Mar 31, 2015

Local GOP elects new leaders, looks to unite

As they picked a new roster of leaders on Saturday morning, Park County Republicans all agreed they need to move past their differences and unite.

Camara Clifton shares a laugh with Colin Simpson after the two made their pitches to be the local GOP's next leader. In the background, outgoing party chairman Larry French delivers voting instructions.
Now it's up to those leaders, starting with new chairman Colin Simpson of Cody, to find a way to do that over the next two years.

Simpson pledged to draw the party closer together, to bring in more youth, to reinvigorate party fundraising and to include everyone who wants to be involved.

"We can agree on 80 percent of the stuff 100 percent of the time, but don't let the other 20 percent be so divisive that we can't even be in the same room with each other," Simpson said to the gathered precinct committeemen and women who make up the party's central committee. "This is a great group of people. This is a wonderful representation of Park County and let's keep it unified as much as we can and move forward and acknowledge that we're all kind of moving the same direction — as much as 90 people can move in the same direction."

Dissatisfied with the leadership of the past two years, Simpson had chaired a political action committee called "Republicans for Unity" that helped elect some new people to the central committee last year and the "Unity" leaders put forward a slate of candidates for Saturday's election.

Saturday vote totals: Chairman: Colin Simpson 50, Camara Clifton 32; Vice Chairman: David Northrup 52, Martin Kimmet 30; State Committeeman: Richard George 43, Terry Hinkle 39; State Committeewoman: Echo Renner 53, Jo Walker 29; Treasurer: Joyce Boyer 54, Kathy Jacobsen 28Despite opposition from outgoing chairman Larry French leading up to the meeting (he'd said the "Unity" group was trying to "ruin" the party), four of the "Unity" group's five nominees were elected to the Park County Republican Party's leadership.

In addition to Simpson, state Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, was elected vice chairman, Echo Renner of Meeteetse was re-elected as state committeewoman and Joyce Boyer of Cody was voted in as treasurer. Each got 50 or more votes (upwards of 60 percent) of the 82 cast.

Meanwhile, political newcomer Richard George of Cody defeated "Unity" group leader Terry Hinkle of Cody by a 43-39 margin to become state committeeman.

State committeeman Richard George
In his pitch to the party faithful, George highlighted his youth (at 31, he'll be one of the youngest leaders in some time) and said he simply wants to serve. He said he had no "alliances," having never been to a tea party rally and having skipped a meeting "Unity" group leaders called earlier this month.

"I think it's too bad, because here we are, in a state that's considered conservative, and yet we're divided, in a county that is considered conservative," George said, saying Wyoming should be the standard and pinnacle of conservatism in the nation but is not.

"This party in Park County needs to be united," George said.

Outside of Renner, who clashed with the party's previous leaders at various times over the past two years, none of the incumbents ran for re-election.

French called his time as chairman both wonderful and "a pain in the butt."

"My hope and my prayer and my plea to you is let's stop this crap that's going on. Let's stop it; bite it in the bud, quit it," French said, adding, "Please agree to disagree politely. Discussion is wonderful, and we need to do that, (but) the part that really is offensive and should be — even to Democrats — is when we lapse into personal attacks."

Much of the division followed an effort led by outgoing state committeeman Bob Berry and others to censure state Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, last year for various actions they disagreed with. That included an attempt to strip the superintendent of public instruction of most of her powers.

Coe responded by pledging to "take back" the party from what he called right-wing extremists, which, in turn, prompted French and the party leadership to respond.

Party fundraising became collateral damage in the conflict.

"My hope and my prayer and my plea to you is let's stop this crap that's going on," French said.

While everyone called for unity on Saturday, clear disagreements remained about what the county GOP should do to keep elected officials accountable and whether the party will be best served by staying away from social issues or by sticking to its principles.

Simpson indicated he has some changes planned, including making party meetings every other month instead of monthly and making them less formal.


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