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Former Wyoming Governor Matt Mead joins Cheyenne law firm

in News/politics
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Former Wyoming Governor Matt Mead has joined a Cheyenne law firm as a partner, the firm announced Thursday.

Mead, a Republican who served two terms as Wyoming’s governor, has joined the law firm of Hathaway & Kunz.

The firm, in a news release, said Mead would continue his work to diversify Wyoming’s economy by bringing new business and opportunity to the state while providing advice to the firm’s clients on business, energy, natural resources and environmental issues.

“As the Wyoming legal landscape continues to advance on subjects such as energy, technology and business development, I look forward to working with the firm’s clients facing cutting-edge and complex legal issues,” Mead said in the news release. 

“The expansion and diversification of Wyoming’s economy and the success of businesses operating here is of great interest to me. I am excited to work on issues important to Wyoming’s future economic well-being,” he said.

Mead, the grandson of former Wyoming Gov. Cliff Hansen, served as Wyoming’s U.S. attorney from 2001 to 2007. In 2010, he won election to the first of his two terms as governor.

Rick Thompson, a senior partner in Hathaway & Kunz, said Mead’s expertise in the areas of energy, the environment and economic development would make him a valuable addition to the firm.

“In his lengthy tenure of government service to the citizens of Wyoming, Governor Mead gained enormous insight into all facets of natural resources, technology advancement, business development and other opportunities to improve the lives of Wyoming citizens,” Thompson said. “He will be a great fit for this firm and the services we provide.”

Wyo State Representative: America First Means Bringing Troops Home, Not Starting Another ‘Forever War’

in News/politics
2672
Wyoming State Representative Tyler Lindholm

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

With tensions high in the Middle East, now is the time to increase efforts to bring U.S. troops home, according to a state representative who has been a vocal supporter of ending military involvement in the region.

Following the U.S.-ordered killing of Iranian military commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani on Friday, Iran retaliated with two missile strikes Tuesday on military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq, but no casualties were reported.

“It’s kind of this tit-for-tat game going back and forth, and the only ones that suffer are the troops,” said Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance. “If we’re going to be serious about putting Americans first, we need to start bringing home the troops.”

Lindholm, a U.S. Navy veteran, took his anti-war message to Washington D.C. in November as a leading member the Wyoming branch of Bring Our Troops Home (www.wybringourtroopshome.com). 

The non-profit organization was founded with a goal to end “the Forever Wars and encourage Congress … to support President (Donald) Trump’s plan to withdraw our troops.”

But as the U.S. prepares to send 3,000 additional troops to Iraq amid heightened concerns of a war with Iran, Lindholm said continued military action in the Middle East would only serve to hurt future generations of Americans.

“I do believe these actions are a divergence from Trump’s previous message,” he said. “I liked that Trump was kind of known for not listening to some of his intelligence advisers, but that seems to have changed. Those are the same advisers that got us into this whole quagmire 20 years ago.”

After assassinating Soleimani via drone strike in Baghdad, Iraq, U.S. officials said the strike was meant to prevent an imminent attack on Americans. 

“The current narrative we’re being told is Soleimani operated in Iraq and led terrorist types of organizations,” Lindholm said. “They do seem to have lots of evidence pointing to lots of Americans killed because of Soleimani’s actions, but (in the early 2000s) they also had lots of evidence pointing toward lots of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”

While some top officials have labeled Soleimani a terrorist for his role in overseeing extremist militia groups’ recruitment and training, Lindholm said the U.S. has a different term for engaging in similar activities.

“When it’s used against us, it becomes terrorism,” he explained. “When we do it, we’re teaching ‘freedom fighters.’ I think it’s a fine line.”

Lindholm said the U.S. has been involved in the funding or training of many militant groups throughout the last several decades.   

“I think it speaks to the larger issue in the U.S.’s current foreign policy of heavy interventionism,” he said. “I’m not saying the U.S. shouldn’t protect our interests, but a lot of what is currently being seen and what we’ve experienced in the last 20 years could arguably be called blowback over our interventionism.”

Going forward, the U.S. should rely more on diplomacy and economic sanctions than military force, Lindholm said.  

“I gotta hope this is over,” he added. “There’s been shown no benefit to the American people from these types of actions in the past or as it currently stands.” 

Recent events deepened the rift between Republicans and Democrats, and in some cases, party members returned to more traditional stances on America at war.

