The Park County Republican Party, which is largely led by tea party activists, sent candidates a questionnaire that has been called a litmus test.
The Park County GOP has been embroiled in an ideological battle between moderate Republicans, many of whom hold elected offices, and activists in the Big Horn Basin TEA Party, which has resulted in the attempted censure of an elected Republican whom the tea party says isn’t upholding party values.
Party members on both sides have purchased newspaper ads trying to rally county residents to each side.
Echo Renner, who said she is the only member of the Park County GOP executive board who is not a tea party activist, said many candidates have confided in her that they are concerned tea party activists will sabotage their campaigns based on their answers.
“I’ve heard grave concerns from the candidates that the questions do not pertain to the office they’re running for,” she said. “They’re afraid to answer the questions, and they’re afraid to not answer the questions because of how members of the party who are tea party members will treat them.”
Larry French, chairman of the Park County GOP, said the party will post responses online.
The questionnaire was sent to Republicans running for Congress and candidates for statewide office, county commissions and other county offices. Sen. Mike Enzi’s office and Wyoming secretary of state candidate Ed Buchanan have submitted answers, he said.
Enzi's office answered some questions with responses such as "does not apply, state issue," which is reasonable, French said.
Party leadership simply wants to help registered Republicans in the northwestern Wyoming county become educated on candidates, French said.
“So if you want to call it a litmus test, it’s a big one,” he said. “If you want to call it information to have informed voters, call it that. Whatever you prefer.”
French said he hasn’t received any calls from candidates objecting to the questionnaire, and he called anyone who showed it to the media without talking to him directly a coward.
It is likely the first time in Wyoming a county party has sent a candidate a questionnaire, said Bonnie Foster, chairwoman of the Natrona County GOP and secretary of the Wyoming GOP, who said she had seen some of the questions.
“A county party stays out of the primary because — I’ll just use Natrona County as an example — we have five contested primary races,” she said. “There are two Republicans running for each seat. I don’t know the exact laws on the books, but there are some laws that prevent you from getting involved in the primary.
"Then when the general election comes around, you get behind the candidates. We’re not supposed to get involved in the primary, particularly if there’s a contested race."
French said that’s exactly why the Park County GOP sent out the questionnaire.
“We can’t take a stand and support one Republican over another in the primary," he said. "In Park County, everything’s settled in the primary” because few Democrats run and win office.
Among the 20 questions, some are issue-specific, such as "What is your stance on eminent domain?" and "Do you believe in tenure for teachers?"
Other questions delve into party loyalty:
Do you believe that if an elected official is not voting the way he was hired to do that the Republican Party has the right to ask for the elected official's removal and/or censure of that official?
When you are taking your oath of office, are you going to guarantee that you will uphold the constitutions of both the state of Wyoming and the United States and the values of the Republican Party?
Do you believe in and support the Republican Party philosophy, platforms and resolutions? Why or why not?
Will you be attending the regularly scheduled meetings of the Park County Republican Party when you are in this district?
Renner, the non-tea party executive board member, has been counseling candidates when they come to her with their concerns.
“I’m advising candidates to complete questions that only pertain to the office they’re running for and send a copy of their responses to me,” she said. “I will do my best to make sure their responses are accurately represented and not reworded, but I’m grossly outnumbered on the executive committee, so I can only do so much.”
French said he asked the central committee to come up with questions. None were emailed, so at an executive board meeting, members came up with 40 questions.
Tea party activist and executive committee member Bob Berry was not involved in the writing of the questions because he is running for the House, French said.
Hank Whitelock, the party’s vice chairman, went through the questions and narrowed them to 20. The executive board approved them.
Renner said she had missed some board meetings and is asking for meeting minutes. She thought the questions were supposed to pertain only to the county’s platforms.
“Most of them are not based on the platform. They are based on tea party ideas,” she said.