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March 13, 2014 7:21 am

AMEND CORNER: GOP internal battles nothing new

Written by Don Amend

My first foray into journalism began when I answered an ad in the Northern Wyoming Daily News.

The newspaper, commonly known as the Worland paper, was looking for someone to report news from the Greybull area. I answered the ad more or less on a whim and became what is known in the trade as a stringer, earning $1 per inch for stories about Greybull stuff. Mostly I wrote stories of purely local interest, but on one occasion, I drew attention from a broader audience.

Last week, a brief item in the Tribune reminded me of the story.

It was an election year, so the annual meetings of the Republicans and Democrats were a little better attended than usual. In this case, it meant that there were nine people at the Greybull precinct committee meeting instead of the usual three or four.

Two of those nine were non-voters, a visiting statewide candidate and her daughter, leaving only seven people there who were eligible to vote.

I was on slippery ground, ethically speaking, that evening. I was there as a reporter, but I was also a registered Republican and, therefore, had the right to vote at the meeting. I had decided I shouldn’t vote, but I wasn’t sure what I would do if the six voting delegates split 3-3 and wanted me to break the tie.

I didn’t expect there to be any close votes, though. These were all good Republicans, and I guessed they would all be pretty much in agreement on platform items. The only other thing on the agenda was the selection of delegates to the county convention, so I figured all the votes would be unanimous, as they had been at previous precinct meetings I had attended.

Some of the delegates had other ideas, though, and when the chairman asked if there was any new business, the meeting took an unexpected turn. Somebody moved to expel U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson from the Republican Party on the grounds that he wasn’t a “true conservative.”

Well, the chairman was taken aback and rather irritated by this turn of events. Granted, Simpson often varied from conservative orthodoxy on social issues, but this was, after all, Greybull, a place where Simpson is pretty well thought of.

It’s where he discovered Mrs. Simpson and a place where friendly crowds turned out whenever he came to town to meet with the public. Only two years before, he had engineered a visit to Greybull by his friend George H.W. Bush, who was seeking the Republican nomination that put him in the White House.

That made the town the center of the Republican universe for three or four hours. To have Greybull Republicans voting whether to kick the senator out of the party was, to say the least, strange.

It soon became apparent, though, that not everybody in Greybull was a friend of Al. The maker of the motion had supporters, and it soon became evident that the fix was in.

Four people had come to the meeting specifically to engineer the good senator’s ouster. Only the chairman and the precinct secretary voted no on the motion, and I abstained.

Well, I might not always agree with Mr. Simpson, but he had, I thought, done a pretty good job of representing Wyoming interests, so my sympathies were with the senator, and if it had made a difference, I probably would have cast a vote.

Anyway, I figured when the item came up at the county meeting, it would go down to a crashing defeat.

After the meeting, I wrote up what happened and sent it winging over the wires into a computer in Worland, where it was transferred to newsprint and delivered the next morning.

Well, the editor was thrilled to print what was, in the parlance of the news media, a scoop, albeit a rather minor one. He called me to report that AP had picked up the story and spread it around, giving Greybull Republicans a few days of notoriety and making some points for me with the editor.

As I had predicted, the allies against Al failed in their attempt to rid the party of Sen. Simpson. Their motion died in a loud chorus of no votes at the county convention a few days later. I’m not even sure it got the four votes it got in Greybull.

Today, a battle still rages for the soul of the Republican Party. It appeared in Park County in an attempt by main-line Republicans to kick a Big Horn Basin TEA Party member off the county executive committee for signing a petition against a longtime Republican state senator.

The attempt failed, but we probably haven’t heard the last of the conflict. The tea party sympathizers will no doubt continue their war on Republicans who don’t toe a line drawn to fit their definition of a conservative, and they will meet resistance from the old-line Republicans. I suspect it might get nastier as the election approaches.

Just as I was back in the ’90s, I will be primarily a spectator to this war, and I’m looking forward to it. I can’t predict the winner, but if I were a betting man, I’d bet on the main-line guys.

Whatever happens, I will enjoy writing about it.

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