Amid party rift, Republican leaders resign

Posted 6/20/19

Tensions within the Park County Republican Party boiled over Monday night, as three of the party’s top leaders resigned over “irreconcilable differences” with Chairman Martin …

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Amid party rift, Republican leaders resign


Tensions within the Park County Republican Party boiled over Monday night, as three of the party’s top leaders resigned over “irreconcilable differences” with Chairman Martin Kimmet.

Meanwhile, an effort backed by the resigning leaders to remove the party’s secretary from his post failed by a narrow margin.

Park County Republicans picked their leaders only a few months ago, and they were supposed to serve for two years on the GOP’s executive committee. Now, Republicans will need to hold a new election to choose replacements.

In their brief letter of resignation — submitted in the middle of Monday’s meeting — party Vice Chairman Joyce Boyer, State Committeewoman Denise Shirley and Treasurer Jennifer Lohrenz said the chairman position is “intended to be a role of leadership, not dictatorship.”

While they didn’t elaborate in their letter, one of the issues of contention was Kimmet’s unilateral decision to appoint Vince Vanata — a leader of the Big Horn Basin Tea Party — as the executive committee’s secretary.

Shirley also called it a “disgrace” that Kimmet didn’t invite state Rep. Sandy Newsome, R-Cody, to the party’s meeting in March, where GOP Reps. David Northrup and Dan Laursen of Powell addressed the body; Kimmet has been critical of Newsome’s voting record.

The rifts in the party are long-running and tend to fall in two camps: more conservative members, including Kimmet and Vanata, and members who are comparatively less conservative.

Toward the end of the more than two-hour meeting in Cody, Kimmet decried the division and said the party should be focusing on the 2020 elections.

“This looks like the House of Representatives,” Kimmet said. “It’s pretty sad. It really is.”

Monday’s meeting of 44 members of the local GOP’s precinct committeemen and women was contentious from the start. However, it took a downward turn during the tail end of a discussion about the party’s upcoming Freedom Celebration in Cody.

Some party members — generally those who oppose Kimmet’s leadership — had expressed concern about the roughly $1,000 budget and the possibility of the annual event becoming politicized.

“There was some talk about selling some Trump 2020 bumper stickers, hats, etc., to help offset the costs,” Kimmet told the body, but “we’ve decided not to do that. There was just too much contention ...”

As he finished his explanation, Lohrenz stood to await her turn to speak, and Kimmet told her to sit down until he finished.

“That’s the problem with the executive,” called out Colin Simpson, referring to Kimmet.

As other members chimed in, Kimmet slammed his gavel.

“We’ll have civility in here and when I recognize you, you may stand,” he said.

“Are you kidding?” precinct committeewoman Geri Hockhalter called out from the audience.

“Grow up,” another committeeman said, speaking to Kimmett.

As the exchange continued, Lohrenz, Boyer and Shirley handed in their prewritten letter of resignation, abandoned their seats at the front table and participated in the rest of the meeting from the back of the room.

Later, Kimmet acknowledged that Robert’s Rules of Order say standing up is one way to ask for the floor.

“... I was not aware of that and I would like to apologize to Jennifer Lohrenz for the lack of knowledge and for speaking to you the way I did,” Kimmet said.

“It’s not the first time,” Lohrenz responded.

The rest of the meeting was spent deciding if and how the central committee should vote on Vanata’s appointment as party secretary, as the party’s bylaws are unclear on the subject.

Some precinct committee members argued the chairman has the right to choose a secretary to assist him — and that most previous secretaries had not been subject to any kind of ratification process.

“It’s only being brought up now because … there’s an ad hominem attack against Vincent Vanata,” said Sheila Leach, the previous secretary; Vanata faced previous attempts at removal when he was treasurer and vice chair.

Those who wanted ratification of the secretary’s position contended that’s the process laid out in the bylaws.

“I am just puzzled why in a democratic society we’re even quibbling about this. Why in the world wouldn’t we ratify somebody?” asked Ann Simpson, Colin’s mother.

Eventually, a voice vote was taken on whether the central committee should vote on Vanata’s appointment. (Had the motion passed, the party would have then voted on whether to ratify Vanata.)

When the results of the voice vote were unclear, some party members asked to settle the matter with a secret ballot. A lengthy discussion and consultation of Robert’s Rules of Order then ensued about whether paper balloting was allowed. “At the risk of sounding silly, we should vote on whether to vote with a ballot,” offered Anthony Spiering, a precinct committeeman who helps with parliamentary procedure.

Ultimately, however, Kimmet ruled the party needed to take a standing vote.

That ended in a 26-26 tie; Vanata cast three votes — his own and two proxy votes — in opposition. After a re-vote yielded another tie, Kimmet broke the deadlock, deciding that he would not put Vanata’s appointment to a vote.

“If you guys don’t like this, by a two-thirds majority, you can get rid of me as chair,” he said. “This is not an easy thing to do.”

As the meeting came to a close, there was some discussion about whether the party needed to vote to accept Boyer, Shirley and Lohrenz’s resignations. Kimmet said he may bring it up at the party’s next meeting.

“We’ve got enough time wasted here,” he said.

In addition to Kimmet and Vanata, State Committeeman Charles Cloud — who missed Monday’s meeting — remains on the party’s executive committee.