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Representative Jared Olsen

Group opposing death penalty opens Wyoming chapter

in News/Criminal justice
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By Robert Geha, Cowboy State Daily

An organization made up of political conservatives seeking an end to the death penalty opened a chapter in Wyoming this week.

Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty officially opened a chapter in Wyoming during a news conference in Cheyenne on Thursday. The group has chapters in 10 other states.

Kyle Taylor, the Wyoming coordinator for the group, described the organization as a network of conservatives who do not believe capital punishment fits within their principles.

“As a conservative, I believe in small government and I believe the death penalty is a huge government overreach and a very big failed government program,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “I believe in valuing life and we know that executing our own citizens does not value the sanctity of life.”

Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, last year sponsored a bill during the Legislature’s general session that would have done away with the death penalty. The bill was approved in the House, but died in the Senate.

Olsen said the death penalty’s most vocal opponents in the past have been liberals and the Catholic church, but he added the issue actually crosses political and religious lines.

“It’s an everybody issue and that’s why you’ll find people from all faiths and people from all political backgrounds,” he said.

Mike Leman, a deacon for the Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne, said for the church, the issue is one of the sanctity of life.

“We look at it as consistency in respecting the dignity of human life,” he said. “First of all, recognizing the difficulty of victims and victims’ families. But we don’t think (the death penalty) is something that gives victims what they’re hoping for, the ultimate healing.”

The Legislature’s budget session begins Feb. 10. Two-thirds of both the House and Senate must support a review of any bill not related to the budget — like a death penalty bill — before it can be considered.

State legislator takes national stance against ‘endless wars’

in News/military
Bring home the troops
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

If Congress is not willing to declare war in the Middle East, Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, wants America to bring home its troops.

“This is ridiculous,” Lindholm said. “We’ve been over there for more than a decade, and we don’t really know why.”

By relying on an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) in the Middle East instead of an actual war declaration, Lindholm said Congress has denied service members the clarity they need to finish the job — whatever that may be.

“The reality is, when it comes to the Middle East, we don’t actually have authority to be over there from our Congress,” Lindholm said. “We’re operating off an AUMF from 2001 and 2002. The AUMF of 2001 was to go after terrorists in Afghanistan, and in 2002, it was to be ready to go after Iraq. But none of those speak to full-time occupation.”

As the country moves into its 19th year of combat operations in Afghanistan, Lindholm said enough is enough.

“We need to end the endless wars,” he said, echoing sentiments voiced by President Donald Trump. “I’ve got four kids, and none of them have ever known a nation not at war.”

In a column co-written by Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, and published across the country, Lindholm called out U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, and other “war hawks” for encouraging Trump to retaliate against Iran after a U.S. drone was shot down earlier this year.

Additionally, Lindholm is leading the Wyoming branch of Bring Our Troops Home, a non-profit organization intent on ending “the Forever Wars and encourage Congress … to support President Trump’s plan to withdraw our troops.”

Life abroad

Raised in Sundance, Lindholm joined the U.S. Navy to see the world and find his place in it.

“I wasn’t really ready to be a grown up, but I knew I needed to get something going in my life,” he explained. “I left two days after I graduated high school.”

It was May 2001. The U.S. was at peace. The world was a different place.

“I remember training in Pensacola, Florida, before 9/11 — taxi cabs would pull right up to base,” Lindholm recalled. “Then after the attacks, things really shut down. It changed the whole mission going from peacetime to wartime.”

A helicopter mechanic who exited the Navy at the rank of Petty Officer Third Class five years later, Lindholm never deployed to the Middle East, but he did see a side of the world he never imagined.

“We were headed to go shake our sword at North Korea in the 2004 timeframe, and we rolled into Hong Kong on Christmas,” he said of his time stationed aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. “While we were there, this tsunami struck Indonesia — it was a hell of wreck.”

His ship was to diverted to help with rescue and relief efforts.

“We were first on scene there,” Lindholm said. “I remember we were still 50 miles out from our destination, and I was on the flight deck with the rest of the crew.”

The sailors spotted a bloated, sun-bleached body floating near a palm tree, he remembered.

“We were shocked, but the ship just kept on a-steaming,” Lindholm said. “We were asking why we weren’t stopping for the body, but then as soon we got into position we could see why. There was 200,000 people that died in that tsunami and there were bodies everywhere. More than you could count.”

Using the carrier’s helicopters, the Lincoln’s crew spent months resupplying the Banda Aceh province with fresh water, rice and medical supplies. Shortly after Lindholm’s ship returned to the states, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. 

“We were, at that point, the Navy’s rescue and relief experts,” Lindholm said. “So, my squadron got deployed to respond to (Katrina).”

Whereas the Indonesians welcomed the Navy’s response, the U.S. was a different story.

“The people of Indonesia were just so damn thankful,” Lindholm said. “When we deployed to Katrina, there were people shooting at our aircraft, it was nuts. They definitely weren’t thankful we were there.”

