Friday, May 20, 2022

W. Frank Eathorne Shakes Up the Wyoming Republican Party (VIDEO)

I've been watching Amazon Prime's "Outer Range," where the setting is the wide-open Wyoming ranchland. If you haven't checked it out it's a pretty good Sci-Fi Western, and all of Season 1's eight episodes are available if you're a stream-binger.

I mention all this because I just came across this article at the Casper Star-Tribune, which really says a lot about politics in the Equality State, the least populated state in the U.S., and very Western. 

See, "Wyo GOP chairman quietly assumed power as party fractured":

A working rancher with a reputation as a soft-spoken charmer, [W. Frank] Eathorne’s journey to political power has not been without controversy: He had a short, questionable career as a Worland police officer, worked as a Terminix pest exterminator in northwest Wyoming and served as a parole officer in south Texas. He returned to Wyoming in 1999 to take over the family ranch and for a period accepted federal agricultural subsidies. Now, he sits at the top of a party that’s been described as both dominant and dysfunctional while emerging as the tip of the spear in Donald Trump’s furious drive to unseat perhaps his greatest political opponent: incumbent Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney.

First-name basis

After Cheney voted to impeach Trump in January 2021, Eathorne helped to orchestrate Cheney’s censure by the state GOP central committee. The move seemed to catch Trump’s attention. After the censure vote, they were on a first-name basis.

“Frank has censured the incompetent Liz Cheney!” Trump announced in an April 2021 statement. “Frank has my complete and total endorsement for his reelection. He will never let you down!”

Since then, Eathorne has solidified his position at the helm of the state party and with Trump.

When the former president decided to appear in Casper at an upcoming Memorial Day weekend rally for Cheney opponent Harriet Hageman, Eathorne said Trump called him personally with the news. Eathorne, a longtime Hageman friend and party ally, then informed the state central committee.

Multiple people said the understanding amongst Wyoming politicos is that Eathorne revels in rubbing shoulders with Trump and Washington elites.

[Former State House Speaker Tom] Lubnau said as much.

“I heard somebody say, and I can’t remember who, that Frank just likes going to those Washington, D.C. parties and wearing cowboy hat and hobnobbing with the elite.”

Although state statute dictates that party leadership not take sides before the August Republican primary, Eathorne has arguably helped Hageman’s campaign by leading successful — although largely symbolic — state and national efforts to censure Cheney and expel her from the party.

In his most recent push, at the February Republican National Committee meeting in Salt Lake City, Eathorne authored a resolution — which national delegates overwhelmingly approved — to censure Cheney and Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger and “cease any and all support of them as members of the Republican Party for their behavior.”

Before she announced her campaign for Congress, Hageman had worked closely with Eathorne in party leadership. She and Eathorne toured historic sites together in Washington, D.C. when they attended national meetings.

“Frank has been a strong leader for the Wyoming Republican Party,” Hageman said in a statement for this story. “He recognizes that his role is to implement the agenda of the grassroots, and that is what he has done. He adheres to the GOP Platform and has represented our state well while serving on the RNC.”

Tent size

But through these efforts, Eathorne has also emerged as a polarizing figure in the GOP.

Eathorne has said as much himself: “In Wyoming, we don’t necessarily embrace the idea of a big tent,” he said on Fox News earlier this year.

The “big tent” approach has been one of the cornerstones of the nation’s Republicanism, espoused by Ronald Reagan as far back as 1967. “Twenty years ago, the state party convention had a ‘big tent’ Republican atmosphere where you had social conservative Republicans, libertarian Republicans or Rotary Club Republicans who had a unified front pulling together to get Republicans elected,” said Rep. Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs.

Few in Wyoming have a more established Republican Party pedigree than Casper oilman Diemer True, who served two terms as state chairman and in both the Wyoming House and Senate. He contends Eathorne’s small-tent approach is a divisive force that has alienated major segments of the party, especially in the population centers of Laramie, Natrona and Campbell counties.

“Frank has failed in a colossal way,” True said. “He is probably the worst chairman that I’ve ever seen in my 50-plus years of being involved in Republican politics. His is absolutely a failed leadership.”

