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Lummis Votes Yes On Same-Sex Marriage Bill

in News/Cynthia Lummis/politics
28096

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By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
Leo@Cowboystatedaly.com

The Respect for Marriage Act, legislation codifying same-sex marriage into federal law, passed the U.S. Senate on a 61-36 vote Tuesday afternoon with U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis’ supporting vote.

During a speech given on the Senate floor Tuesday, the Wyoming Republican mentioned America’s early founding fathers and how she believes the bill respects both religious and secular views, a testament she believes to be representative of the American spirit. 

“People of diverse faith, beliefs and backgrounds had to come to terms with each other, had to tolerate the seemingly intolerable about each other’s views, and had to respect each other’s rights even before the Constitution enumerated those rights,” Lummis said. “They had to tolerate each other in order to survive as a nation.”

Wyoming’s other U.S. senator, John Barrasso, voted against the bill.

Final Hurdle

The bill’s passage in the Senate was the highest hurdle it had remaining before passing into law, as the U.S. House has a much larger Democratic contingency likely to support the legislation and already passed its own version of the bill this summer. 

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, voted to support that bill.

Over the past few weeks, Lummis has stood behind her Christian belief of marriage being a union between one man and one woman. She said she views the federal legislation as the strongest protection of religious freedom legislation enacted since the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

“I, and many like me, have been vilified and despised by some that disagree with our beliefs,” Lummis said.

Pushback

On Nov. 16, Lummis, along with 11 other Senate Republicans, voted to allow the bill to go to a vote, which drew a sharp backlash from many conservative Republicans in Wyoming. 

The bill passed with a a 62-37 margin, surpassing by two votes the threshold to avoid a Republican filibuster, which would have nixed any further consideration of the bill. 

“My days since the first cloture vote for the Respect for Marriage Act as amended have involved a painful exercise in accepting admonishment and fairly brutal self soul searching, entirely avoidable I might add had I simply chosen to vote no,” Lummis said Tuesday afternoon. 

State GOP Responds

The Wyoming Republican Party put out a press release against her decision to support letting the bill go to a vote, and the state Legislature’s House Freedom Caucus wrote her a letter imploring her to vote against it. 

The Freedom Caucus made the argument that a vote for the bill would go against First Amendment protection for freedom of religion.

“The Democrats in Congress are attacking the Defense of Marriage Act and placing Christians and other religious people’s freedom of belief at risk,” state Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, wrote in a Facebook post last week. “Senator Lummis must reverse her stance and stand for free speech and freedom of religion. The First Amendment must be upheld.”

The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports that the Wyoming Pastors Network also wrote a letter asking Lummis to “reverse course” on the bill.

Past Loyalty

The Wyoming Republican Party has maintained a firm benchmark for those it considers loyal to its ranks, requiring an 80% adherence to its platform for support. 

Lummis has maintained a conservative stance on virtually all other issues, making the fervent opposition to her vote on this bill unusual.

In contrast to Cheney, both Lummis and Barrasso have mostly been able to avoid the crosshairs of state GOP rebuke in the post-Donald Trump era.

Lummis was voted into office in 2020 with 198,100 votes, the most ever cast for a candidate in Wyoming history. 

Supported Trump

Lummis supported former President Donald Trump in his reelection bid and was endorsed by him in her campaign. One of her first acts as senator was voting against certifying the Pennsylvania results of the 2020 election, a move in lockstep with Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of the election. She also voted to acquit Trump during his second impeachment trial following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. 

“I want to thank all of the Republicans who have supported this, I know it has not been easy, but they have done the right thing,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said during discussion before the bill’s passage.

On Tuesday, Lummis voted to support amendments made by Republican Sens. Mike Lee, James Lank and Marco Rubio that would have added various religious and private business protections to the bill. None of those amendments passed.

Federal Recognition

The bill as passed, would guarantee federal recognition of any marriage between two individuals if the union was valid in the state where it was performed.

It would also require states to accept the legitimacy of a valid marriage performed elsewhere but not require any state to issue a marriage license contrary to its own law.

If the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn its 2015 law legalizing same-sex marriage and previous state prohibitions on same-sex marriage came back into effect, the Respect for Marriage Act would require states and the federal government to respect marriages conducted in places where it is legal, but not require states to facilitate these marriages.

People or groups would not be legally required to provide services for a wedding ceremony or celebration if it’s against their religious beliefs. It also would not recognize polygamous unions.

Colloquy

Lummis supported an amendment to the bill ensuring religious liberty protections, which passed. Lummis and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. conducted a colloquy on the legislation after its passage, a performance which Lummis said in a press release was, “to ensure courts interpret the Respect for Marriage Act in a manner that protects religious liberty.”

“The amendment I cosponsored ensures religious organizations are protected from government retaliation and the tax-exempt status of non-profit religious organizations is not impacted in any way,” Lummis said. “Additionally, the Wyoming Constitution protects the political equality of all people, and I believe this legislation is in line with that protection.”

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Incoming Natrona School Board Member Stands Ground After Outgoing Trustee Blasts Her

in News/Education
28099

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By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

An outgoing Natrona County School Board trustee on Monday openly ridiculed a newly elected member who will soon join the board.   

Trustee Debbie McCullar delivered what she called her “swan song” during her last regular meeting of the board. Her remarks came after she and the board voted to keep sexually graphic books “Gender Queer” and “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” in the Kelly Walsh High School library, with the caveat that parents must opt their students in to access the books.   

McCullar’s “swan song” was a lengthy rebuke of Trustee-elect Mary Schmidt, who defeated McCullar in the general election Nov. 8. Schmidt campaigned on a parental control platform, especially regarding library materials.    

Mask Outcry  

McCullar also criticized the Natrona County Moms for Liberty, which advocates for parental rights in schools, and Patriots for Liberty, a conservative group.   

“I think it’s time that you get a taste of your own medicine. So let’s pretend that it’s story hour, are you ready for a story?” McCullar asked, adding that her comments were mostly directed at Schmidt, whom she called the “driver of discontent among her minions.”   

“When you guys first came to the board, I thought you a passionate group who wanted masks to be optional because they weren’t good for kids, and I wholeheartedly agreed,” said McCullar. “But because of an overabundance of concern we didn’t vote to apply for a variance. 

“Our mistake. And the crowd roared – and you haven’t quit since.”   

Schmidt in a press release Tuesday afternoon countered, saying that the mask protests started with four moms whom she does not know. After reading their comments via news outlets in spring 2021, Schmidt said she “became curious” and began attending board meetings regarding masks.   

“I don’t even believe I spoke at those meetings,” Schmidt said.   

Critical Race Theory  

McCullar said Schmidt and her peers “schooled” the board on critical race theory, “which we didn’t even teach.”   

Schmidt in her statement said the “schooling on CRT… was born out of a concern regarding the (social-emotional learning) program Character Strong that was being used at the local high schools last year.”   

Character Strong touts its social-emotional learning program for high schoolers as a community- and character-building curriculum.   

Schmidt said she and other mothers researched the program and discovered “alarming” information about the program, its parent company and organizations involved in its creation. 

In a follow-up email, she said the program appears to lack oversight and consistency, and that it may be designed to collect “sensitive personal non-cognitive data of (minors)” in a way that could violate students’ privacy.   

Pornography  

McCullar said Schmidt’s handling of the controversy surrounding the sexually graphic books was “manipulative.”   

“You did find two books from your Moms for Liberty talking points to be outraged about,” said McCullar. “These books that have been on the shelves for three years and checked out to fewer than 20 students over that time – you used these books to inflame the community. 

“The pornography claim was born.”   

McCullar said that the Moms and Patriots for Liberty disparaged and bullied board members.   

McCullar recalled when Schmidt during a September meeting asked that the book debate be delayed, out of respect for the local Diaz family, which had just lost two of its members to a fatal car wreck.   

McCullar theorized that Schmidt was asking for a postponement because “those weren’t your people here to speak.”   

There was a large turnout of sexually graphic book defenders at the meeting.   

Sexualization Of Children  

Schmidt did not address that claim directly, but she delivered a strong-worded counter regarding the books in question.   

“If you support keeping books that are intended for school-age children that instruct on sexual acts, toys, occupation and surgeries then yes, I believe that you are supportive of the educational sexualization of children,” Schmidt said. “If you support keeping books that depict sexual graphic pictures and sexually graphic language, then yes, I believe that you are supportive of the sexualization of children. That is my opinion.”  

Schmidt said that the high school has a social and reading competency problem, and also happens to have a high number of books on “transgenderism.”   

Pedophiles And Groomers  

McCullar also railed against the comments of Eric Paulsen at a past board meeting, when Paulsen called a substitute teacher who defended the books a “pedophile” and a “groomer.”   

“I never heard a single one of you apologize for the remarks of your fellow patriot, Mr. Eric Paulsen, who also believes that if one is against censorship, that makes one a pedophile,” said McCullar.   

Schmidt said she believes this is a mischaracterization.   

“Ms. McCullar apparently did not observe Jenifer Hopkins (another newly-elected board member and book challenger) get up and walk out after Mr. Paulson and admonish him in the lobby of the district office for his comments that evening,” Schmidt said.   

Demonic Screeches  

McCullar launched numerous personal attacks on Schmidt.   

She accused Schmidt of being an activist homeschool mom, a hypocrite, a bully, divisive a purveyor of misinformation and said Schmidt likely hears “demonic screeches” when listening to people who disagree with her.   

“You know Mary, you’re a pretty woman,” said McCullar. “But I never noticed … because you always have a scowl on your face.”   

Schmidt said she attributes the attacks to “the difficulty in accepting the election results. I hope in time (McCullar) will reconcile herself with the results.”   

Schmidt said she’s proud to be an activist homeschool mom.   

Board Cooperation  

Other board members in their final speeches for this term cycle bid farewell to the exiting members and expressed fondness for all trustees, as did McCullar before she began addressing Schmidt.   

McCullar said she was “really impressed” when Schmidt congratulated Michael Stedillie, the top vote-getter in the school board election, on Facebook, but indicated that she soon ceased to be impressed.   

After his election, Stedillie told Cowboy State Daily he supports keeping the two challenged books in the high school.   

McCullar said Schmidt published a subsequent post “encouraging your minions to attend tonight’s board meeting because Mike is against censorship, which you equate with condoning the sexualization of children,” she said. “In my opinion, Mike should sue your ass – bet he’s really anxious to work with you.”   

Schmidt in her written statement said she looks forward to working with the five trustees who will remain on the board, and with Trustee-elect Kevin Christopherson. She said she had a cordial conversation with Stedillie at the Monday meeting and looks forward to working with him also despite their disagreements.   

“Based on the reaction and support of Debbie McCullar by the existing board after her comments last night, I will assume that we are not entering into an amicable environment,” said Schmidt, presumably referencing herself and Hopkins, who ran for office together.   

Applause followed McCullar’s speech.  

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‘Thwop!’ Disabled Man Fills Cow Elk Tag With Help From Wyoming Volunteers

in Wyoming outdoors/News/Hunting
28104

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Joe Jaumotte can’t wait for his elk meat to get back from the butcher. 

“It’s gonna be good eating, for sure,” the Bridger, Montana, man told Cowboy State Daily. 

If it hadn’t been for Cody-based volunteer group Wyoming Disabled Hunters, it’s likely Jaumotte would have never had a chance to fill his freezer with tasty steaks, roasts and burgers from a Wyoming cow elk. 

Ten years ago, Jaumotte suffered traumatic brain injury and was left partially paralyzed in a vehicle accident. But Wyoming Disabled Hunters made his successful hunt possible earlier this month. 

“They took care of everything,” he said. 

‘Compassion For The Animals’

The companion hunters on Jaumotte’s outing got him set up on a group of cow elk within a good shooting distance, his caregiver, Daisy Hoffmann, told Cowboy State Daily. 

When he apparently missed the first shot, they took great care to make sure none of the elk had been hit, she said. 

“They watched every little detail, there were even interpreting the elks’ ear movements to make sure they were OK,” Hoffmann said. “The compassion that the had for the animals was amazing. They were very knowledgeable and I loved their senses of humor.”


Joe Jaumotte on his successful Wyoming hunt. (Courtesy Photo)

The Telltale ‘Thwop’

Jaumotte’s next shot resulted in the telltale “thowp” of a bullet striking a good hit, Hoffmann said. 

Once the cow elk was down, the companion hunters were amazing efficient, she said. It took about 40 minutes to take photos and quarter the carcass for transport to a meat processor, she said. 

With the hunt finished, she and Jaumotte had enough time to visit the Buffalo Bill Center of the West museum in Cody. 

The only disappointment of the trip was barely missing a chance to see a grizzly bear in the wild, Jaumotte said. 

“There had been one on a carcass where we were hunting, but he was gone when we got there,” he said.

More Than 300 Helped

Wyoming Disabled Hunters has been active since 2009. It offers deer, elk and antelope hunts in the Cody area for disabled people of all ages, including veterans with 50% or greater service-related disabilities, group president Terry Skinner told Cowboy State Daily. 

In that time, the group has hosted 313 hunters from Wyoming and all around the country, ranging in age from teenagers to octogenarians. 

Moreover, the success rate of the hunters has been about 90%, Skinner said. 

“This year, 100% of the 20 hunters we took out got animals,” he said. 

The group is an all-volunteer, registered nonprofit run by a nine-member board of directors, Skinner said. It relies on donations, as well as the help of local businesses. 

Hunters frequently stay together at the Bull Moose Retreat near Cody, Skinner said. That lends itself to comradery. 

“They can meet other hunters, swap stories, get to know others who are facing similar situations and network out from there,” he said. 

Companion hunters

Companion hunters go out into the field with the disabled hunters, acting as guides and helping with all aspects of the hunt from scouting out game animals to helping recover and field dress the carcasses, Skinner said. 

Wyoming Disabled Hunters also has a full range of gear and equipment, including for all-terrain wheelchairs, he said. Those are wheelchairs outfitted with tracks, such as those on a bulldozer or snow coach. 

Donated Hunting Tags

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has a provision by which residents may choose to donate their big game hunting tags to disabled hunters. 

That’s the primary means that Wyoming Disabled Hunters gets tags for the hunters it hosts, Skinner said. 

“If we are overrun with too many tags, we just send them back to the Game and Fish to be donated to other disabled or eligible veteran hunters,” he said. 

The group can host roughly 20 hunters per season. Hunters must apply for a spot through the group’s website.

Wyoming Disabled Hunters | Bringing An Affordable Hunt To Disabled Hunters

The application period for the 2023 hunting seasons opens Thursday and runs through Jan. 28. 

Those interested in volunteering also can visit the website, Skinner added.

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Kroger, Albertsons CEOs Grilled On Capitol Hill About Mega-Merger

in News/Business
Cheyenne Albertsons. Photo by Jimmy Orr
28128

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

Pointed questions were just what Local 7 union president Kim Cordova was hoping to hear during a congressional hearing into the merger deal between grocery giants Kroger and Albertsons, and she wasn’t disappointed.

Lawmakers asked many of the same questions Cordova has been asking about the proposed merger, which would create a grocery store behemoth that would control one-fifth of the nation’s food supply. 

“I think it sounded like the only two in the room who are for the merger were the two CEOs,” she told Cowboy State Daily after the hearing Tuesday afternoon. 

Cordova represents about 750 grocery store workers in Wyoming. She said Local 7 and other unions will continue to push lawmakers to stop the merger, which she believes will broaden food deserts in the West and put hundreds of jobs at risk.

Not To State The Obvious, But …

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, led off the round of questioning with this one.

“Kroger has made public commitments to spend billions of dollars to lower prices to improve its stores and to raise wages,” Lee said. 

Yet, at the end of 2021, Kroger announced a billion-dollar stock buyback. 

“Things have gotten considerably worse since then,” Lee said. “Just the beginning of last year, the average U.S. household paid an additional $110 for food in the month of October 2022. The average Utah household paid an additional $125 in October of 2022, so it’s even worse in Utah. 

“If Kroger wasn’t passing on savings to consumers when it was competing with Albertsons — competition is very often what brings down prices. It’s one of few things that can be counter-inflationary.”

Because competition often leads to lower prices, “why would we think it would pass on savings after it eliminates that competition?”

CEO Says Prices Are Lower

Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen said Kroger has lowered pricing by more than 3% since 2003, which is $5 billion a year.

“If you look at our merger with Harris Teeter, we’ve lowered our gross profit rate to more than $100 million per year there,” he said. “And if you look at our merger with Roundy’s in Wisconsin, we’ve lowered pricing there by about $130 million per year.”

But simply lowering prices is not what creates the best market scenario for Kroger, he added.

“What we have found is by giving customers a better value, using personalized pricing for each household based on what’s really important to that household and passing those savings, that creates more loyalty,” he said. “And then we also really focus on fresh foods. And that’s really from a competitive standpoint, we always try to make sure we have the freshest product in the market.”

Next Question

Those personalized customer deals, however, aren’t binding on the company going forward, Lee pointed out before asking his next question of Albertsons CEO Vivek Sankaran.

“Albertsons has just proposed handing out $4 billion to its shareholders, which dwarfs the $2.8 billion in commitments tied to the merger,” Lee said. “Why do Kroger and Albertsons need to merge in order to lower their prices and treat their employees better, when it seems like they already have the money to do so now?”

Sankaran said Albertsons had bought a number of distressed stores from SuperValu in 2013, spending $11.5 billion since that time to turn the stores around, as well as an additional $1.5 billion for communities where Albertsons operates. 

“In every year since the merger of Safeway, increasing wages and, at the same time, becoming more competitive. We have not returned cash to shareholders over that timeframe,” he said. “This $4 billion is a return of cash to those shareholders who have supported us over this decade. It has nothing to do with the merger itself.”

Sankaran also denied that paying the dividend will weaken the company.

“Albertsons companies is in excellent financial condition,” he said. “And that was the case before the dividend payment and will remain the case after the dividend payment.”

Haggen Deal A Failure

Lee also brought up the bankruptcy of Haggen Foods & Pharmacy, after Albertsons sold off most of its available 168 locations to the smaller grocery chain as part of the Safeway-Albertsons merger in 2014. 

“I don’t think it’s controversial to say that when divested assets required to be divested in connection with the merger had to (declare) bankruptcy less than a year, just nine months, and then end up simply being re-acquired by the merged firm, that remedy is an embarrassing failure,” Lee said. “You have any response to that?”

Sankaran said the divestment and buyer were at the time both qualified and approved by the FTC. 

“We did everything we could to help the Haggen stores at that time and, when it didn’t work, we bought it,” he said. “But if you step back and look at the bigger picture, the merger by any measure is a success, where we put two companies together, one of them struggling, and have turned them around, and we’re sitting at this table with the financial performance we have because of that merger.”

Timeline

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, meanwhile, asked about the timetable for implementing price cuts.

“If the merger is approved, who will analyze whether or not you meet that commitment?” she asked.

McMullen said the process would begin Day One.

“Obviously, we won’t be able to, we’re not able to do any of the analysis before we merge because of the information that’s involved,” he said. “But it will start immediately Day One. And we would expect that the $500 million to be (cut) over a four-year time horizon as well.”

Not Convinced

Klobuchar expressed skepticism that consumers would ever see price reductions.

“Your operating profit increased from $2.8 billion in 2020 to $3.5 billion in 2021,” she said. “That’s a 25% jump. And so that is why you’re sensing some cynicism about this idea about bringing prices down when we have even less competition.”

McMullen said he appreciated the directness of Klobuchar’s question.

“One of the things in retail, you have to re-invent yourself every 10 to 12 years, because you have new competitors come in,” he said. “And at one point that was Walmart. At another point that was Costco. At one point that’s Amazon. It’s just part of the industry.”

That reinvention involves creating better value for consumer’s money, he said.

Klobuchar said she was asking about the future, not the past.

“(Do) you think that having less competition is going to create pressure on you to reduce prices?” she asked.

“Yeah, I just don’t see less competition going forward,” McMullen replied. “It’s easy for a customer to take a right turn or a left turn. And we will continue to invest in pricing because it’s incredibly important to our customer. We will also invest in service and fresh product.”

Kroger Already Huge

Klobuchar also pointed to Kroger’s own factbook issued in 2021, which lists 49 major markets where the supermarket already has nine or more stores in one city.

“It says that you have the No. 1 or No. 2 market share in 41 of the 49 markets already today,” Klobuchar said. “And that’s without even accounting for the Albertsons stores. 

“What is your market share today and do you think, just as you’ve done here with your own factbook, do you think that you should be considering market share on a market-by-market basis instead of a nationwide basis?”

McMullen said Kroger takes both perspectives into account.

“We always have,” he said, “because from a local basis, looking at market share, the infrastructure (such as) a warehouse, some of the other parts are incredibly important to create efficiency.

“So, we would always look at market share from both perspectives.”

More Food Deserts, Higher Prices

Sen. Alex Padilla, D-California, meanwhile, said he finds many communities up and down his state where constituents will clearly have fewer retail grocery store options if the merger goes through.

“In your testimony, you both suggest that your stores compete with premium stores like Whole Foods and Sprouts, or warehouse stores like Costco, or expensive online grocery delivery services,” he said. “But from my experience, consumers know better. Replacing the neighborhood grocery store with premium alternatives means a consumer would face a dramatic increase in the price of their basic staples, and likely the number of stops they would now need to make to buy what they need. 

“Do you really believe that your customers could easily substitute all the shopping that they do at your stores with shopping at Whole Foods or Costco or Amazon?”

McMullen said surveys of Kroger’s customers indicate they’re shopping on average at five to six locations.

“Obviously, we are actively working with the FTC, and we will expect to continue to do that, and would expect that every market will be just as competitive going forward as it is today,” he said.

Sankaran, meanwhile, added that the goal is not to close stores, but to divest them and keep a viable competitor going forward.

Increased Pay, Benefits

Sen. Padilla expressed skepticism about the answer, but moved on.

“The proposed merger announcement noted that the combined company expects to invest $1 billion to continue raising associate wages and comprehensive benefits after close,” he said. “I’d welcome more detail about the $1 billion investment; what it will look like in practice?”

McMullen said the increase to pay and benefits would phase in over a four-year time period and will be a combination of improvements in both areas.

“If you look at the benefits we offer, it would be world class across the U.S. in terms of retirement benefits,” he said. “Other health care benefits, and things like that. And we would expect to continue to do that, which many of our non-union competitors would not offer to the same degree.”

Spinoffs

Sen. Lee had a pointed redirect for the viability of spinning stores off into a much smaller chain.

“If Kroger and Albertsons, which each have over 2,000 stores currently, if they can’t compete with Walmart, then how would the spun-off companies survive with only a few hundred stores dispersed throughout the country?” Lee asked.

McMullen said it’s about “connecting with the local community” and a “combination of price, service and freshness.”

“There’s several competitors that would actually be smaller than what Spinco would be,” he added. 

Market share for small regional grocers has grown 25% to 33%, McMullen added, based on information from the National Grocers Association.

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New Flaring Rules Will Hit Small Wyoming Companies Hardest

in Energy/News
Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images
28101

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By Kevin Killough, State Energy Reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

As energy costs soar, the Biden administration continues to add new rules to oil and gas production. The Department of the Interior announced this week proposed rules to limit the amount of methane released from oil and gas operations on federal lands. 

This year, primary energy expenditures will hit an all-time high of more than 13% of global gross domestic product, which is a measure of economic activity, according to an analysis by the consulting firm Thunder Said Energy.

