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Senator Michael Von Flatern

Von Flatern Gets Enzi Endorsement in Hotly-Contested Primary Race

in News/politics
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Incumbent State Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, brought out the big guns on Monday with an endorsement from U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi.

The senior senator from Wyoming endorsed Van Flatern in a video posted on the state senator’s Facebook page.

This is notable because higher-level elected officials in Wyoming (past and present) rarely get involved in primaries at the state level. Exceptions this year would be former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson endorsing Ember Oakley in her bid for House District 55 and Gov. Mark Gordon’s condemnation of State Sen. Anthony Bouchard’s mailers which he said smears opponent Erin Johnson.

Sitting down on a porch, Enzi thanked Von Flatern for championing roadwork construction across the state.

“Diane and I travel Wyoming roads every weekend. And we’re always thankful for the passing lanes that Michael Von Flatern got in place to make travel across Wyoming better and to encourage more tourists,” Enzi said.

Former House Speaker Tom Lubnau has also been vocal about Von Flatern’s legislative work for road construction across Wyoming.

“There used to be bumper stickers that said, ‘Live dangerously, drive Highway 59.’ Now we have a four-lane highway from Gillette to the Bishop Road largely because of Michael’s efforts in the Wyoming Senate,” Lubnau said in a Facebook video.

The former speaker went on to list a number of Wyoming road projects that he attributed to Von Flatern’s efforts.

Von Flatern is in a heated primary against neighbor Troy McKeown. McKeown has claimed that Von Flatern is not conservative enough.

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Interstate 80 Toll Road Bill Dies Quick Death

in News/Transportation
3031

If you were worried about Interstate 80 turning into a toll road, put those worries to bed.

A bill that could have eventually turned the oftentimes treacherous 403 mile stretch into a toll road was killed on Tuesday — failing to receive enough votes in the Senate for introduction.

Sen. Michael Von Flatern (R-Gillette) was the primary sponsor of the bill. Von Flatern told Cowboy State Daily in September that without tolling, the State of Wyoming won’t have adequate funds to keep roads maintained.

“We’re losing ground on our roads,” he said in September. “We’re not improving them at all. Right now, we are missing $40 million just to keep the I-80 corridor in its present condition.”

“We’ve skinnied down this budget to a point where our state is not going to be able to manage cuts anymore without cutting services completely and turning many of our roads into dirt roads,” he said.

Interview with Sen. Michael Von Flatern

Website ranks 60 percent of Wyoming Republicans legislators as RINOs

in News
2393


By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

An anonymous website created by an unknown organization has judged 60 percent of the Legislature’s Republicans to be “Republicans in Name Only.”

Using voting records on 10 bills from the 2019 Legislative Session, during which legislators reviewed hundreds of pieces of legislation, www.wyoRINO.com assigned percentages values to the votes cast by each Republican member of the Wyoming House and Senate. If a  legislator did not toe the party line on at least seven of the 10 bills, their names were highlighted in red to indicate RINO status. The website attributes its creation to Ride for the Brand, Wyoming, a political organization Wyoming Republican Party Chairman Frank Eathorne said he didn’t know existed.

“This is nothing new, though,” Eathorne said. “We’ve seen other interest groups put out their opinions, ranking and analysis.”

The Wyoming Republican Party website on Nov. 11 published a clarification stating it has no affiliations with other individuals, organizations, groups or publications. 

“The party makes it positions known through its platform and planks adopted at its State Convention,” the website states. 

Nearly verbatim, the wyoRINO website also states its independence, following the declaration with a caveat specifying that  Ride for the Brand, Wyoming, reserves the right to revise its opinions and conclusions.

While Eathorne said wyoRINO was not a product of the party, he said there was no problem with the website claiming to represent party ideals. 

“It’s fine that they tie to the timeless principles of the Republican Party,” he explained. “But, we need to continue to clarify the WYGOP does not engage in that.”

