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Wyoming Democratic Party Infiltrated By Political Spies; “We Will Press On,” Spokeswoman Says

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s Democratic Party will not be intimidated by efforts by a pair of political operatives to infiltrate its ranks as reported by the New York times, according to a party spokeswoman.

Nina Hebert told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that the two alleged spies, identified by the newspaper as Beau Maier and Sophia LaRocca, found nothing within the Democratic Party that could embarrass the party.

“We’re sad to see people like this exist in this world, although we aren’t surprised,” Hebert said. “If part of their goal was to make it harder for us to welcome volunteers, they’ve been totally unsuccessful. We will continue to work and press on.”

The newspaper published a story Friday alleging that the Maier and LaRocca were recruited by conservative forces to infiltrate the Wyoming Democratic Party and collect information that could be damaging to the party, as well as Democrat and moderate Republican candidates for office.

Maier is a Cody native and the nephew to conservative commentator Glenn Beck. He and LaRocca previously worked for Project Veritas, a far-right activist group.

The New York Times, citing unidentified sources, said the operation was funded by Gore-Tex heiress Susan Gore, who founded the Wyoming Liberty Group. According to the story by Mark Mazetti and Adam Goldman, Maier and LaRocca received training for covert operations at a ranch near Cody owned by Blackwater founder Erik Prince, where Maier’s mother works as a cook. 

Hebert said while she knows the couple secretly recorded conversations among Wyoming Democratic Party staffers, they collected no damning information.

“They might have gotten some recordings of people saying they were overworked, tired and maybe thinking ‘Why do I do this job?'” she said. “But we’re not doing anything wrong. We stay on the right side of the law. It’s much ado about nothing.”

Hebert said that while the Democratic Party has brought their lawyer into conversations about this situation, they currently have no evidence of anything illegal taking place.

However, she added the party would welcome an investigation into donations made by Maier to the Wyoming Democratic Party.

“We haven’t currently returned that donation, but we also have no interest in keeping dirty money,” she said.

Hebert added that the party also doesn’t believe the Wyoming Republican Party is involved with the political espionage.

Wyoming Republican Party officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

The alleged operation was called a disgrace to the state by a state legislator whose husband runs an organization reported targeted by the two.

Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, whose husband Nate Martin heads “Better Wyoming,” a liberal grassroots organization, penned an open letter to her colleagues in the Legislature on Friday criticizing the action.

“Maier, LaRocca and the people who hired them have disgraced the integrity of the State of Wyoming, the chambers we serve and the relationships we have built with one another,” the representative said. “They have dishonored the institution we all swore an oath to serve.”

She added that Maier, LaRocca and their employers were working to tear the Wyoming House of Representatives apart and cause chaos and distrust among Republicans and Democrats.

Provenza also said this would be a defining moment for the Wyoming Legislature and politicians should decide what they think is acceptable.

“What sort of legacy do we want this Legislature to leave, and what must be done to ensure our legacy is one of integrity, respect and honor?” she wrote.

According to the New York Times account, Maier approached Better Wyoming posing as a military veteran suffering from PTSD who supported the legalization of marijuana to treat medical problems.

LaRocca, who at the time identified herself as Sofia “Cat” Deabreu, participated in the fall 2019 Better Wyoming Grassroots Institute, a multi-week course meant to equip Wyoming residents with skills and knowledge to build grassroots power and effect change in their communities. 

Both Martin and Provenza befriended the operatives while they were undercover and even shared meals together.

“The whole time, they were lying to my wife and me about who they were and what they were up to, and they were actively trying to get us to say or do things that could ruin our careers and hurt us,” Martin told the New York Times. “Politics aside, that’s just a disgusting thing to do to other people. But, again, the people who hired them support policies that defund public schools and block folks from getting healthcare, so it’s pretty clear they don’t care much about people to begin with.” 

It is unknown what information Maier and Larocca captured, and none of it has been released publicly so far.