Ryan McConnaughey, spokesperson for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, said the new regulations are unnecessary and will be hardest on smaller producers in the state. 

“With all of these federal mandates coming down, it’s really our small and medium-sized operators that are going to get hit the hardest,” he said. “They just don’t have the capital outlays to invest heavily in these new regulations.”

Proposed Provisions

The rules would require technological upgrades to detect and reduce methane leaks at well sites and place monthly limits on how much gas an operator can flare. 

Companies also would be required to include in their applications for drilling permits plans to minimize waste and demonstrate a well site has the pipeline capacity to handle associated gas production. If the Bureau of Land Management decides the plan will not avoid excessive flaring, the agency can delay or deny the permit. 

“That would create a lot of regulatory uncertainty for drilling operations and create significant investment risks for these companies, which would just make it less likely for companies to even invest in new drilling. That is exactly what the administration wants,” McConnaughey said. 

The EPA is updating regulations to reduce methane pollution from oil and gas development across the country. The proposed BLM rule will apply specifically to oil and gas development on federal land. 

Not Practical To Capture

Isaac Orr, policy fellow for energy and environmental policy at the Center of the American Experiment, explained that gas is flared because the infrastructure isn’t in place to collect the gas to sell on the market. 

By flaring the methane, it converts it to carbon dioxide, which has less of an impact on climate change. It also burns off some of the volatile organic compounds that also have impacts on the environment. 

There are a number of barriers to putting gathering pipeline infrastructure in place. In the West, the vast distances from processing facilities sometimes make it uneconomical to build the pipelines.

“Historically, the price of natural gas has not supported that level of investment from a market perspective,” Orr said. “And now we have more hurdles than we did previously to building that takeaway capacity that you need, whether that’s federal or state regulations that are preventing it.”

Regions Present Different Problems

In Eastern shale plays of Pennsylvania and Ohio, which are close to millions of consumers in New York, environmental regulation makes pipeline project permitting difficult and costly.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission also is proposing rules that would require pipeline developers to calculate the social cost of carbon into its environmental reviews, which will make pipeline projects more expensive.

“They’re really cooking a book here for the social cost of carbon in order to justify these regulations from a cost-benefit analysis. And it’s all baloney,” Orr said. 

No More Drilling

President Joe Biden campaigned on a promise to end all oil production, and he’s taken many steps throughout his presidency to make good on that promise. 

McConnaughey said the new flaring rules are just part of an overall effort to stop drilling on federal land by making it too expensive to do so. 

The rules are “going to cost the industry tens of billions of dollars to implement, and the industry has already voluntarily invested significant resources into methane reduction technologies in recent years,” McConnaughey said.

In a statement on the proposed rules, the BLM said that total venting and flaring by federal and Indian onshore lessees between 2010 and 2020 increased from the previous decade by more than 33 billion cubic feet per year. 

But the revolution in hydraulic fracturing between 2010 and 2020 more than doubled American oil production over the previous decade. Total methane emissions in that time rose from 628.18 million tons of carbon dioxide-equivalents to 745.24 million tons — about a 16% increase. 

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Report: Climbing Contributes Millions To Wyoming Economy, Could Bring In Millions More

in Wyoming outdoors/News/wyoming economy
Oscar winner Alex Honnold climbing art Wild Iris near Lander. (Photo Courtesy Sam Lightner)
28110

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com

Climbers leave behind a multimillion-dollar wall of spending in Wyoming every year, according to a report that tracks the popular sport in one part of the Cowboy State – Fremont County. 

WyoClimbers commissioned the study, which found that 37,000 climbers lay out $4.5 million in direct expenditures for food, lodging, transportation and retail items in Fremont County every year. 

They spend another $1.1 million getting to and from Lander. 

That economic windfall, meanwhile, has a ripple effects that supports another $1.7 million in wages for local workers, as well as 51 jobs in the study area.

These economic impacts also may be somewhat understated given that many climbers report they are spending less than usual since the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Photos Courtesy Sam Lightner

Economic Potential Is Huge

Climbing has grown into one of the world’s most popular activities. 

It’s increasingly featured in television ads and has been included as an Olympic sport. There’s even an International Federation of Sport Climbing World Cup, as well as gyms that are now devoted to bringing this sport to the masses in a safe way. 

Wyoming, meanwhile, has some of the best adventures available in the climbing world. It’s a tourism opportunity that has been surprisingly under-marketed so far, one climbing enthusiast told Cowboy State Daily.

“It actually is quite surprising,” said WyoClimbers member and founder Sam Lightner. “When I first met with Governor Gordon when he was a candidate, he singled it out as one of the things that he said ought to be bigger in our state.”

Untapped Potential

Neighboring Colorado, California and Utah all have large climbing communities, Lightner said. Smart marketing to these nearby enthusiasts could potentially bring thousands more climbers to Wyoming for adventure.

That’s an opportunity not just for Lander, he said.

“If you spread yourself a little bit further out in the state, you’ve got unique things like Devils Tower, you’ve got Ten Sleep Canyon, you’ve got the Tetons, you’ve got Vedauwoo,” Lightner said. “So Wyoming is just a really good place for a climber to live. 

“You even have lots of ice climbing up around Cody in the winter months. It’s just a great, great place — but there’s also a huge amount of variation straight out our back door in Lander.”


Liz Lightner at Wild Iris near Lander. (Photo Courtesy Sam Lightner)

Low Budget

Climbing does not take a huge investment from communities interested in cultivating the sport as an economic driver. No expensive amphitheaters are required. In fact, anything like that would tend to detract from the great outdoors experience most climbers seek.

“You don’t have to build a carnival ride for climbers to be entertained. They want to be out in the wild,” Lightner said. “So, climbing areas tend to leave places as open spaces. Not that there’s no buildings, but there doesn’t need to be, you know, that kind of structure.”

Easy To Begin

About the only investment really required are some trails to the climbing opportunity, and then there are the small anchors, 3/8-inch in diameter, that are spaced every 80 to 100 feet on a climb.

Those are generally placed by climbers themselves, but they need to be periodically upgraded or replaced, since they can wear out.

“They’re re-used by everybody, so it’s a very clean form of recreation,” Lightner added. 

In fact, climbers in general tend to think of themselves as environmentalists, and three’s a whole culture built around keeping wide open climbing spaces clean. 

“It’s considered really bad form to leave anything garbage-wise,” Lightner said. “It’s a bump up in the economy that tends to not be one that you see having a visual impact.”


Photos Courtesy Sam Lightner

Climbing Opens Door For New Residents

Climbing, Lightner added, is the reason he chose to live in Lander. 

He has traveled the globe, climbing rock faces in many foreign and exotic locations. But ultimately he settled on Lander as the best of the best.

“I had a peer group here, and Lander is also just a really nice community,” he said. “It’s still got a small town feel to it. You know, everybody turns out on Main Street when the football team comes back in after having won a game and the Fourth of July parade is a big deal. It’s just a nice community and then, frankly, it’s got an incredibly diverse amount of climbing opportunities.”

Those opportunities range from tall granite peaks and wind rivers to sandstone buttresses and dolomite buttresses, not to mention Sinks Canyon and granite mountains — these are all endlessly fascinating, Lightner said. 

Climbing opportunities also are year-round.

“Lander is kind of the banana belt of Wyoming,” he said. “We’re on the lee side of the Wind River Range, so we get far less snow. We have far less wind and it’s warmer in this valley.”

The rocks on many faces are also brown, Lightner added, which means they can be as much as 30 degrees warmer than the temperature elsewhere. It’s not uncommon to see someone climbing these rock faces in a T-shirt in what is 10-degree weather everywhere else.

‘Huge Ripple Effect’

Lightner is not the only climber to choose Lander as home primarily for its climbing opportunities.  

Among these Lightner counts Mike Lilygren, who is one of the owners of Maven, an optics company, and Wind River Outdoor mountain guides. 

There’s also the National Outdoor Leadership School, which employs 300 people, along with several other mountain sports businesses.

“It’s a huge (ripple) effect,” Lightner said. 

Climbing has enduring popularity, Lightner believes, and is not just a fad that will be here one year and gone the next.

“You have to have cardio, you have to have upper body strength, lower body strength, you have to have flexibility, all of that,” he said. “But it’s problem-solving, too. 

“How are you going to get your body in that position? How are you going to get your hand to that spot, your foot to that spot, and so forth. So, you’re constantly having to engage your brain. And I think that’s a lot of (the reason for climbing’s popularity.)”

While Lightner believes there’s room to grow the sport in Wyoming with better marketing, that wasn’t the main reason WyoClimbers decided to commission its study.

“Our goal is just to maintain access to the mountains and make sure people understand that we’re not just a bunch of kooks, and we do have a positive impact on communities,” Lightner said. “But it probably is going to grow, just because Wyoming has so many climbing opportunities.”

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Natrona County School Board Votes To Keep Sexually Graphic Books In High School Library

in News/Education
28065

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By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

The Natrona County School Board voted Monday to keep two sexually graphic books in the Kelly Walsh High School library, with some caveats on students’ access.  

Board Treasurer Dave Applegate made a motion during the regular meeting to affirm the earlier decision by an appointed reconsideration committee to keep “Gender Queer” and “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” in the high school’s library.  

But he attached to his motion a statement that the books are “most appropriate” for students 17 and older. He also attached an opt-in system: While usually parents may opt their students out of the right to check out certain books, parents who want their teens to have access to these two books will have to opt students in to access them.  

Applegate said his motion also was informed by the board’s legal counsel, which cautioned that the decision to keep or discard the books must be based on board policies that existed when they were first challenged.  

Earlier in the meeting, the board approved a draft policy prohibiting librarians from buying books with sexually explicit images.  



Easier Not To Buy 

Trustee Kianna Smith also expressed concerns around legal challenges that could come from discarding the books. She said it’s more complicated legally for a school district to remove books than it is for them to not buy them in the first place.  

“Students have First Amendment rights when it comes to their access to information,” said Smith. “That includes in school libraries, because they’re public.” 

Smith voted against Applegate’s motion, saying she agrees with its basic gesture of keeping the books, but she couldn’t vote for it because she thought the opt-in caveat could cause problems in the future.  

Smith, who graduated high school about 10 years ago, said that judging from her recent high school experience, both books are age appropriate.   

“I think that high school students are able to handle the content in both of the books,” she said.  

Policy Accepted 

The board also voted to adopt a new policy addressing controversial issues. The policy directs librarians to avoid inappropriate material, especially where materials with “similar content” but without sexually explicit images are available. 

Policy language defines sexually explicit images as any picture, photograph, drawings, motion picture film, digital image or similar visual representation depicting the human sexual acts of masturbation, intercourse or direct physical stimulation of the genitals.  

The policy also directs each school library to keep a list of its materials onsite or on the school library website because, the policy states, parents and guardians “hold an essential role in the education of their student(s) and a have the right to guide what their minor student(s) read.”  



Grace For Librarians 

Applegate said he spoke with the Kelly Walsh High School librarian about a month ago, and he believes the librarian “has not, and does not, intentionally purchase books with such imagery,” and that book reviews don’t always indicate whether those images will be present.  

Applegate said the new policy will “take effort” to implement because of the size of the collections and the lack of comprehensive book reviews.  

“I am asking that grace be extended to our librarians,” he said.  

Policy Rebuked 

Before the board voted to accept the new policy, numerous people spoke out against it, and against the possibility of the board discarding the two challenged books.  

Alex Petrino, a licensed clinical professional counselor in Casper, said removing the books would signal to students that school authorities are untrustworthy. She said many of the youth she’s counseled pronounce a lack of trustworthy adults to be a large problem in their lives.  

“We when as adults take away access to information, refuse to have uncomfortable conversations, speak to our students with judgment and distain and don’t encourage curiosity with our students, we are signaling to them that we are untrustworthy,” said Petrino. “This scares me as a mental health professional and as well as a parent.”  

‘Ban The Bible’ 

The Rev. Dee Lundberg, of the United Church of Christ in Casper, also spoke against removing the books. She said she believed the book challenge was a veiled attempt to censor the LGBTQ community.  

Lundberg referenced Genesis Chapter 19 in the Bible, in which Lot, the nephew of religious patriarch Abraham, is considered the only good man in the doomed cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  

To spare two angels from being raped by the wicked men of Sodom, Lot offered the villagers his virgin daughters instead.  

“Would we like to condone that?” asked Lundberg. “Is anybody asking you to remove the Bible from the library?”  

Ultimately, the angels spared Lot’s daughters by striking the would-be rapists blind. 

Lundberg offered the board an ultimatum: “If you choose to ban those books, I respectfully request that you ban the Bible. Thank you.”  

No Parental Right? 

Brent Pickett, political theory professor at the University of Wyoming, said he believes heterosexual parents have no right to restrict their children’s access to books about homosexuality.  

Pickett emphasized that his views are his own, not the university’s.  

He rebuked the policy draft, saying the board was adding work to the “already overwhelming job” of being a school administrator or librarian.  

He said librarians shouldn’t be tasked with monitoring students’ book selections, and that “we live in a deeply pluralistic society” with no one correct lifestyle.  

“My children were raised in a home where they were not exposed to organized religion, and when the subject came up at home, it was often negatively,” he said. “Should I have had the power to compel school libraries to withhold from them books about Christianity or Islam or Judaism? No, of course I shouldn’t have had that power.” 

Pickett continued: “But also a straight parent shouldn’t have the power to have the library withhold a book about homosexuality from a child.”   

Sex Toys And Sex Workers 

Renea Redding, who supported efforts to remove the books, said speakers who claimed book challengers were discriminating against LGBTQ people were mistaken.  

“We’re not looking to erase a community. What many of us in this community are looking for is to remove sexual content from books in a school library,” said Redding. “Sexually explicit content does not belong in a school district that is meant to teach academics.”  

Redding said it was “interesting” to hear from many teachers who approved of the books. “Books that talk about sex workers and how to use sexual toys – how can we be OK with this in a school district?” 

Read More On This Subject

Nov. 15: Natrona School Board Hears Draft Policy On Sexually-Graphic Books, Vote In Two Weeks

Nov. 10: Voters Oust Wyoming School Board Members In Wake Of Debate Over Sexually Graphic Books

Oct. 25: Degenfelder Says Sexually-Explicit Books ‘Not Suitable For Minors’

Oct. 18: Conservatives Declare War On ‘Sexualizing Children’ At Rally In Cody

Oct. 14: Furor Over Sexually Explicit Books Misguided, Says LGBTQ Advocate And State House Candidate

Oct. 12: Casper School Board Asks For Police To Intervene After Teacher Gets Called ‘Pedophile’ In Book Debate

Oct. 5: Books In Wyoming School Library ‘Groom’ Children, Says Sex Crimes Investigator

Oct. 4: Legislators Disagree How To Address ‘Pornography’ In Schools If School Boards Won’t

Sept. 30: What Is Pornography? Casper Residents Clash At School Board Meeting Over Library Books

Sept. 29: Controversial Books ‘Gender Queer’ and ‘Trans Bodies’ Remain In Casper High School Library – Here’s What’s In Them

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Little Wyoming: Cowboy State Ropers Winter in Wickenburg, Arizona

in Wyoming Life/Rodeo/News
Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
28072

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Horse folks know that if they want to play year-round, they need to head south come November. And increasingly, ropers and riders are making their way to Wickenburg, Arizona, which bills itself as the “Team Roping Capital of the World.”

At any given roping event (and there are several that happen in the Wickenburg area daily), there will be a number of Wyoming riders who have made Arizona their winter home. 

Folks like Ron and Kay Miller, who own several businesses in the Cowboy State but have taken up a semi-retirement in south-central Arizona.

“I’ve come down here since 1989,” said Ron, who first experienced the Arizona winter lifestyle from a friend’s house in Cave Creek, just north of the Phoenix area.

“We’d be here a month, or six weeks, and then every year right after Christmas we were coming here,” Miller said.


Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

It Just Makes Sense

From the perspective of someone who grew up in the small town of Wickenburg (population 7,700), it makes sense that so many Wyomingites are finding their way to Arizona. 

“I think the atmosphere here is a lot like what people in Wyoming are used to,” said Jeanie Hankins, publisher of the Wickenburg Sun newspaper. 

Although born and raised in Wickenburg, she spent 20 years in the newspaper business in Douglas and Torrington before returning to the Grand Canyon State 10 years ago.

“When I left Wickenburg and went to Wyoming, I felt at home in Wyoming,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “They really were the same type of down-to-earth, Western-minded people. It’s one reason why I loved Wyoming and stayed for so long.”


Jeanie Hankins was born and raised in Wickenberg, Arizona, and spent 20 years newspapering in Wyoming. She said the town and Cowboy State share many of the same Western values. (Photo Courtesy Jeanie Hankins)

Horse People

Hankins said that many of the Wyoming people she’s met who spend winters in Wickenburg have agricultural backgrounds, “that love for animals, and wide-open spaces,” she said. “And Wickenburg provides that to them.”

Ted and Lisa Emmons of Sundance are those kinds of people. 

Ted, a musician who plays summers at a popular chuckwagon dinner in the Black Hills of South Dakota, said that he and his wife, a retired teacher, first visited Wickenburg right before COVID hit in 2020. They enjoyed their time so much that they made it a point to return earlier this year after pandemic-related restrictions had eased.

“We went just for a month in January, and we just absolutely loved it,” said Ted. “Except that I broke two ribs, and that kind of slowed me down.”

‘We Can Rope Every Day’

But he and his wife – both ropers – are hoping to do better this year. Ted and Lisa will arrive at their winter camping spot at the Simpson Ranch Arena in Wickenburg this week. 

“We can rope every day and ride that Hassayampa riverbed all we want,” said Ted. “So that’s what we’re planning on doing.”

And there are no shortages of opportunities to swing a rope in Wickenburg.

“I just counted, there’s 12 ropings today within 30 miles of here,” said Miller. “That’s just today.”


Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Like Home

Miller said he didn’t plan to buy a home near Wickenburg, but he got a great deal on a house about 20 miles away. And although he is mostly retired and spends every day on horseback, he’s even moved part of his hearing clinic business to Arizona.

“Now we have a little office, and we work a couple days a week,” Miller said. “And business is really good.”

But mostly, he’s here to do what he loves, with people he’s known since his childhood near Powder River.

“These people are people I’ve roped with since I was 10 or 12 years old,” said Miller. “They’re all here because that’s what they want to do. And they play golf some days, and they rope some days.”

Sticking Together

Hankins said when she first got back to Arizona and saw anyone who was driving a vehicle with a Wyoming license plate, she would strike up conversations, because Wyoming’s population is so small, “you always know someone that they know,” she said.

And even though she’s been back in Arizona for 10 years, that is still the case – and even more common now that so many Wyomingites have discovered Wickenburg.

“I was (at the grocery store) and turned around, and these people from Douglas that I had known for 20 years were just standing there,” said Hankins. “And I was like, ‘What are you doing here?’ And they said, ‘Jeanie, what are YOU doing here?’” 

Turns out, they are just two of many Wyomingites who have recently bought homes in Wickenburg.

“They said, ‘Well, everybody’s doing it,’” said Hankins. 

Emmons said Wickenburg and its roping arenas are like “a country club for ropers instead of golfers.”

He said that while not all residents of Wyoming are into the rodeo way of life, when he gets to Wickenburg, those he meets are all about the Western lifestyle.

“In Wickenburg they’re pretty much concentrated,” he said. “That’s all ropers down there.”


Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

It’s the Weather

Emmons said the horse folks from the north he knows are here primarily to escape the cold winter weather.

“Everybody goes so they can rope all winter long,” said Emmons. 

Miller said that because of Wyoming’s harsh winters, it’s hard to find a place to rope there between November and March. But that’s not the case in Wickenburg.

“There’s little indoor arenas here and there, but we don’t have the ropings up there because they’re all here,” he said. “Even the young kids are coming down here for months.” 

And Miller said that because of the temperate winter climate, people are able to stay more active.

“Say, I was home (in the winter),” he said. “Well, what do you have to do? It’s too cold to ride horses, they might rope in Torrington on one or two nights a week, but the rest of the time you’re sitting around watching TV or go down to the bar and have a couple beers or go have coffee – and I get bored.”

But in Wickenburg, Miller said, he’s never bored. 

“I never sit around, I’m just always doing something,” he said. “I think (people) just live longer down here. It’s more healthy.”

Hankins said despite record-high temperatures in the summer, some Wyoming folks are choosing to stay in Arizona year-round.

“It does get hot, but they’ve probably got a place in Wyoming and they go back for a couple of months,” she said. “But there are getting to be more and more year-round residents in Arizona.”

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US State Treasurers Campaign Against Woke Capitalism; Elon Musk Says ‘ESG Is A Scam’

in News/wyoming economy
28086

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By Kevin Killough, State Energy Reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

Woke capitalism, as some call it, has faced increased challenges from the private sector, but now some public officials also are pushing back against the movement. 

A group of Republican U.S. state treasurers with the State Financial Officers Foundation have launched a campaign to push back against Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) ratings. 

The campaign, called Our Money Our Values, argues that ESG puts pressure on corporations to adopt progressive policies, and in this way allows agendas to move forward without the constraints of a democratic process through state legislatures or the courts. 

It warns that ESG policies are harmful to not only the oil, gas and coal industries, but also agriculture, as farms and ranching are increasingly targeted as contributors to climate change. 

How It Impacts Public Money

A low ESG rating can drive investors away from a company, which effectively forces companies to adopt policies that will raise their ratings. 

State treasurers are in charge of their states’ investments and 401k, pension or retirement funds, which means they invest taxpayer dollars in index funds that can be influenced by the ESG system. 

Where Does Wyoming Stand?

Wyoming Treasurer Curt Meier declined to comment on the Our Money Our Values campaign, but Wyoming has a history of not supporting ESG policies. 

In 2018, when Gov. Mark Gordon was state treasurer, San Francisco-based Bank of the West adopted ESG policies, which seek to divest from companies involved in fossil fuel production. 

In response, Gordon vowed that Wyoming would no longer do business with Bank of the West. 

Gordon told Cowboy State Daily he remains committed to Wyoming’s fossil fuel industries and doesn’t support companies and investment firms that “implement myopic ESG principles promoting a solely anti-fossil fuel policy when an all-of-the-above energy future recognizes the full spectrum of ways to address climate change.” 

Agenda First

State Financial Officers Foundation CEO Derek Kreifels told Cowboy State Daily that “ESG is a highly subjective political score infiltrating all walks of life and forcing progressive policies on everyday Americans resulting in higher prices at the pump and the store.”

Companies that would appear to be in good graces with ESG can easily fall out of favor unless they demonstrate a commitment to a range of progressive ideals. 

Green, But Not Green Enough?

Even a company like electric car and solar manufacturer Tesla can run afoul of the ESG raters. Despite being a crusader for solar energy and electric cars, the company was removed from the S&P 500’s ESG index last May. 

S&P Dow Jones Indices’ senior director and head of ESG indices Margaret Dorn explained in a blog post how a company dedicated to transitioning the globe to sustainable energy like Tesla fails the ESG ideological purity test. 

Tesla was dinged for not having a low-carbon strategy and two claims of racial discrimination and poor working conditions at a Tesla factory, among other matters. 

“While Tesla may be playing its part in taking fuel-powered cars off the road, it has fallen behind its peers when examined through a wider ESG lens,” Dorn wrote.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has become the target of progressive criticism since taking over Twitter and implementing free speech policies. Conservatives have long claimed the platform discriminated against their ideas and applied community standards inconsistently. 

