CASPER, Wyo. — Park County GOP Executive Committee member Bob Berry will remain in his position after mainstream Republicans tried to oust the Tea Party activist from northwest Wyoming’s Republican leadership Monday night.
Mainstream Republicans such as Terry Hinkle are miffed that Berry’s phone number is on a Feb. 18 advertisement in the Cody Enterprise that said, “Coe Must Go," in reference to the area's longtime Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody. Coe chairs the Senate Education Committee and sponsored the bill last year that stripped Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill's control over the Wyoming Department of Education, which rankled Tea Partiers.
In Wyoming, where Tea Party membership ranks second nationally as a percentage of the state's population, the Republican Party has experienced disagreements between Tea Partiers and more mainstream members. The Big Horn Basin TEA Party is one of the state’s most active, and includes members in the Park County GOP such as Berry.
“He’s focusing more on the Tea Party than his responsibilities to the Republican Party,” said Hinkle of Berry. Hinkle has been Coe’s campaign manager.
Hinkle made a motion to remove Berry during a regularly scheduled county meeting at the Irma Hotel in Cody. A secret-ballot vote on the motion failed. Sixteen voted in favor of tossing Berry and 25 voted against it, Hinkle said.
Berry was silent throughout the meeting, Hinkle said, even though Hinkle asked him several times to justify what Hinkle described as destruction of the local party by tearing down incumbent Republicans.
"Coe Must Go,” the ad said. “HE and Gov. Mead & the legislature are hard at work to permanently terminate your sovereign and constitutional authority away as Wyoming citizens. Please examine what the legislature is doing! Sign the NO CONFIDENCE petition(.) Ask “Hank” Coe to step down(.)”
The petition criticizes Coe’s support of a handful of education bills in the 2014 session, from control over the Wyoming Department of Education to early childhood education programs. Tea Partiers are furious over Coe’s sponsorship of a bill in the 2013 session that stripped Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill of control over the Education Department. That bill has since been declared unconstitutional by the Wyoming Supreme Court.
Bob Ruckman, whose phone number is also on the advertisement, said the petition has several hundred signatures.
Bruce E. McCormack, editor and publisher of the Cody Enterprise, told the Star-Tribune Tuesday afternoon that Berry took out the ad and paid for it.
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The Star-Tribune tried to talk to Berry, but he declined, referring all questions to Park County GOP Chairman Larry French.
French made it clear the party had nothing to do with the ad.
“The Park County Central Committee and the Park County Executive Committee did not know about it until it came out,” he said.
In addition to the failed attempt to get rid of Berry, there was another resolution that failed Monday’s meeting but will be considered at a caucus meeting Saturday, French said.
That resolution will be another attempt to get rid of Coe, Hinkle said. The resolution was two pages long.
“They wanted to censure Hank Coe and ask him to resign,” Hinkle said. “It was all about Cindy Hill, of course.”
Coe, who was in Cheyenne and wrapping up the Legislative session, sent an email to the Star-Tribune about the Tea Partiers at home.
"Bring it on," he said. "They represent a small minority of Republicans in Park County and don't know it."
French said he did not have a copy of the resolution. The Star-Tribune tried to contact a person who French said had it but could not find him.