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Grand Old Brawl: Coe barely avoids censure from Park County Republicans

From left, Gene Braten, Judy Braten and Jerry LaFleiche count ballots cast by Park County Republican Party Convention delegates on a resolution to censure state Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, while Glen Schultz of Wapiti (standing) looks on. The resolution garned a majority — 32 ayes against 25 nays and one abstention — but not the two-thirds required. From left, Gene Braten, Judy Braten and Jerry LaFleiche count ballots cast by Park County Republican Party Convention delegates on a resolution to censure state Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, while Glen Schultz of Wapiti (standing) looks on. The resolution garned a majority — 32 ayes against 25 nays and one abstention — but not the two-thirds required. Tribune photo by CJ Baker

Members of the Park County Republican Party narrowly decided not to censure a Cody state senator at their bi-annual convention.

A majority of the Republican convention delegates in attendance — 32 out of 58 — voted to reprimand state Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, for actions they say don’t reflect the party’s will. However, the resolution came up seven votes short because — given the extraordinary nature of the measure — party members had decided it would take a two-thirds majority to censure the seven-term senator.

Coe’s leading role in the passage of 2013 legislation that shifted most of the duties of Wyoming’s elected superintendent of public instruction to a governor-appointed education director appeared to be the biggest concern at Saturday’s day-long convention. The bill, Senate File 104, was voided as unconstitutional earlier this year by the Wyoming Supreme Court. Coe has defended the measure as necessary.

From statements made at the meeting, it appeared Coe was spared from censure by Republicans who disagreed with his actions but who either didn’t believe the resolution of censure was appropriate or who only wanted it issued with a two-thirds majority.

“In my opinion, what happened was the Park County (Republican Party’s) Central Committee said that we wanted to hold our elected officials accountable,” Park County Republican Party Chairman Larry French said Monday.

“I think the message got out, ‘Hey, we’re watching what you’re doing, and we’re going to be holding you guys accountable,’” French added.

Coe, however, said Monday that the vote doesn’t mean anything to him and “doesn’t change anything for me.

“I’m focused on doing good things for Park County and for the state and for my constituents. That’s all I care about,” said Coe, who was re-elected to a four-year term in 2012.

Coe missed the convention because of a previous commitment out of town, he said, but was kept updated on the proceedings.

He’s described the effort against him as coming from radicals who have taken over the county’s Republican party’s leadership.

“That’s just them voting. They’re actually a minority interest, I feel, in the Republican Party of Park County, but (they) don’t know it,” Coe said.

Saturday’s convention at the Cody VFW Hall was scheduled to wrap up by 3 p.m., but disputes over the party’s bylaws and procedures and debates over the party’s platform and other resolutions pushed the event until nearly 7:30 p.m.

The resolution to censure Coe came up at 5:30 p.m. By that point — eight-and-a-half hours into the meeting — 19 of the 77 voting delegates who had showed up at 9 a.m. had left. A total of 106 Republicans were eligible to vote, including precinct committeemen and women elected during the 2012 primary and additional convention delegates selected at caucuses earlier this month.

‘An extreme measure’

Though it was unclear what impact the resolution would have had, everyone agreed the proposed censure was serious and likely unprecedented.

Colin Simpson of Cody, a former Wyoming speaker of the house who came to Coe’s defense, noted the disagreements between party members when they debated the platform earlier in the day. Simpson questioned how the party could then say, “Sorry, you can’t be a part of the party because you haven’t upheld the values, because you’re not following that particular platform that we passed that you voted against.”

“Is that the Ronald Reagan big tent? Is that the 80-20 rule?” Simpson asked, referring to President Reagan’s statement that an 80 percent friend is not a 20 percent enemy.

Supporters of the resolution, however, called it needed accountability.

“This is an extreme measure that’s being taken by Republicans to ensure that our Republican candidates, that our elected officials — who represent us, the people — are voting our wishes,” said Vince Vanata of Cody.

The proposed resolution (viewable at the bottom of this story) said the Republican Party is required to hold people accountable who don’t subscribe to the party’s principles and values.

It contained eight whereas clauses faulting Coe. One clause chides him for endorsing Democratic candidates for Park County clerk and state superintendent of public instruction in 2010. Another faults him for supporting a set of education standards known as Common Core, which are opposed by the Wyoming Republican Party as an infringement on local school control.

Two clauses dealt with Coe’s opposition to the party’s current leadership and direction, while four clauses criticize Coe for his efforts to transfer the duties of the superintendent of public instruction to the appointed director of education — including the senator’s refusal to discuss Senate File 104 at a Republican Party meeting last year.

Cody Republican Stu Alan said it was “blatantly obvious” from the resolution that some of Coe’s actions were not in the best interests of the party. He specifically criticized Senate File 104, saying it ignored voters’ decision to elect the superintendent.

“Silence has got to go away. Political correctness has got to go away. It’s time we told these people we’re fed up with the way you’re doing business, and you’re either going to do it the way we want you to do it or go home,” Alan said.

Glen Schultz of Wapiti asked what else could be done with Coe “who is supposed to be representing us (and) who is not necessarily doing that.”

Chris Bingley of Cody said he wasn’t sure whether the resolution was the best way to demand accountability, but he said it’s important in a one-party county.

“If you’re a Democrat, you don’t run for office in Park County — aren’t going to win. ... You could be a flaming liberal and you’ll run as a Republican or else you won’t get elected,” Bingley said. “The problem we have is — it’s not electing Republicans, that’s a foregone conclusion in this county — it’s holding them accountable.”

But others had qualms about the proposed censure.

“This resolution does not reflect what I signed up for as a precinct committeeman,” said Lyle Evelo of rural Powell. “This is divisive and it does not represent who I want to be as a Park County Republican.”

