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U.S. House Candidate Chuck Gray Suspends Congressional Campaign

in News/Liz Cheney

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Another candidate has dropped out of the Republican primary for Wyoming’s lone U.S. House seat following former President Trump’s endorsement of Wyoming attorney Harriet Hageman.

State Rep. Chuck Gray (R-Casper) on Tuesday morning announced he will suspend his campaign but didn’t mention an endorsement of Hageman.

“Our first and most important goal is to unite to defeat Liz Cheney,” Gray said in a statement.  “With that in mind, I will be suspending my campaign today.”

Gray becomes the second major candidate to leave the race. Cheyenne attorney Darin Smith suspended his campaign last week following Trump’s announcement.

“Liz Cheney has betrayed our values.  And to counter Liz’s betrayal, our campaign has been focused on advancing Wyoming values,” he said.

Gray said he will focus his efforts on state legislative duties, including his call for a special session to fight against President Joe Biden’s “unconstitutional, illegal, and immoral vaccine mandate.”

Gray was one of several candidates who said he would drop out of the race if he did not receive the endorsement from former President Trump.

So far Smith and Gray have lived-up to that promise. State Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne) said he never agreed to it. While Gillette veteran Denton Knapp said there’s a lot of time left and he would support Hageman if she’s leading in 11 months.

Hageman said she was “humbled” by Gray’s decision to drop-out of the race.

“Chuck Gray is an honorable man who has been standing for Wyoming’s Conservative values for years. We can’t take back our Congressional seat unless we are united, and I am humbled by his decision to keep fighting to protect Wyoming through his work in the Legislature,” she said.

Carbon County GOP Chair Joey Correnti, who has organized a candidate forum on Friday night in Rawlins, was complimentary of Gray’s decision.

“I’ve always remained fairly neutral when it comes to individual candidate’s campaign efforts and decisions in this race, tho it is refreshing to see some of these candidates actually honoring their word,” Correnti said.

Since her announcement, Hageman has appeared on many national TV shows while Bouchard has created somewhat of a controversy over a Facebook post in which he suggested executing Dr. Anthony Fauci.

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Virginians Biggest Contributors To Cheney Campaign, More Than $220K

in News/Liz Cheney/politics

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Residents of Virginia have donated more than four times as much to the campaign of U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney as residents of Wyoming, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Reports filed with the FEC show that so far this year, Virginia residents have donated $225,646 to Cheney, making the state the top contributor in the nation for the Republican. Wyoming, with a donation total of $53,750, comes in at seventh place — behind Virginia, Washington, D.C., California, New York, Maryland and Florida.

However, the Wyoming donations to the campaigns of Cheney’s top opponents were lower, the reports showed.

State Rep. Charles Gray, R-Casper, has raised about $33,750 from individual contributors in Wyoming so far this year, while Wyoming donors for state Sen. Anthony Bouchard have contributed $28,625, according to their reports.

The candidates for U.S. House were to submit reports by Thursday detailing donations to their campaigns and what they have spent through the second quarter of the year, which ended June 30.

Of the nine individuals who have announced they plan to challenge Cheney, the second-quarter reports of only three have been posted on the FEC’s website — Bouchard, Everett Denton Knapp of Gillette and Marissa Joy Selvig of Riverton.

The report of state Rep. Charles Gray, R-Casper, had not been processed for posting on the FEC website as of Friday, however, a representative provided the campaign’s raw report to Cowboy State Daily.

Other challengers to Cheney, including Cheyenne businessman Darin Smith, Sheridan resident Bryan Miller and Sheridan businesswoman Robyn Belinskey, are not yet listed on the FEC website as candidates for Wyoming’s lone U.S. House seat, although all announced their candidacies this spring.

The report showed that Cheney continued to handily outdistance her opponents for fundraising in the second quarter of the year, raising $1.7 million during the three months to bring her fundraising total so far this year to $3 million.

Of the money contributed to Cheney in the second quarter of the year, almost $1.5 million came from individuals and $262,500 came from political action committees.

According to Bouchard’s reports, his campaign raised $209,635 in the second quarter of the year, bringing his fundraising totals to $543,800 for the year.

All of Bouchard’s second-quarter donations came from individuals.

Gray’s second-quarter donations totaled $55,860, most of which, almost $54,615, came from individuals. The donations between April and the end of June raised Gray’s total contributions for the year to $96,014.