True’s concern centers on Eathorne’s hard-line, “purist” approach to state politics, in which longtime loyal party members are labeled RINOS — Republicans in Name Only — because they disagree with Eathorne and other current party leaders.

“This Republican purity is a good way to become the Republican minority,” True said.

Mary Martin, chairman of the Teton County Republicans, likes Eathorne personally, she said, describing him as amiable and “well mannered.” Like Eathorne, she is upset with Cheney’s criticism of Trump and Cheney’s insistence that the former president is responsible for the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

“My disappointment in Frank is that he hasn’t been able to come up with a process to keep the Republican Party with more of a big-tent approach,” she said. “We have a couple of people who come to the Wyoming party meetings who are absolute bullies.”

In addition to Lubnau’s publicized exit, Doug Chamberlain, a former member of party leadership, specifically put his departure from the party on Eathorne.

“Your leadership in regards to how you treat me has ‘crossed the line I have personally drawn’, beyond which I will not allow myself to be treated,” Chamberlain wrote in a September 2020 letter that was marked confidential but eventually leaked. “As a result of these various incidents and issues I will no longer offer my volunteer services as ‘Acting Parliamentarian’ and ‘Acting Treasurer.’

“Thank you for the opportunity to serve you and the WRP. It has been enjoyable and rewarding until recently,” he concluded.

April Poley is campaign coordinator for state Sen. Anthony Bouchard’s, R-Cheyenne, House run against Cheney and a former member of state GOP leadership under Eathorne. When she told state party leadership that she was backing Bouchard, she was “instantly” removed from the group text chat used by elected leaders of the party.

“It was like I was excommunicated from a church,” Poley said.

Poley hasn’t been the only party operative to find themselves on the outside looking in.

“Twenty years ago you’d have more than 400 delegates to the state convention, whereas this last Saturday [May 7] you had 285 delegates to the convention,” Stith said.

At the same time, the Wyoming Republican Party’s focus on purity has coincided with some significant legislative victories. Conservative lawmakers sought for years to pass a Voter ID law in Wyoming. The effort finally succeeded last year. Prior to the 2021 session, the Wyoming Legislature had only passed two abortion-related bills in 30 years, according to an analysis by the nonprofit news site The 19th. Since then, it has passed three including a so-called “trigger bill,” that will eliminate nearly all abortions in the state if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, which appears likely.

Eathorne’s most avid supporters in the party view him as a galvanizing force who is willing to stand up against what they view as assaults from the left and failures to deliver from establishment Republicans. One of Eathorne’s staunchest backers is Karl Allred, the Uinta County GOP chairman who first rose to prominence in Wyoming for suing then-Gov. Matt Mead over renovations at the Wyoming Capitol.

Allred believes that if a person identifies as Republican but can’t agree with at least 80% of the state party’s platform, “you oughta look somewhere else.” He sees many of the Republican members of the Legislature as “Democrats that are now in the Republican Party.”

Still, Eathorne’s grip on the party doesn’t always translate to legislative success. Even with vocal support from Trump and conservative Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, for example, the Eathorne wing of the party failed in several attempts to block “crossover” voting in the state primary that allows voters to change their party affiliation at the polling place. Hageman supporters contend the practice could benefit Cheney. Similarly, GOP party leaders went into a special legislative session — which Eathorne personally pressed for in a letter to legislative leadership — with an ambitious set of 21 bills opposing federal vaccine mandates but were able to pass only one relatively meek measure limiting federal enforcement.

The most recent example of party tensions came during the May state GOP convention, when most members of the Laramie County delegation were refused seats over a rules violation. Earlier, most of the delegates of Natrona County had been excluded because of a dispute over party dues.

Both counties have clashed with party leadership, leading some observers to question whether the rule violations were really an excuse to punish those who, in the eyes of the party, hadn’t toed the line.

When rule violations by other — albeit smaller — counties were brought to light, the party declined to take similar actions, even going so far as to remove a rule from the bylaws that smaller counties had violated...

Keep reading.