By Nick Reynolds, Casper Star-Tribune Via Wyoming News Exchange
CASPER — The leader of one of Wyoming’s largest county-level GOP organizations says he and several top Republicans have become subjects of a secretive investigation carried out by members of their party’s state executive committee — the latest in a growing rift within the party between county bosses and executive leadership.
In an interview with the Star-Tribune this week, top officials with the Natrona County Republican committee said that executive committee leadership approved secret investigations into several county committee chairs for activities deemed to be “detrimental to the party,” Natrona County GOP chairman Joe McGinley said.
McGinley’s allegations were corroborated in separate interviews with Republican leaders in two other counties.
The investigations — which were revealed in an executive session of a meeting of the state central committee in Lusk over the weekend — came following a number of resolutions passed by both committees seen as defiance against a party apparatus McGinley said has become hijacked by extremists.
McGinley, as well as Laramie County GOP Chairwoman Dani Olsen, have garnered intense scrutiny from state party leadership throughout the past several months for their vocal opposition to a number of actions taken by the party this year, writing columns alleging corruption by party insiders and supporting a number of resolutions seen by many as openly defiant of the state party.
Olsen, who did not confirm or deny she was one of the officials under investigation, said that the party has taken an extreme turn in its previous two meetings, passing a number of resolutions designed to quell dissenting voices within its ranks.
At its meeting in Lusk last weekend, members of the state central committee approved a number of extreme measures, including one apparently designed to punish those whose views do not fall in line with those of the rest of the party — views that majorities of the largest county committees often disagree with — while rejecting measures submitted by the Natrona County GOP that would have protected free speech.
“As a conservative Republican myself, it’s horrifying,” said Joann True, state committeewoman for the Natrona County Republicans. “To watch people go up there and speak against transparency and the ability for people to go up there and express an opinion without repercussions is just absolutely baffling. It’s a little embarrassing to walk out of there and have people read that knowing I’m a member of the central committee.”
According to a copy of the resolutions obtained by the Star-Tribune, the Wyoming Republican Party now reserves the right to dictate the stances of all of its members, arguing that while “the First Amendment applies to all Americans in affairs public, governmental and social, it does not supersede the conduct and expression within the confines of a private organization made up of voluntary constituents.”
Those that don’t fall in line, the resolution reads, could be subject to discipline.
“Any notification from a governing body, including the Wyoming Republican Party, that violating our party’s principals (sic), by-laws, governing documents or rules of order, could subject a fellow Republican to a disciplinary committee review or disciplinary actions runs directly in lock step with Republican Party and Constitutional principles of individual responsibility, good order and the sovereignty of a private organization,” a provision contained in a copy of the resolution obtained by the Star-Tribune reads.
“I know many times with the resolutions and the processes that were happening, I was looking around the room at the other delegates around me, and we were just left with our jaws dropped, asking, ‘What is happening?’” Olsen said in an interview. “There were different practices happening than what the central committee members preached.
“We’re limited with the tools we have to show our disagreement and, based on their anti-free speech resolutions, now face disciplinary action for not speaking in unity,” Olsen added.