Another $165,194 was raised through a loan made or guaranteed by Gray during the second quarter, according to the records, raising his campaign’s total loan amount for the year to about $298,300.

The report for Knapp, who entered the race in May, showed he has raised $8,675, all if it from individuals.

Selvig’s report showed she raised $122.50 during the second quarter, all in the form of individual donations, bringing her fundraising total to $2,090 for the year.

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Wyo Legislator Drafting Bill to Ban COVID Vaccine Passports

in News/Coronavirus

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Casper representative is currently working on legislation that would ban “vaccine passports” in Wyoming, reinforcing an executive order issued by Gov. Mark Gordon last month.

Rep. Chuck Gray said on Monday afternoon that he was drafting a bill to ban vaccine passports on a state level, adding that this type of legislation also needs to be implemented at the federal level.

“The Governor’s Executive Order needs to be strengthened and a ban on vaccine passports needs to be placed in state and federal statute,” Gray wrote on social media, linking to a story from political website The Hill about Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signing a bill banning the passports.

Vaccine passports are documents required by businesses or government agencies as proof of a person being vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Last month, Gordon signed an executive order banning the passports, saying they would just continue to divide people about the virus.

“Vaccine passport programs have the potential to politicize a decision that should not be politicized,” Gordon said at the time. “They would divide our citizens at a time when unity in fighting the virus is essential, and harm those who are medically unable to receive the vaccine. While I strongly encourage Wyomingites over the age of 16 to get vaccinated against COVID-19, it is a personal choice based upon personal circumstances.”

The directive also encouraged Wyoming’s counties, cities and towns, as well as private business, to follow the state’s example in providing access to public spaces and services to all.

This followed the actions of other Republican governors across the country, such as South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who issued similar orders over the last two months.

Nebraska Governor Pete Rickets of Nebraska said the idea of any type of medical passport “violates two central tenets of the American system: freedom of movement and health care privacy.”

Gray did not respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment.

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Cheney Opponents Praise House Republicans For Ouster

in News/Liz Cheney/politics

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Republican challengers to U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney in her congressional re-election campaign are praising House Republicans for removing her from her position as House Republican Conference chair on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, both of Cheney’s Wyoming colleagues declined to comment specifically on the ouster, but vowed to continue working with Cheney on issues important to Wyoming.

“House leadership decisions are up to the House caucus, but I look forward to continuing my work with Rep. Cheney and Senator Barrasso to do what is best for our state,” said U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis.

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso echoed a similar sentiment to Lummis.

“Wyoming has a three-member delegation,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “All three of us will keep standing up for Wyoming and fighting the attacks from the Biden administration. Today’s vote in the House doesn’t change that. I look forward to continuing to work closely with Liz Cheney and Cynthia Lummis on behalf of the people of Wyoming.”

Both Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, and Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, celebrated the news in the hours following Cheney’s removal from her position as the No. 3 ranking Republican in the House of Representatives. She is expected to be replaced U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, although no timeline has been officially set.

“Republican members of Congress finally did what so many Wyomingites have longed to do — get rid of Liz Cheney,” Gray said in a statement Wednesday. “While Wyoming voters must wait until 2022 to also vote her out, this is a welcome first step and shows Republicans are serious about making sure our party doesn’t sell out to socialist Democrats the way Liz Cheney already has.”

Gray added that Cheney is siding with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez while continuing to “falsely” attack former President Donald Trump, a development he said was “disgusting.” He again criticized Cheney for voting to impeach Trump earlier this year and for recently fist-bumping President Joe Biden when he gave a joint speech to Congress.

“Wyoming voters gave her a chance to prove that she could effectively represent them and she has failed us miserably,” Gray said. “Today’s vote exposes Cheney for who she really is and is a good reminder that she can’t keep fooling Wyomingites like she did when she moved here to buy herself a seat in Congress.”

Like his colleague and opponent, Bouchard also celebrated Cheney’s removal, saying she was ousted because Republicans were the party of “America First” and Cheney refused and failed to represent this idea.

“Building the wall, reopening America and bringing American jobs back, opposing endless war, and stopping our enemies like China,” Bouchard wrote on his social media Wednesday. “That is AMERICA FIRST and Liz Cheney despises it. We must FIRE LIZ CHENEY! Vote Anthony Bouchard for Congress!”