In response to its downgrading in the ESG world, Musk tweeted, “ESG is a scam. It has been weaponized by phony social justice warriors.” 

Fiduciary Responsibility 

Research also is finding that high ESG ratings don’t always translate to better investment performance, which is further confirming the suspicion that too much emphasis on political objectives is distracting from financial objectives. 

Gordon said that, as treasurer, he advocated against investment restrictions that “interfere or conflict with the state’s primary fiduciary responsibility to ensure Wyoming citizens receive all necessary services, as well as the best possible return on the state’s investments.” 

This point was raised by the Republican treasurers involved in the Our Money Our Values campaign at a press conference earlier this month announcing the initiative. 

“We’re … not going to allow the assets under our management to be politicized and weaponized. We’re committed exclusively to the financial best interest of our constituents,” Brietbart reported Nebraska State Treasurer John Murante said at the conference. 

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Ho, Ho, Hold It! Wyoming’s Favorite Christmas Movie Is What?

in Wyoming Life/News
28092

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

“Krampus” is a 2015 horror-comedy based on a character from ancient European folklore – a fearsome, horned demonic beast who punishes naughty children at Christmastime.

And according to a recent Associated Press story, it’s the most popular Christmas movie in Wyoming.

The Process

The writers took the Rotten Tomatoes list of the 100 best Christmas movies of all time, then filtered down to the top 20, according to the number of online searches. Then Google Trends data was used to determine the states in which people were searching the most for certain Christmas films.

And the results computed for Wyoming?

“Krampus.”

Not “It’s a Wonderful Life,” not “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and not even “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”



‘Never Heard Of It’

However, Wyoming movie-goers strongly debunk the AP’s determination, with many sharing the same reaction: “Kramp-what?”

“Never seen it….barely remember the name of it,” said Barbara Anne Greene from Basin. “Doesn’t seem like the kind of movie that would be a hit in Wyoming.”

“I’ve never even heard of it!” said Marilyn Montville of Cody. “My favorite is the Christmas Story (1983) about Ralphie Parker yearning for a BB gun.”

“I have heard of Krampus but never watched it,” said Cheryl Shaffer, who said she prefers Hallmark Christmas movies. 

A Few Fans

There were a few fans of “Krampus” who piped in, however.

“I love Krampus!” said Betsy Trollinger of Cody. “I watch it every year, LOL.”

Mary Spencer said her husband, Nick, and sister-in-law Stephanie never miss a chance to watch the spooky holiday flick.

“You won’t find Nick in an ugly sweater at Christmas, but he does have (a Krampus) T-shirt,” she said.

“We LOVE Krampus, we own it and watch it together every year,” said Sarah Froehlich of Laramie. “It’s a great movie, and I live with 2 big movie enthusiasts!” 

And there were others who had never heard of the movie but may seek it out after hearing about the report.

“I have never seen this movie but will have to now!!!” said Joann Almlof of Lovell. 

Favorite Christmas Shows

For those who chimed in on Facebook about their favorite holiday films, treasures included “White Christmas” and George C. Scott’s rendition of “A Christmas Carol.”

“It’s a tie between ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and ‘Miracle on 34th Street,’” said Leslie Callahan.

There were a few more modern preferences as well.

“My favorite is ‘Love Actually,’” said Almlof.

“We also watch ‘Christmas Vacation,’ ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ (Jim Carrey version) and ‘Elf’ every year,” said Froehlich.

“I am a fan of Hallmark Christmas movies!” said Janet Haddix. “I’m already watching them.”

“Hallmark puts on some of the best family movies I’ve ever seen!” added Rhonda Lynam.

Top Favorites Around the Country

According to the report, the movies that were favorites in the most states include “Trading Places” (Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania); “The Polar Express” (Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina); “The Grinch” (Kentucky, Louisiana, Texas, West Virginia; and “Love Actually” (Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Virginia, District of Columbia).

But for two states – Michigan and Wyoming – the twisted horror comedy “Krampus” takes the top prize.

Ho, ho, ho indeed.

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No Decision Yet Over Lawsuit To Remove 100-Yards Distance Rule In Polling Places

in elections/News/politics
Photo by Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily
28082

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By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
Leo@Cowboystatedaily.com

A lawsuit challenging Wyoming’s law prohibiting electioneering within 100 yards of a polling place on Election Day is still being considered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, more than six months after final oral arguments were made in the case.

Since those arguments May 17, Chief Judges Jerome Holmes, Scott Matheson Jr. and Veronica Rossman haven’t made any rulings or decisions.

Don’t Stand So Close To Me

It is illegal in Wyoming to distribute electioneering materials, which can include petitions, campaign fliers, political signs and other political documents, within 100 yards of an active polling place on Election Day, and within 100 feet all other days.

In 2021, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Freudenthal ruled that Wyoming’s electioneering restriction violates the First Amendment. 

About six months later in February, Laramie County Clerk Debra Lee, Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove and former Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan appealed the decision.

What’s The Harm?

Political activists John Frank and Grassfire LLC are challenging the law, claiming people have a right to campaign and gather signatures closer to polling places. 

When it comes to Election Day efforts, Klein said he would be fine with a 100-foot rule, while he believes electioneering around courthouses once the pre-election and absentee voting period begins should be allowed as long as electioneers don’t physically impede anyone’s way in or out of a polling place.

“Is someone collecting signatures from someone on their way out really disruptive?” Klein questioned.

Steve Klein, a Washington, D.C. attorney and member of  Wyoming Liberty Group, a nonpartisan group that encourages citizen participation in government and free speech, is representing the original plaintiffs in the case. 

Mixed Legal Standing

The state and county officials argue in their appeal that the precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1992 decision of Burson v. Freeman, although featuring some dissent among the justices, dictates a decision being made on the narrowest grounds. 

“The state’s restricted zone is reasonable and does not significantly impinge on Frank or Grassfire’s rights,” the state writes in a 2020 filing. “The little case law that exists applying Burson to electioneering buffer zones larger than 100 feet misapplies Burson or is otherwise unpersuasive.”

In the Burson case, the Supreme Court upheld the state of Tennessee’s right to enforce a law restricting campaigning within 100 feet of a polling place.

“The Burson plurality’s standard opinion is controlling precedent that should be applied in this case,” the state’s attorneys wrote in a May filing.

‘A Lot To Chew On’

In 2015 in Kentucky, a 6th Circuit Court judge ruled a 300-foot buffer unconstitutional after the plaintiff successfully argued the size of the zone was arbitrary with no compelling interest to back it up.

Wyoming had a buffer zone of 60 feet prior to 1973. A 1988 lawsuit, NBC v. Karpan, forced the Wyoming Legislature to allow exit polling within the buffer zone after an outright ban was found to be unconstitutional.

Louisiana’s electioneering buffer is the highest in the nation at 600 feet, a distance that has been challenged in court multiple times. 

Klein said he feels confident the court of appeals will uphold the lower court’s decision when it comes to the Election Day distances, but is less sure how it will rule on early and absentee electioneering distance, an issue he said the court has never considered before.

“It’s pretty novel,” he said. “The court is really taking this seriously. There’s a lot to chew on.”

Highly Relevant

Klein said he has no idea when a decision could be released on the case, but hopes the judges will come back with a decision before the upcoming legislative session so lawmakers can make potential changes to laws immediately. 

He said if they lose the appeal, he will encourage his clients to take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 2014, Don Wills, an independent candidate for governor, challenged the state’s 100-yard law after the election, arguing it prevented him from collecting signatures from voters after his volunteers were forced to leave from where they were working outside the Laramie County Courthouse.

A similar instance happened to Republican gubernatorial candidate Foster Friess in 2018 when he was told he had to be 100 yards from the property line of the Cam-Plex Wyoming Center in Gillette on Election Day. 

“Sometimes we joke, when you give 100 feet they take 100 yards,” Klein said.

Around Wyoming

This fall, a conservative voter guide was distributed on the Campbell County Courthouse steps “on at least one day during the absentee voting period,” according to a complaint made to the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office. 

Klein said he was pleased to see the Laramie County Courthouse did not enforce its 100-yard rule in the November election. But in Crook County, there were supporters of write-in state Senate candidate Roger Connett who were asked by local law enforcement to remove campaign signs that were too close to a polling place.

Voter Intimidation

There were many allegations of voter intimidation raised in other states like Arizona leading up to the November election, with claims of election watchers showing up in military gear, filming voters with their phones and following them to their cars.

Axios reported in October that far-right extremist groups Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers attempted to sway the upcoming midterms in favor of their preferred candidates by signing up as poll workers and drop-box watchers.

Klein said if voters feel intimidated by those surrounding polling places, they should vote by mail. 

In Wyoming, there were no documented instances of acts of voter intimidation. There was an organized effort made by the Wyoming Republican Party to train hundreds of volunteers to serve as poll watchers throughout the state.

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Snowmobilers OK With Plowing Critical Yellowstone Road In Winter With Replacement Trail

in Wyoming Life/Wyoming outdoors/News
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

The mountains near Cooke City and Silvergate, Montana, are a mecca for snowmobilers, cross-country skiers and other winter sports enthusiasts. 

And for the last decade or more, there’s been a very visible divide between residents who wish to see the highway that closes off Cooke City to the east open to vehicle traffic in the winter, and those who want an 8-mile section of Highway 212 (known as “the plug”) closed to everything except snowmobile access.

The plug crosses the Wyoming-Montana line and falls under the jurisdiction of multiple state, county and local agencies.

The opposing factions have organized into two nonprofit groups – the Park Access Recommendation Committee (PARC) and Protect Our Plug (POP) – each waging public campaigns that would seem to show a deep divide between their positions.

However, POP members told Cowboy State Daily they are not opposed to opening Highway 212 to the east in the winter.



Not Opposition to Plowing

“I’m not opposed to having the road plowed,” said Kay Whittle, who with her husband has owned the Antlers Lodge for 20 years. “I mean, there would be some conveniences, obviously, to be able to drive out that way.”

Lisa Ohlinger and her husband own the Elkhorn Lodge in Cooke City and Lisa is a local Realtor, as well as past president of the Cooke City-Silvergate Chamber of Commerce. She and her husband also are members of the local search and rescue squad. 

“There is a way to plow the plug, but it needs to be done responsibly so we all win,” Ohlinger told Cowboy State Daily. 

The purpose of their media campaign, Whittle said, is to make sure that the process of opening the highway happens in a manner that keeps the tiny town’s residents safe, and the environment and economy protected.


The Plug

No Faster Access to Care

As deputy captain for the emergency services team in Cooke City and Silvergate, as well as deputy coroner for Park County, Montana, Whittle said safety for riders and residents is her top priority.

But she disputes the notion that opening the highway to the east would mean faster access to hospital care (1.5 hours to Cody vs. 2.5 hours to Livingston, Montana), despite written statements from the PARC claiming otherwise.

Speaking from her 20 years’ experience on the search and rescue and EMS teams, Whittle wrote in a letter to Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte last week that access to the Cody hospital is not a cure-all for medical emergencies.

One reason, she said, is a lack of cell service between Cooke City and Cody.

“Even if the plug is plowed, as a caregiver, I would recommend they drive through YNP toward Livingston because there is cell service (intermittent in the park) and places to stop for help if the condition of the patient worsens and they change their minds about an ambulance,” Whittle wrote. 

“Driving east toward Cody, Wyoming, is a dead zone as far as cell service with no options for help if the condition of the patient worsens, so not a good choice if transporting an injured or sick individual,” she continues.


Trail A

Replace Trail A

To keep the winter economy of the snowbound communities healthy, Ohlinger explained that a replacement trail needs to be in place to accommodate recreation before plowing the highway can be considered.

Trail A is the main snowmobile access to the Cooke City area. The trail runs on the unplowed highway, as well as an additional 9-mile stretch that runs parallel to the road.

“Because we’re using a highway for Trail A, it’s very wide – it accommodates snowmobilers and skiers going both ways,” she said. “And so, we need to make sure that it’s comparable and meets the criteria for that.”

Equal Alternatives

POP members stress that simply eliminating a wide, accessible trail from the region without a comparable replacement could drive away that winter tourism, which brings in about $7.8 million dollars per year to the state. 

“Everything circled in magenta is the trail from Pilot Creek to Cooke City,” said Brenda Miller of Cody, who created a map detailing Trail A. Miller is president of the Wyoming State Snowmobile Association. 

“The trail that is circled in green is the rest of Trail A from Pilot Creek Parking lot to the junction of Highway 296 and Highway 212, which we would also lose,” said Miller. “So it’s not just the 9 miles from Pilot Creek into Cooke City.”

“(Trail A) merges our two trail systems,” added Whittle. “It’s super important. People come to ride both areas.”


Courtesy Photo

Need An EIS

Ohlinger said to replace this critical trail, two parking areas would need to be created.

She explained that the group recently met with Mike Thom, district ranger for the Gallatin National Forest in Gardiner, who told them specifically that an environmental impact study (EIS) would need to be conducted to create the new parking areas.

That information contradicts what the PARC organization has recently been promoting, said Ohlinger.

“On Tuesday, the 22nd (of November), we had another conversation with Mike Thom,” she said. “And he said, ‘Anytime you create a new parking area, you have to have an environmental impact study.’”

Necessary Upgrades

But Ohlinger added that there are other practical matters that need to be addressed to maintain a highway that has traditionally been closed in the winter – including a larger law enforcement presence to deal with higher numbers of vehicles.

“Accidents will be increased, (because) there will be adverse driving conditions,” Ohlinger said. “We have a really, really snowy mountain pass that they’ll have to come across that has been previously unplowed. So, we have no idea what that’s going to look like.”

Additionally, Ohlinger said that services such as tow truck drivers and even cellphone towers are non-existent now. While she said the group is not opposed to plowing the highway, members ask that they be included in any discussions to move that idea forward.


Courtesy Photo

Everybody Wins

“Everybody needs to come to the table together and have a common goal,” said Ohlinger. “And we want to be at the table. We are not against plowing the plug, we’re against plowing it irresponsibly.”

“I’m not opposed to it,” added Whittle. “It just needs to be done responsibly, and there’s a way to do it.”

Because the disputed portion of Highway 212 crosses the Montana-Wyoming line, the Protect Our Plug organization hopes that discussions with governors, Forest Service representatives, county commissioners and highway departments from both states can move forward, taking into consideration concerns from all residents of the region and all those who contribute to the local economy.

“And here’s the best part,” Ohlinger said. “If we all have a discussion, and we figure out a plan to open this responsibly, everybody wins. How can you not buy into that?”

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No “Smash And Grabs” But Shoplifting In Wyoming Is Increasing And Driving Prices Up

in News/wyoming economy/Business
More and more, items popular with shoplifters are being kept behind plexiglass, like these games at Target in Cheyenne. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

A shoplifter took $500 in merchandise from the Lander Safeway store at 5 p.m. Nov. 5, getting away in a Jeep Cherokee. 

A vehicle matching that description turned up later in Riverton, where hundreds of dollars worth of meat were reported stolen from Smith’s grocery store.

A police chase ensued, and three people were taken into custody on separate charges, including shoplifting. 

In that instance, police were able to recover about $200 in meat for Smith’s. 

An investigation into meat missing from a Safeway store in Lander, meanwhile, is ongoing.

Holidays Prime For Shoplifters

As crazy as the incident may sound, it’s not necessarily an isolated occurrence. 

The shoplifting spree is a symptom of a growing and troubling trend. From Jackson to Cheyenne and all points in between, retailers face more and more shoplifting, particularly when the holidays hit. 

Nationwide, retailers report “shrinkage” is costing them big, big bucks.   

In its most recent earnings call, Target cited shoplifting as one of the reasons its profit fell by 50% in the third quarter of this year. 

Target Chief Growth Officer Christina Hennington reported shoplifting at the big-box retailer has jumped 50% year over year, and has already cost the retailer $400 million in 2022. 

Target’s not alone. Many stores are putting more and more items behind plexiglass in attempts to slow these thefts, which ultimately force stores to raise prices to cover losses, adding an edge to what inflation is already doing to the consumer landscape.

Organized Crime Connections

In some communities, shoplifting has become part of organized crime. 

In Oregon, for example, KGW-TV in Portland showed video of people wheeling out whole carts of stolen clothes, power tools and other items, which then are fenced online through sites like Facebook Marketplace, or at flea markets.

The problem has not reached quite that level in Wyoming, but it is on the rise in many Cowboy State communities, including Cheyenne.

“Unfortunately, shoplifting and package theft incidents tend to increase during the holiday season,” Alexandra Farkas, Public Information Officer for the Cheyenne Police Department, told Cowboy State Daily. “In the city of Cheyenne, we have seen a recent uptick in larceny cases. 

“The CPD received reports of 223 cases in October, compared to 185 over the same period in 2021. The CPD has also seen an increase in shoplifting. Seventy-seven cases were reported in October 2022, compared to 57 cases in 2021.”

Scope Hard To Pin Down

Incoming Laramie County Sheriff Brian Kozak, meanwhile, told Cowboy State Daily that shoplifting has been on the rise for some time. 

He recalls helping both the south Cheyenne and north Cheyenne Walmart stores implement measures to reduce shoplifting. The measures included security guards, as well as a police car that volunteers would move to different locations to make thieves think there were officers physically in the store.

It’s hard to know, however, just how expansive the problem is in Wyoming, Kozak said. 

“Walmart is a little bit of a different beast because they have a very proactive security detail,” he said. “And when they are fully staffed, our shoplifting numbers of course increase, because they are catching people.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean Walmart has more shoplifting incidences than other stores though. They are just being more proactive about trying to catch thieves.

“If a store is not catching shoplifters, then it’s not reported,” Kozak said. “So, we just don’t know the true numbers. Other than their bottom line — they know when they do their accounting at the end of the month or at the end of the year how much loss they had. 

“But I know for a lot of these big-box stores, it’s over $1 million a year.”

Big Hit For Small Stores

Shoplifting is not just hitting large retailers and big-box retailers. Smaller stores are also taking a big hit. 

Palace Pharmacy in Lander, for example, estimates the problem is taking from 15% to 20% of its bottom line every month.

“We had a gal, who we finally kind of narrowed her down, who was stealing the guaifenesin and Musinex over the counter just like crazy,” Palace Pharmacy owner Jolene Osbeck told Cowboy State Daily. “We finally got her on camera and got her dialed in. So I just moved all the stuff behind the counter.”

Another Barrier

Moving items behind plexiglass, in fact, is a visibly rising trend in a lot of stores, big-box or otherwise.

“It’s getting to the point where I have to have everything locked up,” Osbeck said. “It just makes me so mad. And the other disturbing thing is it’s kids, a lot of younger adolescents, who are steeling.”

While Osbeck hasn’t seen anything that seems like it’s organized crime yet, she has noticed that shoplifting is often a group activity. 

“It’s like they’re doing it because they can look cool and phone their friends or whatever,” she said.

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Wyoming Oil Producers Angry That Biden OKs Oil From Venezuela While Restricting U.S. Production

in Energy/News
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By Kevin Killough, State Energy Reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

The Biden administration on Saturday eased sanctions against the government of oil-rich Venezuela, which will allow the Chevron oil company to increase production in the socialist nation. 

The move doesn’t sit well with domestic oil producers.

“This is just another attempt by the administration to do everything they can, other than support American energy workers here in the United States,” said Ryan McConnaughey, spokesperson for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. “They could very easily expand production and refining capacity here in the U.S. but would rather go hat-in-hand to foreign adversaries in an effort to increase oil supplies.”

More Frustration

The announcement adds more frustration for domestic oil producers in Wyoming and across the country who haven’t received as much federal support as is given to foreign producers. 

“In one word, it’s madness,” said Diemer True, a former Wyoming senator who began working in his family’s oil businesses in the late 1960s after graduating from college. 

The easing of sanctions against Venezuela follows the administration’s efforts this summer to encourage the government of Saudi Arabia to produce more oil. 

“Here we have the potential, proven by the Trump administration, that we can be energy independent, and in two short years Biden has made us once again dependent on OPEC,” True said, referring to the cartel of oil-producing countries that includes Saudi Arabia. 

End All U.S. Oil

Biden campaigned with a promise to “end oil” in the United States. Upon taking office, he canceled the Keystone XL pipeline, issued a moratorium on all oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and revoked Trump administration executive orders that decreased regulations on federal land and expanded the ability to produce energy domestically. 

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and subsequent disruptions to global petroleum markets further drove up gasoline and natural gas prices. 

Biden remained committed to restricting domestic oil supply, and in the first 19 months of his presidency had issued the fewest leases on public lands for oil and gas development of any president since World War II. 

To bring down gasoline prices ahead of the midterm elections, the president issued releases from the nation’s emergency energy stockpile known as the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which has depleted it to its lowest level since the 1980s. 

No Clear Path

The administration’s anti-oil stance also has scared away investment in the industry as investors are hesitant to put a lot of money in a business the president has vowed to eliminate. 

“There’s no clear path forward domestically because the Biden administration is doing everything it can to shut the industry down. Nobody wants to make investments in the industry,” True said.

Last summer, Chevron chairman and CEO Mike Wirth pushed back against Biden’s attacks on U.S. energy producers. 

In a letter to Biden, Wirth accused the president of vilifying the industry and urged him to foster greater investment in the industry by providing “clarity and consistency on policy matters ranging from leases and permits on federal lands, to the ability to permit and build critical infrastructure, to the proper role of regulation that considers both costs and benefits.” 

Black Is White

McConnaughey said the Biden administration’s actions don’t make much sense, even from an environmentalist standpoint. 

“The United States has much stricter environmental controls and can produce this energy in a much cleaner and safer manner than places like Venezuela,” he said. “So any argument that the administration is looking out for the environment by reducing production here in the United States, but then going to countries to ask for increased supplies where their environmental standards aren’t as strict as ours, is just nonsense.”

True said that in his decades-long career, he’s never seen an administration as hostile to the oil and gas industry as the current one. He likened Biden’s rhetoric on the environment, while pushing policies that don’t produce good environmental outcomes, to the George Orwell novel “1984.” 

“They say black is white and white is black,” True said. 

Inching Upward

American oil production is rising, but at a much slower pace than it was before the pandemic, and the barrels per day aren’t seeing the explosive growth the country saw during the shale boom years. 

The U.S. Energy Information Administration has downgraded its crude oil production forecasts for 2022 and 2023, though it still expects annual production to be at slight record levels. 

True said it’s technologically feasible to produce enough energy to meet demand and to make energy affordable. The only barriers are regulatory. 

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Kemmerer Woman Charged In Beating Death Of 5-Year-Old Girl

in News/Crime
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By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

A Kemmerer woman has been charged with first-degree murder and two counts of child abuse after a 5-year-old girl in her care was found at the brink of death; bruised, cut, burned, with broken bones and brain bleeds. 

The girl died hours after she was found unresponsive in the Kemmerer home of Cheri Marler, 51. Marler said she had been watching the girl at the request of the girl’s mother, according to an affidavit filed Monday in Kemmerer Circuit Court. 

Marler faces a possible death penalty or life in prison if convicted of murder. The lesser felonies, aggravated child abuse and child abuse, are punishable by 25 years and 10 years in prison, respectively. 

Not Breathing

Sgt. Jake Walker of the Kemmerer Police Department wrote the evidentiary affidavit filed in the case Monday. 

He wrote that at about 3:40 p.m. Friday, Walker was contacted by dispatch regarding a medical call. He was told a 5-year-old child had fallen down some stairs and was not breathing, according to the affidavit. 

