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Cheney Hits Record-Setting Quarterly Fundraising Amount With Over $1.5 Million

in News/Liz Cheney

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

If Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney had a rough start to 2021, it sure wasn’t reflected in fundraising.

According to documents obtained by Cowboy State Daily, Cheney will smash all of her previous quarterly fundraising efforts by raising $1.54 million during the first quarter of 2021.

For context, Cheney raised $321,000 in the first quarter of 2020 — an election year. This quarter’s total represents a five-fold increase in fundraising activity — and in a non-election year.

Also significant is where the money came from, with more than $1 million of the funds coming from individual donors.

This puts Cheney’s cash on hand at $1.43 million — up from $153,000 at the end of 2020.

Cheney political advisor Kevin Seifert told Cowboy State Daily that the increase in fundraising is due to her “effective, principled leadership.”

“Liz is standing up for the Constitution and standing up to the Biden Administration’s partisan overreach, so it’s no surprise her approach is resonating in the form of increased donations,” Seifert said. “She resoundingly won the support of the House Conference in February and she will continue to generate support from those who are concerned with the future of the Republican Party.”

Although the Wyoming Republican Party censured Cheney for her vote to impeach President Trump earlier this year, it hasn’t appeared to stop her activity in the state.

She has participated in a number of high-profile meetings in communities across Wyoming and hasn’t shied away from meeting with the press.

Most recently, Cheney appeared on CBS’ Face the Nation this past Sunday, where she criticized Trump for his remarks over the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago compound. Not only did he condemn his former vice president for certifying the results of November’s general election, but called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell a “dumb son-of-a-bitch.”

So far two candidates have announced their plans to run against Cheney in the Republican primary in 2022. Wyoming State Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, and State Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, both announced their campaigns earlier this year.

Individual donor information was not available. Campaigns and committees are required to file first-quarter financial reports with the FEC by April 15.

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Cody Couple To Face Murder Charges In Toddler’s Death

in News/Crime

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Two Cody residents are now facing first-degree murder charges in the death of 2-year-old Paisleigh Williams.

Moshe Williams, 30, and 28-year-old Carolyn Aune are being held on $1 million bond each at the Park County Detention Center. The two were arrested March 31.  

Initial charges of felony aggravated child abuse were upgraded to first-degree murder Monday after Paisleigh died at the Children’s Hospital in Colorado on April 4.

According to court documents filed in connection with the charges, the Williams girl died from injuries she sustained as a result of abuse by her guardians.

Paisleigh was admitted to the emergency room of Cody’s West Park Hospital, in an unresponsive state, on March 27. Due to the seriousness of her injuries, Paisleigh was flown to Children’s Hospital in Denver on the same day. She died just over a week later.

Court documents allege that over a course of several months, Paisleigh sustained possible fractures to her left clavicle and ribs, two vertebrae, bruising and scraping on her head, a detached bowel, possible fractures to her hands, swelling of the brain, blunt force trauma, and slight malnourishment.

Moshe Williams has been living with Aune and her three children in a small three-bedroom apartment in Cody since last August. Aune has been the primary caretaker of her children and Williams’ two children. During police interviews, both adults said they did not recognize the seriousness of Paisleigh’s injuries.

Neither Williams nor Aune claimed responsibility for any of the injuries, instead explaining a few of them as accidental trauma inflicted by the girl’s 14-month-old brother. 

However, following an autopsy by the Adams County (Colorado) Coroner, officials said that the severity of the injuries, particularly the bowel which was detached in two places, were consistent with child abuse at the hands of adults. In particular, the intestinal injury is consistent with what law enforcement officials called a “gut-punch,” court documents said.

According to the documents, in separate interviews with law enforcement, Williams and Aune appeared to point the finger at each other, each claiming that they did not know the cause of the girl’s injuries, nor why the 2-year old had lost her appetite and began throwing up in the days leading up to her hospitalization. 

Williams told officers that he had reached out to friends for help in treating the child for stomach discomfort, purchasing over-the-counter remedies. Williams and Aune both told officers that they had removed one of the children from Paisleigh’s bedroom, thinking that the 9-year-old was accidentally injuring Paisleigh while sleepwalking.

However, each also indicated that the other could be abusing the child.

The two adults were arrested on Wednesday, March 31, and the charges against both were upgraded to first-degree murder on Monday.