“The anti-war left has suddenly shown up again,” he explained. “A lot of my Republican friends are screaming, ‘Bomb them.’ When has that ever worked, besides losing more American lives?”

Soleimani’s killing and Iran’s retaliation could lead to a bipartisan effort to reduce the executive powers of the Authorization for Use of Military Force set in place in 2001 and used to justify actions throughout the Middle East, including Syria.

“I think think the silver lining to all this is people, left and right, will start to want an end and hopefully work toward it,” Lindholm said.

Since Soleimani’s death, both Rep. Liz Cheney and Sen. John Barrasso issued statements in support of the president and the actions of his administration against Iran.


How the Wyoming Legislature builds the state budget: A primer

in Government spending/News/politics
Legislature
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By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

On Feb. 10, the 2020 Budget Session of the Wyoming Legislature officially begins, one that could be somber and frustrating — considering Gov. Mark Gordon has told lawmakers that after mandated expenses they only have around $23.5 million to play with.

As in prior budget sessions, the 12 members of the Joint Appropriations Committee, which crafts the state’s two-year spending bill, has met for a good chunk of December, poring over rows of numbers, grilling state agency heads and discussing the needs of the state. 

Most sections of the biennial state budget that lawmakers will pass will go into effect July 1 and end June 30, 2022. Read on to learn more about the JAC and the budgeting process. 

The agencies

The budgeting process starts with the heads of state agencies, which fall under the executive branch, submitting budget requests to the governor budget in the autumn before budget sessions, which the Wyoming Constitution states must occur during even-numbered years.

The governor

Each governor is required to release budget recommendations by Dec. 1 prior to a budget session, per the Constitution.

“What the governor does is he meets with all agencies and listens to their requests,” said John Hastert of Green River, a former Democratic lawmaker who served on JAC for about eight years.

The budget recommendations that the governor prepares for the Legislature show the agency requests and whether he accepts, modifies or rejects each one, Hastert said. 

Last month, Gov. Mark Gordon submitted budget recommendations with the expectation of around $3 billion in revenues from the General Fund — the state’s main bank account — and the Budget Reserve Account, which is akin to an overdraft account for the General Fund. 

Gordon largely recommended the Legislature keep spending low, considering the ongoing slump fossil fuel revenues, which most state leaders do not believe will be reversed any time soon, as the natural resources industry is undergoing fundamental changes. 

Gordon called for significant reduction in capital construction and limits on tapping the rainy day fund – to be used solely for legislatively-mandated educational needs and local governments. 

“We have only $23.5 million in structural (ongoing) funding available toconsider distributing during this biennium to any entity, including the entire executive branch, higher education, the Judicial Branch, and the Legislative Service Office,” Gordon said in his budget recommendations. “Additional spending cuts are on the horizon and appear imperative to keep Wyoming moving forward.”

Budget hearings

During the first week of December, the governor and agency chiefs meet with the JAC and explain budget recommendations and requests.

This year, Gordon met with the JAC on Dec. 9. The agency heads met with the JAC through Dec. 20. 

JAC interviews with agencies are expected to continue into the beginning of January, from Jan. 6-10 and again from Jan. 13-17.

Hastert said the information during the interviews with the agencies is valuable: “They get first-hand information,” he said. 

JAC markup

In the last two weeks in January, JAC markup begins. Lawmakers will start on the first pages of the governor’s budget recommendations and “mark up” the items with their own ideas of what the budget should look like. 

“They start with the governor’s recommendations and it’s either an ‘aye’ vote or ‘no’ vote or modify,” Hastert said. “Most of the time, it’s usually taking more of a cut. It’s just the nature of JAC to try to cut even further.”

The JAC’s version of the budget is the one that will be submitted for review by the Legislature.

Former Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal Portrait Unveiled

in News/politics
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Former Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal has joined fellow past governors in being honored with a portrait to be hung on the wall of the Capitol.

The official portrait of Wyoming’s 31st governor was unveiled in front of a crowd of about 200 people during ceremonies in the Capitol on Friday.

Freudenthal, who served two terms as governor, from 2003 through 2010, was alternately praised and roasted by other officials who attended the event, including former Gov. Matt Mead and U.S. Sen. John Barrasso.

Mead noted that Freudenthal, a Democrat, was hesitant to have his portrait painted by artist Michele Rushworth.

Mead recalled that at one point, Freudenthal said no portrait should be painted of him until after his death.

“I know you’ve said in the past ‘Wait ’til I’m dead,’” Mead said. “And when he said that to me, I said, without thinking, ‘What’s the difference?’”