Walker was familiar with the address, 104 Cedar Ave., after being there from “several previous incidents,” he wrote. 

Walker knocked at the front door. After a few moments, Marler answered the door and said the child was not breathing. Dogs ran into the home, barking, Walker noted. He told Marler to put the dogs away.

There were two other children, both girls, “running around” and “very interested in what was going on,” wrote Walker. 

From the kitchen, Walker heard the television on in a nearby room and saw a small child lying on the couch. 

“My initial assessment of the child was very disturbing,” wrote Walker, adding that her body was both dark and pale, with the left side of her face “completely bruised.”

The face appeared to have old bruising under new bruising, he added. 

“I could see what appeared to be fresh scrapes near the eyes and nose of the child,” wrote Walker, adding the child appeared to have stopped breathing several minutes earlier. 

Child Went Cold

Walker wrote that he felt the girl’s legs, arms, chest and head. He tried to wake the child but she was unresponsive. 

Walker began chest compressions and spoke to the child, he wrote, but he did not get any response. 

Emergency medical personnel arrived. Walker put the child on the floor once the dogs were sent away. EMS took over chest compressions. Walker arranged the child’s head for bagged breaths. 

“I began to feel the head and neck of the child,” he wrote, adding that he felt “a distinct cold feeling from the right shoulder area up the neck and onto the back of the skull.” 

The girl’s body temperature seemed “much cooler than expected,” wrote Walker. 

When EMS cut the girl’s shirt off, Walker observed more bruising on the girl’s arms and shoulders. 

“Most appeared to be old, but I did not get a close look at them. There were many on all sides of the arms and shoulders,” wrote Walker. There also were scrapes on the girl’s chest and more bruising. 

The Stairs

Walker asked Marler what happened. 

“She stated that the child fell down the stairs,” wrote Walker. “I did not remember any stairs in the home from previous visits and asked her to take me to the stairs.”

Marler took Walker to the stairwell entrance, which was covered with a cloth, draped from the top to the floor. There was a large bowl of water, presumably for the dogs, next to the stair opening. The water appeared undisturbed, Walker wrote. 

He pulled the cloth back and saw a steep wooden staircase, with a small step onto a landing just before the stairs began. 

At the bottom of the stairs was a pile of cardboard boxes, Walker wrote. 

He asked Marler where she found the child. 

“She was right here,” answered Marler, after walking down to the last few steps and pointing to the bottom of the staircase, the affidavit reads. 

The Swing Set

“I then asked her about the multiple bruises on the child’s head,” wrote Walker. 

Marler said some of the bruises were from that day and some were from an incident weeks earlier when the child fell off a swing set and then off a retaining wall near the swing set, according to the affidavit. 

Walker asked a Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office sergeant to monitor Marler. Walker went outside and took photos of the stairs and the area “where the reported fall took place.” 

Walker then asked Marler how much time passed between her finding the child and calling dispatch. Marler said it was about 10 minutes. When asked again a short time later, she said it was 15 minutes, Walker wrote. 

Walker asked Marler to show him the swing set and retaining wall. She said they took the swing set down and put it away. 

Walker didn’t find a swing set, he wrote. He did find a small, “approximately 2-foot-high” retaining wall separating Marler’s property from the adjacent property. 

Mother Arrives

Marler told EMS she was caring for the child at the request of the child’s mother, Kayla Kartchner. 

Another “small child” staying in the home, however, is the child of Marler’s daughter, Walker wrote. 

Walker asked Marler to call both mothers to the home. 

A man and woman arrived at the front door. The woman said she was the mother of the deceased child, Kartchner. 

Kartchner told Walker she had an agreement with Marler, for Marler to watch the child while Kartchner was trying to flee an abusive relationship. 

Kartchner said she hadn’t seen her child for two or three days. 

Both Kartchner and the man she arrived with said they hadn’t noticed any bruises on the child when they last saw her. 

Faint Pulse

Walker determined that the numerous bruises were “not consistent” with the account of a stairway fall. “I began to treat the scene as a crime scene,” he wrote. 

The ambulance took the child to the hospital. Walker was told she had a faint pulse after the lifesaving measures. 

Another small child who had been in the home was clinging to Kartchner. Kartchner said she was this child’s mother too. 

Marler, who said she was willing to go with police, was taken to the police department. 

Meanwhile, the 5-year-old was life-flighted to a Utah children’s hospital. 

“I have reviewed photos of (the girl’s) body and discovered there are many more bruises, cuts, and open wounds on her body,” wrote Walker. “Some were described (by medical personnel) as burns and stretching of the skin.” 

Hospital workers discovered old head injuries and a current new one, all described as “brain bleeds,” wrote Walker. 

Broken Back, Head Injuries

The other little girl, who had been clinging to Kartchner, was taken into protective custody and questioned by a child forensic interviewer.

The affidavit says the girl told her interviewer that Marler spanked them with a wooden spoon and pushed her sister down the stairs. 

Marler, who was also being interviewed, said both girls had fallen down the same set of stairs a few weeks prior, Walker wrote. 

A doctor told an agent for the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation at this time that the 5-year-old’s injuries could not have been explained by falling down the stairs. 

She had multiple rib injuries, a punctured lung, several head injuries (old and new), a broken back, many cuts, scrapes and “countless bruises” on her entire body, Walker related from the medical examination. 

Clapping Motion

Later that day, Marler “admitted” to the police chief that she’d slapped and hit the girl five to 10 times “in a clapping motion,” Walker wrote.

“(She) explained it as though she was clapping with (the girl’s) head in the middle,” he continued. The girl then went into a different room to lie down. 

Marler walked in and found the girl unconscious, she related, with a large amount of mucous coming from her nostrils. Marler then called 911 and reported that the girl had fallen down the stairs, the affidavit states. 

Marler also told the police she’d beaten the girl with kitchen utensils the day prior, Walker related from the interview. 

After reviewing photographs of the child’s body, Walker wrote “I believe the injuries are a result of current and past physical abuse.” He and other officers, “Were shocked at the amount of bruising, cuts, abrasions, and the overall condition” of the girl’s body. 

‘Things Went Fuzzy’

Police confronted Marler after they saw photographs of the child’s body, Walker wrote. 

It was then that Marler admitted that over the past month, the girl’s actions had made her “angry,” Walker wrote. 

In the most recent incident, “things went fuzzy and she began to smack (the girl) many times on both sides of her head (by) … swinging both of her arms out wide and bringing them together with (the girl’s) head in between her hands,” Walker wrote. 

Marler said she also started to scream at the girl, saying she, Marler, couldn’t “take it anymore.” Marler said she hit the child more, on the face many times, Walker wrote. 

Marler sat on the loveseat. The girl stood in front of her. Marler pushed her away, the affidavit alleges. 

The document relates that Marler said she also grabbed the girl by the shirt, then used her own front leg to kick the girl in the ribs. Marler then got up and walked into the kitchen. 

The girl followed Marler into the kitchen, where Marler said she couldn’t take it anymore and she was going to find a place for the girl to go, the affidavit states. 

The girl walked into the front room. 

She Asks The Girl To Come Back

Marler herself went into the front room after about 10 minutes, and found the girl lying on the floor, Walker wrote. 

Marler tried to wash snot from the girl’s face, since it was oozing from the girl’s nose, the affidavit indicates. 

The affidavit says the girl wasn’t breathing at this time. 

Marler told police she was apologizing to the girl, asking the girl to come back to her. She then called 911. 

She said she tried to wake the girl with water, but did not know CPR. 

“Marler stated she did tell dispatch that (the girl had) fallen down the stairs, even though she knew she did not fall,” Walker wrote. 

Walker obtained a search warrant for the home. 

During all of this, the girl remained in critical condition and wasn’t expected to survive. Her doctor said she appeared to have been “severely beaten,” and had old and new brain bleeds and marks and abrasions made by both an object and bare hands. 

She died at about 9 a.m. Saturday. Her autopsy will be done in Utah, Walker wrote. 

Officers arrested Marler, who stayed at a hotel with her husband that night so that the crime scene would be undisturbed. 

The Marlers’ four dogs had been placed in an animal shelter during the investigation. 

Little Sister

The younger sister was taken to the hospital for her own exam. 

She too, appeared to have suffered abuse, though on a smaller scale, Walker wrote. There were bruises, cuts and scrapes on her head, face, back, arms, legs and bottom. 

Walker said the injuries appeared to have been from “more than just mere spankings.” 

‘Highly Physically Disabled’

Marler appeared in Kemmerer Circuit Court on Monday morning for her initial hearing and was vocal toward Judge Gregory S. Corpening. 

Corpening cautioned Marler repeatedly not to talk about the charges themselves until she can get an attorney. 

Marler answered, when Corpening asked, that she was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol or impaired by a mental illness that day. She said she’s from Ogden, Utah, but has lived in Lincoln County for 16 years with her husband. 

Lincoln County Attorney Spencer Allred told the judge during a discussion on the bond setting that Marler has a criminal record, including felony theft, theft and misdemeanor drug possession, all charged before 2006 and all in Utah. 

Marler said she came to Kemmerer to change her life around.  

Her whole family lives in Lincoln County, she said. 

“I’m also highly physically disabled,” she said. “I can prove I’m disabled, just to let you know.”

Marler said spinal fluid is leaking from her spine, paralyzing her limbs. She said she was due to get help for it Tuesday. 

No Bail

Allred asked the court to hold Marler without bail, which is legal in Wyoming in cases punishable by death. 

Corpening, after some deliberation, agreed to hold Marler without bail. 

Marler, conversely, had pleaded for a low bond. She promised she wasn’t a flight risk, saying, “Nope I’m gonna face this like a trooper.” 

“I beg of you to make it just a little more affordable please,” said Marler, after Allred said a bond of $750,000 also would be acceptable. 

Allred told Corpening he has not yet decided whether his office will seek the death penalty for Marler. The prosecution is ongoing.

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Titus Swen: Dismissed UW Running Back Says System ‘Just Ain’t Fit My Style’

in News/wyoming cowboys football/University of Wyoming
Photo By Troy Babbitt, University of Wyoming Media-Athletics
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By Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily
greg@cowboystatedaily.com

After his dismissal from the University of Wyoming football program, junior starting running back Titus Swen said he plans to play somewhere else next season and that UW, “just ain’t fit my style.”

Calling the University of Wyoming football family “a good program,” Swen told Cowboy State Daily that he plans to enter the transfer portal, announcing he intends to play with another program for his senior campaign.

Dismissed

In a short press release Monday, UW head football coach Craig Bohl and University of Wyoming Athletics announced that Swen has been kicked off the team for “violations of team rules.”

His dismissal comes less than two weeks removed from a career-high 212-yard game in a Nov. 19 loss to Boise State.

After rushing for 75 yards in a 30-0 loss to Fresno State on Friday, Swen finishes his career No. 10 on the all-time University of Wyoming rushing list with 2,173 career yards. That includes 1,039 yards through 12 games this season.

“Swen’s dismissal is effective immediately,” Bohl says in the press release. “Swen will remain on scholarship until the completion of the current fall 2022 semester so that he can complete his classes for the semester.”

‘Didn’t See Eye To Eye’

Neither Bohl nor UW elaborated on the violations of team rules that led to Swen being kicked off the team, simply saying that, “Swen’s personal conduct is below the standard necessary to be a member of Cowboy Football.”

For his part, Swen said he doesn’t have any hard feelings toward Bohl or the program, and that he and the coaching staff weren’t on the same page.

“We just didn’t see eye to eye when it came to game planning,” Swen said. 

No Hard Feelings

He also said that he doesn’t harbor any bad feelings toward the university and that the Cowboys are “a good program. I recommend people come to it.”

He also said that while he won’t be playing with UW in a postseason bowl game, he’ll be cheering hard for his former teammates.

“I just wish my boys the best,” he said. “I’m always going to be a big fan.”

He also expressed thanks to Cowboys fans.

“I just appreciate all the love and support, and wouldn’t want it any other way,” Swen said. “I just hope everybody lives life, and don’t let anybody dictate your future – just go and get it.”

A Strong Career

Swen was a difference-maker for the Cowboys since joining the team as a true freshman in 2019. He played in eight games that season, rushing for 349 yards.

After sitting out the 2020 season, he appeared in all 13 games for UW last season, earning Second Team All-Mountain West Conference honors. He ran for 785 yards, including 166 yards against arch-rival Colorado State. His 98-yard run against Utah State last season remains the longest in UW football history.

This season, he broke the 100-yard mark three times, including his career-high game against Boise State, a 160-yard effort against Utah State and 102 yards against Air Force.

The Cowboys finished the regular season 7-5 and eligible to play in a postseason bowl game, which will be without Swen.

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China Doubles Down On Coal, Europe Returning To Coal, While The U.S. Kills Coal

in Energy/News/coal
Photo by Getty Images
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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

China is building out coal-fired generation at a feverish pace, while the United States pursues a renewable energy buildout that includes shuttering all coal plants in the next couple of decades.

Europe also has returned to coal as natural gas supplies from Russia cease in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine. 

Wyoming Out In The Cold

Meanwhile, Wyoming coal producers are left out in the cold as the U.S. pursues an energy grid powered primarily with wind and solar.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” said Travis Deti, executive director for the Wyoming Mining Association. 

Bloomberg reports that China could build as much as 270 gigawatts of coal-fired generation capacity in the coming years, and 196 gigawatts of that is in the development stages. 

For comparison, the U.S. has about 196 gigawatts of capacity remaining in its entire coal fleet, and federal and state policies are pushing to get rid of all of it and be replaced primarily with wind and solar. 

That compares to China’s current 1,109 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity, with no known plans to retire any of it. 

‘It’s Just Lunacy’

It’s not just China. 

India has been increasing its share of electricity from coal. 

Germany, long considered a global leader in renewable energy, has reversed course on its opposition to coal, at least temporarily. About 20 coal-fired power plants there are being restarted or had their shuttering delayed. The country recently tore down a wind farm to make room for a coal mine, and it increased its imports of coal from South Africa, even though it paid South Africa $800 million not to use coal. 

The promise of an industrialized nation powered with weather-dependent energy sources isn’t going as planned, Deti said.

“The idea that we’re going to power this country with wind and solar, especially given some of the ambitious goals of electric vehicles, it’s just lunacy,” he said. 

Human Rights

Energy entrepreneur, investor and writer Brian Gitt told Cowboy State Daily that, besides the threat to America’s energy security, the role China plays in America’s wind and solar industry is a human rights issue. 

Gitt spent about 20 years of his career promoting the ability to power an industrialized society entirely with wind and solar. His views changed as he realized that there is no energy source without tradeoffs. 

Today he’s head of business development for Oklo, a company that is designing, building and operating small modular nuclear reactors, similar to the one TerraPower is building in Kemmerer.

Ten of the 15 largest wind turbine manufacturers are in China, Gitt said, and the nation’s Xinjiang region is home to an estimated 1 million slave workers in concentration camps. 

“This is not even a Republican or Democrat thing. The Biden administration has enacted legislation that restricts importing of products from Xinjiang that are related to solar panels and wind turbines,” Gitt said. 

While China is selling the U.S. wind turbines and solar panels, it’s not pursuing a comparable renewable energy program of its own. 

The country has built its share of wind and solar farms but it makes up about 6% of the nation’s energy consumption, according to BP Statistical Review of World Energy. Coal, oil and gas make up more than 83%, and that share is growing. 

Intermittency

While wind and solar are billed as cheaper than coal and natural gas generation, the cost of dealing with the intermittency of weather dependent energy sources, as well as the transmission line capacity needed to connect farms with residences and businesses, eats up the savings made when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining. 

Germans pay about three times what we pay in the U.S. for electricity, and states like California that have large shares of wind and solar pay the highest rates in America. 

Javier Blas, energy and commodities columnist at Bloomberg, tweeted Monday morning that over the previous 40 hours, the wind power industry in the United Kingdom went from producing 16.4 gigawatts to generating 0.4 gigawatts. That’s equal to 14 nuclear power stations.  

“You can’t run an industrialized modern society on intermittent power that just decides to not show up for work,” Gitt said. 

America’s Future?

Deti said the plan to get rid of fossil fuels is “madness” that will result in more blackouts and higher costs to consumers. 

“We should be building new coal-fired power plants with the latest technology. We should be implementing carbon capture, and we should be using our coal resources,” Deti said. 

Europe is much further along in its renewable energy buildout than the U.S. in the pursuit of so-called net-zero electrical generation. However, the high energy costs resulting from such policies are shutting down industries, especially in Germany, and people on the continent are starting to reconsider. 

Gitt said what’s happening in Europe provides a look into what the U.S. can expect to see if it continues down the same path. 

“We have the sample right in front of us,” Gitt said. 

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Riverton Dad Charged After Newborn Twin Girls Found With Broken Bones

in News/Crime
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By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

After hospital scans revealed broken bones and bruises on his 24-day-old twin daughters, a Riverton man has been charged with two counts of felony child abuse.  

Anthony Michael Long, 27, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted on both charges. 

Baby Had Broken Leg, Bruising 

According to an evidentiary affidavit filed last week in Riverton Circuit Court, police got involved after the mother of 24-day-old twin girls took one of the girls to the emergency room. Hospital staff discovered that the baby girl had a broken leg, bruising and other injuries. The affidavit indicates these were “possibly due to abuse.”    

Riverton Police Department Officer Bhagya Nethicumara was called to the scene.   

Authorities soon learned that the baby girl has a twin sister. They asked the mom to get the twin sister to the hospital as well. When the mom tried to get Long, who is her fiancé and the twins’ father, to bring the second twin to the hospital, Long procrastinated, according to the affidavit.   

The twins’ maternal grandmother eventually brought the second infant girl to the hospital. The second twin also had broken bones, bruising and other injuries, the affidavit says.   

Limp And Swollen  

Nethicumara spoke with the twins’ mom, who said she and Long take turns changing and feeding the babies so they both get time with them.   

Long changed and fed the first twin on the morning of Nov. 21. By midday when the mom changed and fed that infant, the mom discovered that the girl’s leg was limp and swollen, the affidavit says.   

The mom took the girl to the emergency room as a result.   

Head-Butting  

The second baby had a black eye, which the baby’s mom said Long blamed on an accidental head-butting that happened while he was trying to burp the baby, according to the affidavit.   

The affidavit says that baby also had a recent cut on her right foot, which Long said was caused when her foot “got caught” in his hand and his nail cut her.  

A bruise on the first baby’s face Long reportedly attributed to the family cat jumping onto the couch and causing the boppy (baby seat) to hit the baby’s face, the affidavit relates.   

The mom told police that Long is a first-time dad and she has to remind him “constantly” to be gentle with the babies, but she does not believe he would intentionally hurt the children.   

At the hospital, the mom told police that she had not seen emotions from Long that evening.    

Broken Blood Vessel  

Nethicumara also questioned the babies’ maternal grandmother, who babysits the twins once or twice a week. 

The grandmother said she saw the second twin’s black eye Nov. 17, and when Long described the “head-butting” account, the grandmother grew concerned. There was a broken blood vessel inside the baby’s eye due to the impact, the grandmother told police.   

The grandmother said she brought her concerns to the mom’s attention.   

Dad Interview  

When Nethicumara talked to Long, he denied having anything to do with the injuries and said he doesn’t believe the babies’ mom is responsible for the injuries.  

When asked who else has access to the children, Long named their grandmother’s boyfriend.   

“But Long also admitted that no one had access to the children within the last 48 hours except himself” and their mom, the affidavit says.   

Long said that if he’d had anything to do with his daughters’ injuries, he would not have come to the hospital.   

He said he believes he and the babies’ mom may swaddle the twins too tightly, or they injured the babies when they lifted their legs up to clean their bottoms, the affidavit states.   

Long said the infants could have been injured while being taken care of, but said those injuries didn’t happen out of frustration, impatience, violence or intentional physical harm, the affidavit relates.   

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Wyoming State Rep. Chad Banks Chosen To Help Decorate The White House

in Wyoming Life/News
Photo Courtesy Chad Banks
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By Leo Wolfson, State Political Reporter
Leo@Cowboystatedaily.com

Outside of public tours, there aren’t many people who get to walk the halls of the White House, let alone decorate them. 

Wyoming state Rep. Chad Banks, D-Rock Springs, was recently given that opportunity as one of about 150 people chosen to help set up First Lady Jill Biden’s “We the People” seasonal White House holiday decorations.

“Everywhere you look you’re reminded of history, and the honor associated with the building and how valuable it is to our country,” Banks said.


Photos Courtesy Chad Banks

A Rare Opportunity

Banks had just returned from a White House reception where the decorations were unveiled when he spoke with Cowboy State Daily on Monday afternoon. 

At the event, Biden presented the holiday decorations and took a group photo with participating families.

“As our country gathers for the holidays, traditions may vary, but our shared American values – a belief in possibility, optimism and unity – endure season after season,” President Joe Biden and Jill Biden wrote in a welcome letter in the White House holiday guide.

Banks had to apply to participate in the unpaid opportunity. He cited his experience in event planning as one of his qualifications for the job.

“I’ve done event planning for everything from a few dozen people to tens of thousands,” he said.


Photo Courtesy Chad Banks

Homier Feel

Every year, the White House solicits volunteers to help set up holiday decorations. It was the first public holiday decoration offered during the Biden administration, as the public aspect of the activity was restricted in 2021 because of COVID-19 concerns.

Biden’s holiday decorations appear homier than the luxurious spread assembled by former First Lady Melania Trump. 

In The East Wing

Banks spent 10 hours a day for three days working at the White House, a process in which the volunteers were not allowed to take photos documenting their progress. 

He played a key role in transforming the East Colonnade into a wintry birch tree forest. Banks helped string 5,000 round, white pompom ornaments to faux birch trees and strung crystal droplets from the ceiling. 

“Those were 40,000 dime-sized mirrors,” he said of the droplets.

They even added fake snow to the ground.

His work was on full display for all to see as attendees had to pass through the Colonnade to get to Monday’s reception.


Photos Courtesy Chad Banks

Themes

Despite it being one of the most secure and historically significant buildings in the nation, Banks said he and the other volunteers “pretty much had a run of the place,” aside from accessing the Oval Office and the Bidens’ private quarters. 

He said the White House hallways looked a lot more like a holiday workshop while the decorations were being assembled, but by the time of the reception had regained their full pomp and circumstance. 

Every room in the East Wing had a different theme. 

The State Dining Room featured a “We The Children” display with self-portraits created by students of the 2021 Teachers of the Year from across the nation fashioned into ornaments for the room’s Christmas trees.

There was another Wyoming connection on display in the East Room. Here, four national park– Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah – were highlighted.

Only Wyoming Volunteer

Banks said there were volunteers from every state, but he was the only one he was aware of from Wyoming.

As the Marine Band belted out classic holiday songs in the Grand Foyer, Banks and the other volunteers got to bask in the results of their work and mingle with Gold Star and National Guard military families, a surreal moment for the Rock Springs resident. 

“It was really interesting,” he said.

Will Be Seen By Thousands

Over the next few weeks, the People’s House will be visited by an expected 50,000 visitors for tours and more than 20 holiday receptions. 

It wasn’t Banks’ first visit to the White House. In June, Banks, who is openly gay, attended a reception at the White House celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month. 

He lost his reelection bid earlier this month to Republican J.T. Larson.