In February 2020, a person affiliated with Maier and LaRocca secretly recorded Martin and another Better Wyoming staffer after an event at the Laramie County Library in Cheyenne. That footage was posted on a now-deleted website, WyoRinoHunters.com.  

Maier also made two donations to Better Wyoming of $1,000 each.  

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Wyoming Democratic Party Condemns Attack on U.S. Capitol, Criticizes Lummis

in elections/News/Cynthia Lummis/politics
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Democratic Party on Wednesday condemned the attack on the U.S. Capitol building while also criticizing the state’s newest U.S. senator.

Wyoming Democratic Party Chair Joe Barbuto said in a statement that the attack, led by people described as supporters of President Donald Trump who don’t believe he lost November’s presidential election to former Vice President Joe Biden, was the culmination of the last four years of Trump’s presidency.

“These people are not protesters or patriots, they are domestic terrorists who were beckoned by the dog whistle of Trump,” Barbuto said. “The President of the United States is complicit in this violence, as are those who have enabled and defended his actions, conspiracy theories and words over the last four years.”

Barbuto included Wyoming’s congressional delegation as having enabled Trump, primarily newly sworn-in Sen. Cynthia Lummis, who has regularly praised Trump during his presidency, including supporting Trump‘s refusal to concede in the presidential election.

Lummis confirmed recently that she would contest the Electoral College vote confirming Biden as president-elect.

Barbuto criticized Lummis’ choice to contest the Electoral College vote, calling it “disturbing.”

“Her embrace of that rhetoric has only escalated the situation,” he said. “It is a disgrace to democracy, it is a disgrace to our nation and it is a disgrace to Wyoming. Sen. Lummis has no choice but to publicly withdraw her involvement in encouraging the rejection of election results and fulfill her sworn oath and constitutional duties in the peaceful transition of power.”

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Democrats call for Hutchings’ resignation; Senate promises probe

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By Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s Democratic Party on Monday demanded the resignation of a state senator criticized for her comments to a group of students.

As the state Senate promised a thorough investigation into the complaints lodged against Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, a leading House Republican noted that Hutchings has the right to express her opinion.

In a news release, Joe Barbuto, Democratic Party chairman, called for Hutchings to resign because of her comments made to Cheyenne Central High School students Feb. 1.

The 10 students, members of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, asked Hutchings to discuss House Bill 230, a bill that would prohibit employees from being fired because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The bill died in the House.

Hutchings is alleged to have told the students: “If my sexual orientation was to have sex with all of the men in there and I had sex with all of the women in there and then they brought their children and I had sex with all of them and then brought their dogs in and I had sex with them, should I be protected for my sexual orientation?”

Wyoming Equality, an LGBTQ advocacy group, reported the students interpreted the comments to compare homosexuality with bestiality and pedophilia.

Hutchings on Monday declined requests for an interview with Cowboy State Daily.

Barbuto called Hutchings’ comments, first reported by Wyoming Equality, “indefensible, insensitive and repugnant” and said her decision to share her thoughts with the high school students at the Legislature “shows a clear lack of good judgment.”

“Senate District 5 deserves a senator who they can trust to behave and speak in a manner that upholds the dignity of the office and reflects an understanding that every person deserves to be treated with respect,” he said. “Lynn Hutchings is now incapable of providing that level of representation. She must resign immediately.”

Wyoming Equality reported the incident in a letter to Senate President Drew Perkins, R-Casper. The group said the encounter so disturbed the high school students that they “quickly removed themselves from the Jonah Business Center to process this interaction and provide a supportive space for one another.”

Wyoming Equality said some of the students were “deeply hurt and disturbed.”

While no formal complaint had been filed as of Monday afternoon, the Senate’s Republican leadership pledged to look into the incident.

“In the coming days, we will continue through the process designed to properly vet and address complaints filed against members,” Perkins, Majority Floor Leader Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, and Senate Vice President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, said in a joint news release. “Both Sen. Hutchings and these students deserve fair consideration and respect as we work to address this matter.”

