Whether it’s to save money, for convenience or out of a desire to avoid internal conflicts, the Natrona County Republican Party hasn’t held a meeting of its central committee in nearly a year.
Instead, the party has been holding monthly meetings with its 14-member executive committee, a panel of the county party’s top leadership.
This excludes direct participation from more than 200 elected precinct committee members in Wyoming’s second largest county Republican Party group. Most of these committee members were voted in during the 2022 primary election.
Natrona County GOP Chairman Joe MacGuire said committee members can still attend the executive committee meetings, but they technically must be recognized by a member of the executive committee to speak or bring an issue up. However, he said the committee typically disregards this requirement and lets anyone who comes speak.
MacGuire also said no outside issues have been raised with the executive committee in months.
But precinct committee member Dan Sabrosky said when issues have been raised by some with the executive committee in the past, they haven’t always been accepted for discussion. He expressed frustration that a significant amount of time was devoted in a recent meeting to discussing Wyoming State Committeeman Joe McGinley’s climbing exploits.
“Regular party business is not allowed, but we’re allowed to talk about the latest adventures Joe McGinley has gone on?” Sabrosky questioned. “We’re going to give up the Republican Party business for something we could all read about everywhere in the news?”
Sabrosky believes the executive committee is deliberately stifling the voice of what he believes to be the grassroots of the Natrona County party.
“They don’t want to debate,” he said of the county party leaders. “You can’t interject, you can’t do anything.”
MacGuire said the party hasn’t been hosting central committee meetings in order to save money on renting rooms and publishing public notices.
Not holding regular central committee meetings is “perfectly normal for an off-election year,” he said.
Due to the size of his party, MacGuire said a large meeting space has to be rented for any central committee meeting.
But that hasn’t stopped the Laramie County Republican Party, the largest county party in the state, from conducting monthly central committee meetings. Further, Sabrosky said a room large enough to hold the party’s members could easily be rented at the Ramkota Hotel in Casper for as little as $150.
With 2024 being an election year, there will be much more political activity across Wyoming than in 2023.
On Monday, the Natrona County party will break its streak when it hosts a central committee meeting with County Clerk Tracy Good as the guest speaker. MacGuire said the 2024 elections will be the focus of the meeting.
After that, the county party will host its caucus and convention in February and March, respectively.
Under its bylaws, the Natrona County Republican Party Central Committee only has to meet in March on odd-numbered years and to fill local political vacancies when they arise.
Shift In Venues
A meeting also can be called upon a written request from 25% of the central committee members, but Sabrosky said the “conservatives” of the Natrona GOP don’t have this large of a contingency.
“I don’t think we have the numbers yet,” he said.
He said many of these people have drifted to other outlets to pursue their political endeavors and goals, such as legislator-hosted town halls and outside political events like those held by his local conservative group Liberty’s Place 4 U. He also said the ever-growing presence of social media has changed people’s approach to politics in Wyoming.
“Things are waking people up,” Sabrosky said. “They’re not running to serve their county party, there’s more outside movements.”
In recent years in Natrona County, farther-right Republicans have replaced Republicans seen as more “traditional” or “moderate” in the Wyoming Legislature like MacGuire, Pat Sweeney and Drew Perkins.
The Natrona County GOP has been at odds with the state GOP in recent years, refusing to pay dues and engaging in a lawsuit with the state party about a refusal to seat the county party’s allotted delegates at the state convention in 2020.
Many county Republican parties in Wyoming host monthly central committee meetings, but most have a substantially smaller membership than Natrona.
In Park County for instance, the local party of 116-eligible precinct committee members routinely consider resolutions and statements at each of their monthly meetings.
The Fremont County Republican Party also has cut back on the number of its central committee meetings, only hosting around four in 2023.
Fremont County GOP Chair Scott Harnsberger said this was a result of a change of focus for his county party more similar to the way it conducted business around 20 years ago.
Back then, he said his county party was more focused on holding fundraisers and supporting candidates during its central committee meetings.
Drafting resolutions and censures has taken a heightened focus for the Wyoming Republican Party and its county parties in recent years, including the highly publicized censure of former congresswoman Liz Cheney and other prominent state legislators.
Harnsberger believes the county should leave resolutions and censures for county and state conventions.
“These are issues that should be left for the convention when there’s more votes in the conversation,” he said.
Sabrosky believes drafting resolutions and censures does hold some weight and should be conducted on a more regular basis. From a practical standpoint, neither have any legal standing, but Sabrosky said resolutions and censures make symbolic statements.
“Does it do anything? Maybe it just sharpens us and is a way for the party to talk through the issues,” he said.
The Johnson County Republican Party, like Natrona, also hasn’t held a central committee meeting since last spring, but county chairman and former state legislator Mike Madden has been regularly attending and speaking at state party meetings on behalf of his local party.
Madden said his executive committee only calls for a central committee meeting “as needed,” as has been the historical practice in his county. Although Madden said he has been asked by some to host more central committee meetings, he said that hasn’t been necessary.
“Some of these counties just want to have a meeting just to have a meeting and then have nothing to do at it,” Madden said. “We schedule one when something needs to be done.”
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.