Nearly two dozen Park County Republican Party elected precinct committee members booted from their seats five months ago will be reinstated — at least for now.
Overall, 22 precinct committeemen and committeewomen — including former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson — had their seats taken away by the local party last August after failing to attend three consecutive party meetings in 2023.
In a Jan. 23 letter sent to the members who had their seats vacated last summer, the Dispute Resolution Committee of the Wyoming Republican Party informed the precinct representatives they “are free to assume their previous roles.” They are granting this status “while a few legal issues are addressed.”
Simpson and 21 others had the precinct committee seats they were elected to in the 2022 primary vacated by a vote of more than two-thirds of the precinct members of the local party for failing to attend party meetings, in line with an attendance bylaw approved by the party.
Simpson said he received a letter from the “wizards of the Wyoming Republican Party” last week. He plans to attend the county party’s caucus Saturday and its convention on March 2.
“We’re back in business,” he said.
Seats were also vacated belonging to former Wyoming House speaker and party chairman Colin Simpson, Powell Mayor John Wetzel, Park County Commissioner Scott Steward and Northwest College Trustee Dusty Spomer.
The precinct committee representatives appealed the local decision to the Wyoming Republican Party’s Dispute Resolution Committee shortly after.
There was one person in the group who has since moved out of the county and will not have her seat reinstated.
The committee’s decision to offer a stay on the issue will allow the precinct members to participate in the county party’s caucus this weekend, where the county’s Republican nominee for president will be decided.
“I’ll cheer on anyone that isn’t (former President Donald) Trump,” Simpson said.
The letter makes it clear the reversal of the ouster is only temporary, and that “once the legal issues are addressed, the Dispute Resolution Committee will act on the matter.”
Cody resident and precinct committeeman Mack Frost said he’s grateful to have his seat returned but is irritated with how long it took.
“It should’ve never taken this long,” he said.
Park County GOP Committeeman Vince Vanata, who originally proposed the bylaw change and defended the vacating of seats, said the Resolution Committee he’s a member of originally intended to have the issue resolved by Feb. 1, but when that didn’t appear doable, offered the stay. The state GOP will hold county caucuses across Wyoming from Feb. 1-18, where it will begin selecting delegates for the Republican nominee for president.
“The Wyoming Republican Party has a process, and the process is in the works,” Vanata said. “The party is a self-governing organization and that’s why we have the dispute resolution process. Once the legal questions are addressed, the issue will resume.”
Vanata has recused himself from ruling on the issue.
Frost said if the state party ends up permanently removing him and the other committee representatives from their seats, they’ll challenge the decision in court.
“We’ll definitely win, the law is clearly on our side,” he said.
If he is permanently returned his seat, Frost said he will make a better effort to attend meetings or notify the party when he can’t. The bylaw stipulates that any prior notice given about an absence is considered excused and won’t be considered as a missed meeting.
How It Works
Precinct committee members are elected through primary elections in Wyoming, where registered members of a party vote at-large.
Simpson, 92, said whether or not he’s permanently returned his precinct committee seat, he plans to run for reelection this August.
“They’re not going to control my life,” he said. “Control yourself. This is hypocrisy of the first order.”
Wyoming law states that a vacancy in a county central committee happens 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.
Vanata previously 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.
Some members of the Wyoming GOP, like Saratoga resident Joey Correnti, don’t agree with that determination, which led to a relatively lengthy discussion on the matter during the state party’s August 2023 meeting.
Once the Dispute Resolution Committee renders a decision, the matter is considered final.
Members of the Dispute Resolution Committee are hand-picked by the state party’s chairman, Frank Eathorne.
Frost sees the bylaw as part of an effort of what Frost describes as the “ultra-conservative” faction of the party trying to remove more moderate members like himself. He said the Dispute Resolution Committee is doing its best to support this movement as the law and party rules allow.
Former House Speaker Tom Lubnau of Gillette mentioned the creation of the Dispute Resolution Committee as motivation for his resignation as a precinct committeeman in 2022.
“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 in his resignation letter. “The program is an affront to our legal system and reminds me of the Star Chamber proceedings under King Charles I.”
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.