Denton Knapp, a U.S. Army veteran who has become the sixth challenger to Cheney, said Wednesday’s decision shows that Republicans nationally are as unhappy with Cheney as he believes Wyoming residents are.

“That’s been coming for a long time,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “Not only does Wyoming disagree with her, but also the Republicans nationally.”

However, the move was criticized by Wyoming Democratic Party Joe Barbuto, who said Cheney’s ouster showed the Republican Party was more focused on defending a failed president and his lies than doing the work of the American people.

“In Wyoming and across the nation, the GOP is willfully choosing to build their party on a foundation of misinformation and falsehoods,” Barbuto said. “It’s a decision they will come to regret and voters will remember for many election cycles to come.”

Congressional candidate Darin Smith did not respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment.

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National Pollster Dick Morris Thinks Chuck Gray Can Beat Liz Cheney

in News/politics

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A conservative political analyst told Newsmax recently that he believes Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, can beat U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney in next year’s House primary election.

Dick Morris, author, analyst and former adviser to President Bill Clinton, told Newsmax over the weekend that Cheney was a “gone goose,” adding there is no “split” in the Republican party, but instead a divide of 99% versus 1%.

“She’s a dead duck in Wyoming, where there’s very good candidates including a guy named Chuck Gray who I think is going to beat her in the primary,” Morris said.

Six candidates have announced they will run against Cheney in the August 2022 primary race for Wyoming’s lone congressional seat, with more candidates expected to announce their intentions to run later. The latest candidate to announce was Denton Knapp, a retired U.S. Army colonel who has been living in California since 2017.

Gray, R-Casper, announced his run against Cheney following her vote to impeach former President Donald Trump after the riot at and invasion of the U.S. Capitol earlier this year.

Gray and his legislative colleague Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, have both been critical of Cheney’s refusal to stand by Trump.

“Dick Morris hit the nail on the head by calling out Liz Cheney for her betrayal of Republican voters and her refusal to represent the people of Wyoming, who she tricked into voting for her in the first place,” Gray said. “As the polling shows, I am the most likely to beat Cheney in 2022 because I am the only conservative in this race who has the proven record to show that I will fight to defeat the very same radical socialists in Washington, D.C. that Liz has voted with.”

Gray added that his record shows he is the kind of proven conservative fighter who will put Wyoming first that Wyoming Republicans are ready to rally around.

Cheney dominated in the first quarter of 2021 when it came to fundraising, bringing in more than $1.5 million in donations. Bouchard and Gray came in second and third, respectively.

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Cheney Fists Bumps Biden; Bouchard, Gray Respond With Impeachment Calls

in News/Liz Cheney/politics

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A fist bump exchanged between U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney and President Joe Biden before Biden’s joint address to Congress on Wednesday night has drawn the ire of Cheney’s congressional opponents.

While attending Biden’s speech on Wednesday night, Cheney could be seen fist-bumping with the president, who was not shaking hands due to the coronavirus pandemic. Biden fist-bumped multiple other politicians as he entered the House of Representatives’ chambers.

However, this friendly gesture was seen as a slight against the Republican Party, as Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, and Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, noted on their respective social media accounts.

“The lady in blue, @RepLizCheney is probably the only republican allowed in the room,” Bouchard wrote on Twitter. “She is a disgrace and fails to represent the people of Wyoming. #embarrassing#resign#impeachlizcheney. Let’s get her out! Help me fight!”

Bouchard wrote two posts about the fist-bump, encouraging impeachment of the representative.

“Never Trump RINO Liz Cheney spends her time attacking Donald Trump but fist bumps her pal Quid Pro Joe Biden,” he wrote Wednesday night. “Liz Cheney cares more about being liked by the Fake News Media, Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi than she does about standing up for America. FIRE LIZ CHENEY!”

Gray’s message was more subdued, but offered a sentiment similar to that of the Cheyenne senator.

“Liz, fist bump your way right out of Wyoming. We need to fire Liz right now,” he wrote.

Both men linked their messages to their respective campaigns, telling prospective voters to donate to them. They each launched their campaigns in the wake of Cheney’s vote to impeach former President Donald Trump, who she blamed for helping to incite the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

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Cheney Says Maxine Waters’ Rhetoric is “Dangerous and Reckless”

in News/politics

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney is criticizing U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California, for comments she made in Minnesota over the weekend that some saw as encouraging violence among those protesting the death of Daunte Wright.

