CASPER — The Wyoming Freedom Caucus announced the launch of its affiliated political action committee — WY Freedom PAC — at the caucus’ first town hall meeting in Casper on Saturday.
The political action committee officially formed April 8, according to records from the Secretary of State’s Office. Karen Drost, chairman of the Weston County Republican Party, chairs the committee.
Wyoming is Right radio show host Jeff Wallack stood at the back of the Hilton Garden Inn room with the microphone and asked the crowd of roughly 80 people to contribute to the new PAC. “We need grassroots support to elect more of these guys and gals, but we also need money to do that,” he said.
Wyoming Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, told the Star-Tribune that the effort to form the political action committee started about a week after the legislative session ended, though the idea of creating one had percolated long before that.
“If we’re going around talking to the public, they’re invariably going to ask how they can contribute, and we needed a way for them to be able to contribute,” Bear said.
He added that the caucus plans to also undertake “a lot of fundraising efforts” in the future, though he said the planning around those efforts hasn’t firmed up yet.
“We’ll experiment with what works,” he said.
The formation of the political action committee is another step the caucus is taking toward one of its central focuses for the next election: getting 10 more votes in the House, a point which several speakers hammered on throughout the event.
“The money is to keep people like this in office, that’s our intent, as well as the 10 people that we’ve mentioned that we need to add to our numbers,” Bear told the crowd. “The more money we have, the more we can go beyond just protecting what we have and doing more things and hopefully getting a majority.”
The hard-line Wyoming Freedom Caucus, which partnered with the State Freedom Caucus Network in early January, made substantial gains this year, growing by at least five new members and pushing through bills that, in some cases, had floundered for years in the Legislature.
Reps. Bill Allemand, Allen Slagle, Scott Smith, Tomi Strock and Jeanette Ward — all of whom just finished their first legislative session and spoke at the Saturday event — became official members of the caucus after the session. (Freshmen lawmakers aren’t allowed to be members.)
Bear told the Star-Tribune that there are additional freshman lawmakers who joined, but who didn’t want to publicly disclose their membership.
He declined to give a specific count of how many undisclosed new members there are, but said that there are now 26 Freedom Caucus-aligned votes in the House, most of which come from caucus members.
Reps. Daniel Singh, Tony Locke, Tamara Trujillo and Sarah Penn — other lawmakers who just finished their first session — also spoke at the event, which was hosted by Liberty’s Place 4 U Wyoming, along with Reps. Pepper Ottman, John Winter and Chris Knapp, who were members of the caucus before this year’s session, and Sen. Bob Ide.
Secretary of State Chuck Gray, a former lawmaker who has worked closely with members of the Freedom Caucus, also made an appearance partway through the event to address the crowd. Gray, a 2020 presidential election skeptic who campaigned primarily on a promise to clamp down on voter fraud, though cases of fraud in Wyoming are extremely rare, spoke primarily about efforts around election security such as pursuing stricter voter I.D. laws and banning crossover voting — measures that some criticize as being unnecessary impediments to voter participation.
The gains in the number of sympathetic lawmakers translated into significant wins for the caucus this year.
Perhaps most significantly, a bill to ban crossover voting, which was sponsored by Freedom Caucus Vice Chair Jeremy Haroldson, made it into law after similar bills had floundered for years in the Legislature.
Contention over the practice of crossover voting came to a head in particular last year as people crossed over to the Republican Party to vote for former Rep. Liz Cheney in the primary. (Now-Rep. Harriet Hageman, former President Donald Trump’s pick to unseat Cheney, still beat her by more than 30 points.)
For the next election, voters will have to choose which party ticket they’ll vote on in the primary election before seeing which candidates have filed.
A new abortion ban that was sponsored by Freedom Caucus member Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, also became law, though its enforcement was blocked temporarily by a Teton County judge in March after a group of Wyoming medical providers and women filed a lawsuit challenging the law’s constitutionality.
Though the caucus’ gains were significant, they weren’t always enough to overcome the 36 non-Freedom Caucus votes in the House, or the will of House leadership.
Lawmakers at the event lamented the fate of caucus-backed bills and amendments that were sent to unfavorable committees or simply didn’t have enough votes. A budget amendment brought by Ward, whom Bear introduced at Saturday’s event as the “Joan of Arc of the Wyoming Legislature,” to defund the University of Wyoming’s gender and women’s studies program failed. Speaker of the House Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, held a couple bills back from the floor that the caucus favored.
Other legislation that Freedom Caucus members opposed, like one to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage for low-income moms, became law.
“We need 10 more people, at least, in the Legislature,” Ottman told the crowd on Saturday — a message that people reiterated throughout the event.
Many of the people who attended Saturday’s town hall are already involved in politics, with some of them occupying elected positions.
Kara Linn, a Casper resident who ran for the Senate in 2014 and was a precinct committee person for eight years, said she came to the event because she’s “interested in freedom.”
As an example of what she doesn’t consider to be freedom, Linn, who said she worked on Hageman and Gray’s campaigns, criticized Cheney for saying she would make sure Trump wouldn’t hold office again.
“I want to hear the truth from the mouths of people representing us,” she said.
Washakie County GOP State Committeeman Jeff Pomeroy came to the event to “get more familiar” with the Freedom Caucus, which he said he agrees with on many positions.
Mary Schmidt, a former member of Natrona County’s Moms for Liberty group who was elected to the county’s school board last year, also sat in the audience. Dan Sabrosky, a Bar Nunn resident and member of the Natrona County GOP’s central committee, pointed to Schmidt and said to applause: “That’s our Freedom Caucus on the school board.”
Wyoming GOP Executive Director Kathy Russell also attended the event.
The Saturday event in Casper marks the beginning of the caucus’ statewide tour, which Bear said would continue throughout the year until the next legislative session. There isn’t a set schedule for these town hall meetings yet. Some of the gatherings will be online.
“The key is that the next time we meet in this room as the Freedom Caucus, there’s 200 of us,” Locke, a Casper Republican, said to the crowd. “When there’s 200 of us, imagine the power of that.”