Freudenthal’s wife, U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal, said she finally convinced her husband to sit for the painting.

“I told him that it would happen one way or another and that he wasn’t getting any better looking,” she said.

Freudenthal thanked members of the crowd, who also included former Gov. Mike Sullivan, for attending the unveiling and urged them to recognize the good that they do.

“We thank the Lord for having given us the opportunity and for having given us you for friends and for having given us this family,” he said. “We would ask that you appreciate what you do. It’s kind of you to come and appreciate what we do. But take stock of yourself. You do wonderful things. Be proud of it.”

President Donald Trump swept Wyoming in 2016: Will 2020 be a redux?

in News/politics
2020 election in Wyoming
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By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

In 2016, President Donald Trump cruised to victory in Wyoming, winning around 70 percent of the popular vote and every county except Teton – one of the highest victory margins in the country. Will 2020 be any different? 

His net approval rating in Wyoming remains strong – having only decreased by 5 percentage points since taking office. In November, his approval rating was 66 percent, according to Morning Consult, the technology and media company that has the only regular publicly released presidential approval ratings that include the Cowboy State. 

“The good news is the president is going to win Wyoming,” said Teton County GOP Chairman Alex Muromcew. Even if he could lose Teton County again. 

“I think it’s a likely possibility, in addition to Teton, we could see Albany County going for whoever is the Democratic nominee for president,” said Joe Barbuto, chairman of the Wyoming Democratic Party. “I think it’s safe to say we’ll not see him winning by as nearly large of margins in other counties.”

Trump infrastructure in Wyoming

In comparison to other states, Trump’s campaign is modest in Wyoming at this point. 

The Wyoming Trump Victory Team has four honorary chairs: Gov. Mark Gordon, U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, said Samantha Zager, a spokeswoman for Trump Victory, the fundraising committee for his reelection effort. 

The campaign at this point is not as involved in Wyoming as, say, battleground states such as Ohio, where the state director for the Trump campaign was announced a month after the 2018 election.

Pennsylvania’s state director was announced in May. Wisconsin’s was in July. Additional staff in each state have been hired. 

In New Hampshire, staff has already been hired and fired. 

In Wyoming it appears there are no paid Trump reelection staff yet. 

Wyoming GOP

In 2016, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz won support from most of Wyoming’s 29 GOP delegates at both the county conventions and the state party convention – Wyoming Republicans use both conventions to apportion delegates before the national convention. 

Wyoming GOP Chair Frank Eathorne declined an interview to discuss the 2020 election, referring questions to Trump Victory.

When asked how the president’s popularity could be leveraged in down-ticket races, Eathorne said a grassroots plan was underway, but he said in a text message he couldn’t discuss it. 

Barbuto predicted in many communities, Democrats will have to campaign harder because they won’t ride the coattails of Trump’s high popularity, as their Republican opponents can. But in other communities, there may be opportunities to talk about the president’s 2016 campaign promises and whether they came to fruition.

“This is an incredibly difficult economic time for Wyoming,” he said. “Everyone knows that. We see our traditional revenue sources declining. Before Donald Trump came into office, he made promises about what he would do for coal in states like Wyoming. Up until 2018, his party controlled the House and Senate. And they weren’t able to get it done. That’s because there’s economic factors that are at play here, beyond the control of the president.”

Teton County, and the Democrats

Muromcew, the Teton County GOP chair, has no doubt of Trump’s support among registered Republicans in the county. But to win a majorty of votes, a candidate has to appeal to independents in addition to Republicans. 

“What makes (Teton County) unusual, politically, is that in terms of registered voters, we are about a third Republican, a third Democratic and a third independent,” he said. “…The challenge for (Trump) is to get that independent vote. And I think that is true for all Republican candidates running for office in Teton County — whether it’s local, state or national.”

It’ll be up to each candidate about whether they want to run on a pro-Trump platform in Teton County. Last year, Muromcew ran, unsuccessfully, for the Wyoming House as a write-in candidate. 

“My sense is, when I ran for office last year, I tried to make my platform more about local issues, rather than it be a referendum on national issues,” he said. 

Barbuto had a similar sentiment. 

“Democratic candidates are going to be talking about the issues facing their community — topics like access to quality health care, diversifying our state economy, finding new revenues and most importantly, jobs to their communities,” he said. 