Waters spoke with people at Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, on Saturday who were protesting the police-involved shooting of Wright, a Black man, by an officer who was reported to have grabbed her gun rather than her Taser.

During her comments, Waters said she supported a conviction for former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin, who is on trial for killing George Floyd, a Black man, last year by kneeling on his neck for more than eight minutes.

“We’ve got to stay in the streets, and we’ve got to demand justice,” Waters said in a video posted on Twitter from the event. “I am hopeful that we will get a verdict that says, ‘guilty, guilty, guilty,’ and if we don’t, we cannot go away. We’ve got to get more confrontational.”

Many people felt Waters was inciting violence with those kinds of comments.

Cheney said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, should get involved in the situation, saying Waters was being dangerous.

“This is dangerous and reckless. No elected official should ever incite violence. Speaker Pelosi must act,” Cheney said.

Cheney voted to impeach former President Donald Trump for comments he made that allegedly incited the riot at the U.S. Capitol earlier this year.

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, planned to introduce legislation to remove Waters from office, something two Wyoming legislators praised on social media.

Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, agreed with Greene’s move to introduce legislation, but also said Cheney had been silent about Waters’ comments, which she hadn’t.

“Liz Cheney is SILENT about Maxine Waters call for riots & violence! She is in full force against Trump and America First Patriots. It’s way past time for her to be REMOVED from leadership!” Bouchard wrote on Twitter Sunday, around one hour after Cheney posted her comments on Twitter.

Bouchard’s congressional opponent Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, agreed that Waters needed to leave office.

“This is awesome,” Gray wrote on Twitter, retweeting an article about Greene’s legislation.

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Wyoming Congressional Candidates Unveil First Quarter Campaign Funds

in News/politics

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The top three candidates for Wyoming’s lone seat in Congress have raised from $173,000 to $1.5 million in donations in the first quarter of 2021, according to federal documents.

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney and her challengers state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, and state Rep. Charles Gray, R-Casper, have all filed their campaign finance reports with the Federal Election Commission for the first quarter of 2021.

Earlier this week, Cowboy State Daily reported that U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney has raised $1.5 million during the first quarter.

According to the FEC documents, Cheney received more than $1.3 million from contributions, $1 million of which came in the form of individual contributions. The additional $301,000 came from contributions from other political committees.

Cheney also transferred $222,910 from other committees authorized to raise money on her behalf to her campaign fund. She had $261,340 in expenditures and was left with $1.4 million cash on hand.

Of the individual contributions for Cheney, $167,065 were unitemized, meaning they were under $200, the limit the FEC requires for a donor to be identified.

Bouchard raised the second-highest amount during the first quarter, with $334,541, almost all of which were from individual contributions. Bouchard had $170,300 expenditures, leaving him with $164,035 cash on hand.

Bouchard said his funds came from more than 8,000 supporters across the country and said he expected to cross the $400,000 threshold over the weekend.

“By investing early in fundraising, my team has developed a large donor base while maintaining a strong cash position going into the second quarter,” Bouchard said. “No other challenger has the massive grass-roots base we put together by announcing early and moving quickly, and no other candidate against Cheney has the strong six-figure cash-on-hand number we currently have.”

Bouchard’s unitemized contributions made up $230,295 of his total receipts.

Gray raised $173,278 during the first quarter, $40,154 of which came from individual contributions. Gray also took out a loan for $133,124 and had $9,031 in expenditures, leaving him with $164,247 cash on hand.

“Because of your support and dedication to our common cause, we surpassed our target for the end of the 1st fundraising quarter this year and have $164,248 in the bank!” Gray wrote on Twitter Thursday, noting that his campaign had the most cash on hand of any of Cheney’s challengers.

Gray and Bouchard both announced their respective campaigns for Congress earlier this year, following Cheney’s vote to impeach former President Donald Trump for his alleged role in inciting the riot at the U.S. Capitol in January.

Finally, congressional candidate Marissa Joy Selvig raised $1,968 during the first quarter, most of which came from her own contributions. She raised $785 from individuals, had $890 in expenditures, leaving her with $1,077 cash on hand.

Cheyenne resident Bryan Keller also has registered to run for Congress, but no report for his campaign was on file with the FEC as of Friday.