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Inflation Prompts Wyoming Shoppers To Go Smaller This Gift-Giving Season

in News/wyoming economy/Business
Jessica and daughter Isabella Ladelfa window shop at 307 Made in Cheyenne. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

Although some communities reported record sales, crowds by and large felt thin at many stores in Wyoming for Black Friday, and even some Small Business Saturday shopping seemed to take a hit in some areas.

Val Martin with Art at The Hynds in Cheyenne told Cowboy State Daily its annual Small Business Saturday event, which gathers artisans together under one roof, felt like the slowest Shop Small Saturday she can recall. 

Fewer Shoppers, Buying Small

Vendors at the event also told Cowboy State Daily they felt there was much less foot traffic than usual — although the shoppers who did turn up seemed interested in buying, particularly small gifts.

Susan Londe, for example, quickly sold all of her little jeweled Christmas spiders and most of her jeweled scorpions and rockhound lizards, the latter of which were going for around $9 each. 

The small gift trend is something Tasha Messenger with Messenger Girls in Lander also echoed, where Black Friday sales were somewhat muted.

“We weren’t really expecting it to be that slow,” Messenger told Cowboy State Daily. “But Small Business Saturday was great. I talked to a bunch of other businesses, and we felt like people were really focused more on Small Business Saturday than Black Friday. They were trying to come out and support us on our day.”


Susan Londe makes a jeweled scorpion after selling out of all of them during Art at The Hynds’ Small Business Saturday event in Cheyenne. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Others Report Strong Turnout

In Gillette, meanwhile, Campbell County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Jessica Seders reported record sales for Plaid Friday (an alternative to Black Friday) and Small Business Saturday.

In Casper, Elise Ellis with Target reports the store had a line of shoppers about 150 people long. 

Ellis admitted splurging on a Keurig that was 50% off, which she will put in her office for members of her team to use. 

“Electronics were a big hit,” Ellis said. “They’re always a big hit, and they definitely were this year. It was a fun and busy day for us here.”

It didn’t hurt, Ellis added, that Friday is payday for many.

“Some of these sales were happening earlier in the week, but people were waiting to get paid,” she said. “It was pretty busy for us up until later in the day. I would say that’s kind of when the snow started.”

The Inflation Effect

While traffic was brisk, many shoppers told Cowboy State Daily they plan to scale back their Christmas spending this year. Inflation is bearing down on them like a big green Grinch, which makes it hard to stick with the spending pattern of Christmases past. 

Many also talked about having a heart-to-heart with themselves or their family members. Christmas has become too commercial, and they want to pull back from that and bring the occasion back to more of its true meaning.

“It’s about family and love, not gifts,” Monika Lujan told Cowboy State Daily.

Priorities

Jessica and Isabella Ladelfa have also re-evaluated their Christmas priorities, and said they will do something that is more Hannukah-like. The family moved to Cheyenne from Arizona, seeking a smaller community, but not too small. The mother-daughter duo was among those browsing at 307 Made in Cheyenne on Saturday. 

We’re going to give gifts from the heart, I guess, and keep it a little smaller,” Jessica Ladelfa said. 

Christmas has become too commercial, she said, citing a year when Isabella received 56 gifts, including two of the same dollhouse.

“We’re still going to make crafts,” Jessica Ladelfa said. “And just, like, little thoughtful gifts.”

Crowds Not As Dense

Shelby and Mark Stankus, meanwhile, told Cowboy State Daily they all but skipped Black Friday and Small Business Saturday shopping altogether — although they used the occasion to buy a television they’d been wanting during Black Friday.

They also noted that crowds at the store where they bought the television seemed less than typical for Black Friday. Nationally, overall traffic has been reported as greater than last year, but perhaps still not at pre-pandemic levels now that there are so many deals leading up to the event itself, as well as online shopping.

Wait And See

“With inflation, everybody is kind of working on getting their Thanksgiving dinner and stuff,” Shelby Stankus said. “Not a lot of people have a lot of extra money for Black Friday shopping.”

“We’re just waiting to see what utilities are going to be looking like,” Mark Stankus added.

In the past, the Stankus family has typically done one big-ticket item and then a few smaller gifts. This year, the family plans to forget big-ticket items and stick with smaller gifts.

They still plan a traditional Christmas feast, though, with duck as the main course. 

“I just throw it in the roaster oven like I would do a turkey to cook it,” she said. 

But duck is not easier, she added. “You have to kind of slice the skin open, because it’s so oily.”

Inflation Not Holding Everyone Back

Not everyone is planning to cut back for Christmas. 

Jay Drew and his wife, Martha, are among families that say it’s business as usual this Christmas. 

“(Inflation) matters because I can’t buy a house,” Jay Drew said. “But it doesn’t matter as far as purchases and, you know, spending, and so Christmas will go on as scheduled.”

Jay added that his answer would probably be different if he had young children. 

“Our children are grown so there’s no, I mean the answer is much different if I have three little ones I’ve got to buy an Xbox or PlayStation,” he said. “I don’t have to do any of those things for anybody.”

Buy It Online

“We did all our shopping online,” Rachel Spargur told Cowboy State Daily. “I will admit, I’m even guilty of doing deliveries for food instead of going out.”

Spargur isn’t alone. While Black Friday sales may have been a little muted for many stores, online sales were better than good. 

According to Adobe Analytics, which has access to data covering 85% of purchases with the Internet’s top 100 retailers, consumers spent a record $9.12 billion online for Black Friday. Adobe Analytics also estimates Cyber Monday sales could top $11.2 billion.

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Saratoga Lake Officially Dead; Game & Fish Kills Every Living Thing In It

in Wyoming outdoors/News
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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Usually after an outing at the lake, if no fish were caught, it would be a downer.

Not for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. That was the goal.

Their Metallica-themed mission at the Saratoga Lake was to “Kill ‘Em All.” And they succeeded.

The goal was to kill every living thing because illegally-stocked yellow perch had overtaken the lake.

So Game and Fish personnel dumped seven tons of rotenone (poison) into the lake in mid-September. When they came back a month later, everything was dead.

“It went well. We did not catch any fish, which is awesome,” said Bobby Compton, supervisor of the Laramie Region Fisheries.

Compton said after a total of 10 days without any fish caught in numerous gill nets, biologists said the project was complete.

Dead Fish Everywhere

For months leading up to the extermination, it was a free-for-all on the lake – within reason. Dynamite and other explosives were not allowed.

But people could fish all day and keep everything they caught.

It’s a good thing, because there were a lot of fish left over.

“It was a huge effort to pick up all the dead fish and dispose of them,” Compton said. “We estimate there were more than 10,000 fish, and about 70% were white suckers, with most of them 15 to 20 inches.”

Although white suckers may not be the most popular fish for food, they are actually pretty good to eat. 

“You gotta cook ’em up within 24 hours of catching them, that’s the secret,” said noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich. “Heck, put ’em in a blender, fry ’em up and make white sucker chowder with them. It’s actually a specialty of mine.”

Ulrich will have to fish elsewhere to find them as the lake is essentially dead now and officials don’t want those fish back.

About 20% of the remaining dead fish were trout while 10% were yellow perch.

“There were a lot more perch than we anticipated being in the lake, and the population was growing,” Compton said.  

Restocking

As for the future of the lake, Game and Fish plans to restock it with trout in the spring.

The goal is to stock 6,500 catchable (9-inch) rainbow trout, 1,500 7-inch brown trout and 2,500 fingerling tiger trout. 

At 3 to 6 inches of growth per year, the brown trout will grow to catchable size by fall 2023. 

There also are plans to add some larger broodstock trout in the fall of 2023 prior to the ice fishing derby.

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Rex Rammell In Trouble Again; Accused Of Illegally Driving RV On Federal Land

in elections/News/politics
28022

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By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
Leo@Cowboystatedaily.com

Perennial Republican candidate Rex Rammell, a fixture on Wyoming and Idaho ballots for two decades, is accused of breaking the law on the road during this past election season. 

Rammell, who ran for Wyoming governor in the August primary election, has been cited for operating a vehicle in a prohibited area on federal land.

The alleged violation, which happened July 31, took place on Bureau of Land Management land about 11 miles east of Green River, roughly 150 feet off Interstate 80.

The Citation

According to the citation issued last week, Rammell was allegedly driving his white-and-blue RV in a limited-use area where vehicles are prohibited.

Although it can’t be said definitively whether it was the same RV, Rammell campaigned this past summer in a white-and-blue RV emblazoned with his name and a large bald eagle and other wildlife on it. His campaign was in full swing at the time of the issued citation.

During his most recent campaign for governor, Rammell vowed that if elected, he would immediately confiscate all federal lands in Wyoming and put them under state control. 

Rammell did not respond to a request for comment on the citation. The U.S. Attorney’s Office also didn’t respond to a Cowboy State Daily request for more information.

He is scheduled for a Dec. 9 initial appearance, which means he is contesting the violation.

Rammell was charged $230 for the offense and is seeking a refund for the fine.

Rammell In A Nutshell

Rammell has run in nine elections in Idaho and Wyoming over the past 20 years, winning none. 

He has consistently asserted a conservative Libertarian stance, running as a member of both the Republican and Constitution parties in various elections. 

During this year’s campaign, Rammell accused Republican opponent Brent Bien of failing to meet the Wyoming law requiring five years of residency prior to running for governor because Bien was serving in the military. 

He later filed a lawsuit against outgoing Secretary of State Ed Buchanan for allowing Bien to participate in the race. 

The moves were harshly criticized by many conservatives who saw Rammell’s rhetoric as an attack against Bien’s military service. 

Not First Brush With Law

In 2006, former Idaho Gov. Jim Risch ordered an emergency hunt to kill nearly 160 elk that had escaped from Rammell’s ranch about 10 miles from Yellowstone National Park. Rammell opposed the hunt and sued the state unsuccessfully. 

In 2010, Rammell was cited by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game after he killed a cow elk in the wrong hunting zone. He contested the citation, which was upheld. In 2011, Rammell was cited for buying a hunting tag after his hunting privileges had already been revoked because of the 2010 offense. 

Also in 2011, Rammell was charged with felony battery for allegedly choking another man Rammell accused of trespassing on his property. The charge was eventually dismissed. 

In May 2021, Rammell was found guilty in Wyoming for not having proper brand inspections for four horses and a colt. He appealed the conviction and lost.

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Wyoming Attorney General Says Park County Cannot Count Ballots By Hand

in elections/News/politics
Photo by Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily
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By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
Leo@Cowboystatedaily.com

An effort to trigger a hand count audit of 2020 election ballots in Park County has been, for the most part, exhausted and rejected.

The Wyoming Attorney General’s office has determined that Park County doesn’t have a right to allow a group of citizens to inspect and count ballots by hand.

Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric had submitted to the Attorney General’s office three questions related to the matter.

Q: Are there any circumstances where previous elections’ ballots can be counted by hand?

A: No. The AG’s office said state law that dictates all elections, past and present, must be counted by a designated machine. 

Q: Assuming that state law would not prevent a hand count of the 2020 ballots since the vote was already determined, would any individual or group counting these ballots nevertheless also need to be trained, certified and compensated pursuant to state law?

A: The AG’s office didn’t directly answer, but cited the Wyoming Election Code, which it believes prevents a hand count of the 2020 ballots.

Q: Does the Wyoming Constitution prohibit the county from ever turning over ballots from any election to any outside person or group?

A: Yes. The AG’s office mentioned how the Wyoming Constitution makes secrecy of the ballot compulsory. It said because the Constitution makes ballots confidential, the records in question may not be turned over to any outside person or group. 

Shutting The Door

With those questions answered, the Park County commissioners have indicated they’re shutting the door on any future consideration to hand count ballots.

In two of the three questions, the AG’s office cited state law that covers the way ballots are counted in Wyoming. The law states that ballots designed to be counted by machine must be counted by said voting equipment and not determined subjectively by human tabulation, except in the case of damaged ballots. The secretary of state can set rules for the counting of ballots. 

Incoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray may take a different view on the Park County audit than former Secretary of State Ed Buchanan did in May. On the campaign trail, Gray said he would like hand-count audits of elections.

Push For Criminal Probe

Cody resident Boone Tidwell, one of the lead organizers behind the campaign for the hand count audit, said he met with Park County Sheriff Scott Steward to try and get him to initiate a criminal investigation into inspecting the ballots. 

Tidwell believes it possible there is evidence a crime has been committed regarding electronic voting machines.

“He said, “I have no idea where I’d start,’” Tidwell told Cowboy State Daily on Monday.

Tidwell, a longtime former law enforcement officer and current bail bondsman, compared the response to the sheriff being told where a dead body is.

“How do you get there? You have to go look,” Tidwell said, stressing that transparency is a hallmark of innocent people.

There have been many allegations of fraud made regarding the 2020 presidential election, with nearly all disproven. Many were levied by former President Donald Trump and his supporters.

Question Of Confidence

Tidwell stressed that his request to inspect Park County ballots is not partisan or emotional in nature, and he simply wants to verify the accuracy of the machines so as “to put this whole thing to bed.” 

He said he wants to give people confidence in the security of elections or solve possible shortcomings with voting machines.

“This was never about the voting machines being corrupt or the 2020 election being bad,” Tidwell said. “It was about the opportunity to relieve concerns that people had that were worried about the security of the machines. It was to alleviate their fears.”

Wyoming Rising, a Park County civil liberty advocacy group, met with county commissioners in June and described the hand count audit request as an attempt to undermine confidence in elections.

Skoric said in April he would expect small discrepancies between hand count results and the machine tally. Tidwell said he wouldn’t have concerns if there is a small difference, but would be alarmed if the discrepancy reaching levels that could change the results of races.

Nearly Flawless Audit

According to the Powell Tribune, a post-election audit in Park County produced nearly flawless results. All 166 of the randomly selected ballots matched up with the actual marks made by voters, and all 996 of the votes reviewed by staff had been accurately recorded. 

Across the state, county officials examined 2,186 ballot images and confirmed the machines accurately read votes cast in all 13,116 contests.

The push for hand counting ballots has not been limited to Park County. The issue has been brought by other parties before the Legislature’s Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee in October. 

In a May decision letter, Skoric said state “statute defines the law and the law simply cannot be ignored by local officials.” 

Legal Definitions

Tidwell disputes multiple pieces of the AG’s determinations. He mentioned the 1803 Supreme Court case Marbury v. Madison, which states that any actions made by a government in conflict of the U.S. Constitution shall be considered null and void. 

It is Tidwell’s opinion that Park County commissioners have abdicated their responsibility to uphold the purity of elections and guard against abuses in the election process.

“If they’re not going to follow the will of the people then they’ve voided their contract with the people,” he said.

He and others who pushed for the hand count audit requested commissioners and Skoric step down from their roles prior to the November election. Every commissioner up for reelection, Steward (who ran for commissioner), Park County Clerk Colleen Renner and Skoric were reelected in the August primary. 

“Did they?” Tidwell questioned. “We don’t get to know.”

Follow State AG

Tidwell also disagrees with the AG’s determination that privacy would be violated. Although there are no identifying marks on ballots cast in-person, a voter’s full name and signature is required on the inner ballot envelope used for absentee ballots. 

The commissioners have stressed multiple times they will follow guidance from Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill on the matter and do not want to open the county up to potential lawsuits. 

Wyoming Rising members warned the commissioners in June about possible legal action by green-lighting a hand count.

Will Allred Step In?

State law requires all 2020 ballots must be destroyed by Dec. 8. Tidwell is holding out a small hope that interim Secretary of State Karl Allred, who is aligned with Gray, will step in.

“The only solution is to inspect the paper ballots,” Tidwell said.

Hand counting ballots is not a totally unheard-of practice, with many rural jurisdictions in New Hampshire, Maine and Wisconsin using the tabulation method rather than machines. 

The vast majority of these areas have fewer than 2,000 registered voters, according to data from Verified Voting, a group that tracks voting equipment across states. 

The Associated Press reports that the most populous county in the United States to use only hand-counting is Owyhee County, Idaho, which had 6,315 registered voters as of 2020.

In Nye County, Nevada, which has a population of 53,450, a hand count was performed along with a machine count in that county’s election earlier this month. 

The Nevada secretary of state ordered the process to stop less than two days after it began prior to the election, and the count resumed after the Nov. 8 general election.

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64-Year-Old Riverton Woman Mauled By Pit Bull On Bike Path; Owner Of Dog Gets Citation

in News/Crime
27996

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By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

The owner of a pit bull in Riverton has been cited after the dog brutally attacked a 64-year-old woman during a morning walk on a local bike path.

At about 8 a.m. Wednesday, a tan-and-white pit bull “came up out of nowhere and jumped on her,” said Bart Ringer, Riverton Police Department communications officer, in a Monday interview with Cowboy State Daily.  

Two boys who were in the area called the dog, pinned it to the ground and apologized to the woman, then took the dog and left the area, said Ringer.  

The woman had a “considerable amount of blood on her forehead, down the middle of her face, and bite marks on her forehead, nose and upper lip,” said Ringer.  

She went to the emergency room. Police responded to a call from the hospital, where the woman gave an account of the incident and a description of the dog.  

RPD that day posted on Facebook that they needed “desperately” to find the dog and determine its vaccination status. 

“The dog was with 2 young Caucasian males who headed north with the dog,” RPD wrote. The post describes the attack as “brutal.” 

The victim later identified the dog from a photograph of a pit bull suspected of the attack. It is up to date on its vaccinations.  

The dog’s owner, Zachary Hayne, 37, was cited for a vicious animal incident. Hayne was cooperative with police. The dog, in the owner’s yard, did not seem “overly aggressive” to the visiting police officer at that time though it barked and jumped, Ringer related from the report.  

“The victim came in the next day and said she was doing better, and she’s working with our victim’s advocate ladies,” Ringer added.

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University Of Wyoming Kicks Starting Running Back Titus Swen Off Team

in News/wyoming cowboys football/University of Wyoming
Photo By Troy Babbitt, University of Wyoming Media-Athletics
28001

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By Cowboy State Daily

Titus Swen, the University of Wyoming’s starting running back, has been dismissed from the team for what the university says are “violations of team rules.”

The junior from Fort Worth, Texas, had been a workhorse for the Cowboys’ offense, rushing for 1,039 yards through 12 games this season, helping UW to a 7-5 record.

His dismissal from the team, announced Monday, comes less than two weeks removed from a season-high 212-yard game in a loss to Boise State on Nov. 19. He ran for 75 yards Friday in the Cowboys’ regular season finale, a 30-0 loss at Fresno State University.

“Swen’s dismissal is effective immediately,” UW head football coach Craig Bohl announced. “Swen will remain on scholarship until the completion of the current fall 2022 semester so that he can complete his classes for the semester.”

When reached by phone, Swen told Cowboy State Daily that he and the team “didn’t see eye to eye when it came to game planning.”

Bohl or UW declined to elaborate on the violations of team rules that led to Swen being kicked off the team.

“Titus Swen’s personal conduct is below the standard necessary to be a member of Cowboy Football,” according to the announcement, which added that neither UW nor Bohl would comment further on Swen’s dismissal.

A Strong Career

Swen was a difference-maker for the Cowboys since joining the team as a true freshman in 2019. He played in eight games that season, rushing for 349 yards.

After sitting out the 2020 season, he appeared in all 13 games for UW last season, earning Second Team All-Mountain West Conference honors. He ran for 785 yards, including 166 yards against arch-rival Colorado State. His 98-yard run against Utah State last season remains the longest in UW football history.

This season, he broke the 100-yard mark three times, including his career-high game against Boise State, a 160-yard effort against Utah State and 102 yards against Air Force.

At 7-5 on the season, the Cowboys are eligible for selection to play in a postseason bowl game, which will be without Swen.

Swen leaves No. 10 all-time for UW rushers with 2,173 career yards.

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Before Moving To Wyoming, Couple Will Visit All 74 Libraries; Will Make Decision Based On Favorite

in Wyoming Life/News
27767

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Vern and Shireen Liebl are looking for their permanent home, and hope it’s in Wyoming. But a must-have for their next hometown is a good library.

For the last three and a half months, the Liebls have been crisscrossing the Cowboy State on a quest to visit every library in the state. Basing their adventures out of an Airbnb in Thermopolis, the couple has visited 16 Wyoming libraries since August. 

“I am in love with books and bookstores,” said Vern. “I think that one of the finest smells in the world is to go into an old bookstore, or used bookstore, and just inhale the essence of the paper.”



It All Started In A Library

Vern and Shireen met in a library at the University of Utah.

“She was getting her doctorate, and she managed to make me stay long enough to get a master’s degree,” said Vern, adding that they “also dated in the library a lot. We did our homework together, but we called it a date.”

Vern’s Marine Corps career in military intelligence took the two around the world. And everywhere they went, they found libraries.

“When I was back on the East Coast, I went to the National Library there,” said Vern. “I lived in the Marine Corps University Library. I would go to any library I could find.”

From the Library of Congress to the stacks at the University of Baghdad, Vern explored them all. Except for a few.

“I couldn’t find a library in Kabul in Afghanistan, but I found a couple of good bookstores,” he said. “Until the Taliban blew it up.” 

When You Can’t Have Something …

Shireen was born in New York, but grew up in Islamabad, Pakistan. At her school, most books were off-limits.

“We had a tiny little library, and the few books they had were in these locked glass cases, I kid you not,” she said. “We would go in there once a month for the ‘library day,’ and we were not allowed to go near the books. We just had to sit at the tables, and there were some magazines and a few odds and ends.”

But Shireen’s mother, who worked part time as a substitute English teacher at the American International School in Islamabad, would bring home books for her to read.

“Laura Ingalls, the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ series, all kinds of other stuff,” said Shireen. “So, she really encouraged my love of reading.”

Vern’s father, on the other hand, had a veritable library in his home office – but those books were off limits to young Vern.

“He had his own little personal library of all kinds of books, and being kind of a selfish man he told me, no misunderstanding, he said, ‘You will never touch my books,’” Vern said. “So of course, what did I do? Whenever he was gone, I rifled through all those books. I said, ‘There must be something in here that’s cool.’”



Wyoming Library Tour

The couple’s Wyoming 74 public library tour could have started in Jackson, but they missed out because they took a 44-mile bike ride. So they started with the Cody library, then moved on to the public library in Meeteetse just down the road.

“It’s part of the school, and it’s so small. I think that the poor lady that was working in there hadn’t seen any human beings all summer,” said Vern. 

The public library in the tiny town of Basin is a “hidden gem,” according to Vern.

“It’s got so many old books, and they’re tucked into corners, and they’re just lovely,” he said. 

The couple had a standout experience at the public library in Glenrock.

“It looks like a small library, but they have a basement, and it apparently has been refurbished with loving care,” said Vern. “And they have these skylights up there, and it’s like blonde wood, and it just feels so light and airy – and they have stacks of books and a cozy reading room with a fireplace.”

The library in Douglas appeared like any other brick building from the outside – but then they stepped inside.

“You go up to the second floor, and they have these corner reading rooms that are full glass that just look out over the town,” said Vern. “It’s all about Indian books and artifacts, and it’s just warm, and it’s just so comfortable.”

And the ladies who run the Ten Sleep library were outstanding, they said.

“The ladies up there, they work with the school, and they are so funny,” said Vern. “There’s at least three of them. They’re just hilarious, and they’re so dedicated.”

Some libraries they were unable to check out because they had limited open hours, such as the libraries in Glendo and Chugwater. 

“I just love to say the word ‘Chugwater,’” Vern laughed.



Unexpected Gems

The Wyoming Reading Room at the Wheatland library was a lovely surprise, according to the Liebls.