Of the 77 listed Republicans, 46, about 60 percent, were labeled RINOs, while only 10 scored perfect rankings.

“They proved exactly the opposite of what they were hoping,” said Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette. “They proved there’s very few ‘true’ Republicans.”

The site rated Von Flatern at 30 percent.

“(Smear campaigns have) come up about three times for me — about every four years around election time,” he said. “The ultra-conservatives are behind this site. They’re not inclusive. If you are gay or a little different than their conservative, Bible-thumping group, you are less of a person. You are a threat to them.”

Von Flatern said though he had suspicions, he wasn’t sure who created the website. He added he’s never heard of Ride for the Brand.

Wyoming. Sen. Tom James, R-Rock Springs, received a ranking of 100 percent and hosts a personal web page with several similarities to www.wyoRINO.com, but said he was not involved with the website.  

“I don’t rate other legislators, I just put out the spread sheets with the votes,” James said. “I think it’s good there’s outside people getting involved. I always feel that more data is better, but I think the website is a good start.”

Republicans may not see eye to eye on every topic, but he said if their voting record dips below 70 percent — the ratio of votes in line with published Republican values — they are lying about their affiliation.

“That speaks for the lack of integrity of the official,” James said. “If they are lying to the people — ‘I’m going to vote this way’ — then they don’t do it, that’s on the elected official.”

James said he was not familiar with Ride for the Brand, Wyoming.

While Gov. Mark Gordon was not available for comment, his office responded to an interview request via email. 

“The Governor doesn’t believe that an anonymous website with ‘rankings’ based on a small sampling of votes is an accurate way to characterize legislators’ beliefs,” wrote Michael Pearlman, Gordon’s communications director.

Targets of online vitriol agree: Digital civility is improving

in News/Technology
digital civility
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, is arguably one of the most active Wyoming politician on social media. 

He boasts around 3,500 likes on his public Facebook page and just over 1,600 followers on his Twitter account. He’s considered “very responsive to messages,” according to his Facebook page. He regularly posts videos of himself chatting in his car about stances he has on various issues, news stories (both political and not) or even fun Wyoming historical facts. 

“I’m the most followed politician in Wyoming,” he said. “Now, you have to remember that it’s Wyoming, so the number isn’t huge. But I do a lot on social media because it’s a great avenue to talk with people.” 

Lindholm regularly engages with his commenters. He takes his social media presence seriously. For the most part, people are kind, even if they don’t always agree with his views. 

As a die-hard Republican, it’s common for Lindholm to have detractors. That’s fine, he has a thick skin and can deal with that. 

The death threats get a little old, though. 

“Absolutely people have said horrible things to me online,” he admitted. “People have found my political page and have called me names and started to send me and my wife nasty messages on our personal accounts. I’ve definitely had death threats, but most of the time I ignore them. A couple years ago, there was a guy out of Pinedale who sent me something and that was the first time I took it as a credible threat.”

It’s not easy being a politician in the social media age. Democrat, Republican or independent, there will always be someone who doesn’t agree with an elected official. 

While some critics might send an email, write a letter or call their elected officials to explain why they disagree, others will personally attack these politicians online. 

Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, admitted he used to get an inordinate amount of threatening emails, but thankfully the number has tapered off in the last couple years. He said it wasn’t because people got nicer, unfortunately. They just realized the emails could be traced. 

“When I first proposed the idea of tolling on Interstate 80 eight or nine years ago, I got emails calling me everything but a civilized person,” he said. “I still occasionally get them, but I think the majority of those emails are coming from truckers in other states who drive through Wyoming.”

While the nasty emails have decreased, Von Flatern noted he still gets criticized by constituents in public forums, such as on social media or in comments sections of the state’s newspapers.

Von Flatern and Lindholm agreed that they’re always willing to talk with dissenters, but when people begin to verbally attack them, their families or loved ones, that’s when they shut the conversation down. 