2016 Presidential Election Totals

CountyTrumpClinton
Albany County 7,6026,890
Big Horn County 4,067604
Campbell County 15,7781,324
Carbon County 4,4091,279
Converse County 5,520668
Crook County 3,348273
Fremont County 11,1674,200
Goshen County 4,418924
Hot Springs County 1,939400
Johnson County 3,477638
Laramie County 24,84711,573
Lincoln County 6,7791,105
Natrona County 23,5526,577
Niobrara County 1,116115
Park County 11,1152,535
Platte County 3,437719
Sheridan County 10,2662,927
Sublette County 3,409644
Sweetwater County 12,1543,231
Teton County 3,9217,314
Uinta County 6,1541,202
Washakie County 2,911532
Weston County 3,033299
Statewide174,41955,973

Wyoming socialist Democrat says Trump supporters unsure of what is happening Washington

in News/politics
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A self-described socialist Democrat seeking one of Wyoming’s U.S. Senate seats said she believes Wyoming residents who supported the campaign of President Donald Trump are now not sure what to think of what is happening in Washington.

Yana Ludwig, a Laramie resident running for the seat to be vacated with the retirement of U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, compared her positions on many issues to those espoused by Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, particularly in the areas of providing Medicare coverage for all American citizens and stopping climate change.

Ludwig told the Cowboy State Daily that her positions do not necessarily put her at odds with Wyoming’s generally politically conservative residents.

“I think there’s a lot of people who don’t quite know what to do with what’s happening in Washington right now,” she said. “My feeling is we have a lot of working class people in this state who thought they were going to get a really good deal out of Donald Trump and are not getting a good deal out of it. I think they’re just not sure what to do.”

Among Ludwig’s campaign issues is what she said was inequity in the salaries paid the heads of American companies and their employees. One survey she cited showed that CEO compensation in the 1950s was 20 times that of the average employee, a number that increased to 360 by 2018.

“In what universe is that fair?” She said. “I am strongly in favor of moving our economy toward worker ownership. Worker-owned cooperatives are more successful in general and they’re much more democratized.”

Ludwig is also opposed to the construction of a wall along America’s southern border to stop the influx of immigrants.

“I’m very curious why we’re all about building a wall on the southern border where brown people are coming in and not on our northern border where white people are coming in,” she said. “So I think racism has a lot to do with why the border wall has gotten the traction it has gotten.”

In the area of gun control, Ludwig said she is reluctant to pursue any action without first addressing the root causes of violence in society.

Ludwig, who said she will not take any campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, also said she believes Wyoming’s public lands should be protected from mineral development.

New approval poll shows high approval of Gordon, Barrasso and Enzi

in News/politics
Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon
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By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon has the fifth-highest approval rating of U.S. governors, according to new polling by Morning Consult, a Washington, D.C.-based media and technology company. 

Furthermore, U.S. Sens. John Barrasso, Wyoming’s junior senator, has the fifth-highest approval rating and Sen. Mike Enzi, the senior senator, enjoys the 7th highest, according to Morning Consult’s approval ratings of all 100 U.S. senators

The Morning Consult poll surveyed nearly 500,000 registered U.S. voters. A total of 649 Wyomingites were surveyed: 323 Republicans, 236 independents and 90 Democrats. 

The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percent.

Among approval of Gordon, a Republican: 

  • 59 percent approved of his job performance; 9 percent disapproved.
  • In the first quarter of 2019, when he had just begun as Wyoming’s governor, 53 percent approved and 10 percent disapproved. 
  • 33 percent of Wyoming registered voters were undecided in the second quarter, the highest among the 50 governors.

Gordon is still a new governor, noted Jim King, a University of Wyoming political science professor.

“The Legislature’s budget session next year will be more telling,” King said. “Mr. Gordon will lay out his priorities in his budget proposal and will reveal more about his vision for the state. For now, a Republican governor in a Republican state who has had no notable missteps yields a strong poll rating.”

Among approval for the senators, who are also Republicans: 

  • 57 percent approved of Barrasso’s job performance; 26 percent disapproved in the second quarter of 2019.
  • In the first quarter, Barrasso’s approval rating was 56 percent; 26 percent disapproved. In the second quarter of 2018, his approval rating was 52 percent and his disapproval rating was 33 percent. 
  • 54 percent approved of Enzi’s job performance in the second quarter of this year; 25 percent disapproved.
  • In the first quarter, Enzi’s approval rating was 52 percent; 23 percent disapproved. In the first second quarter of 2018, 52 percent approved and 31 percent disapproved. 