However, asking for Hutchings’ resignation at this point is premature, said. Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, the House majority whip.

“Nobody’s heard from Sen. Hutchings in this regard,” he said. “If Sen. Hutchings comes out and gives a statement that she said those things, first of all, she’s got First Amendment rights. If she did say those things, I’d say it was not classy, but calling for her resignation is definitely premature.”

If the statements were made, an apology is in order, Lindholm said.

“If it’s true, I would definitely think an apology … should happen,” he said. “I think about my kids, if somebody said something like that to my kids, I wouldn’t be OK with that.”

But Nina Hebert, director of the Wyoming Democratic Party, said the party wants Hutchings’ resignation.

“It is the position of the Chairman Barbuto, as well as the Democratic Party, that Sen. Hutchings should bring whatever dignity she can back to the office she holds by immediately offering her resignation,” she said.

Weekly wrap: Corporate income tax moves ahead, party switch bill dead

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By Cowboy State Daily

A thumbs up for income taxes on large companies and putting Wyoming permanently on daylight savings time, a thumbs down for a personal income tax in the Legislature this week.

Lawmakers wrapped up their third week of action Friday after having taken care of a number of bills, including HB 233, which would have imposed a 4 percent income tax on people making more than $200,000 a year. The bill died in the House Revenue Committee, but another, imposing a 4 percent income tax on large retailers with headquarters outside of Wyoming, won final approval in the House. HB 220, also called the National Retail Fairness act, now heads to the Senate for review.

A bill that would have put restrictions on when voters can change their party affiliation was also killed this week, dying in the Senate Corporations Committee. SF 32 would have required people changing party affiliation to do so before candiates begin filing for office in May. Two similar bills are awaiting review in the House and Senate.

Also killed this week was a bill aimed at exempting some senior citizens from property taxes. HB 128 would have granted an exemption to seniors who have owned their homes for at least three years.

Meanwhile, a bill to declare Dec. 10 2019 as “Wyoming Women’s Suffrage Day” cleared the Senate with no opposition. SJ 3 now moves to the House for its review.

In addition, a bill keeping Wyoming on daylight savings time year-round won approval in its second House vote.

Party switching bill could be revived

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By Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would limit when voters can change their party affiliations may be resurrected. SF 32 was killed by the Senate Corporation, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee on Tuesday, but the committee’s chairman said he’ll bring the issue back up for another vote.

There is enough interest on the Senate floor to justify moving the bill out of the committee, said Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper.

Under current law, voters can change their party affiliations on the day of a primary election. SF 32 would allow changes only before candidates begin filing for office — usually in early May.

Landen said there was not a lot of discussion on the bill in committee. He added he believes many members of the full Senate would like to review it.

Landen said he plans to bring the issue back to the committee on Thursday to see if members will approve it for more debate.

Party switch bill gets first committee review

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By Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would put limits on when voters can change their party affiliations got mixed reviews Thursday in its first session in a Senate committee.

The Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee began its work on SF 32, which would require voters changing party affiliation to do so before the filing period opens for political candidates — usually in May.

Currently, voters can change their affiliations as late as the day of the primary. In last year’s election, the Secretary of State’s office reported an estimated 12,500 voters changed their party affiliations.

After last year’s primary election, Wyoming Republicans made the issue of party switching a top priority.

Frank Eathorne, Wyoming Republican Party chairman, said the bill would make sure political parties can select their own nominees without interference.

“It’s about party integrity,” he said. “Parties are not governmental entities. We are private entities. And we have that destiny in our hands and that decision making is up to us.”

However, Nina Herbert, communications director for the Wyoming Democratic Party, said voters need to be given the chance to vote for the candidate they feel is best suited for office, regardless of party affiliation.

“The Wyoming Democratic Party supports open elections that are easily accessible to every eligible voter,” she said. “Jut throwing up another roadblock on party affiliation changes is not going to accomplish that.”

The committee was unable to complete its work on the bill Thursday and will continue its review next week.

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