Lindholm compared the current social media landscape to the Wild West, where people are still figuring out how to properly communicate. 

“It’s a cool concept, because we’ve never had such a freedom where we can communicate with elected officials,” he said. “But there are positive and negative aspects to it. You just have to remember the positive.” 

Psychologist Lisa Taylor, who also works as an adjunct professor at Laramie County Community College, did admit that there is a lack of civility online, especially in regards to politics. 

But she actually believes the landscape is getting better, not worse as many would like to believe. Von Flatern and Lindholm agreed. 

All three believe that people are emboldened by the anonymity that the Internet provides, where they can say whatever they want and won’t experience any real consequences. 

“There is a way to fix this issue: we have to find forums to talk about issues in a respectful manner,” Taylor said. “I don’t think we have to agree on these issues, but we can at least disagree in a civil manner and move forward. Maybe we have to recognize that the Internet isn’t the best way to have some of these tough conversations and we have to engage in another way.” 

Taylor pointed to a recent story about talk show host Ellen Degeneres and former president George W. Bush, who were photographed sitting together and laughing at a football game.

Degeneres stated on her television show that she was friendly with the former president and stressed she believes in being kind to everyone, regardless of differences. Taylor agreed with Degeneres and applied that sentiment to citizens engaging with elected officials. 

“You can’t walk into these conversations with the goal of changing someone’s mind,” she said. “You can have a discussion and share why you think they’re wrong, but when you go in with the mindset of completely changing someone else’s opinions, you’re just going to get upset and frustrated.” 

Lindholm, Von Flatern and Taylor agreed that people engaging with others online about a topic they feel passionate about should take a moment to make sure they are clear-minded. 

They should also ask themselves whether they would say something impassioned to the face of the person they are communicating with. If so, the message or comment should be sent. If not, the person should come back later and try to write something passionate, yet polite. 

Lindholm and Von Flatern want constituents to reach out when they agree or disagree about a stance they have. They encourage it. 

But once name-calling, cursing or being a “Billy Badass” (as Lindholm calls it) begins, people shouldn’t be surprised if there’s no response.

“There’s nothing wrong with saying that we can agree to disagree,” Taylor said. “I have faith that we can get back to being more civil. We just have to remember things aren’t as black and white as we believe.” 

Five questions on toll roads with Wyoming Senator Michael Von Flatern

in News/Transportation
2149

State Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, is one of a number of supporters of a proposal to make Interstate 80 a toll road.

The senator expanded on his position during a recent question-and-answer session with Cowboy State Daily. 

Below is a transcript of the conversation:

Von Flatern: 

Eighty-five percent of the traffic neither stops nor originates at all in the State of Wyoming. Eighty-five percent of the traffic just passes through.


We have 410 (miles) of the toughest road in all of America to take care of and we can’t do it with our low population of 580,000 people. So if we can take that money that we spend on that highway — which is about $60 million a year that we spend on maintenance and operations on that highway — if we move that over to other roads, we can take the toll money …

We’ll take that millions of dollars and put it on there and we’ll take care of I-80 and we’ll improve I-80. We’ll get the third and fourth climbing lanes on certain hills. We’ll put in more snow fence. We’ll make this a safer, more sound road. Easier to drive, easier on the truck drivers. 

We spend $60 million now and we need an additional $40 million just to keep it in the current condition. In 10 or 15 years if we don’t toll, we will lose the current condition of the road and it will deteriorate even further and there are holes in some of those bridges you can see right now.

Cowboy State Daily:

Who pays for the toll and can Wyoming residents be exempt?

Von Flatern:

The federal government owns that road. I-80 is an Interstate project. I would tell WYDOT to find a way to exempt Wyoming residents. The only way they’ve come up with so far is every time a Wyoming registered vehicle drives through the cameras, we’ll ding the federal mineral royalties (FMRs).

We’ll ding the FMRs. They get about $60 million, $64 million to be exact every year in FMRs. So we would be paying the tolls. Although we would be paying the tolls from a different bank account.

