free enterprise and free exercise, something we are all proud and excited to share with all our friends and neighbors in my county, and many of the large counties.”
Bingham believes there is a fracture among Republicans around the state and that a new approach is needed to bridge the divide.
Bingham defines herself a “party platform Republican,” but said more listening should happen within the state party.
Holland said he has no plans to make everyone happy, drawing a small burst of approval from some in attendance.
“I feel like my job, and if I had a gift, is going around encouraging people and helping them to achieve their goals,” he said.
Holland voiced a sentiment expressed by many in the hardline conservative wing of the party, saying one either believes in the Republican platform or they don’t. There’s nothing in between. The statement brought loud applause.
Holland said it wasn’t until 1992 that the Wyoming GOP took a pro-life stance. He said he’s surprised that some people who say they are traditional Republicans want to take the party back, as he believes the party is already run by this group.
“We have to be aware that we’re in a war for the soul of America right now,” he said.
Bingham said the party needs to become more engaged with local elections such as races for county commissioner. Holland said he needs to become more engaged with all of the county parties around the state.
“I’d like to do it on a defined schedule and build up a lot more relationships and help these county parties be successful,”
Holland acknowledged the Wyoming GOP has had issues with its finances, referencing a $52,000 campaign finance fine it incurred in 2021.
Bingham said this financial position cannot be solely blamed on lawsuits.
In the end, “$52,000 is not what’s brought our balances down so low,” she said. “We have a problem. We need to raise more money. I think that’s the job of the vice chair.”
Donna Rice was reelected secretary of the party. She was unopposed, and was first elected secretary in 2021.
Rice said she brings an upbeat demeanor and positive outlook to the Republican Party.
“I’ve been accused many times of having rose-colored glasses and I’m perfectly happy with that,” Rice said.
Rice said it’s not necessary for party members to agree on everything as long they help each other come to decisions.
The state GOP has become known for making strongly worded resolutions and censures in recent years. Rice said these statements have an impact and represent the party’s voice.
There were eight state legislators and a handful of former state legislators at the elections on Saturday. Also in attendance was Secretary of State Chuck Gray, State Treasurer Curt Meier, Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder and State Auditor Kristi Racines.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at: Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com