Former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson represented Wyoming for 18 years in Congress, was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom and shared a close relationship with former President George H.W. Bush. That apparently doesn’t carry much weight today with his home Park County Republican Party, which has ousted Simpson and 21 other precinct committee people.
Simpson and the others had their precinct committee seats vacated last month by a vote of more than ⅔ of the precinct members of their local party for failing to attend three consecutive party meetings.
Precinct committee elections happen during primary elections in Wyoming, where registered members of a party vote at-large. Simpson said he believes only the voters of his precinct can remove him from the elected position.
“Their mumblings and rantings have no force, no legal force,” Simpson said about whether others in the party are upset about missed meetings.
Is It Legal?
The county party was able to hold the vote because of a bylaw change the county party’s prior precinct committee members approved in November 2022, which allows the party’s central committee to vacate the seats of members who fail to attend three consecutive meetings.
Whether the bylaw is supported by state law may be tested. Wyoming law states that a vacancy in a county central committee shall occur in the case of death, resignation, failure of a qualified candidate to be elected to a precinct committee position, or if someone moves out of the precinct.
Park County GOP Committeeman Vince Vanata proposed the bylaw change. He told Cowboy State Daily that because the law doesn’t say “shall only,” it leaves an opening for the party to add its own requirements. He brought up scenarios such as a party member registering as a Democrat or being found guilty of a felony as other situations where he believes the party’s interpretation of the law could be invoked.
He also is adamant that nobody was “kicked out” or “removed” from their precinct seats and that vacating those seats were “not personal,” but rather a matter of “procedure.”
Seats also were vacated belonging to former Wyoming House speaker and party chairman Colin Simpson, Powell Mayor John Wetzel and, according to the Powell Tribune, Park County Commissioner Scott Steward and Northwest College Trustee Dusty Spomer.
Simpson said he and the others very much were targeted because they aren’t considered to be conservative enough by others in the party.
“Those are people they want to get rid of and they’re keeping score,” Simpson said.
Vanata said the bylaw was made to improve participation at meetings, which he said only about 60% to 75% of the 116 precinct committee members typically attend.
“We have people who become precinct committee people and go two years and never make it to a meeting,” he said. “To make the party more effective we have to have participation.”
Cody residents Mack Frost and Landon Greer, a former city council member, were two other precinct committee members who lost their seats as a result of the bylaw. They’ve filed a complaint with the Secretary of State’s office.
“We, the undersigned, believe that being absent from three consecutive meetings is not a valid means of declaring a seat vacant, and that the PCRCC has no legal authority to remove a duly elected committeeperson from their office for that reason,” the letter reads. “We are NOT dead, we have NOT resigned, we were duly ELECTED, and we STILL RESIDE in our respective precincts.”
The letter also requests that the new bylaw be removed to bring the county party in compliance with state statutes.
Frost told Cowboy State Daily he hasn’t heard back from Secretary of State Chuck Gray about the matter. Gray told Cowboy State Daily the complaint is pending review by his office.
“Our office takes all election complaints very seriously,” Gray said.
The Wyoming Republican Party has had an uncertain response to Park County’s actions.
During the state GOP’s meeting in August, nine days after the precinct committee members had their seats vacated, the state party’s central committee voted to reject any submissions from the Park County GOP made within 15 days for its new committeemen and committeewomen.
No new committeeman or committeewomen have been selected yet, but Vanata said he has had some people express interest.
Follow The Rules
Carbon County resident Joey Correnti brought the motion to reject the new committee members at the state meeting. Correnti said if Park County wants to defend its actions, it should do so without the state GOP’s acceptance.
“We either uphold the law or we change it, we don’t violate it just because we don’t believe in it,” he said.
Vanata said Correnti’s motions were irrelevant and had no standing as the county party doesn’t need to receive state approval for its precinct committee members. He finds that political parties are more similar to private organizations in Wyoming.
“I don’t know what his whole rationale or motivation was behind that whole situation,” Vanata said.
The Wyoming Republican Party recently sent a letter to Frost, informing him that they will bring this matter before their Dispute Resolution Committee.
“I have no qualm about knowing where that’s going,” Simpson said sarcastically.
Was It Partisan?
Vanata said the 22 members who had their seats vacated make up a wide spectrum of beliefs within the Republican Party, but Frost and Simpson the vast majority are more moderate.
Simpson and Frost see the bylaw as part of an effort from what Frost describes as the “ultra-right wing, ultra-conservative” faction of the party to remove more moderate members like themselves.
The more hardline conservative wing of the county party has control of the Park County GOP executive committee. People in these roles often complain about members of their party not adhering to the party platform.
“Their purpose is purity,” Simpson said. “You’ve got to cleanse the RINOs (Republicans in name only) and the laggards and get back to total purity.”
More moderate members of the Park County GOP like Simpson have been known to only attend a few meetings a year. One of the biggest reasons is that many don’t believe the party often spends its time discussing worthwhile topics.
Simpson said the Park County Republican Party has become so focused on censuring various people and discussing social issues that he doesn’t find it worth his time to go to many of their meetings. Lacking are important conversations about the future of Social Security, Medicare and the national debt.
“It is the theater of the absurd and so, why would you go to every meeting?” Simpson questioned.
Simpson said although he has some friendly conversations with opposing members of the party, he’s also been heckled while speaking at meetings and had other members refuse to shake his hand.
“They’re very suspicious, they’re fearful people,” Simpson said. “It’s all social issues and there’s a real harshness to them.”
Precinct committee members are only elected by members of their party and do not take an oath. Also, unlike elected officials, their names are allowed to appear more than once on a ballot.
Although Wyoming is an overwhelmingly Republican majority state, candidates endorsed and opposed by GOP party leaders have experienced mixed results in recent years. Precinct committee members have some of the most say in appointing replacements for local vacant elected seats.
Serving as a Republican precinct committee member is more of a commitment than it used to be in Park County, Simpson said. Other county GOP parties throughout the state range widely on this issue. The Natrona County GOP hasn’t had an official meeting since the spring, while the Laramie County Republican Party, like Park County, meets monthly.
“Nobody is going to go once a month,” Simpson said. “Even the zealots won’t hang around for once-a-month meetings.”
He and Frost added that many of the party’s meetings typically have little information provided on their agendas, giving people the impression they won’t be missing much if they don’t attend.
Vanata countered these arguments and said as long as a precinct committee member finds a proxy to replace them or simply informs the party’s executive committee they can’t make it to a meeting, it counts as an excused absence not included in the three-meeting bylaw.
Neither Simpson nor Frost informed party members they would not attend any meetings. They also both said they were vaguely aware of the existence of the rule before breaking it.
Frost still believes he is a legitimate precinct committee member.
He plans to await feedback from Gray’s office before doing so, but if he receives communication that he believes gives him legal standing, Frost plans to attend the county party’s October meeting and serve in his precinct committee role.
“In my opinion, the central committee did not have the authority to vacate my position,” he said.
Simpson, 92, said he plans to run to be a precinct committee member again in 2024, and if the party leadership puts up someone to run against him, he will go door-to-door with his campaign. In the 2022 race for Simpson’s 25-1 precinct, there were four candidates running for two positions. Simpson received the most votes by a significant margin.
Frost won his three-man race in precinct 2-2, but by a closer total.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.