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Senator Affie Ellis

School Board Bill Gets Amended to Require Political Affiliation Be Listed on Ballots

in News/Legislature

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

An amended bill that would, in effect, make school board races partisan passed is first full review in the Wyoming State Senate on Monday.

Senate File 138, in its original form, would have given school board candidates the option of listing their political party.

But an amendment sponsored by Sen. Mike Gierau (D-Jackson) making party affiliation required was passed by a 14-13 vote.

Gierau said he wasn’t sure if he supported the original legislation but offered the amendment to “improve it.”

“If it’s a good idea to list party affiliation for school board, then why not just do it?” Geirau said. “I don’t understand this part about making it optional.” 

Sen. Affie Ellis, (R-Cheyenne), sponsor of the legislation, said she considered making the listing of party affiliation mandatory but opted not to for policy and practical reasons. 

Ellis said she wanted to respect the rights of individuals who don’t consider themselves to be partisan. She also expressed concern that making the listing of party affiliation could ultimately doom the bill.

Regardless, Ellis said her bill was necessary for transparency as many candidates don’t tell voters who they are and what they stand for.

“We are doing a disservice to the public by not providing more information about candidates,” Ellis said. “This bill, at its most basic level, allows the voter more information but it’s left to the school board candidate’s discretion.”

Ellis said in her district, there were a number of candidates who didn’t report spending anything on campaigning or doing any fundraising.

“While that may seem charming, to me it seems a little alarming,” she said explaining that this meant candidates were not being transparent.

“Mailers were not being sent out explaining priorities or positions or philosophies on governance,” she said. 

Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) spoke against the bill and the amendment, stating that the country has become too partisan as it is and making school board races partisan wouldn’t be productive.

“When I look around the country and the state of national affairs, the last thing I hear is ‘Boy, there’s just not enough partisanship,’” Rothfuss said.

The senator said he doesn’t know the party affiliation of the school board candidates he voted for in Albany County and he was “happy” about that.

“I don’t want the basis of my kids’ education to be partisan. I don’t want that to be the driving force,” he said.

“Let’s try to de-polarize and de-politicize the process instead of going the other direction,” he said.

The bill, in its amended form, passed by a voice vote and next goes to second reading.

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Wyo. State Sen. Affie Ellis Donates Legislative Salary to Fight Coronavirus

in News/Coronavirus

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Sen. Affie Ellis of Cheyenne announced on Monday that she was donating her state Senate salary to help purchase personal protective equipment for Wyoming healthcare workers.

In the five minute video, Ellis explains how life has changed for her as a legislator and a mother over the last six weeks.

“The Legislature adjourned on Thursday, March 12,” Ellis said in the opening minutes of her video. “I had no idea I would go from being surrounded by hundreds of people and having dozens of conversations a day to being isolated with my family of five for the last several weeks.”

The senator discussed that during her downtime, she’s learned to make cloth masks for essential employees and has made more than 100 as of the time she posted the video. It was important for her to do this, because she was thinking not only of her family members and loved ones who might be at risk, but other Wyomingites’ loved ones, too.

While working on this project, Ellis experienced every sewer’s worst nightmare: running out of supplies, mainly elastic. She began to think of emails she’s gotten over the last few weeks from places like the COMEA Shelter, asking for supplies and one from a nurse at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, who asked the senator for help securing personal protective equipment.

“A national shortage means that Wyoming must compete for N95 respirators, ventilators, coveralls and gloves,” Ellis said. “They’re trying to conserve as much as they can, but much like my elastic, it’ll soon be gone.”

This is why Ellis decided to donate her legislative salary to purchase PPE for local hospital employees, with $30,000 being used to buy masks, surgical gowns and other supplies.

“It’s important for all of us to step up and go above and beyond,” Ellis said. “Not everyone can afford to make this financial gift, but if you can, do. Our nonprofits need you now more than ever.”

Ellis told Cowboy State Daily that she “definitely” worried that people would see her donation as a political strategy rather than a gift.

“That’s actually my biggest concern with this, but if anyone knew me, they would know that I’m a philanthropist at heart,” she said. “The real purpose of sharing the information about the donation was to inspire other people.”