“It was all Western writers – Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey,” said Vern. “And they had a pole in which they set up a stack of books, they wired them all together, and it was like 8 feet tall. It was just magnificent.”

And although unimpressed with the building itself, Vern got a kick out of the name of the library in Ranchester.

“It’s the Tongue River Library,” said Vern. “I mean, what a cool name.”

Visitors are treated to a bonus when they go to the library in Greybull.

“It’s small, but it’s right across the literal hall from the (Greybull) Museum,” said Vern. “You get two-for-one bucks out of that. It’s just wonderful there.” 

A sad moment came when the Liebls visited the town library in Shoshoni, only to be told that it was going to be shut down.

“It’s just a little tiny library shoehorned in with the visitor center, and it’s being shut down,” said Vern. “Apparently nobody goes to it.”

Carnegie Libraries

Every library has its own personality, Vern pointed out.

Shireen, in particular, is drawn to the Carnegie libraries – libraries built between 1883 and 1929 with money donated by Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. 

But she was dismayed to discover that the Carnegie Library that was built in Cheyenne in 1902 had been demolished in 1971.

“That’s a travesty that I just can’t reconcile how someone could determine that they need to be torn down, these historical buildings?” she said.

In an upcoming trip, the Liebls are planning to check out the Carnegie Library in Buffalo, which is now home to the Jim Gatchell Museum.

“We’re going to all the old hotels in Wyoming too,” said Shireen. “And so we’re actually slated to go and stay in the Occidental (in Buffalo), and we are definitely going to check that out.” 

Unappreciated Treasures

The Liebls found that the people who staff Wyoming’s libraries are dedicated, engaging folks.

“They’re all really funny people, and friendly,” said Vern. “And most of them seem so dedicated to the preservation of the library system.”

Shireen said, though, that she is concerned that fewer people are making use of these public buildings, which serve so many other purposes, as her husband pointed out.

“Take the Thermopolis library,” said Vern. “They have a once-a-month movie night, and they have a little dinner that goes with it. They sponsor speakers – they’re sponsoring my wife to give a presentation on women in Afghanistan. They’re multi-use facilities. It’s not just the books.” 

In the eyes of Vern and Shireen, public libraries are treasures that often go unappreciated.

“It’s one of my quests to always check out libraries and how generous – you can take unlimited books out and and you can renew them,” said Shireen. “I mean, these things are taken for granted here, but not by me.”

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Teton County Duo Saves Legendary Nora’s Fish Creek Inn From Developers

in Wyoming Life/News/Business
Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily
27959

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By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
Leo@Cowboystatedaily.com

Nora’s Fish Creek Inn is as much an institution one can find in the Teton County community of Wilson. There’s only a handful of buildings in the small town that have been there for decades, and Nora’s is one of them.

The wooden cross beams and antique decorations covering the walls of the restaurant provide a quaint, cabin-like feel that defines the Cowboy State. 

If one didn’t know better, they might think they took a time machine back to a simpler time while chowing down on fresh-caught trout and eggs and basking in the warm glow of a crackling fire nearby.

“That’s always been a staple here as far as I can remember, for 30 years,” new co-owner Tom Fay said of the trout.


Visitors at Nora’s Fish Creek Inn receive a Wyoming West welcome. (Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily)

No More Nora’s?

Nora’s was close to meeting its demise just a few months ago, but Fay and fellow co-owner Eddie Opler stepped in to buy and save the restaurant. Opler has a long history with the restaurant as his family has been eating meals there since it opened.

The café has existed in various forms since the early 1970s. For much of the ’70s it was a Wild West bar called Blackie’s Fish Creek Inn. Before that, it was a post office and general store dating to the late 1930s. 

State Rep. Jim Roscoe moved to Wilson in 1970 and remembers the square dances held in the rustic building before it became a restaurant. 

“It was really fun,” he said.

A National Rep

Nora Tygum took over the business in 1982 and built a legendary reputation, not only in Wyoming, but also throughout the country. 

Considered one of the best breakfasts around, Nora’s was featured on the Food Network hit television show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” with Guy Fieri in 2014.

Over the decades, the restaurant became well known for its trout and classic stick-to-your-ribs fare, serving mouthwatering dishes like huevos rancheros and biscuits and gravy.


New Nora’s owners only had about two weeks to make renovations and upgrades before reopening the Wilson restaurant Friday. (Leo Woflson, Cowboy State Daily)

New Life

In 2021, Tygum’s daughter, Kathryn Taylor, put the restaurant and its property up for sale. Despite receiving several offers, Taylor took the property off the market this past spring. When Tygum died in September, the restaurant announced on social media that it would close Oct. 15.

“Bless her heart, it’s just she’s been doing it for 20-plus years, “Fay said of Taylor. “It was time to pass the baton.”

That’s when Fay and Opler gave Taylor an offer she couldn’t refuse. The deal was finalized Nov. 11.

“Kathryn really wanted to continue the legacy of Nora’s, and that’s exactly what we wanted to do as well,” Fay said. “We’re not wanting to steer away from what Nora’s has always been – just a fun, family friendly diner.”

A Wilson Icon

Fay said it’s what Nora represents for Wilson, a town of 1,492 people, that inspired him to buy the business.

“Kind of keeping this iconic Wilson building and restaurant alive and well,” Fay said. “Not letting any developers come in and turn Wilson upside down.”

Wilson isn’t exactly a boom town. Don’t blink when driving through, as you might miss the downtown corridor. 

Although it shares much of the same affluence as nearby Jackson, there are still many working-class people who call it home. 

Fay said it’s likely if they hadn’t bought the business, it would have been torn down and replaced with luxury condos, like so many other places in Teton County.

“Wilson is this little village that has a restaurant, a really good coffee shop, a good bicycle shop,” Roscoe said.



Classic, With A New Taste

Fay said he plans to continue Nora’s well-known breakfast and lunch staples while adding some new twists. 

They plan to offer grab-and-go items like breakfast burritos, sandwiches and coffee to better serve the many tourists and hard-working locals in the area.

“To get the community where they need to go,” Fay said.

Taylor is still going to be involved in the business as the baker, allowing her to focus on handcrafting Nora’s scrumptious banana bread and coffee cake.

Reopened Friday

The restaurant reopened Friday after receiving brighter lighting and a new ceiling during the whirlwind two weeks between its purchase and reopening. 

It’s also adding televisions and historic photos to the walls from local haunts such as the Wilson gas station and nearby Teton Pass, towering thousands of feet above it. 

“We really wanted to add some fun character, which was existing prior to us moving in,” Fay said. “Add some fun, kind of antiquey, historical parts of Wilson and Jackson Hole and give it that local vibe.”

They also renovated the bar area to, as Fay put it, “let it be known that we actually do have a liquor license.” 

Make Dinner Plans

They have plans to bring back dinner at the restaurant next summer, which would make it only the second business in Wilson to offer evening cuisine. Fay also wants to renovate the patio outside so Nora’s can host private parties and other events. 

As far as the restaurant’s legendary coffee is concerned, it’s already hosted several tastings in recent weeks to help decide some new blends.

“The community has been saying we’re somewhat local heroes,” Fay said. “I think we’re local lunatics. But we are excited to keep Nora’s open as well, obviously. It’s near and dear to our hearts and we want to give it the love and attention that it needs.” 

Preserving Wilson

The Wilson community can be rest assured it will continue to see both ends of the emerald green cartoon trout sticking out from Nora’s sign for years to come, blending in perfectly as it has for decades with the town’s general store, schoolhouse old barns and nearby Stagecoach Bar and Grill. 

Roscoe said there also is a public campaign underway among local residents to save another local favorite, Hungry Jack’s General Store.

“They want things to stay the same, but it’s really hard,” he said.

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Despite Decades Of Neglect & Abandonment, Trees At Century-Old Cheyenne Arboretum Refuse To Die

in Around Wyoming/Wyoming Life/News
27780

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

On the northwestern edge of Cheyenne, a piece of the state’s wild history still lives in a hidden gem that’s nearly a century old. 

Its history is important not only for the state of Wyoming, but High Plains states stretching from North Dakota to Texas. 

The place is the High Plains Arboretum. 

Research Mission

Tall, nearly 100-year-old trees still grow there, despite decades of neglect and drought. They are remnants of a unique research mission that began in the 1930s with the construction of a USDA-ARS Field Station in Cheyenne. 

It was the first such station that didn’t include as a primary mission agricultural research to improve farming and ranching.

Instead, its mission was to figure out how to help improve quality of life in the High Plains by figuring out which plants could survive the cold, the wind and semi-arid desert-like conditions so that residents from other states would not only feel more at home in the Great Plains, but could grow their own fresh produce.


An Amur maple shows off its stunning red leaves at the High Plains Arboretum in Cheyenne. (Photo Courtesy Jessica Friis)

If It Can Survive Cheyenne …

“You probably can’t go to any High Plains town and not see something that was a result of the work done in Cheyenne,” Cheyenne Botanic Gardens founder Shane Smith told Cowboy State Daily. “And the reason for Cheyenne being more important than the other stations is because they quickly realized that Cheyenne was the worst, most challenging climate of the three (Great Plains) stations.”

A decent variety of strawberry or raspberry or tomato developed at one of the other two research stations would generally get sent to Cheyenne to see how it would do in a really challenging environment.

“Cheyenne became the acid test for plants,” Smith said. “If something came from Cheyenne, they knew it could probably survive from Montana to Amarillo.”



Incredible Diversity

Probably the most famous of trees still growing at Cheyenne’s Arboretum is a willow found near Encampment, horticulturist Jessica Friis told Cowboy State Daily. 

“But the oldest tree standing out there is actually a Kentucky coffee tree,” she said. “So that is, you know, a tree that’s native to the United States, but not necessarily Wyoming. It is still alive out there.”

There also are Woodward junipers, originally found in Oklahoma and grown in Cheyenne as an example of an upright, non-spreading juniper tree. 

“It gets really tall and skinny and usually keeps a really nice upright form without needing any pruning at all,” Friis said. “So, it’s a nice one for more formal landscapes, if you don’t want to have to prune it.” 

There also are apricot trees that came from Siberia and Russia, as well as maples such as the Tartarian maple, the hot wings maple and Amur maple. The latter is hard to find commercially, but is popular because It gets bright red leaves in the fall.

“I’ve actually been propagating that one here at the gardens,” Friis said. “I took some cuttings last year, so I’m hoping in couple of years I’ll be able to sell those at our plant sale. I’ve been propagating (the trees) that we can’t find at a nursery, so that we can make them available in the future.”

There’s also a variety of woody shrubs on the premises, including Cheyenne lilacs and blue velvet honeysuckle.



Indiana Jones Of The Plant World

The wide variety of trees and woody shrubs that call the Arboretum home were the result of an extensive plant explorer network the USDA had both before and after World War II, Smith said. 

“These plant explorers were like the Indiana Jones of horticulture,” he added. “They would go to war zones, dodging bullets, some of their Sherpas — people that helped I call them Sherpas, people who helped them haul stuff — and their donkeys got shot in the crossfire.”

Plant explorers rode trains across places like Mongolia and Siberia — places that look a lot like the High Plains — and then would get off the trains at farmers markets and following them north, looking for interesting fruits and vegetables.

They would keep going north until they saw that a variety had disappeared. Then they’d go back one farmers market to the south and take seeds and cuttings to select what they hoped would be the hardiest of plants.

Once they got back to the states, they would do their own research, but also would send plant materials to research stations. 

“Cheyenne became a recipient of all kinds of possible apple varieties, apricots, peaches, cottonwoods, shelter belt ideas — they would send all this stuff back,” Smith said. 

Researchers would take what seemed to be promising varieties and grow bunches of that plant, selecting out the ones that did the best and then repeating the experiment year over year to develop hardy, drought-tolerant varieties for the Plains.


Jessica Friis sets willow cuttings, taken from an Encampment willow at the High Plains Arboretum in Cheyenne out for sun on warmer days in winter. The cuttings will eventually lose all their leaves, but it takes a long time for them to do that. In the meantime, they need sheltered conditions so they don’t get too cold, as well as some sunlight and water. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Thousands Of New Varieties

Over the years that the area served as a horticulture research station, more than 2,000 fruit varieties, 1,300 varieties of woody ornamental plants, 200 species trees and shrubs, and 8,000 vegetable varieties were tested at the station.

Through that work, more than 45 hardy chrysanthemums were developed that would flower much earlier than October, along with all the intriguing trees. Hardy currants, gooseberries, sour cherries, domestic plums and even short-season pumpkins suitable for pie were developed.

“You can still find what they did in seed catalogs and nurseries,” Smith said. “A lot of times they have the name Cheyenne, like the Cheyenne privet or the Cheyenne mock orange. Or they have Wyoming names or Indian names. So they had a style to their naming that is appreciated.”

But eventually, USDA-ARS decided to close the horticulture portion of the lab and shift instead to grasslands research.

“So another unintended experiment ensued,” Smith said. “Especially as we started seeing drought in the ’80s and ’90s. These plants weren’t getting irrigated. And so there was another natural selection of what was out there, and we lost a lot of plants. 

“But the ones that remain now, we know that those guys are super drought tolerant.”



Saving The Arboretum

In 2000, Smith and other concerned residents started meeting monthly to talk about how to save the Arboretum where the trees are located. Eventually, that led to an agreement with the USDA releasing between 68 to 75 acres to Cheyenne. 

“We got a grant from Wyoming State Forestry to do a master plan of how we’d like to see the Arboretum evolved,” Smith said. 

Among the ideas for the future of the station is renovation of the existing greenhouse so that cuttings can be made of the surviving trees, to bring more diversity to the landscapes of Wyoming, and continue some of the research that began at the Cheyenne Research Station.

The location also is open to the public, Friis added.

“We put some new signs out there to help people find it and know where to park and things like that,” she said. “And then we also started last year for the first time a plant sale in February, where people can order trees and shrubs that were tested out at the Cheyenne station.”

Many of these varieties are not readily available commercially, Friis said, adding that “we know they do well in (Wyoming) so people can plant them in their own yard.”

Eventually, the plan is to have an online mode for buying plants from the annual sale. But in the meantime, Friis is willing to help people across Wyoming obtain plants from the sale, if they’re unable to come to Cheyenne in person for the event. 

She can be reached at jfriis@cheyennecity.org or 307-287-1953.



New Life For Old Research Station

For the future, Friis sees a lot of tourism potential for the Arboretum, which offers a serene location with beautiful trees and is a favorite spot for a walk in the fall – for those who know about it. 

“We’d love to further develop the paths and signs and parking there to make it more accessible,” Friis said. “We’d like to provide public bathrooms out there. We also have the historic greenhouse and lath house building that they used for research. We’d like to restore those and make them available to the public.”

A first priority, though, is new roof for the greenhouses to protect them from further water damage. 

“We’re pretty confident we’ll be able to get all of that money ready for this spring or summer to replace that roof so that we don’t get any structural damage to the building,” Friis said. 

A second priority is modernizing the available irrigation system, which is gravity-based and actually cannot get water to some trees. 

A more efficient watering system also is needed before any new trees can be cost-effectively added to the Arboretum.

After that, Friis hopes to get the greenhouse operational so that cuttings can be made of the surviving trees and shrubs that aren’t available commercially, so that they can become more widely available in Wyoming and other High Plains states.

“If we get the Arboretum up and functioning again, we could definitely start doing some research again, especially as it gets warmer and the climate is changing, now varieties that do well in our climate,” Friis said.

“We’d love to be able to, you know, kind of continue on with this spirit of, you know, it wouldn’t be the same scale as what they did in the Cheyenne Horticultural Field Station’s heyday, but to still continue on with this process of research and searching for new varieties and making them available, and just helping people be able to grow things here.”

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Couple Overhauls Drab, Awful Interior Of Iconic Onion-Shaped Bank Building In Casper

in Wyoming Life/News/Business
27916

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Since 1964, the modern dome-shaped building has been a central feature in downtown Casper. Built to house Western National Bank, the building’s unique interior has over the years been covered by traditional flooring, ceiling work and decor.

That is, until Joe and Diane McGinley came along 13 years ago, when the McGinleys moved their family to Casper. Diane said she immediately noticed the mid-century modern, dome-shaped downtown building and thought it would be perfect as an office for their businesses.

“I’ve always loved the building,” Diane McGinley told Cowboy State Daily. “So, when it came up for sale, my husband Joe and I took a real serious look at it.”

The couple operate a multitude of businesses, including McKinley orthopedics, (an orthopedic device startup company) and the McGinley Clinic, Joe’s sports medicine, minimally invasive orthopedic care clinic.

“By purchasing the building, we were able to put both of those businesses on the second floor while we did the renovations for the rest of the building,” said Diane.

Ballerinas twirling in the rotunda last week signaled the grand opening of “The M,” as the McGinleys have named the building.

“I really felt like it was a vision realized,” said Diane.


Diane and Dr. Joe McKinley are close to unveiling the new renovated dome building in downtown Casper, which they’ve dubbed “The M.”

Before And After

Diane was aware she had a big job ahead of her when the couple first bought the building two years ago. Although she has no formal design training, Diane said she knew she needed to be the one to oversee the project.

“We early on worked with some architects,” said Diane. “But I realized that I was particular, and in the end I wanted to love every single choice that was in the space, so I just took over the design aspects of it.”

Diane said they had amazing partners in Casper Building Systems, the construction firm they chose to work with.  

“I definitely credit them for figuring out a lot of the ‘hows’ to me sort of spouting a lot of ideas,” she said.

Much of the work that needed to be done was behind the scenes, Diane said.

“It was built in 1964, so a lot of the things that were a challenge are the unseen things – the HVAC, the electrical, the plumbing,” she said. “So, upgrading those systems were the first priority.”

Diane pointed out that at the time they were put in, the systems were state of the art and had some unique features. So the McGinleys approached the project with the same intent. 

“We wanted to bring in the best and greatest and state of the art,” she said. “So all of our lighting systems and things like that, the whole building is controlled on this really wonderful iPad – down to even the lights in the fountain, there is an app for that.” 



Charles Deaton, Architect

The architect who designed the post-modern piece in the early 1960s has a unique style that is showcased in several other distinctive structures around the country.

Charles Deaton designed several athletic stadiums, including Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium and Kauffman Stadium, and his futuristic Sculptured House was featured in the 1973 Woody Allen film “Sleeper.” He also designed an eccentric bank building in Englewood, Colorado.

Deaton’s eye-catching Casper building features 17 “blades,” the petal-shaped pieces that make up the exterior of the dome, held together by one small, 4-inch-thick disc at the top.

“It’s really, truly a feat of architectural engineering,” said Diane.

Diane said that one of the exclusive features of the 1964 Casper building was the lighting system that Deaton incorporated into the rotunda.

“He had the patent on the lighting system that was up at the top of the dome, and it was really unique at its time, because it made the entire ceiling look like it was glowing,” said Diane.

Because their companies hold a number of patents themselves (more than 126), they felt a kinship with the architect.

“We feel right at home in a place with somebody who was innovative from the beginning,” Diane said. 

But Deaton’s innovation meant that construction upgrades took some ingenuity.

“There isn’t a room or a wall that is square in the building,” she said. “So, a lot of the things that make it really beautiful aesthetically, definitely posed some contractual problems. But we worked through each of them and just are really thrilled with the result.”


The rotunda of “The M.”

The Rotunda

The defining feature of the interior of the building, Diane pointed out, is the rotunda. But over the years, and through numerous bank ownerships, the entire top of the space was covered by a dropped ceiling.

“We unwrapped it, we revealed it and put in a really cool new state-of-the-art lighting system that helps the dome glow again,” she said.

The center of the dome also features a large crystal chandelier that Diane said she was thrilled to design.

“It took over many, many hours of planning to hang the chandelier,” she said, “and several electricians a couple of weeks just to hang it.”

The floor, she said, was just as spectacular.

“A gentleman hand-sprinkled the gold flakes onto the black epoxy,” Diane said. 



Sharing The Space

Although the initial vision for the building was a one-stop-shop for orthopedic needs, Diane said once the renovations began to transform it, she knew it needed to be open to more than just their clients and patients.

“It was about creating a medical center where we could have comprehensive care,” she said. “But once the rotunda started taking shape, I knew we had to share it with the public and really be able to open it up to house events there, because it’s such a unique space.”

Now anyone can reserve space at the iconic building at eventsatthem.com. As many as 250 people can be accommodated comfortably at round-top tables, although more seating can be set up for larger events.

“We’re taking bookings for all different types of events, including weddings, corporate Christmas parties, nonprofit events, conventions,” said Diane.

And she said she’s looking forward to sharing the amazing space with the rest of the community. A formal ribbon cutting at “The M” will be Dec. 9, with a community open house Dec. 10.

“The more events and the more people that come in will really get to see that this is part of our town, and that it’s been restored, and that it’s going to be here to stay for many years to come,” said Diane.

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Biden’s Goal To Eliminate Oil Industry Jeopardizes Nearly $2 Billion For National Parks

in Energy/Yellowstone/News
Photo by George Rose/Getty Images
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By Kevin Killough, State Energy Reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

Biden’s war on fossil fuels may reduce funding for America’s national parks, according to the Western Energy Alliance, a nonprofit energy industry association for the U.S. West. 

The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), which was passed in August 2020, provides $1.9 billion for public lands and national park restoration, primarily from onshore oil and gas development on federal lands. 

The act combined the restoration and Land and Water Conservation funds, which supplies $900 million in matching grant money for state and local parks. 

No Federal Oil

Biden campaigned on a promise that he was going to eliminate the oil industry, and since taking office he has taken more than 100 steps to make good on that promise. Net-zero goals, if achieved, will replace all coal, oil and gas with wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy. 

If that happens, the alliance claims, the royalties from renewable industries operating on federal lands would only generate $11.5 million for the restoration fund. 

Biden “promised no federal oil at all. That was his campaign pledge,” Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, told Cowboy State Daily. “Now, he ran into this nasty thing called the law.

“But if his policies were taken to their logical conclusion – no more federal oil and gas would be allowed – then there would be no funding for the Great American Outdoors Act.” 

Biden had placed a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing, but a judge in the Western District of Louisiana issued a permanent injunction against the Biden administration. The ruling concluded that the moratorium took steps reserved for Congress and violated the Mineral Leasing Act and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. 

Basically Nothing

Of the $1.9 billion in funding for the GAOA, 70% goes to the National Park Service to reduce deferred maintenance in national parks. The rest goes to various agencies that manage federal lands. 

The GAOA provided $204 million in funding for projects in Yellowstone National Park, including repairs to historic buildings and roads to the Old Faithful geyser. The fund may also support repair projects from last summer’s floods. 

The fund also provided $145 million for projects in California’s Yosemite, and $219 million for projects in Blue Ridge, which straddles the North Carolina and Virginia border. 

Sgamma said royalties from oil and gas production on federal land will support the restoration fund for some time. Existing leases will continue to produce for a while, but as production at those wells decline, the royalties will evaporate. 

“The president’s preferred wind and solar contributes basically nothing to conservation,” Sgamma said. 

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Miracle Hunt: Brain Cancer Survivor Bags Wyoming Elk

in Wyoming outdoors/News/Hunting
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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Eleven years ago, Kenneth “Chip” Madren was a robust, healthy 13-year-old who loved the outdoors in home state of Georgia. 

He was already an avid hunter looking forward to many seasons in the field, his father, Ken Madren told Cowboy State Daily. 

