After two days of sometimes testy testimony by Wyoming Republican Party stalwarts in favor of a bill to close off primary elections, Sen. Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne) started pushing back.
“I think there’s been a challenge of groupthink happening within the party,” she said at the Jan. 22 hearing.
The bill to block independents and Democrats from voting in Republican primaries, Nethercott said, was a “knee-jerk reaction” by some party members to moderate Gov. Mark Gordon’s election win over more conservative opponents.
“You have worked very hard to push a candidate, to push a platform and to push a belief in this state,” the Cheyenne senator and attorney said. “And you feel that’s being thwarted.”
A moderate may have won the Republican gubernatorial primary, but moderates have lost control of the Republican party itself.
As the 2019 legislative session plays out, the demands and tactics of party officials and the disciples that push their initiatives are meeting friction from lawmakers.
Recent interviews, along with internal party documents and communications, depict a party apparatus obsessed with conservative purity and untrusting of Republican lawmakers clashing with a Legislature that, despite its conservatism, remains more focused on grappling with the minutiae of Wyoming policy problems.
Members of the GOP’s State Central Committee, Chairman Frank Eathorne and other party operatives are lobbying the Legislature in ways they haven’t before, lawmakers said. How effective their tactics are remains to be seen. As the Senate Corporations, Elections, and Political Subdivisions Committee showed not once, but twice last week, many lawmakers push back when the party makes demands. At the same time, party focus on ideological purity and worries about “RINOs” — “Republicans in Name Only” — might stint lobbying efforts, according to both a lawmaker involved with the party apparatus and those who are not.
Comments by both party leaders and GOP lawmakers reveal the philosophical and practical divide between them.
“We took an oath today not to our party allegiances but to the people of Wyoming,” Senate President Drew Perkins (R-Casper) told his chamber in a speech on the opening day of the session.
The party is only informing policy makers of its position, Eathorne said in an interview. “The Wyoming Republican Party serves its interest and so does any other party,” he said. “We have as much right to voice that as any other private individual or special interest groups.”
Tensions are more pointed on social media. On Jan. 22, Michelle Sabrosky, a Natrona County party delegate at the April 2018 GOP convention, posted an email exchange with long-time lawmaker Sen. Jeff Wasserburger (R-Gillette) to Facebook.
In the email, addressed to numerous lawmakers, Sabrosky cited 1800s politician and newspaper editor Gideon Tucker: “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”
Wasserburger responded in kind. “I would reply to you that the same is true every time the Natrona County Central Committee meets,” he wrote.
By Andrew Graham