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Gray, Bouchard Begin to Ramp Up Congressional Campaigns

in News/politics

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Two Wyoming legislators are ramping up their respective congressional campaigns against U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney.

Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, held one of his first in-person campaign fundraisers over the weekend in Riverton, while Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, has received one of his first endorsements.

Bouchard’s supporters hosted a $25-per-plate fundraiser on Saturday night at the fairgrounds in Riverton.

“Thank you to Fred & Colleen Nelson for sponsoring the event tonight in Riverton. Great turnout and lots of new supporters!” the senator wrote on Twitter this weekend.

Gray touted his endorsement from Rep. Clarence Styvar, R-Cheyenne, on social media Monday morning.

“I’ve worked side-by-side with Chuck Gray in the legislature and that’s why I know he’s the best choice to fight for the people of Wyoming in Congress,” Styvar said in his endorsement.

Gray noted Styvar is one of the most conservative legislators in Wyoming.

While Gray and Bouchard are opponents in the congressional race, they are united in one goal: ousting Cheney from Congress.

Both announced their campaigns for Wyoming’s lone U.S. House seat following Cheney’s vote to impeach former President Donald Trump for allegedly inciting the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Cheney said she voted with her conscience, but Gray and Bouchard both said they felt Cheney wasn’t representing Wyoming properly.

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Natrona County Legislator Says No More State Health Mandates

in News/Coronavirus/politics

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Natrona County legislator who opposes the new statewide mask mandate is working to prevent similar orders from being issued in the future.

Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, said he opposes all health mandates because he feels the decision to wearing masks should be left to each person, not required by an order from a government official.

“I’m working on a bill that will stop the state health officer and Governor from being able to issue these unconstitutional, out of control, and arbitrary orders. The legislature needs to go into session,” Gray wrote on his public Facebook account.

It is not clear when the 2021 Wyoming legislative session will be held or how lawmakers will meet, with the coronavirus pandemic continuing across the country.

More than 300 Wyomingites have died from the virus.

Gray was one of the more than 30 Wyoming legislators who signed a letter last week asking Gov. Mark Gordon to have Wyoming join a lawsuit contesting the validity of some votes cast in the presidential election between former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump.

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Bob Geha: Bill To Increase Per Diem for Wyo Legislators Clears First Hurdle

in Government spending/News/politics

By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

A proposal to increase the amount paid to legislators to cover their expenses while working for the state is moving forward in the state House.

House Bill 227 would increase the daily “per diem” of legislators from $109 to $151. The per diem covers expenses such as lodging and food and is paid in addition to the legislative salary of $150 per day.

Supporters of the bill argued that the increase is needed to interest more people in serving in the Legislature.

“If it’s working class Wyomingites who we want to see serving in the Legislature, who we want to see going to these commissions and boards and everything else, then we just pay a wage that they can afford to do it,” said Rep. Sara Burlingame, D-Cheyenne.

But opponents such as Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, argued the per diem increase is just a salary boost for lawmakers.

“It’s labeled a per diem increase,” he said. “At least let’s call this what it really is. It’s an attempt to raise salary and in this environment of deficits … time is being wasted on this and it’s … inconsistent with our values.”

The measure was introduced in the House on Friday by a vote of 41-16 and is awaiting review in the House Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee.

Legislator to proceed with effort to ban ‘sanctuary cities.’

in News/immigration
Sanctuary cities

By James Chilton, Cowboy State Daily

CHEYENNE – A Casper legislator said he intends to continue his efforts to ban sanctuary cities in the state as momentum behind the issue continues to build amid the crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Although no cities in Wyoming identify themselves as sanctuary cities, Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, said the prohibition he seeks needs to be spelled out as a part of state law.

“I think laws should be followed. I don’t want sanctuary cities here in Wyoming,” Gray said. “The people of Wyoming want us to get ahead of this and ban sanctuary cities; that’s what’s going to help us be successful.”

This month, Florida became the most recent state to pass legislation seeking to ban sanctuary cities – those cities where law enforcement agencies and local governments limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

It’s the latest development in a growing movement among states seeking to go on the record as opposing policies adopted by some cities and counties to shield undocumented immigrants from deportation or family separation by Immigrations and Custom Enforcement. 

