Three members of the Park County Republican Party’s executive committee resigned Monday, citing “irreconcilable differences” regarding views on the role of the executive committee chairman.
People on both sides said the contention leading to the resignations was a result of a split in the party.
State committeewoman Denise Shirley, vice chair Joyce Boyer and treasurer Jennifer Lohrenz presented a joint resignation during a central committee meeting in the basement of Big Horn Federal.
“Due to irreconcilable differences in our view as to the role and definition of a chairman of the Park County Republican Party as intended to be a role of leadership, not dictatorship; we the undersigned do hereby resign our elected positions on the executive committee,” the letter reads.
The resignation occurred during a discussion regarding the upcoming Freedom Celebration on July 3. Event chair Carol Armstrong had proposed a $740 budget for the event. The idea of adopting a $1,000 budget to allow for expenses, representing an increase from last year’s budget, was being debated. At one point, Lohrenz was standing, seeking recognition by executive committee chairman Martin Kimmet. Kimmet told Lohrenz to sit down, but later apologized for incorrectly telling her to do so.
“When I recognize you, you may stand,” he said.
At this point, Lohrenz, Shirley, and Boyer presented the resignation, gathered their things, and left the table at the front of the room. The three remained seated at the back for the remainder of the meeting.
“We were pushed out,” Lohrenz said Tuesday. “It’s because we didn’t align within a certain mindset in the party. The only other option was to put up with that behavior.”
Shirley pointed to the treatment of Rep. Sandy Newsome as a catalyst for her joining in the resignations.
“The most disturbing thing is they have gone as far as excluding Sandy Newsome from participating in legislator updates and invited Dave Northrop and Dan Larson,” she said. “They may not agree with her, but (they) have no right withholding her from the party that voted her into office.”
In the immediate wake of the resignations, the central committee did pass the proposed $1,000 budget for the Freedom Celebration, ending debate on that point. The event will proceed as planned.
Another contentious issue followed. Chairman Kimmet had named Vince Vanata to the position of secretary on the executive committee. Since that action, there has been ongoing debate about whether it was within the scope of his power to do so. Some within the party were requesting such appointments be subject to ratification by the central committee.
Following debate, a motion proposing the chairman’s appointment of a secretary be subject to ratification was put forward.
Those in favor of executive appointment argued the chairman and secretary are a team, so the chair should appoint someone he or she can trust and work with. It was also argued that since the secretary does not vote, he or she is not an officer. The secretary has no term, serving at the pleasure of the chairman.
Sheila Leach, a central committee member, condemned those who were calling for ratification as flouting precedent.
“This has never happened before,” she said. “This is an ad hominem (personal) attack against Vince Vanata.”
Leach was appointed by Kimmet as the secretary when he became chairman after the previous chairman’s resignation. At the election of officers in March, Kimmett won his own term and asked her to stay on. After the meeting, Vanata expressed an interest in the position to Kimmet and Leach. Leach voluntarily stepped aside.
This led to Vanata’s nomination for the position. Opponents of Vanata’s nomination expressed regret at not opposing the method of Leach’s nomination when they had a chance.
Opponents of the chairman’s effort to appoint argued that the central committee has the right to interpret the by-laws when there is a conflict. Others argued the effort to appoint was an executive overreach, made possible by the ambiguous language of the by-laws.
Ann Simpson, a central committee member, argued for the vote.
“This is a democratic society,” she said. “Why wouldn’t we want to vote to ratify a position?”
Several legal experts had been consulted by both sides leading up to the meeting. They offered conflicting interpretations of the by-laws.
Leach was clearly appointed by Kimmet, with no immediate protest by the central committee. Further back, there were incidents where members of the executive committee were consulted in the selection process, including one incident where an unofficial vote was taken.
The deciding vote
As the Central committee prepared to decide the issue, there were 52 members and proxy votes present. The voice vote was too close to decide. A paper ballot vote was suggested, which was ultimately decided against.
A show-of-hands vote was taken. The first vote tied 26-26. A second vote was taken, with the same result. This, in accordance with the by-laws, made it possible for Kimmet to vote. He cast the deciding vote against the motion, allowing the chairman’s appointment of the secretary to not be subject to central committee approval.
Following his tie-breaking vote, Kimmet reminded the central committee that if they don’t like what he is doing as chairman, it is in their power to remove him.
A larger trend
Chairman Kimmet spoke about the developments after the meeting.
“Ever since my first time at convention, I could see division in this party,” he said.
He noted hearing about similar rifts from national-level leadership in the party, stating “progressive movements” within are surfacing, and pointing to Colorado as an example of the GOP’s shifting political fortunes.
Kimmet said he has tried to unify people since being elected chairman earlier this year. He will not be surprised if an effort is mounted to unseat him.
“There could be,” he said. “I don’t know what people are going to do.”
Lohrenz is now looking to see if there’s any way the rift she sees in local party leadership can heal.
“As far as the future, I’m worried for the party,” she said. “There are a lot of good people who would be on both sides of the aisle, good people that want to come to the table, but there is leadership there that won’t allow it.”
One thing everyone involved seems to agree on is the ambiguity of the by-laws.
“Absolutely (they need to be clarified),” Kimmet said “There’s no doubt in my mind. We will be looking at it at county convention.”
The central committee has not decided whether or not to accept the submitted resignations. That matter and elections, if necessary, will be taken up at the next meeting, which has yet to be scheduled.
(Zac Taylor contributed to this report)