Last weekend’s Wyoming Republican Party Central Committee meeting drew attention from many of the state’s most notable political movers and shakers with a contested race for the party’s leadership front and center.
Although four of Wyoming’s five statewide elected officials were in Jackson and spoke during the meeting, the one notable no-show was Gov. Mark Gordon.
A spokesperson for Gordon said the governor was unable to attend the meetings as he was attending a TerraPower Natrium nuclear event Friday and had a previous engagement with first lady Jennie Gordon in Riverton on Saturday.
TerraPower and Microsoft founder Bill Gates visited Kemmerer, home to the future Natrium reactor and integrated storage system that will be sited at a PacifiCorp retiring coal facility. Gordon spoke at the event, where Gates and several TerraPower executives spoke about the next-generation nuclear reactor.
Bill Tibbs, chairman of the Converse County Republican Party, said although Gordon didn’t attend the GOP event, he also wasn’t surprised.
“We probably have a difference of opinions on a lot of things,” Tibbs said about the state party and the governor. “He doesn’t have a whole lot of support from conservatives in the party.”
But Wyoming GOP Vice Chair David Holland said he has found Gordon supportive of the party and its platform and didn’t mind him not showing up.
Gordon spokesperson Michael Pearlman also pointed out that Gordon has not regularly attended Central Committee meetings since taking office. This point is true, although Saturday’s meeting featured a high-stakes election for chairman, a vote that in many ways could determine the future direction of the party.
In addition to Secretary of State Chuck Gray, State Treasurer Curt Meier, Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder and State Auditor Kristi Racines were at the meeting. A number of state lawmakers also were in Jackson, including House Speaker Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, and a handful of former state legislators were also there.
Gordon’s Relationship With The Party
Gordon hasn’t had the coziest relationship with the Wyoming Republican Party in recent years.
Many members of the state party supported challenger Brent Bien in the Republican primary, citing Gordon’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues. Some Republicans also have claimed Gordon only won his first election for governor in 2018 because traditionally non-Republican voters registered as Republicans to vote in the party’s primary.
But Republican voters as a whole didn’t agree with the party ranks in 2022, supporting Gordon by an overwhelming margin in his reelection bid.
Cheryl Aguiar, chairman of the Hot Springs County Republican Party, who also ran Bien’s general election write-in campaign, said she was bothered that Gordon was a no-show.
“I did think about it,” she said. “I just don’t think Mark Gordon is a Republican, personally.”
Gordon did attend the state party’s convention in May 2022, where he was greeted by a mostly supportive audience for his speech, where also a few boos were heard.
That Gordon missed Friday’s portion of the meeting to attend an event with Gates also was notable.
In a resolution passed by the Wyoming GOP in November 2022, the party said it wanted an investigation of Gordon’s alleged involvement with the planned TerraPower nuclear plant. In the resolution, the party speculated without evidence that there may be a relationship between Gordon and billionaire financiers Gates, George Soros and Warren Buffett.
“The Central Committee’s resolution is confusing,” Pearlman said after it was passed. “The governor will continue his efforts to ensure Wyoming’s coal miners keep working, its energy industries remain healthy and strong, and continue to push back against a Biden administration intent on damaging the industries that are the backbone of our state’s economy.”
Natrona County Republican Party Chairman Joe MacGuire said he supports Gordon and wasn’t bothered that he didn’t make an appearance.
“I didn’t even think about it,” he said. “I’m completely ambivalent about that.”
Other Statewide’s Comments
All four of the other state’s top elected officials spoke Saturday.
Gray, who claimed he and his staff are regularly working 18-hour days, mentioned a familiar theme from almost all his speeches about what he believes to be corrupt and biased media. He said the party cannot let the media “dictate” and “hold a gun to our head” to influence the political direction of state.
“When we talk about the coalitions that tries to prevent conservatives from winning in Wyoming, it’s the insiders, the Democrats and the media,” he said. “Unfortunately, I would say that those three, in what I call the troika, is the most powerful and the most dangerous in the tactics they use.”
Degenfelder said there needs to be more parental control in school choice in Wyoming education. She mentioned a recently proposed rule from President Joe Biden’s administration that would likely nullify a bill recently passed in the Wyoming Legislature that prohibits transgender girls from participating in girls sports.
“I’ve spoken out publicly, and I’ve already begun to work with other states and fight back against this gross federal overreach,” she said.
Meier mentioned his office’s new stance on environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) scores and took a 2024 focus to his speech, saying Republicans need to organize their fundraising efforts to beat the Democrats.
“We’ve got problems because the Democrats are putting out lots of money out there,” he said. “They don’t have candidates, but they’re going to be violent and nasty and you know it so we got to be ready to fight back.”
Racines complimented the new makeup of the State Loan and Investment Board and said her office prides itself on transparency. She said she wants to work with the Legislature to codify a practice her office has undertaken to post every purchase made by the state of Wyoming online by the next business day.
She also gave some words of wisdom to the party.
“It’s healthy that there’s not always agreement or consensus on everything,” she said. “That’s actually how we move forward.”
Contact Leo Wolfson at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.