Williams and Aune appeared in court before Judge Bruce Waters, who denied the Park County Attorney’s request for the defendants to be held without bail, choosing to maintain the original order for a $1 million cash bond each.

The two defendants will appear next on Friday, April 16th to enter a plea in the charges.

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Federal Ban On Oil And Gas Activity Contributing To Wyoming’s Slow Economic Recovery

in Energy/News

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By The Center Square for Cowboy State Daily

Despite a new state report showing the Wyoming economy is bouncing back, sluggish income growth and job losses, particularly in the oil and gas industry, mean the state’s overall progress is expected to be slow.

“The natural gas and oil industry follow the global markets and must utilize the oversupply that was created during the pandemic before we will see prices rise significantly and allow for increased production,” Ryan McConnaughey, communications director at the Petroleum Association of Wyoming (PAW), told The Center Square.

The oil and gas industry itself has been in a slouch and continues to seek recovery.

“The COVID-19 pandemic caused a historic drop in demand for petroleum products as the globe quarantined to slow the virus’s spread,” McConnaughey said. “This caused an oversupply in the global markets. We are starting to see the oil price move upward, and we are confident production will return as global economic activity resumes.”

The report was issued last month by the Wyoming Department of Administration and Information (WDAI).

“Wyoming’s recovery is really somewhat similar to the U.S. economy’s recovery,” Wenlin Liu, chief economist for the WDAI economic analysis division, told Wyoming Public Media. “The Wyoming economy continued to rebound in the fourth quarter. However, the slow recovery of Wyoming’s economy was mainly dragged by our oil and gas drilling activities.”

This year’s new federal mandates banning new oil and gas leases on federal lands, many of which are in Wyoming, have added to the state’s economic difficulties.

“The administration’s new policies around oil and natural gas will hinder the ability to produce in Wyoming due to its outsized reliance on federal lands for production,” McConnaughey said. “The natural gas and oil industry contributes more to Wyoming’s GDP than the following two sectors combined [travel/tourism and agriculture]. Therefore, production must continue for the well-being of our state and communities.”

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Mask Order In Wyoming Schools Extended Until End of April

in News/Coronavirus

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Students in most Wyoming schools will be required to wear masks or face coverings for at least two more weeks.

The Wyoming Department of Health announced Tuesday that the state’s public health orders would be continued for two more weeks.

“While we continue to see stable case numbers and hospitalizations in most areas of the state, our overall progress seems to have plateaued,” said Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with WDH. “COVID-19 remains a threat for now, with cases growing in other states.”

Mask use and physical distancing requirements related to educational institutions are remaining in effect through the statewide orders.

Not every school in the state is beholden to these orders, though.

Pinedale schools are no longer requiring students, staff or board members to wear masks on any of their campuses. Torrington schools have also received a variance from the state.

The statewide orders also allow indoor events to be attended by more than 500 people as long as the number of attendees does not exceed 50% of venue capacity.

WDH recommended the continued use of face masks in indoor public places and when common-sense physical distancing cannot be maintained among people who don’t live in the same household.

Gov. Mark Gordon has previously stated he has no plans to reinstate the statewide mask order, which was rescinded in mid-March.

More than 175,000 individuals have received at least one vaccine dose so far in Wyoming when state and special federal counts are combined.

58 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming Tuesday; 457 Active

in News/Coronavirus

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s active coronavirus cases increased by 17 from Monday.

Wyoming Department of Health figures showed that the department received reports of 63 new recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases.

At the same time, the state reported 58 new laboratory-confirmed and 24 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 457 active cases.

Laramie County’s case count dropped another 10 but it still had the most active cases, 86, while Albany went up by four, to 76; Sweetwater had 41; Natrona 40; Teton 30; Fremont 28; Campbell 27; Uinta 24; Sublette 22; Lincoln 15; Park 14; Carbon and Sheridan 11; Weston nine; Converse and Washakie five; Crook four; Goshen and Johnson three; Big Horn two, and Hot Springs one. 

Niobrara and Platte counties had no active cases.

Active cases are determined by adding the total confirmed and probable coronavirus cases diagnosed since the illness first surfaced in Wyoming on March 12, 2020, subtracting the number of recoveries during the same period among patients with both confirmed and probable cases and taking into account the number of deaths attributed to the illness.

The new confirmed and probable cases brought to 57,070 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020.