Then everything changed. 

“He was diagnosed with metastatic brain cancer that had gone into his spine,” Ken said. “It was the kind of cancer where they were talking about low probabilities (of survival).”

Chip spent 180 days in hospitals and underwent numerous major surgeries “just to live,” his father said. 

He survived, but was wheelchair bound and suffered significant vision loss. So, any more hunting seemed out of the question for the young man. 



‘Powerful Medicine’

But Chip wasn’t that easily discouraged. 

He was back in the field as soon as possible, thanks in large part to outdoor organizations that help facilitate outings for disabled hunters, Ken said. Among them is Ron Vining’s Polestar Outdoors, headquartered in Powell. 

“The outdoors community has been very helpful during all of this,” Ken said. “I think it has been just as powerful a medicine as the medical things that actually made the cancer go away,” he said. 

As a way of giving back, father and son founded “Chip’s Nation,” a pediatric cancer foundation.

And Chip kept taking any chance he could to go hunting.

Opportunity Of A Lifetime 

Chip said he’s long enjoyed pursuing whitetail deer in Georgia, as well as wild turkeys in several states. 

But getting a chance at a bull elk out West was a goal that had long eluded him. 

Everything came together this fall, when Polestar Outdoors, the Outdoor Dream Foundation and others were able to arrange for an elk hunt on private land in the Jackson area. 

Wyoming has a “fantastic program” through which residents may choose to donate their hunting tags to disabled hunters, Ken said. That’s how Chip got his longed-for elk tag. 

Family friend Scott Hardy and his son, Will Hardy, joined the hunt. They were there to help with Chip’s mobility challenges and share in their own first Wyoming experiences. 


Chip Harden said filling a Wyoming bull elk tag was a hunt of a lifetime, and he already is contemplating how to bag a moose. (Photos Courtesy Polestar Outdoors)

Game And Fish Helps

When they arrived, the elk herd that usually migrates across the private property that was hosting the hunt wasn’t cooperating, Chip said. 

“There was some construction work on a highway nearby, and I think that was messing the elk up,” he said. “The elk just weren’t there (on the property). But then the game warden found out there were some elk on an adjacent property, and he worked with that landowner to get us permission to go hunt there.”

Waiting For Them To Stand

It wasn’t long before they were on to four bulls, but the situation required patience. 

Chip, ever-tenacious, was up to the task. 

“There were four bulls, all laying down,” he said. “My vision’s not very good. I need some contrast. Those bulls were laying down where it was super-snowy, so it was tough for me to see them. I had to wait for them to stand up.”

At long last, the bulls stood. 

“I think they finally got restless over us being there and they stood up,” Chip said. “Then I could see them really good. Three of the four left, but the fourth one stopped and stayed. I was able to drop him with one shot with a .300 Winchester Magnum.”

“I got a nice 6×6 bull,” he added. 


Chip Marden

Ready To Move To Wyoming

Wyoming’s cold was something to experience, Ken said. 

“After they field dressed the elk, they put it on a trailer,” he said. “When they got it to the game processor, it had frozen to that trailer, so when they tried to winch the bull off it lifted up the whole trailer.”

After the hunt, there was still time to enjoy Wyoming. 

“We got to visit Yellowstone and Grand Teton,” Chip said. “We saw grizzly bears!”

They also saw moose, which Chip said is the next big Wyoming animal he’d like to hunt. 

Even the smaller wildlife here is impressive, Ken said. 

“You have very well-mannered foxes in Jackson. They always use the crosswalks, I don’t know how you got them to do that,” he said. 

When asked if they plan to return to Wyoming, the father and son answered enthusiastically. 

“Are you kidding?” Ken said. “I want to move there.”

“Lets go!” Chip replied. 

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Wyoming Obituaries: Week of November 18 – 26, 2022

in Wyoming Obituary/News
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Here’s a list of recent deaths of Wyoming residents and those with close affiliations to the state for the week of Nov. 18 – 26, 2022. Our condolences to family and friends:

Nov. 18:

Nov. 19:

Nov. 20:

Nov. 21:

Nov. 22:

Nov. 23:

Nov. 24:

Nov. 25:

Nov. 26:

Obituaries Pending/Unknown Date of Death:

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A Satanic Tour Of Wyoming: Devils Tower, Devil’s Gate, Hell’s Half Acre And More

in Wyoming Life/News/Tourism
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

One of the most recognizable geological features in the state of Wyoming is Devils Tower. 

But the iconic mountain and the nation’s first national monument is not the only location in the Cowboy State that gives a nod to the underworld.

At last count, there were 22 places in Wyoming with the word “Devil” in their names (only two used twice), along with five locations in the state that include the word “Hell.”


Devil’s Thumb

Yellowstone and South

If one were to take a tour of the “devilish” attractions in the state, a good start would be Yellowstone National Park, where the “Devil’s Thumb” sticks out prominently near Mammoth Hot Springs. There’s also a “Devil’s Den” nearby.

Heading south, a hiking trail northwest of Jackson is called “Devil’s Staircase.” A mountain peak south of Cody is known as “Devil’s Tooth,” and a river between Meeteetse and Dubois is called “Devil’s Hole.”

“Devil’s Hole Lakes” lie between LaBarge and Cokeville. South of Kirby, there’s a ravine known as the “Devil’s Punch Bowl.” North of Dubois, there’s a mountain peak labeled “Devil’s Graveyard,” and farther southeast north of Sweetwater Station, “Devil’s Canyon” cuts through. 

Then there’s “Devil’s Gap,” a mountain pass southeast of Lander.


Devil’s Gate

Devil’s Gate

In central Wyoming, a geological formation known as “Devil’s Gate” is located on property that for 130 years belonged to the family of Dennis Sun, publisher of the Wyoming Livestock Report.

“Geologists had told me when the chain of rocks was forming, in those rocks you’ll see some black strips,” Sun told Cowboy State Daily. “I don’t know what kind of rock it is, but it’s a lot softer than the granite. The river was probably there first, and they said it washed a groove in the rocks.” 

Sun said the formation was probably named by frontiersmen traveling through the region for the first time.

But, he said, anyone who claimed they drove a wagon through Devil’s Gate was probably stretching the truth.

“It’s tough to get through,” Sun said. “I mean, you can go through it on foot. But it has to be after the first of July or when the water’s down. The sides of (the canyon) are about 300 feet.”


Devil’s Canyon in the Bighorn Mountains. (Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily)

The Bighorns

The Bighorn Mountains have their share of devilish features. One of Wyoming’s two “Devil’s Canyons” is on private property in the far northern part of Wyoming. 

Then there’s “Devil’s Slide,” a cliff in the southern Bighorns. North of Greybull, “Devil’s Kitchen” is a natural preserve. On the west slope of the Bighorns there’s “Devil’s Leap,” a steep red rock outcropping. There’s also a “Devil’s Lake” in the Bighorns as well.

Heading south, a geological feature west of Midwest called “Devil’s Monument” stands above the landscape. “Devil’s Pass” is in the Laramie Range south of Douglas. And the “Devil’s Playground” is a climbing area in Vedauwoo, a geological formation popular with rock climbers near Cheyenne.


Devil’s Playground

Devil’s Playground

Photographer Dana Gage spends a lot of time at Devil’s Playground with his German shepherd, Klaus. He told Cowboy State Daily the name might have come from the imposing canyon walls made of Sherman granite.

“It has a reddish-black color to most of it and may have evoked a certain ‘dread’ to those who originally traversed the area,” said Gage.

Contrary to other geological features that carry the “devil” label, Gage said he’s found this part of Vedauwoo to be lush and full of life. 

“I often come across fresh bear, elk and moose scat when I walk the trails inside the canyon carved out by the Middle Fork Crow Creek,” he said. “The creek edge is lined with berry bushes, conifers and willows. The beavers there are active and provide ponds where wildlife drink and fishes frolic.”

“Oh,” he added, “and my dog loves disturbing the serenity by jumping into them on warm summer evenings.”

But, Gage admitted, his love for the place may influence the way he sees the Devil’s Playground.

“I find it an inviting place,” he said. “One I never tire of visiting.” 



‘Satan Ate My Car

The evil spirits at Devil’s Playground consumed former Cheyenne resident Dan Ballinger’s truck in 1984.

Ballinger went pistol shooting in his Chevy pickup with his friends when he drove the lifted vehicle up a 30-degree incline.

Unfortunately for the group, the weather turned and within minutes they were facing a full-blown white-out blizzard.

“We parked on the incline because we couldn’t see and hiked out of there,” Ballinger said.

He said it was about 5 miles to the Buford convenience store, and about halfway there he heard the “awful groan” of his truck giving way and plunging to the bottom of the rocky abyss.

“It was a good 50-foot drop and the truck went end-over-end numerous times before crashing into some giant boulders,” he said.

The plan was to rescue the truck the following spring when everything thawed out, but that was impossible, he said. 

“It laid there upside down for years,” Ballinger said. Sometime in the last decade, someone towed it out or “it just disintegrated,” he said.

As for Ballinger, he got home thanks to a forest ranger who had been caught in the same storm and felt bad for the teenagers.

“I remember he asked me where we had been,” said Ballinger.

“I told him we were at Devil’s Playground in Vedauwoo and Satan himself wasn’t dumb enough to be there right now,” he said. 



Devils Tower

The most famous of the “devilish” formations in the state is Devils Tower in northeast Wyoming. Its name has been a source of controversy, however, with many advocating for a change reflecting the Native American tribes’ original label for the unique feature, “Bear Lodge.”

According to the National Park Service, when the formation was named in 1906, the label was based on a mistranslation of its Native American title.

But state Sen. Ogden Driskill, whose family has owned property at the base of the monolith for more than a century, told Cowboy State Daily believes the name was translated correctly, based on journals kept by Col. Richard Dodge from his expedition to the region in the 1870s. 

“The Indian guides would not ride down in that valley where the Tower is at,” Driskill said. “They explained to Dodge that’s where the evil spirits lived.”

Driskill said that the guides believed that if they went into that valley, they would not be allowed into the happy hunting grounds. And he said there’s geological proof that native tribes avoided the monument itself.

“There’s teepee rings and Indian signs as soon as you get a few miles away from the Tower, all the way around,” said Driskill. “They have found virtually nothing at Devils Tower.”

A self-described history buff, especially when it comes to his part of Wyoming, Driskill said based on his research, he believes the name “Devils Tower” was translated correctly at the time. 

“In my mind, I have no doubt that he understood, and the native guides understood very well what he was naming it,” said Driskil. 


Hell’s Half Acre

‘Hell-ish’ Landscapes

To complete this tour of underworld locations in Wyoming, there are a few more features that make the devil feel right at home.

There’s “Hell Hole” near Devils Tower;“Hell Gap” north of Hartville in eastern Wyoming; “Hell Creek” south of Saratoga; and “Hell Canyon” northeast of Baggs.

Then, of course, there’s the famous “Hell’s Half Acre,” where the sci-fi film “Starship Troopers” was filmed in the 1990s.

Might As Well Have Been Mars

Wyoming author, historian and Cowboy State Daily columnist Bill Sniffin has a theory that the many locations in the state that have earned the “devil” or “hell” moniker were most likely named by people who were unnerved by such an otherworldly landscape.

“These names were all done from around 1830 to the 1860s, during a period of time that it would seem to me that you had a relatively superstitious group of people,” said Sniffin. 

“I think that they were also heading out into the unknown,” he added. “I mean, nowadays, we’re talking about people going to Mars. I think going to Wyoming in 1830 was the equivalent of going to Mars.”

Sniffin posited that the landscapes that the pioneers came across were so dramatic that the names needed to reflect that.

“What on earth could be more dramatic than the devil and hell?” Sniffin said. “This is their way to tell somebody, ‘This place must have been the Devil’s Playground, or Hell’s Half Acre, or Devil’s Gate, or Devil’s Kitchen, because only the devil could conjure up a place like this.’” 

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Rail Strike Would Destroy Wyoming’s Coal Industry But It’s Not Going To Happen

in News/Economy/coal
Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images
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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

In September, President Joe Biden stepped in to help with labor negotiations between unions and major freight railroads, and a strike was averted with a tentative agreement. Four of the 12 unions have since voted against the agreement.

Once again, the unions are planning to strike, which is now set for Dec. 6. If one union votes to strike, they all strike. 

If that were to happen, Wyoming’s coal, soda ash and other mines would come to a screeching halt. Every industry in America that uses rail transport would be impacted. 

The good news is, should a strike happen, it’s not likely to last long. 

There’s Precident

Railroad employees went on strike beginning June 24, 1992. By the following day, the U.S. House and Senate passed a bill that ended the strike and required mandatory arbitration in railroad labor disputes. 

Stan Blake, a former Wyoming representative who worked for Union Pacific Railroad for more than 30 years, told Cowboy State Daily that Congress will likely end a strike if it happens again.

The railroads are considered an essential service so vital to national security that it’s unlikely lawmakers wouldn’t intervene to bring a work stoppage to an end. 

Blake was working for the railroads in 1992 when employees went on strike. 

“I had been working for two years when we went on strike, and we were on strike for about 17 hours,” Blake recalled. 

Posturing 

Wyoming energy economist Robert Godby told Cowboy State Daily he expects that Congress will end a rail strike if it happens. 

“It’s very possible that the rail workers, given their importance to the economy, could be legislated back to work,” Godby said. 

If trains stopped running, coal would stop shipping, which would hurt the mines. But the impacts of that go all the way to the average American, he said. Tons of goods wouldn’t get shipped, and it wouldn’t be long before coal-fired energy plants would stop operating. 

“Their inventories right now are relatively low by historic standards,” Godby said. 

The railroad unions know how important their work is to the nation and pushing it to the brink of strike, Godby speculated, could be part of their strategy. 

“What we’ve got right now is posturing,” Godby said. 

He added that the union votes on the agreement were close and most unions voted for the new contract, so it’s not an overwhelming mandate. 

“It’s possible a strike could happen, but if it did, my expectation would be that it would be very short-lived,” Godby said. 

Workers Have Reason To Strike

“The railroads, they treat their employees horribly,” Blake said. 

The tentative agreement brokered by the Biden administration in September gave workers a 24% raise over five years, an additional personal day and limits on health care costs. It also adjusts the railroads’ attendance policies to allow workers to attend to medical needs without facing penalties for missing work. 

Blake, who was a former conductor with Union Pacific, said the workers’ demands are not unreasonable. 

Workers, he said, don’t know when they’re going to get called. A conductor might think he has a day off and may spend the day doing chores and spending time with his family, only to find out that evening that he’s got to go into work just as he’s ready to go to sleep. So, he goes into work without rest. 

This leads to a lot of worker fatigue, Blake said, which can cause health problems and safety issues.

Rail management is “horrible at predicting availability, and railroad workers want to know when they’re going to have to work,” Blake said. 

Union Pacific Responds

Susan Stevens, a Union Pacific spokesperson, said negotiations with the unions are continuing, and the current round of national negotiations included the largest raises for the company’s union workforce in decades. The 24% increase will push average railroad salaries to $110,000 per year by 2024. 

Stevens said the company continues to work to make jobs attractive, especially the unscheduled, on-call jobs. 

“We continue to make changes to our attendance policy based on employee feedback, and we are currently piloting a work/rest pilot that we hope to learn from and implement more broadly,” Stevens said. 

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Wyoming Stores Overstocked Because Of Supply Chain Concerns; Could Be Bargains Out There

in News/Business
Photo Courtesy Messenger Girls
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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

More than two-thirds of holiday shoppers nationwide plan to shop during Thanksgiving weekend this year, and many Wyoming businesses across the state are counting on those shoppers more than ever after more than two wild years of ups and downs for retailers.

A combination of difficult factors in play this year for the retail sector could mean some pretty sweet deals for alert shoppers in the mood to spend — although many retailers report they’re already seeing signs of caution from consumers as the holiday season approaches. 

“We had an exceptional year in 2021,” Tasha Messenger with Messenger Girls in Lander told Cowboy State Daily. “But this year has been really tough, to be honest. Like ever since March, collectively, the majority of businesses on Main Street, we’ve been down about 40%.”

Shopping Smaller

Messenger said many of her customers are looking for smaller gifts than usual.

“People are still trying to shop, but they can’t afford those bigger purchases,” she said. “They still want to get something, though, so we’ve been switching to where we get more affordable, as opposed to bigger, purchase items.”

Messenger’s store will be among those participating in Black Friday deals, Shop Small Saturday and Cyber Monday.

“We all kind of hit this weekend big because, honestly, this weekend is usually our biggest,” Messenger said. 

Deals won’t likely stop with the upcoming weekend, though, Messenger said. She plans a variety of promotions throughout the season to attract as many holiday shoppers as possible.


Shoppers look for deals at Messenger Girls in Lander. (Courtesy Photo)

Look For Themes

Jolene Osbeck with Palace Pharmacy in Lander meanwhile reports a similar situation. She has been looking toward events to draw customers into the store, with an eye toward fun first.

“We’re doing a ladies night, which we’ve been doing for a while now,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “It’s catered and we have drinks and giveaways and I do a sale. It’s really fun.

“And even if they don’t buy a bunch of things that evening, at least they’ve been in here and then they’ll come back because, you know, there’s always the last-minute things to get or you’re going to a little party and you need to bring a gift.”

Stocked And Stoked

Other retailers are somewhat generously stocked for the season. 

For some, that’s because of orders made in 2021 that are now finally arriving. Others, meanwhile, had ordered more to ensure they’d have something to sell in anticipation of potential supply chain issues. 

To the extent retailers have ended up with more inventory than they need for the holidays could spur generous deals for consumers late in the fourth quarter, which is always make-or-break for most retail businesses that can expect as much as 60% of their annual income leading up to Thanksgiving and through Christmas.

‘We Have A Lot Of Inventory’

Walmart is among those stocked for the season, as is Target, and representatives of both stores told Cowboy State Daily they are planning big sales.

“I just know that we have a lot of inventory and we typically, just because of what happened with COVID, we have a lot more days of deals rather than just the one Black Friday event,” cashier Lexi Gonzales with Cheyenne Walmart told Cowboy State Daily. “We get a lot of good products in for deals for customers on different days rather than just the one Black Friday event.”

Target stores in Wyoming are offering 50% off a wide range of goods.

“They’ve announced, like, the biggest Black Friday week of deals that they’ve had in a while,” said Elisa Ellis with Target. “We’re well-stocked in all of our stores.”

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Hunters Keep Shooting Each Other In Nebraska; Wyoming Hunters Say That Can Be Avoided

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Three accidental shootings in three days during Nebraska’s deer season, and the memory of a fatal hunting accident in Wyoming last year, bring home the point that hunters can’t ever take gun safety for granted. 

“I won’t allow a loaded rifle into my truck. Ever. Period,” Greybull hunter and trapper John Eckman told Cowboy State Daily.

He and other Wyoming outdoorsmen also said that a hunting rifle should always be carried with the firing chamber empty. Hunters don’t need to chamber a round until they’ve got a clear, safe shot lined up on big game animal, they said.

“Never, ever, ever chamber a round until you’re ready to shoot,” noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich of Pinedale told Cowboy State Daily. 

Nebraska: Three Shot In Three Days 

In separate incidents this month, three hunters were shot over a span of three days during Nebraska’s deer hunting seasons, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the Columbus Telegram newspaper reported.

None of the shootings were fatal, but in each instance a man was accidentally shot by a member of his own shooting party, according to reports. 

The most serious injuries were suffered by a 20-year-old from Indiana. He was flown to a trauma center in Lincoln, Nebraska, after being shot by another hunter who slipped while following him up an embankment.

A 22-year-old Omaha, Nebraska, man suffered injuries to his hand in another shooting. In the third incident, a Nebraska resident whose age wasn’t given suffered a gunshot wound to the arm. 

Wyoming Not Immune

Wyoming hasn’t escaped hunting accidents. Ulrich recalled a tragedy near Ten Sleep in October 2121, when a man was accidently shot by his son and died.

Even the most experienced hunters can’t take safety for granted, said hunter and mule deer conservationist Josh Coursey, who lives near Kemmerer.

“I have a friend who was hunting elk near Meeteetse who had an accidental discharge of his rifle for the first time after 32 years of hunting,” Coursey said. 

“Even our former vice president was involved in a hunting accident,” he said, in reference to Wyoming native Dick Cheney accidentally shooting and wounding a friend while bird hunting. 

And careless hunters can injure others even without hitting them with bullets, retired forester and avid hunter Karl Brauneis of Lander told Cowboy Sate Daily. 

“Never fire your rifle if you are behind or in equal position to another hunter. The muzzle blast can cause ear damage that can be permanent,” he said. 

Horses Deserve Saftey Too

Eckman said he extends the rule of leaving the firing chamber empthy to rifles kept in saddle scabbards. 

“You’re riding through the brush and your safety gets bumped off,” he said. “Then a twig hits your trigger and you end up shooting your freakin’ horse. I like my horse better than I like most people, and I don’t want to see him get shot.”

He added that he’s hunted deer in Nebraska, and the safety standards there didn’t seem any more lax than they are in Wyoming. So, the Cornhusker State must have just had a run of bad luck with a few careless individuals.

“Hunting deer over there didn’t really seem any different than hunting deer here in Wyoming,” he said. 

‘Muzzle Control’

Even the best of hunters can get complacent and let the rules slip, particularly when they’re younger, Coursey said. 

The final line of defense against tragedies is “muzzle control, muzzle control, muzzle control,” he said, in reference to the rule of always making sure a firearm is pointed in a safe direction. “That way, even if there is an accidental discharge, it doesn’t end with somebody getting hit.”

Treating every firearm as if it were loaded is a must, Coursey, Ulrich, Brauneis and Eckman said.

And never assume that it isn’t, Eckman added. 

“I don’t just think a gun is unloaded,” he said. “I always check. I always open the bolt, the lever or whatever and check to make sure that firing chamber is empty.”

Stay Calm, Stay Safe

In addition to the safety factor of carrying a hunting rifle with the chamber empty, the added step of chambering a round when the right moment comes gives the hunter more time to focus, Ulrich said. 

“That time it takes to chamber a round allows you to settle down and control your breath,” he said. “A measured and steady shot is an accurate shot.”

Brauneis also emphasized how important it is to just “relax” and enjoy the outdoors, rather than getting worked up over whether the chance to make a shot will come that day. When people get too anxious about getting a shot, things get dangerous.

“Only shoot if the shot is right and will give you a 95% chance at a kill shot,” he said. “Once you pull the trigger a multitude of variables enter into the picture. Only one of those variables is good.”

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Modern Day Cattle Rustlin’? Wyo Third Grader Can’t Find Her 1,500-Pound Bull Named Sparkles

in Wyoming Life/News
27907

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By Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily
greg@cowboystatedaily.com

For more than a week, 8-year-old Kali Villarreal has been distraught, frightened and sad as she searches for her best friend, Sparkles. 

The 1,500-pound, 3-year-old Black Angus bull Kali bottle-raised and who followed the Albany County third grader around like a pet didn’t come in from grazing about 10 days ago and hasn’t been seen since.

“She’s just very upset,” grandmother Lucia Villarreal told Cowboy State Daily.

She posted a desperate plea on Facebook to find Sparkles. 

“I try to tell her that maybe he just wandered off and got lost, but you know how it is with some landowners,” Lucia said. “The big ranchers don’t necessarily care for us hobby ranchers.”

Was Sparkles Rustled?