Cowboy State Daily:

If Wyoming residents wouldn’t pay the toll, why is there opposition?

Von Flatern:

That I cannot figure. There is a constitutional issue which some have brought up. There is nothing in the constitution that says anything about letting the state toll a road. It says I can’t privately give it to you to run this toll across this ferry or run this toll on this bridge. I can’t give it to you and I can’t give it to a county. But the state can do a general bill which says we’ll do the most economical way of tolling a highway and what does that lead to?


And then we’d do a study real quick on the back of a napkin and say I-80 because it has 12,000-some vehicles per day passing any one point. They would look at that and look at I-90 and it doesn’t have enough vehicles. I-25, not enough vehicles to even pay for the tolling system. I-80 will pay for itself and it would take a back of a napkin to figure that out.

Cowboy State Daily:

If we don’t enact a toll, where will we get the money to keep our roads fixed and safe?

Von Flatern:

That will be tough. Right now, we are missing $40 million just to keep the I-80 corridor in its present condition. Highway 59, which is 110 miles you just drove yourself up from Douglas to Gillette, the oilfield is really starting to hammer that road and I don’t think they have any money other than to put another overlay on or occasionally dig an area up and work over the base.

We’re losing ground on our roads. We’re not improving them at all. Unless we toll and take I-80 out of the picture. Remember it is going to have $50 million above what it needs to operate. That’s at the lower end — 10 cents a mile toll. You’ll have $50 million dollars to replace those bridges over at Wamsutter. That’s $50 million to do lots of things on I-80 that they can’t do today because they don’t have any additional money.

Cowboy State Daily:

Why don’t we just cut spending and budget better with existing revenues?

Von Flatern:

We’re about 2008 budget (levels) now. So 10 years ago budget. They’ll talk about the expansion of the budget from 1999 to 2008 or 2009. That was catch-up time. 


We needed to implement and we had federal mandates that said we had to spend this money. We had to implement a lot of things that we were ignoring in the 90s because we didn’t have the money.

So we are clear down to 2008 budget today. And 10 years later we’re back spending the same amount of money.

We’ve skinnied down this budget to a point where our state is not going to be able to manage to cut anymore without cutting services completely and turning these roads into dirt roads.

Cowboy State Daily:

How confident are you that your legislation will pass?

Von Flatern: 

I have some opposition. There are some people who don’t understand the fact that Wyoming registered vehicles won’t pay the tolls. The (Wyoming) Trucking Association is carrying the water for the national group which doesn’t want any existing roads to be tolled because it is a tax for them. We understand that. They are non-resident and they should be paying.

We have heard that up to 12,000 cars do the damage of one loaded truck. I have heard that it is as high as 14,000. But 12,000 is the number we use today. 12,000 cars for every truck. That means they would have to pay 12,000 times what a car pays to drive across this state.

A truck does pay a couple hundred dollars more to cross the state because they have to report 410 miles. But that’s not 12,000 times what they should have paid because they do the damage to the roads. So the trucking association and I think the truck stops on I-80 are a little excited about this. But I don’t think they will see any diversion especially if we keep the tolls low enough.

We have 410 (miles) of the toughest road in all of America to take care of and we can’t do it with our low population of 580,000 people. So if we can take that money that we spend on that highway — which is about $60 million a year that we spend on maintenance and operations on that highway — if we move that over to other roads, we can take the toll money … We’ll take that millions of dollars and put it on there and we’ll take care of I-80 and we’ll improve I-80. We’ll get the third and fourth climbing lanes on certain hills. We’ll put in more snow fence. We’ll make this a safer, more sound road. Easier to drive, easier on the truck drivers. 

We spend $60 million now and we need an additional $40 million just to keep it in the current condition. In 10 or 15 years if we don’t toll, we will lose the current condition of the road and it will deteriorate even further and there are holes in some of those bridges you can see right now.

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