Of those, 55,910 have recovered.

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Barrasso Says Humanitarian, Security Crises Exist at Border; “We Want to Finish the Wall”

in News/John Barrasso

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso told his Senate colleagues this week there are two crises currently going on at the U.S./Mexico border: humanitarian and national security.

Barrasso spoke on the Senate floor Monday where he discussed his recent trip, along with 18 other senators, to the southern border to see the immigration crisis firsthand.

“In fact, it’s not just one crisis: it’s a double crisis. It’s a national security crisis as well as a humanitarian crisis,” the senator said. ““We spoke to the Border Patrol agents. They told us their jobs got an awful lot harder on Jan. 20, when Joe Biden became president of the United States.”

Earlier this month, Barrasso said Border Patrol agents told him the Trump administration’s “Remain-In-Mexico” policy – which President Biden canceled on the first day of his presidency – was working to stem the surge of illegal immigrants into the U.S.

On the Senate floor, the senator added he and his colleagues heard traffickers from the Mexican side of the border taunting and catcalling Border Patrol agents during late night patrols.

He said Biden sent a clear message around the world that the U.S. border was now “wide open.”

“Because of that clear message, Border Patrol arrests and detentions have doubled since January,” Barrasso said.

He also suggested resuming construction on a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico that was launched under the administration of President Donald Trump.

“[Republicans] want to finish the wall, and we want to bring back the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy,” Barrasso said. “We want to stem this humanitarian crisis and national security crisis that is facing our nation today. It’s time to bring this crisis to an end.”

Barrasso has been regularly critical of Biden’s immigration policies, both during last year’s presidential campaign and after the president took office in January.

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Wyomingites Can Apply For Reimbursement For COVID Victims’ Funeral Expenses

in News/Coronavirus

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming residents who have lost a loved one in the last year to the coronavirus can apply for federal reimbursement of funeral expenses.

The Wyoming Department of Health announced the program this week, which will ease some of the financial stresses and burdens caused by the pandemic.

A dedicated toll-free phone number to call is 844-684-6333. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) representatives are available to assist callers from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The helpline has received thousands of calls, which is causing some callers to receive a busy signal. Having the required documents ready when calling can ease some of the congestion.

To be eligible for COVID-19 funeral assistance:

  • The applicant must be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien who incurred funeral expenses after Jan. 20, 2020 for a death related to COVID-19.
  • If multiple individuals contributed toward funeral expenses, they should apply under a single application as applicant and co- applicant. FEMA will also consider documentation from other individuals not listed as the applicant and co-applicant who may have incurred funeral expenses as part of the registration for the deceased individual.
  • An applicant may apply for multiple deceased individuals.
  • The COVID-19-related death must have occurred in the United States, including the U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.
  • This assistance is limited to a maximum financial amount of $9,000 per funeral and a maximum of $35,500 per applicant.
  • Funeral assistance is intended to help with expenses for funeral services and interment or cremation.

The below documentation is needed to submit the application:

  • An official death certificate that attributes the death to COVID-19 and shows that the death occurred in the United States. The death certificate must indicate the death “may have been caused by” or “was likely the result of” COVID-19 or COVID-19-like symptoms. Similar phrases that indicate a high likelihood of COVID-19 are considered sufficient attribution.
  • Funeral expense documents (receipts, funeral home contract, etc.) that include the applicant’s name, the deceased individual’s name, the amount of funeral expenses and dates the funeral expenses were incurred.
  • Proof of funds received from other sources specifically for use toward funeral costs. Funeral assistance may not duplicate benefits received from burial or funeral insurance, financial assistance received from voluntary agencies, federal/state/local/tribal/territorial government programs or agencies, or other sources.

Individuals who feel they need crisis counseling are encouraged to call Wyoming 2-1-1, which provides free, confidential, health and human services information and referrals.

Wyoming has seen more than 700 coronavirus-related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

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Wyoming Department of Health Pauses Administering Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

in News/Coronavirus

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Department of Health is recommending all state health care providers temporarily stop giving the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine to patients due to reports of the vaccine being linked to a rare form of blood clotting.

This recommendation Tuesday came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration suggested healthcare providers stop giving the vaccine.

There have been six reported cases of women between the ages of 18 to 48 across the U.S. developing blood clots within six to 13 days after receiving that particular vaccine.