While she has no evidence and has reported the missing bull to the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, Lucia suspects Sparkles didn’t get out on his own or wander off and get lost.

“This bull was a bottle calf and he’s quite friendly,” she said, adding that Sparkles loves people and at times acts more like a clingy puppy than a Black Angus bull.

“He’s a pet – he’s Kali’s pet – and no coyote or wolf is going to take off with a 1,500-pound bull,” she said.

Because of Sparkles being so friendly toward humans, and ongoing friction with larger cattle ranchers in the area who Lucia says don’t like “hobby farmers” like the Villarreals using public grazing land, she suspects Sparkles may have been rustled.

“I don’t know if somebody got mad because he’s a bull and was out or what,” she said. “But the problem is it’s Kali’s, and when an 8-year-old gets attached to something it’s special.”

IF YOU SEE SPARKLES

The Villarreal family asks anyone who may have seen Sparkles, a 3-year-old Black Angus bull who went missing about 10 days ago in the Medicine Bow area near the border between Albany and Carbon counties, to call them at 307-703-0229.

Loves Animals

Along with Sparkles, Kali, who attends school at Medicine Bow Elementary, loves being around and raising farm animals, her grandmother said.

“She’s too young for 4-H yet, but she has goats and does her own little shows for them,” Lucia said. “She has the goats going through little hoops, going up and down stairs.

“She’s been around animals almost since she was born. I truly believe these animals have brought her out of her shell.”

But Sparkles was more special to Kali, she said, adding that, “He followed that kid around like a puppy.”

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Wyoming Man Who Created “How To Die In Yellowstone” Coloring Book Has New Books Out

in Wyoming Life/News
27884

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily.

If you ran into Andy Robbins on the street in Ranchester, you wouldn’t know that the mild-mannered young man with a beard harbors an unusual talent. 

Robbins likes to draw people who might star on the popular Facebook page “Yellowstone National Park: Invasion of the Idiots.” You know, people who ignore park rules and end up getting ripped apart by grizzlies, impaled by bison, or taking acidic baths in 200+ degree temperatures.

But always in a fun, lighthearted way.

Robbins is the author of six books, several of which tell graphic tales of death, gore and mythological creatures. And three of them are, in a creatively macabre way, interactive.

With the 2016 release of his first book, “Yellowstone National Park: A Cautionary Coloring Book,” the Ranchester author and illustrator opened the door to a niche audience – adults with a slightly twisted sense of humor who like to color.



Niche Audience

Robbins, who graduated from the University of Wyoming’s Fine Arts program, makes his living as an artist, whether it’s his watercolors, oil paintings or illustrations for books like “Field Guide to Unicorns of North America: The Official Handbook for Unicorn Enthusiasts of All Ages.”

His illustrations and skewed sense of humor also is evident in a publication titled “The Awful Air Travel Activity Book: Word puzzles, connect the dots, mazes, coloring pages, and other fun stuff to keep you sane during the trials and tribulations of modern air travel!”

‘Bad Way To Go’

“I just did another book, kind of tangentially related,” Robbins told Cowboy State Daily. “It’s about dying – in funny ways.”

Funny, that is, if you’re into torture, mayhem and destruction. 

His newest book, “Bad Way To Go: True Tales of Dying Terribly” details stories of real people who died in unusual ways – boiled alive in caramel, vaporized by a jet engine or slowly swallowed by a glacier.

“‘Bad Way to Go” details the best of the worst deaths known to humankind in a book sure to make the reader say, “Glad it wasn’t me!’” reads the description on Robbins’ website, andyrobbinsart.com.

In addition to the Yellowstone book, Robbins has released another “Cautionary Coloring Book” about the Grand Canyon.



‘Stupid Is As Stupid Does’

Robbins’ art came to the attention of Cowboy State Daily readers in June when “Yellowstone National Park: A Cautionary Coloring Book” was profiled. That book, which was released in 2016, set the tone for Robbins’ career as a published author.

“I grew up watching horror movies and reading books like that, and I think it kind of segued into, like, true crime, and people can’t get enough of that,” Robbins said. “God knows why, people are fascinated with those kinds of grim stories, I think.”

Sarah Growney, who owns The Thistle gift shop in Cody, agrees. 

“I think it’s hysterical,” Growney told Cowboy State Daily. Her inventory boasts a number of gag gifts, so Robbins’ coloring book fits right in.

“I hate to make fun of people who have been caused harm,” said Growney. “But stupid is as stupid does.”



A Book For Everyone

Robbins pointed out that not all of his books are for those with strong stomachs. 

For example, his “Field Guide to the North American Jackalope” is suitable for all ages. And he’s considering offering a toned-down version of his Yellowstone coloring book, which the National Park Service might find more palatable than the current edition.

“I talked to Far Country (publishing) about doing, like, a PG version, and kind of tone it down a bit and see if we could actually get it in Yellowstone, which we’ve never been able to do,” Robbins said. “Something that would still be kind of shocking for a 10-year-old, but not quite so gory.”

But for those who have a slightly twisted sense of humor, Robbins said his books are appealing.

“It’s funny in sort of a shocking way,” he said.

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Momentum Gathers On Capitol Hill To Scrutinize Albertsons-Kroger Mega Merger

in News/wyoming economy/Business
Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily
27893

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

Momentum appears to be growing on Capitol Hill for bipartisan scrutiny of a proposed mega-merger that has been sharply criticized by Wyoming grocery workers. 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, have announced a congressional hearing next week into the multibillion-dollar merger of grocery giants Kroger and Albersons to examine consumer rights more closely. 

“As the chair and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust and Consumer Rights, we have serious concerns about the proposed transaction between Kroger and Albertsons,” the senators say in a joint statement. “The grocery industry is essential, and we must ensure that it remains competitive so that American families can afford to put food on the table. 

“We will hold a hearing focused on this proposed merger and the consequences consumers may face if this deal moves forward.”

FTC Asked To Investigate

Klobuchar and two Democrat colleagues, meanwhile, also sent a letter to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, asking the agency to thoroughly investigate the proposed merger.

“Too many American families are struggling to put food on the table for their families,” Klobuchar wrote. “These issues are worse for families in areas without access to affordable, nutritious food. And across the country, more than 6 million American children suffer from not having enough food.”

Record Inflation, Profits

The proposed merger comes amid some of the highest price increases for grocery prices on record — 11.2% higher in September that in September 2021, according to USDA data. 

Profits, meanwhile, have been healthy for grocery stores as well. Albertsons, for example, reported net income of $343 million in the second quarter of 2022, while Kroger reported operation profits of $954 million for the same period.

Kroger and Albertsons have said in earnings calls and investor materials that they will realize significant savings through the merger, allowing them to invest $500 million in lower prices, $1.3 billion to enhance consumer experience and $1 billion to raise associate wages and benefits. 

They also would be willing to divest up to 375 stores to preserve competition in the marketplace, and make the deal more palatable to anti-trust regulators.

Wait Just A Darn Minute

Wyoming Local 7 President Kim Cordova, representing 750 Wyoming workers affected by the merger, says those promises are a song and dance with an all-too-familiar — and discordant — refrain. 

In three past grocery mergers in recent memory, prices have not dropped, Cordova has told Cowboy State Daily. Not only that, but hundreds of workers have lost jobs, and in some cases faced devastating effects on their retirement plans. 

“If you go back and you look historically at all of these big chains in these mergers, there are those spin-off stores, but they never let those other chains operate,” Cordova said. “They’re not going to sell to a competitor. They’re not going to let competitors thrive. They sell them a lemon, basically.”

In 2014, when Albertsons acquired Safeway, it sold close to 150 stores off to Haggen, Cordova said. Those went bankrupt in 2015, leading to lost jobs and more food deserts.

Wyoming Food Deserts Expand

A USDA map of low-access, low-income areas shows more food deserts in Wyoming in 2019 than in 2015.

Cordova believes the merger of Kroger and Albertsons will make that worse by creating a duopoly, where just two entities control almost all of the nation’s food supply chain, along with fuel, pharmacies and other products. 

Local 7 and other grocery store unions representing Kroger and Albertson workers are banding together to fight the merger and are working on a study of the merger’s effect on the food supply chain. 

“We’re already suffering the high cost of inflation,” Cordova said. “And now you’re going to have just two giant behemoths in control of our whole country’s food supply chain.”

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Legislation Could Give Wyoming Voters Final Say On Capping Property Tax Rates

in News/Taxes/Legislature
27874

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By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
Leo@Cowboystatedaily.com

The Wyoming Legislature’s Revenue Committee killed a bill that would’ve capped most property tax growth in the state at 3% a year. 

The opinion expressed by most of the committee and Legislative Service Office is that a property tax cap would require an amendment to the Wyoming Constitution, and any effort less than that unconstitutional. 

Most also said an amendment would also be necessary for a blanket property tax cap to be legal.

The bill was defeated on a 9-4 vote this week.

What did pass was an amendment to a different bill that allows the Legislature to consider legislation this spring that, if passed with a two-thirds majority in both the state House and Senate, would go to the voters on a ballot referendum in 2024. 

The referendum would put the question of a property tax cap to Wyoming voters. And if voters answered yes, the Legislature would determine what level the cap would be assessed at in 2025.

3% Consideration

The Wyoming County Assessor’s Association opposed the 3% cap, finding it unconstitutional and the tax ceiling “unreasonable.”

“It wasn’t ready for primetime in the opinion of the assessors,” said Dixie Huxtable, Converse County assessor.

In 2022, total assessed property values increased in Wyoming by $7 billion.

“We’ve certainly rebounded,” said Jerimiah Rieman, executive director of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association, about the statewide spike of property valuations. 

If Wyoming were to have had a 3% flat annual increase of valuation from 2019-2022, Rieman said the state would have lost $1.6 billion in tax collections, a 15% decrease of actual revenue. He said this would have resulted in the state becoming more dependent on mineral production in making up its total pot of revenue.

“That’s a pretty big number and something you have to think about relative to schools,” he said.

Not Dead

Separate legislation that provides a pathway for the Legislature to continue the property tax cap passed unanimously. 

Although a number of lobbyists testified against the bill, finding the 3% cap too low, state Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan, motioned to push it forward. 

“There’s John Q. Public out there and they want to see this debate continue on,” Jennings said. “There’s question marks to the constitutionality and will be on other bills as well.”

The 3% legislation would have applied to all property aside from mineral and industrial. Now, any future consideration will only pertain to residential property.

“That’s going to make it a lot harder to pass,” said Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson.

Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, disagreed about the unconstitutionality of the bill, but said a constitutional amendment should be crafted to err on the safe side.

Where To Cap?

Nearly all who testified Monday against the 3% cap agreed that a solution needs to be brokered to address Wyoming’s rising property taxes. 

Since 1996, the annual increase of value in agricultural, residential and commercial properties in Wyoming has averaged 6.83%. 

“This is the amount from which Wyoming counties have been budgeting services for decades, and the logic is that it can continue to do so,” said Park County Assessor Pat Meyer.

But in Park County, Meyer said he saw increases of $1,200 to $1,500 with 25%-45% growth this past year. The county as a whole gained nearly $250 million in valuation, which Meyer said was largely spurred by mineral revenues. He said the county is on an even more aggressive revenue pace for next year.

Fixed-Rate State

Wyoming is a fixed-rate tax state, where taxpayers’ property taxes automatically go up with any increase in the assessed valuation of their property. Twelve other states operate on a budget-rate basis, where mill levies are adjustable to alleviate strain on taxpayers. 

Meyer said Wyoming would have to change the way it values mineral production to convert to a budget-rate system.

“If we started lowering mill levies, we’d lose so much money that we’d never be able to get back,” he said.

Twenty-six states, both Republican and Democratic leaning, have property tax caps.

Meyer argued for implementing measures that would make assessment much more uniform in Wyoming by copying Arizona’s laws. Meyer said the state could then annually adjust its tax rate based on how much money is needed.

“These rules have already been done for us,” he said. “We wouldn’t want to reinvent the wheel.”

Fourth Class

The legislation containing the amendment adds a fourth class of real estate property under Wyoming law for residential properties. It also adds a sub-class for primary homeowners. 

Brett Moline of the Wyoming Farm Bureau spoke against the legislation. 

“The part where you divide up the different types of legislation doesn’t sit well and we would not be in favor of that,” he said.

Under this legislation, the value of industrial property shouldn’t be more than 40% higher or more than 4 points more than the percentage prescribed for residential real property, or the percentage prescribed for all other property, other than minerals.

If the legislation makes it through a constitutional referendum, in 2025 the Legislature will have the option to pursue the two options and lower the assessment value below 9.5%. 

By The Numbers

The level of assessment in Wyoming for residential property is 9.5%. So instead of being taxed on the full 100% value of property, owners are instead taxed on 9.5% of the value. 

If the market value of residential property is $100,000, taxes are not assessed on the entire $100,000 value. Instead, because of the 9.5% level of assessment, taxes are assessed on $9,500 of the value. 

That method means “we have a lot more tools in our toolkit,” Gray said.

Gray said he does not expect the problem of skyrocketing property tax increases in Wyoming to go away in the future and thinks the lack of clarity between the relationship of acquisition value and corresponding property taxes needs to be addressed. 

He made the amendment to consider adding property tax increase caps and determining property taxes by acquisition value with a future amendment to the Wyoming Constitution.

“You can guarantee there will be plenty of opposition to this when it’s on the ballot,” said Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander.

Rep. Bill Henderson, R-Cheyenne, said he supported parts of that amendment, but not the part regarding acquisition value. The acquisition value part of the amendment was stripped from the bill.

There also is language in the legislation that would allow the Legislature to grant homestead exemptions at some point in the future. These would create tax breaks for longtime residential homeowners.

Tax Refund Changes

Also considered this week was legislation changing the qualifications for Wyoming’s property tax refund program.

Under the current program, only those who make 75% or less of their county or the state’s median household gross income are eligible to apply. The new legislation would bump that to 125%. 

Rep. Tim Hallinan, R-Gillette, argued for a smaller increase to 100%, saying anything higher wouldn’t be assistance provided to poor people.

“I think poor is a relative word,” countered Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper.

This amendment passed with an overwhelming majority.

Growing Refund Applications

In 2021, Wyoming provided more than $1.8 million in property tax refunds. 

Brenda Henson, director of the Wyoming Department of Revenue said the number of applicants for the state’s property tax refund program has increased by 250%, and her department will need an additional $1 million to fund the program for 2023. 

She said the average amount of reimbursement increased from $533 in 2019 to $601 in 2021.

“I would like to fully fund this program,” Harshman said. “If it costs us $10 million per year to grant relief to the poor, the elderly, the people who have been in their home and been in Wyoming for a long time – that’s my goal with this.”

Moline said he supports the legislation.

Under current rules, an applicant’s refund cannot exceed 50% of prior year tax. Harshman recommended upping this to 90%, which also passed.

Harshman mentioned a 96-year-old Jackson woman whose property taxes increased from $4,000 to $13,000 in one year.

“The max (refund) she could get would be $2,000, but her property taxes went up to $13,000,” he said.

The required residing period also was increased from six to nine months.

If the legislation passes as currently written, rules for county tax refund programs would be amended to match the state’s. 

The legislation passed with an 11-2 vote.

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Food Freedom Victory: Fremont County Farmers Market Store Can Sell Raw Milk

in News/Agriculture/Business
Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
27869

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By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

The dairy gray market lives on in Riverton.  

Fremont Foods LLC fell under the Wyoming Department of Agriculture’s scrutiny this month for offering raw milk to shoppers. The shop, a perpetual farmers market in downtown Riverton, sells frozen meat, canned goods, produce and treats.  

Store owner Jessica Lee Fritz told Cowboy State Daily that the store has agreed to get a vendor’s license to continue to sell its frozen meats – including yak and lamb.  

“We are back in business with selling all our frozen meats,” said Fritz on Tuesday.

An employee of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture’s Consumer Health Services had just visited the store, said Fritz, and checked the meats to ensure that they’re “perfectly acceptable.” 

But raw milk is a different animal. 


Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Milk Money 

Under Wyoming law, home-grown products can be sold without a vendor’s license generally, but products that aren’t shelf-stable, such as raw milk, the producer must sell directly to the customer. No third party can conduct the transaction.  

Dairy farmers Tim and Bobbie Thornburg rent refrigerator space to offer their raw milk in the store, but Fritz can’t process money for the Thornburgs under the law. Doing so would make her an illegal “third party,” she said.  

As a workaround, the Thornburgs have left a “milk money” pail in the refrigerator next to their milk. Customers drop their cash into the pail and carry off a jar of milk and buoyed cream – all on an honor system.  

The Thornburgs also rely on their customers to return the jars.  

Discretion 

Tim Thornburg said it’s not feasible for him or for his wife Bobbie to remain at the store to sell milk throughout the day because Bobbie has a job, and he works on their farm in the tiny neighboring town of Pavillion.  

Neither the shop owner nor the Thornburgs were certain the method would pass state inspection.  

But it did.  

Derek Grant, public information officer for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, told Cowboy State Daily in a Tuesday email that the state is leaving sale methods to the Thornburgs’ discretion.  

“Venmo, scheduled pick-up dates and honor pail were all options that were discussed with the producer,” said Grant. “It is up to the producers’ discretion of how the transaction takes place.” 

Confusion 

Tim Thornburg and Fritz took away differing impressions from their discussions with various department representatives. Fritz said she believed the pail method had been approved.  

Thornburg said he had the impression that Venmo was approved, but the pail was not.  

Fritz said she was pleased with the department’s patience toward her fledgling operation, which opened in early October.  

“I think it’s going pretty well, and honestly the Department of Agriculture, Consumer Health has been very patient with all of the questions we’ve had and everything we’ve been doing,” said Fritz. 

‘Not Changing A Thing’ 

Still, Thornburg and Fritz both said they’re hoping that the Food Freedom Act, the law addressing home-grown food markets in Wyoming, would soon be made more permissive.  

State Sen. Tim Salazar and Rep. Pepper Ottman, both of Riverton, have voiced interest in changing the law, Thornburg said. Wyoming’s lawmaking session begins in January.  

Thornburg said regardless of what happens in January, he will continue offering his milk at the market’s refrigerator.  

“I’m not changing a thing,” he said.  

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Cody School Board Member, GOP Legislator Spar Over ‘Sexualization’ Of Students; Both Lawyer Up

in News/Education/politics
27849

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By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
Clair@CowboyStateDaily.comClair@CowboyStateDaily.com 

Hackles are up in Cody following an event billed as a rally cry against what some deem as the sexualization of children in schools.   

Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, announced Tuesday that following the Oct. 18 event, her “minor daughter,” at home and on Rodriguez-Williams’ behalf, received a letter written by Park County School District No. 6 board vice-chair Stefanie Bell.   

Bell’s letter, which Rodriguez-Williams provided to Cowboy State Daily, requests clarification and denouncement of what Bell calls “false and defamatory language” toward school board members.   

The Park County School Board has been embroiled in book challenges this year regarding books that detractors consider to be either pornographic or inappropriate for a school setting.   

“An accusation of child abuse is a serious matter; such statements cannot be excused as political hyperbole,” reads Bell’s letter. “I ask that you clarify your position or publicly denounce the false and defamatory language directed toward the elected members of the (board), including me.”   

Bell then invited Rodriguez-Williams to learn more about the district’s book-selection methods from board members.   

Attorneys Awake  

Rodriguez-Williams said her legal counsel has responded to the school board and is “expressing deep concern regarding the tone and content of the letter written by Trustee Bell.”  

“The false, libelous and defamatory statements made by (the board) is being taken very seriously,” Rodriguez-Williams’ announcement reads.   

Bell, in responding to the announcement, told Cowboy State Daily in a Tuesday email that she hoped that she and the legislator could have settled the matter privately, but she too has contacted her attorney now that the spat is public.   

“My letter to Rep. Rodriguez-Williams requested clarity on statements persons had attributed to her,” said Bell. “I chose to address my concern to her privately and I am disappointed that her response was to seek public attention. I have referred the matter to my legal counsel.”   

‘Pornographic Material’  

Rodriguez-Williams did not use the words “child abuse” in her Oct. 18 speech, nor did she reference the Park County School District No. 6 board directly.   

However, Tim Lasseter, a Republican activist who spoke at the event, did name the Cody school libraries within the district in his own speech.   

“The school board … it’s a big job. You expect them to be in charge and to take care of your kids. You’re trusting them to oversee what happens in the schools,” he said. “In the school library right here in Cody, there is pornographic material.”  

Lasseter said the sexual orientations depicted in the books made “no difference” to him, but he objected to “graphic (sexual) detail in a school library.”   

Speech In Full  

Cowboy State Daily attended the Oct. 18 rally and transcribed Rodriguez-Williams’ speech in full. It is printed below: 

“I’m going to close this out and talk a little about Comprehensive sexuality education. Also known as CSE. It’s highly controversial and it involves more than just teaching children and youth about sexual intercourse, human anatomy and reproduction.   

“The reality is CSE programs strive to change communities such as ours and others throughout the state of Wyoming by changing sexual and gender norms and they strive to empower youth to become advocates for sexual rights.  

“CSEs promote that we have to accept diverse sexual identities and orientations. What is alarming to me is the obsession they have on focusing on sexual pleasure at no matter what age, how to obtain sexual pleasure. This includes masturbation and the promotion of high-risk sexual behaviors. This is not the old-fashioned sex ed that once included abstinence.  

“These programs are rights-based. And they promote these rights to children with the aim of liberating them from their parents’ views and beliefs.  

“The National Education Association is the largest labor union in the United States. The Wyoming Education Association used to be one of the most powerful lobbyists in the state of Wyoming at the state Capitol. I use past tense because you have elected conservatives across the state of Wyoming that I know will silence their power, will dilute their power in the state Capitol.  

“I believe that the NEA: the National Education Association, and the Wyoming Education Association have gone too far.   

“The National Education Association LGBTQ+ caucus has created a website for student and teachers; you’re probably wondering what is this new website I’m talking about. It’s all about resources, resources for youth.   

“Resources to learn about important issues to them such as how to fist and how to stimulate the anus. Shall I go on? No, I’m not going to. But that’s what’s on there.   

“Educators and school staff want to deem themselves as safe persons and safe spaces and they do this by having the ability to wear a lanyard with a badge on it and there’s a QR code on that badge.  

“We all know what a QR code does; it takes you directly to a website. It links you to a website. In this case the QR code is used to lure students to that website that teaches them they should try experimenting sexually in a new and exciting way. Such as bondage and other extreme sex acts.  

“In the state of Wyoming we have statute 14-2-206, which is titled Protection of Parental Rights. It specifically states in subsection A, the liberty of a parent to the care, custody and control of their child is a fundamental right, that resides first in the parent.   

“Subsection B: The state or any agency or political subdivision of the state shall not infringe on the parental right as provided under this section without demonstrating that the interest of the government as applied to the parent or child is a compelling state interest addressed by the least restrictive means.   

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a parental rights statute. The time has come for taxpayers, you and I parents, grandparents such as you and I to engage. You need to use your voice so that we can free young minds from indoctrination that will eventually erode our parental rights.   

“The books that are being found in school libraries across our state that expose images of sexual activity do only one thing. They rob our children of their innocence.   

“Parents have the right to the moral upbringing of their children. Across the nation and in our state we’re seeing progressive ideology being forced on the future generation and it’s directly at odds with many parents’ religious or moral convictions.  

“Ladies and gentlemen, I am running again House District 50, to serve in the people’s seat, in the people’s House. And I will do my par