The modern notion of sanctuary cities dates back to 1989, when San Francisco passed a “City and County of Refuge” ordinance blocking city employees from using city resources to assist federal enforcement of immigration law except for some legally-mandated situations. With Florida’s action, 12 states have now passed laws seeking to prohibit or discourage local adoption of sanctuary city policies, and the National Conference of State Legislatures counts at least 21 other state legislatures considering similar legislation in the near- to mid-future.

Wyoming has been on that latter list for several years now, with the most recent effort to curb sanctuary cities being spearheaded by Gray. 

“My bill would ban sanctuary cities in state statute and prevent any state funds from going to sanctuary cities,” he said. “I wrote it myself; it’s not based on any model legislation. But I think it’s comparable (to bans passed by other states).”

Gray’s first attempt at introducing a bill to block sanctuary cities during the 2018 budget session failed to get the two-thirds vote needed for introduction. This year, his bill’s latest incarnation, House Bill 151, didn’t face that hurdle and made it out of the House Corporations Committee on a 5-4 vote, only to be defeated in the House by a vote of 22 to 36.

Gray said he was “disturbed” by that vote, stressing that while Wyoming doesn’t presently have any sanctuary city policies in place — Jackson was erroneously listed as one back in 2010 — there’s no good reason to leave that option on the table.

Byron Oedekoven, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, said his association’s members largely consider the issue a moot point given the lack of any meaningful push for sanctuary city policies in Wyoming. His bigger concern, he said, would be if the Legislature were to try to prohibit local law enforcement from cooperating with the feds.

“If they said ‘let’s do the opposite’ and they create a sanctuary law saying we couldn’t cooperate with the fed, we would be diametrically opposed to that,” Oedekoven said. “By virtue of our position and oath of office, we want to uphold the law; and the law is, if you have a warrant for the guy and he’s supposed to be arrested, we would want to see him arrested.”

Dave Fraser, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Municipalities, said his group took a “monitor” position on Gray’s bill in the previous session – effectively a neutral stance – also citing the lack of any real sanctuary city push among WAM’s membership. That said, Fraser expects the bill, or rather its potential successor, may get some attention at WAM’s annual membership convention next month in Sheridan.

“I’m aware of this as a national issue and I understand that some of our state representatives may want to take positions on that; but for our part, I’m not sure we would object to such legislation if none of our cities intended to go that route,” Fraser said. “If our cities were contemplating it, that would influence how active we would be on taking a position on that.”

Wyoming’s jets cost state $1 million in 2018

in Government spending/News/Transportation
Wyoming’s jets cost state $1 million in 2018

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

With 99 municipalities spread far and wide across Wyoming’s approximately 98,000 square miles, transportation can be time consuming for state employees and elected officials.

However, some disagree on whether the best way to meet those travel needs is to keep the two state jets sometimes jokingly referred to as the “Wyoming Air Force.”

In 2002, the state purchased two Cessna Citation Encores, twin-engine transport jets, to reduce the time its employees and officials spent on the road, said Brian Olsen, administrator of the Wyoming Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division.

Not everyone, however, agrees the jets are the most efficient form of transportation.

Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, said he has added an amendment to the state’s budget bill to sell one of the jets every year since he was elected in 2017. But, so far, the amendment has failed.

“I think they’re an example of government extravagance,” Gray said. “There’s no reason we should have this many jets.”

Olsen disagreed. By owning two jets, he said the state could ensure one plane is available whenever needed.

“When it comes to maintenance, one plane is no plane,” Olsen explained.

According to Wyoming’s checkbook, WYDOT spent about $494,700 on aircraft maintenance with Cessna Aircraft Company in 2018. Olsen said $464,000 of that total was spent on maintaining the jets. The state also owns a Cessna 208, a single-engine turbo prop used to photographically survey road conditions, he said.

WYDOT Director and retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. K. Luke Reiner said two jets is optimal.

“We have one jet going into maintenance in June,” Reiner said. “Having two planes does provide a certain sense of redundancy. Also, there’s use for two aircraft … in terms of the ability for elected leaders and agencies to fulfill their responsibilities to the state and the residents.”

Regardless of whether flying is more efficient, government air service stymies private enterprise, said Kevin Lewis, a researcher for Equality State Taxpayers Association.

“People who fly in Wyoming make up a market for air travel,” Lewis said. “Right now, the government sector is removed from that market. We’re talking about a business that lives and dies on slim margins.”