“The action recommended by the CDC and FDA is a clear illustration the high levels of caution associated with the overall vaccination effort,” WDH spokeswoman Kim Deti told Cowboy State Daily Tuesday morning. “This is a temporary pause to look a little closer at some extremely rare situations.”

The department sent out a message to all health care providers across the state on Tuesday morning.

“Effective immediately, WDH asks Wyoming providers to temporarily cease administration of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine pending additional recommendations from the FDA, CDC, and ACIP,” the letter from the department said. “Providers are asked to continue to store the vaccine pending further direction.”

As of Monday, more than 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had been administered in the United States. Wyoming had administered 9,950 doses of the vaccine as of Tuesday morning, and had received a total of 24,400 doses.

The blood clot events appear to be rare, but serious. The CDC will meet with an advisory committee on Wednesday to review these cases and asses their potential significance.

Individuals who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination are advised to contact their health care provider.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the third of the available coronavirus vaccines that have come on the market, but it was only released within the last six weeks.

A total of 117,086 Wyomingites have received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, meaning they are completely vaccinated against the virus.

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Earthquake Shakes Worland, Wyoming

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It’s not like the movie “San Andreas” where California got annihilated by a 9.1 earthquake or anything.

But Wyoming did have a “relatively” rare earthquake on Tuesday.

The temblor, registering a magnitude of 3.9, was reported about 40 miles southeast of Worland.

The United States Geological Survey said the earthquake hit at 6:22 a.m. and occurred at a relatively shallow depth of 8.5 miles.

People in many Wyoming towns reportedly felt the earthquake quake from Worland to Ten Sleep to Casper.

While Tuesday’s earthquake was the strongest seen in Wyoming in the last 30 days, it wasn’t the only one, according to “Volcano Discovery,” which maintains a database of earthquakes occurring around the country.

The website said three other earthquakes with magnitudes between 2.0 and 3.0 were detected in Yellowstone National Park on March 25 and in southwestern Wyoming on March 19.

In addition, in the past 30 days there have been more than 90 earthquakes with a magnitude below 2.0, which people do not usually feel.

“Swarms” of small earthquakes are regularly recorded in Yellowstone, which is considered one of the most seismically active locations in the world.

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Wyo Gun Owners (WyGo) Group Says Director of Sheriffs and Police Assoc. Is “Cancer On 2nd Amendment”

in Guns/News

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A veteran Wyoming law enforcement officer is the latest target for a vocal gun rights group.

Byron Oedekoven, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, drew the scorn of the Wyoming Gun Owners by opposing several measures proposed by gun rights advocates in the Legislature’s recent general session.

“There has never been a pro-gun bill that Byron Oedekoven did not oppose,” Aaron Dorr, WyGO’s political director, said in an April 1 post on the group’s Facebook page. “This guy is a cancer on the Second Amendment here in Wyoming.”

Dorr also called Oedekoven a “spindly little weasel” and repeated a theme often heard on WyGO’s Facebook posts that the former sheriff is a foe of Second Amendment rights.

But Oedekoven, a law enforcement officer for almost 30 years, denied Dorr’s allegations, noting that in 1995, he signed an “amicus brief” on behalf of what was then the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs challenging the validity of the federal “Brady Bill” gun control measure.

“My personal record shows I have been incredibly strong for the Second Amendment, and for them to describe it otherwise is a total disregard for the truth,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “It would be interesting to question what their actual motive was in stirring up this level of controversy.”

At issue is Oedekoven’s work on behalf of WASCOP to fix problems the group saw with several bills, primarily the “Second Amendment Preservation Act” offered by Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, a former executive director of WyGO. The bill was approved in an amended form by Wyoming’s Senate, but never taken up by the House.

The bill as originally written would have allowed Wyoming to declare as null and void any federal regulations seen as an infringement on the Second Amendment, including tax laws and registration rules.

The bill would also have forbidden police officers from seizing weapons under federal laws considered null and void and would have made any officer seizing a weapon under those federal laws subject to $50,000 in civil damages.

Similar bills are being considered in a number of other states. In Montana, a bill that would have banned the enforcement of new federal gun regulations was tabled. In Missouri, where proponents amended the bill to add the $50,000 in civil damages, the bill is awaiting Senate review.

Both WASCOP and the Wyoming Prosecuting Attorneys Association opposed the bill in Wyoming, in part because of the restrictions it would have put on police.