Getting mad, getting political

Once his enlistment was complete, Lindholm moved to Texas to work on U.S. Army helicopters as a civilian contractor, but it wasn’t long before Wyoming called him home.

“It was around 2006-2007, and things were really cooking off in northeast Wyoming,” he said. “So, I figured I’d return home to the ranch and find a job.”

Using the electrical expertise he gained in the military, Lindholm went to work as an electrician. But the more he learned about the way of the world, the more it got under his skin.

“Honestly, I just got mad,” Lindholm explained, chuckling. “When I was in the military, I didn’t really think about what I was doing, I just did what I was told. Then I got out, and I really got to thinking about the things I didn’t like, especially in relation to the family ranch, so I became politically involved to change them.”

Now in his second term as a state legislator, Lindholm serves as the House Majority Whip.

“To be 100 percent honest, I thought I was going to be whipped off into the corner,” he said. “But, when I got in there, I realized these are just normal folks like me.”

He campaigned on the idea people should be allowed to drink raw milk if they choose and sponsored Wyoming’s “food freedom law,” which passed in 2015.  Since then, he’s also helped craft legislation facilitating blockchain businesses and banking.

Now, he’s shifting focus to either bring troops deployed in the Middle East home or pass a law in Wyoming hamstringing Congress’ access to the state’s National Guard units.

“This legislation would prevent our guard from being deployed to a foreign place where war has not been declared,” Lindholm explained. “It’ll appear in the 2020 session, and I’ve got bipartisan support on it.”

Working with the other side of the aisle to legitimize or end the nation’s war efforts has been trickier than he expected.

“Before 2008, I could always lean on the democrats to be anti-war,” Lindholm said. “Now, we’re kind of stuck in this weird spot where Democrats and Republicans don’t really know how to feel about these wars. It’s a weird shift.”

As a state representative, Lindholm doesn’t have the power to force Congress’ hand, but he said he hopes Bring the Troops Home will ignite a national conversation.

“We want Congress to think about it, we want them to talk about it, and we want them to vote on it,” Lindholm said. “We owe it to the next generation, because that’s who’s going to be serving over there next. That’s who is serving over there now.”

Death penalty repeal supporter sees chance for bill in 2020

in News/Criminal justice
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By Cowboy State Daily

A measure aimed at repealing Wyoming’s death penalty may stand a better chance of winning approval in the Legislature’s 2020 session than it has in the past, according to a supporter.

Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, said as people have become more aware of the problems associated with the death penalty, they have been more prone to discuss it with their legislators.

“The community is much more aware of what’s going on and they’re much more involved,” he said. “So I think with that involvement and more personal conversations with our senators to make them understand particularly the fiscal consequences of not repealing the death penalty, I think we have a better shot of getting it all the way through this time.”

Olsen proposed a measure during the Legislature’s general session earlier this year that would have abolished the death penalty and replaced it with a maximum penalty of life in prison.

The bill was approved in the House on a vote of 36-21, but was defeated in the Senate, where it received only 12 “yes” votes from the state’s 30 senators.

The 2020 session is a budget session, which means all bills not related to the budget need to win a two-third majority vote to even be considered by the Legislature.

Olsen’s main argument in opposition to the death penalty has been the expense involved in the prosecution and unavoidable appeals that accompany a death penalty case.

In addition, he said, the Legislature needs to consider what may happen if an innocent person is condemned to death.

“If we got it wrong and executed the individual, there is no way to undo that,” he said.

Opponents of Olsen’s bill argued during this year’s session that the death penalty provides justice for the victims of murder. Prosecutors argued that its elimination would take away a valuable plea bargaining tool.

Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, said he believes the death penalty may actually be more humane than life in prison.

“Caging someone up like an animal for some years of their lives just doesn’t make much sense,” he said. “Our whole world is based on contributing to society in some fashion. And locking somebody up forever just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Death penalty repeal headed to Senate floor

in News/Criminal justice
917

By Cowboy State Daily (updated: Feb. 13, 2019 7PM MT)

A proposed repeal of Wyoming’s death penalty is moving to the Senate floor for debate by the full body.

HB 145, already approved by the House, was passed on a 4-0 vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. If approved in its Senate review, it would make life without parole the harshest penalty possible in Wyoming.

Testimony in support of the bill before the committee focused largely on the cost of death penalty cases due to the multiple appeals involved and the cost of housing death row inmates.

Others, however, noted that since the death penalty has been reinstated nationally, 164 death row inmates have had their penalties or convictions overturned.

Gary Drinkard, mistakenly held for five years on Alabama’s death row, said life without parole is a far worse prospect than the death penalty.

“You get to spend the rest of your life in there and it’s torment,” he said. “It’s torment every day. You’ve got to deal with idiots every day.”

Matt Redle, the former prosecuting attorney for Sheridan County, said the issue is not one of equal justice because there is no such thing in murder cases.

“No matter what that verdict is and no matter what that sentence is, (families) don’t get their loved one back,” he said.

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