The senator noted that it’s not always about giving big financial donations, but for people to figure out what they can do to be productive and help their community.

She plans to continue sewing masks for friends, family and the community, once she gets more elastic in.

“I’ve been thinking of that movie ‘The Three Amigos,’ because in the end, it’s the community coming together by sewing to save the day,” she said. “Quilters are having their time in the spotlight right now.”

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Streamlining bureaucracy could improve opportunities for Native American startups

in Economic development/News
Streamlining bureaucracy could improve opportunities for Native American startups

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

LARAMIE — Complex bureaucracy could be one of the big hurdles facing Native American entrepreneurship in Wyoming, Gov. Mark Gordon said during a conference here.

Gordon opened the WY-Wind River: Economic Development & Entrepreneurship Symposium on Wednesday at the University of Wyoming with remarks about moving forward together with Wyoming’s Native American population, embracing the outdoors and supporting entrepreneurship. 

“If you want to start a business in this day and age, you have tools … you can tweet to the outside world, you can reach anybody in the world,” Gordon said. “But if your own government is standing in the way of getting things accomplished, it can be really frustrating.”

A streamlined process through the levels of government — tribal, state and federal — needs to be created to facilitate economic growth on the Wind River Reservation and throughout Wyoming, Gordon said.

“In this administration, we want to do everything we can to ensure entrepreneurs can thrive,” he said.

Speaker and moderator Gary Davis, the Native American Financial Services Association executive director and Native Business Magazine publisher, agreed with the governor’s statements and said unity was the key to economic development.

“If we can’t advance together, we can’t advance,” Davis said.

Progress could require difficult conversations, he added, but without them, the Native American community could forget its entrepreneurial roots.

“In the most layman’s terms, economy is to create business that generates revenue, (turning each dollar over) at least seven times … before it leaves the community,” Davis said. “I struggle to think of one community that can say they do that in Indian Country.”

To build a better environment for starting businesses, he said Native Americans need to invest in themselves and seek buy-in from their governments.

“The trick is how do we not foster dependency when advocating for economic development,” Davis added.

Following the presentations, the symposium opened a panel moderated by Davis and Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, which featured Native American influencers from around the state and ENDOW Executive Council Member Jerad Stack.

Panelist Cy Lee, an ENDOW executive council member and Wind River Development Fund executive director, discussed the potential for growing the tech industry on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Lee explained a redundancy loop for internet service was under construction on the reservation, which could lead to tech-centric job opportunities for reservation residents.

“When this loop is completed … an industry opens for growth,” he said.

By establishing the redundancy, the area on and around the reservation could have the best internet service stability in the state, Lee said. Internet stability could attract tech companies, opening a currently limited job market for reservation residents.

Another panel member, Rep. Andi Clifford, D-Riverton, touted the success of the Wind River Casino as a tribal entrepreneurial endeavor.

“When I started work (at the casino) in 2005, there were 62 employees,” Clifford said. “Before the economy and state funding crashed, we had over 800 employees. Sixty percent of those were were female. A lot of those workers were single moms and single dads.”

The biggest challenge facing the casino employees was child care, she said. A daycare is currently being developed on the reservation with a programming emphasis on Northern Arapaho culture, Clifford added. When the casino was founded, she said a large portion of the profits were leaving the community. During its expansion, the owners focused on becoming self-reliant.

“We started doing things for ourselves,” Clifford explained.

By doing so, they were able to create more jobs on the reservation and utilize previously abandoned buildings for services such as laundry.

The symposium was hosted by the High Plains American Indian Research Institute (HPAIRI), and after the panel discussion, HPAIRI Director James Trosper announced a new partnership with the Wyoming Technology Business Center.

The partnership could provide Native American startups access to millions of dollars in micro-grants for market research. Additionally, the business center announced it was kicking off the Wind River Startup Challenge, an economic development initiative modeled after the Fisher Innovation Challenge and designed to financially reward entrepreneurship on the reservation.

The symposium closed with a performance by the Eagle Spirit Dancers and Singers.

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