“They tried to say you couldn’t disarm a person who … hadn’t been found guilty yet,” Oedekoven said. “Then the question became what do you do with guns from bank robbers, child molesters and human traffickers who are not convicted felons and are in possession of firearms?”

WASCOP also objected to the bill’s removal of “qualified immunity,” which gives police offices and other public officials broad immunity from civil lawsuits for actions taken within their duties.

The state’s 23 sheriffs wrote a letter to legislators explaining their opposition to the bill while expressing their support for Second Amendment rights.

“The Wyoming Sheriff’s Association, collectively and individually, hold the United States and Wyoming Constitutions in the highest regard,” it said. “We, the Wyoming Sheriffs, respectfully request that the Wyoming Legislature seek laws that allow us to perform our duties while still protecting the law-abiding citizen’s right to keep and bear arms, which we hold as an absolute.”

Joseph Baron, representing the Prosecuting Attorneys Association, compared the bill’s language to that found in what he called “anti-law enforcement laws” championed by congressional Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Several of those testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 17 also noted that states lack the authority to simply declare a federal law or rule null and void.

WASCOP worked with lawmakers on an amendment to the bill creating a process through which the governor could issue an executive order banning police from enforcing federal rules and laws the state’s attorney general found to be contrary to the Second Amendment. The move was seen as a way to prevent the improper enforcement of unconstitutional laws while allowing law enforcement officers the flexibility to seize weapons when warranted.

“Our position was to stand strong on the Second Amendment and to assist where we could in developing strong language that would work well for law enforcement,” Oedekoven said.

Oedekoven’s work on the bill earned him the title of a “taxpayer funded anti-gun lobbyist” from WyGO, and visitors to the group’s page posted negative comments, with one suggesting he “needs to be taken out to the back 40.”

But Dorr, WyGO’s only registered lobbyist, did not argue in favor of the bill in the Judiciary Committee. Nor did he appear via video link to testify on the bill before the committee.

He did post several videos of himself on the group’s Facebook page talking about the bill as he drove down a highway that did not appear to be in Wyoming.

Dorr suggested in his videos that Wyoming gun owners call their county commissioners and urge them to withdraw from WASCOP because of Oedekoven’s actions.

“Your tax dollars are paying for this anti-gun troll to work the Capitol and attack your gun rights,” he said. “If that burns your backside, talk to your county officials and tell them if your money is going to fund (WASCOP) dues, then that’s a problem and (they) better deal with that or we’ll find someone who will.”

Oedekoven said some of those commenting on Dorr’s video also suggested that Dorr’s supporter should confront Oedekoven at his home in Campbell County.

“I haven’t seen any of that yet,” he said. “I am a little concerned based on the rhetoric and misinformation they are putting forth.”

In the course of his videos, Dorr also referred to Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill as a “putz.” Dorr is entangled in a legal battle with the attorney general’s office over the alleged failure of WyGO to register as a political action committee during last year’s elections.

Dorr’s videos also featured him calling the majority of Wyoming’s legislators “spineless little cowards.”

“We don’t have a pro-gun Legislature,” he said. “We have a handful of incredibly pro-gun legislators.”

WyGO is one of a number of state gun rights advocates groups run by Dorr and his brothers, Chris and Ben. 

WyGo regularly threatens to unseat elected officials who do not agree with its positions on gun issues. It led the charge in the 2020 primary election to remove Wyoming legislators it portrayed as weak on gun rights, including Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, and Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, who were defeated in their re-election bids.

Nationally, the Dorr brothers have criticized the National Rifle Association as being too weak in its defense of Second Amendment rights.

The organization’s Wyoming office is listed on its website as a private mailbox at a Cheyenne shipping service. Its mailing address, according to filings with the secretary of state’s office, is also listed as the Carlsbad, California, office of Labyrinth Inc., a company that says it helps charities with their state registrations.

WyGO’s registered agent, a primary contact needed for every corporation that registers in Wyoming, is a company called “InCorp Services,” a Nevada-based company that offers its services as a registered agent for multiple corporations in multiple states.

A Cheyenne phone number listed on the group’s website rang through to a recording. The group did not respond to Cowboy State Daily’s message or an email asking for an interview.

WyGO does not list the number of its members on its website, but its Facebook page has 33,245 followers.

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