“On the senators, there is no real difference in the ratings of Mr. Barrasso and Mr. Enzi once the poll’s margin of error is taken into consideration,” King said. “These numbers on Mr. Barrasso and Mr. Enzi are quite similar to those in other polls (by) this firm and by others.”

Wyoming’s low population may also play into the likability ratings, said Kristin Walker, a GOP strategist.

Chances are high that Cowboy State voters have personally interacted with elected officials. That doesn’t happen everywhere, said Walker, who is working on the U.S. Senate campaign of Cynthia Lummis, who is seeking Enzi’s seat when he retires.

(Lummis’ daughter, Annaliese Wiederspahn, is the publisher of Cowboy State Daily.)

“This means Wyoming’s politicians are forced to keep a close ear to the ground, and when they aren’t meeting voters’ expectations — they are going to hear about it quick,” Walker said. 

Indeed, the Wyoming Democratic Party criticized Barrasso on Twitter last week for not coming criticizing a President Donald Trump rally in which people chanted, “send her back,” in reference to U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat. 

Levi Shinkle, chairman of the Young Democrats of Wyoming, noted that Barrasso, the third-ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate, toes the party line. 

“We’re in an overwhelmingly pro-Trump state,” he said. 

Former U.S. Rep. Lummis to seek Senate

in News/politics
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Cynthia Lummis, who served as Wyoming’s lone U.S. representative and state treasurer, will run for the U.S. Senate in 2020, she announced Thursday.

Lummis, who stepped down from Congress in 2017,  said during a news conference she is running for the office now held by U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi to pursue a conservative agenda that will help Wyoming.

“As I’ve been  back here in Wyoming, I’ve been working with Wyoming people and families and businesses and we’ve watched the erosion of some of our traditional independent individual rights,” said the Republican. “It is just appalling what is happening.”

In a separate news release. Lummis said she was worried about liberal lawmakers in Congress and wants to return to Washington, D.C., to oppose their efforts.

“I can’t in good conscience watch from the sidelines as our way of life is threatened by liberal ideologues in D.C.,” she said. “A new crop of socialist lawmakers are waging war on our freedoms.”

Enzi is retiring from the Senate after serving for four terms.Lummis, a Cheyenne native who served as Wyoming’s U.S. representative from 2009 through 2017, said if elected, she plans to stand behind the policies of the administration of President Donald Trump.“We want to build the wall here in Wyoming and fix the broken immigration system,” she said during her news conference. “We want to uphold the Constitution and defend religious liberties and the Second Amendment.”

Policies adopted by past administrations, specifically those of former President Barack Obama, have hurt Wyoming’s industries and economy, Lummis said. “Washington simply can’t seem to keep its nose out of Wyoming’s business,” she said. “The heartbreaking layoffs in Campbell Country are an example of this. People back here in Wyoming are continuing to be devastated by Obama-era policies aimed at regulating our natural resources out of existence.”

Meanwhile, proposals such as the “Green New Deal,” a package of measures proposed by the U.S. House members aimed at curtailing fossil fuel use, would hurt the energy industry in the future, she said.

“This Green New Deal would destroy Wyoming’s energy economy,” she said. “We are the largest exporting state of energy in the nation. And stopping the socialist agenda and the Green New Deal is heavy on my mind.”

In an interview with Cowboy State Daily’s Robert Geha, Lummis also said she supports Trump’s approach to governing. Lummis said she believes the president’s popularity in Wyoming is due to the fact he is outspoken in his opposition to efforts to weaken constitutional rights.

“I thought the typical American and the typical Wyoming person’s reaction to that was that we cannot elect as the next president (someone who) will go along to get along, that is going to be business as usual, that is going to be establishment, we need somebody who is totally different,” she said. “And that’s what we got with President Trump.”

Before serving as a congresswoman, Lummis was elected to two terms as Wyoming’s treasurer, a post she held from 1999 through 2007. Lummis entered politics in Wyoming as a member of the state’s House of Representatives, first from 1979 until 1983 and again from 1985 until 1992. She entered the state Senate in 1993, where she served until 1995.

One Democrat, Laramie’s Yana Ludwig, has announced she intends to seek the open Senate seat. Republican Joshua Wheeler of Casper has launched a website expressing his intention to campaign for the office.

Cynthia Lummis’ daughter, Annaliese Wiederspahn, is the publisher of Cowboy State Daily. She played no role in the production of this story.

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