By selling the jets, he suggested the state could create an environment for private intra-state air travel to expand.

“Wyoming is never going to grow itself if your main competitor is the government,” Lewis added.

Cost efficiency

Olsen said WYDOT researched the possibility of booking flights with private charters, but determined owning and maintaining its own fleet was about 44 percent more cost effective.

WYDOT also looked into fractional aircraft, the practice of sharing aircraft ownership, maintenance and operation costs with multiple owners, and determined fractional ownership would be 32 percent more expensive than owning the jets solely.

In regards to employee travel, Olsen said WYDOT studies reported flying employees across the state was 14 percent more cost efficient than paying them to drive.

“We looked at a couple salary levels, but mostly around the $100,000-a-year mark,” he explained. “But those studies don’t take into consideration the cost of motels or opportunity costs.”

Employees are rendered somewhat ineffective while driving, because the time they spend on the road — even when carpooling — is not conducive to a productive work environment, he added.

As stewards of taxpayers’ dollars, Reiner said he believed the jets were the most fiscally responsible travel option for state employees and elected officials.

“I think these aircraft are a really good use of resources for our state,” he said.

Between bulk jet fuel purchases of about $185,000, $464,000 in maintenance costs and approximately $327,000 in pilot’s salaries, Wyoming spent about $1 million on traveling via the two jets in 2018.

Despite WYDOT’s efficiency report, Gray said he would still like Legislature to review the possibility of reducing the state’s air fleet by one jet.

“When I’ve done town halls, I’ve consistently heard the jets are a problem,” he said. “We’re going to continue trying the amendment.”

Reiner said he doesn’t believe the state needs more than two jets, but the state should maintain its current fleet.

“The planes are a tremendous asset for our government,” he said. “The bottom line is they help us accomplish our mission.”

Wyoming’s Air Fleet By the Numbers

  • Aircraft: 2-Cessna twin-engine passenger jets, 1-Cessna single-engine turbo prop survey plane
  • Viable landing strips across Wyoming: 34
  • Maintenance cost for 2018: About $464,000
  • Fuel cost for 2018: About $185,000
  • Annual pilot salaries combined: About $327,000
  • Transport jet flights in 2018: 663, carrying a total 2,213 passengers

Gordon vetoes call for state to sue over coal terminal

in Energy/News
shipping containers at export facility

By Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would have allowed the Legislature to sue the state of Washington over the denial of permits for a coal export terminal has been vetoed by Gov. Mark Gordon.

Gordon on Friday vetoed HB 251, saying if legal action was taken by the Legislature, it could interfere with court filings already submitted by the executive branch.

“Giving courts the impression that two branches of Wyoming’s government might be second-guessing one another — in fact potentially litigating over the top of one another — would be counterproductive to our best efforts to protect Wyoming’s interests,” he said in his veto message to Secretary of State Ed Buchanan. “Furthermore, dividing the limited resources of Wyoming’s Attorney General between two potentially contemporaneous cases would do a disservice to both at the expense of Wyoming.”

However, Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, said the measure would have set up a cooperative effort between the legislative and executive branches.

“It’s going to take a team effort between the executive branches for there to be success on this issue,” he said in a prepared statement. “This bill created a framework for this team effort to occur, so that we have the best chance for success on this issue. The veto is detrimental to that effort.”

Washington officials have denied necessary permits to build a coal export terminal to export coal from Wyoming and other states to foreign markets. Lighthouse Resources, the company proposing the export terminal, is suing Washington over the denial, alleging the state is violating the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause.

Wyoming and several other coal-producing states have filed “friend of the court” briefs in support of Lighthouse’s lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

Gordon wrote that while he supports the Legislature’s desire to protect the state’s economic interests, legal action taken by lawmakers independent of the executive branch could cause confusion.

“This bill … carves an unprecedented path — absent compelling reason — encouraging the Legislature to take a potentially different course from that that the state is already pursuing,” he wrote. “The obvious confusion this could engender is at best problematic and at worst fatal.”

Responsibility for such legal action rests with the executive branch, not the Legislature, Gordon wrote.

However, Gray said by taking up the issue, the Legislature would have sent a message to Washington officials.

“This bill shows the state of Washington that we are serious about this issue,” he said. “Also, the Legislature looking into this issue creates the environment where there is the best opportunity for success.”

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