Evelo said he didn’t want the resolution to overshadow the other important issues the party was considering at its convention.

“If we go down this road, where will it end?” he said. “Who is next?”

Camara Clifton of Powell said the better way to express an opinion about an elected official is to campaign for or against them at an election.

“If all the whereases in this resolution are well-founded — and I believe that for the most part that’s probably true — I believe that that is to be dealt with at the polls,” Clifton said.

David Kellett of Powell similarly offered no defense of Coe, but said resolutions at the party’s convention should be about the beliefs of the party and not about individuals.

“I have no love for this gentleman. I am not going to run him down, but I am against this resolution,” Kellett said.

Cody resident Terry Hinkle, who worked on Coe’s 2012 campaign, said the party shouldn’t be focusing on Coe.

“We’ve got to continue to work to defeat the Obama-type (people), and Mr. Coe is not an Obama-type person,” Hinkle said. “He’s a Republican. He’s done many many things for Park County and the state of Wyoming.”

Two-thirds vote needed

Coe’s supporters contended that a two-thirds majority would be needed to pass the resolution and censure the senator, but Park County Republican Party Vice Chairman Hank Whitelock ruled that, under Robert’s Rules of Order, only a simple majority vote was needed. However, “because of the extraordinary circumstances and extraordinary gravity” of the measure, Whitelock asked the body to require a two-thirds majority.

Charles Cloud, a former Cody city councilman, supported Whitelock’s request. He said the Park County party needed to take slow and careful consideration on such an important issue.

“I don’t want the decisions made at the state level, at the county level or at any level being made that are major decisions that are simple majority,” Cloud added. “Let’s make sure that we have the overwhelming majority and the support of the people and the party involved before we start taking big steps.”

Coe opponents argued against requiring a two-thirds vote, saying the party should simply follow Robert’s Rules of Order.

“We’ve had quite some time to think about this letter of censure,” said Vanata, noting the resolution had been proposed more than a month earlier.

In a standing vote, 28 Republicans stood to require a two-thirds (66.7 percent) majority on the resolution, topping the 26 who stood opposed.

“A simple majority is all that’s required to call a two-thirds majority,” Whitelock explained.

In a subsequent vote by secret ballot, 32 convention delegates (55.2 percent) voted to censure Coe, while 25 voted against and one abstained.

One of Coe’s supporters, former Park County Republican Party Chairwoman Geri Hockhalter, gave a clap and let out a “Yeah!” when the results were read aloud and it became clear the resolution had failed to get the needed votes to pass.

The meeting ended about a half-hour later.

Coe and his detractors have been involved in a protracted back and forth in local media outlets — a battle that continues with an ad being run in today’s Tribune by county GOP leaders that responds to criticisms Coe made of them in an ad published last week.

Party Chairman French hopes it doesn’t continue.

“The platforms and the resolutions, nobody will ever follow them 100 perent. That’s not what we’re asking for,” French said, also invoking Reagan’s 80-20 rule. But French drew a line at lawmakers stripping the powers from the superintendent of public instruction.

“Don’t take my rights away from me, my constitutional right as a citizen,” he said. “That’s what they tried to do, and that’s what we’re upset about.”

Coe, meanwhile, has been encouraging Republicans to “take back” the party; he personally plans to run as a precinct committeeman in this summer’s primary election.

“I’m just asking people to get re-involved ... in the Park County Republican Party,” Coe said. “People out there, if you don’t like the way things are going, get involved and change it.”

Proposed Resolution Censuring Wyoming State Sen. Hank Coe

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5 comments

  • posted by hans

    March 31, 2014 6:49 pm

    Clipstein???
    John Pung???
    she hasn't been in office for for over three years

  • posted by clipstein

    March 31, 2014 10:21 am

    Miss Jensen this is debatable. We buy the finest tech available and it would appear??? I would think that you would make your office accountable. When you make mistakes apologize. no excuses.
    john pung

  • posted by Kelly Jensen

    March 29, 2014 9:07 pm

    I was surprised to see my name still being thrown about by the Republican party. Senator Coe supported me in my re-election campaign, recognizing that service to the people was more important in the County Clerk's office than service to a party - any party. Certainly the last three years should be proof that technical qualifications do not come from party affiliation. I am disappointed that my name is being used in this manner and I would put my record as Park County Clerk up against any other Clerk who has served the people of Park County. It was my privilege to serve and I did it well. Not sure? Take some time to compare audit reports and the accompanying management letters the County receives each year - you will see that Senator Coe supported the candidate best able to serve you, the residents of Park County. To vote for the best possible candidate for any elected position requires use of critical thinking skills. I am proud that I have ALWAYS voted for the most qualified candidate - no matter their party affiliation. As for being named in a paragraph with Mike Massie, I say that is darn fine company. I'll take it!

  • posted by Dewey

    March 25, 2014 3:09 pm

    grand Old brawl. lie that . GOB

    So Coe gets GOB-smacked by the tea party, stays on his feet, and asks them" Is that all you've got ? "

    Censure is just a public scolding. No more , no less.

    Were the teabaggers wanting to use censure as the first step towards impeaching Coe, as is usually done ? Impeachment begins with a censure, then is a two step process.

    Which is precisely what the Wyoming Legislature should have done to Cindy Hill last year instead of trying a legislative Hail Mary runaround maneuver. If they had done that and taken the high road with Hill for her improprieties , we would not be having these delightful conversations...

  • posted by Salty Dawg

    March 25, 2014 3:02 pm

    Another dog and pony show from the failed GOP who have no intentions of replacing Coe,why bother he is in it for life now.You got what you asked for,now eat crow.

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