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National Signing Day Wyoming football signed 14 preferred walk-ons Wednesday, including six from in-state. Sports, B1-3

National Signing Day

Wyoming football signed 14 preferred walk-ons Wednesday, including six from in-state. Sports, B1-3

Wide range of Wyoming faith leaders urge congressional delegation to protect DACA recipients

Rev. Rodger McDaniel looks up from his pulpit every Sunday morning and knows that a number of his congregants are undocumented immigrants.

He knows also that some of the faces at Highlands United Presbyterian Church of Cheyenne belong to Dreamers, a group of immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and whose status in the country has become a political lightning rod. While McDaniel had been familiar with the politics surrounding the group, meeting them in person, in his own church, inspired him to work harder to defend them from deportation.

“When you put a face to the issue it compels you to speak out,” he said.

As politicians continued to debate the future of immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, Wyoming religious leaders turned to their faiths for guidance. And there — in the Bible, in the Torah, in the Quran — they found that answer.

And so, 10 religious leaders from the Cheyenne area representing six religions gathered Monday to deliver a message to staff of Wyoming’s three Congressional members: Find a way to protect those immigrants and, ideally, provide them with a path to citizenship.

“We wanted to let them know that there is this broad coalition of faith communities speaking with one voice,” said McDaniel, who once served in the state Legislature. “We’re a group of people who have come to understand God in a variety of ways and yet we come to the same conclusion on this.”

Members of the U.S. Congress continued Wednesday to debate the potential protections for the group of young immigrants who qualified for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program as the Thursday deadline for a new federal funding bill loomed. Republicans attempting to pass a bill to keep the government open after the deadline were blocked by Democrats, including House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who said they would not vote for a bill that did not include protections for the immigrant group.

President Barack Obama established the DACA program in 2012 through an executive order that delayed deportation for a select group of undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children, known as Dreamers. President Donald Trump canceled the program in September and called on Congress to create a new program through the legislative process. Approximately 690,000 people had DACA status and about 1.1 million more were eligible for the program.

McDaniel helped organize the religious leaders who attended the Monday meeting, many of whom are members of the Cheyenne Interfaith Council. The group included representatives from Lutheran, Presbyterian and Catholic churches as well as a mosque, a synagogue and the Unitarian Universalists. Many members of the group had been speaking about their concerns that Congress would not be able to create a solution for those who are eligible for DACA. Several of the members had already been writing letters or making calls to Wyoming’s delegation, he said. Approximately 620 DACA recipients live in the Cowboy State.

“The issue gets caught up in D.C. partisan politics and these kids get held hostage,” McDaniel said.

But the religious leaders’ argument for protecting those with DACA status has nothing to do with policy. It comes down to a single spiritual belief common among their faiths: Every human life is deserving of respect.

“Our concern as faith leaders is so different than politicians — there is a spiritual basis to this,” McDaniel said. “We hope that we can bring to the table the fact that these are human beings, that it’s a question of their dignity and value to the community.”

McDaniel said he looked to a Bible verse from the Gospel of Matthew for guidance: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Rabbi Larry Moldo of Cheyenne’s Mt. Sinai Congregation said he looked to the history of the Hebrew people under the rule of the Egyptian pharaoh and, more recently, the treatment of Jews seeking safe refuge from the Nazis during World War II.

“We know what it is like for a people to not be allowed into a place and for a people to be kicked out of a place,” he said. “We know how that goes.”

Deacon Mike Leman, legislative liaison for the Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne, noted that the Holy Family — Jesus, Mary and Joseph — were all immigrants themselves.

“Traditionally, immigrants are vulnerable,” he said. “To me, it’s a pretty natural thing to protect the vulnerable when we can.”

The stance on protecting DACA recipients is also consistent with the Catholic Church’s belief in protecting life from conception to death.

“It’s a consistent ethic for us,” he said. “We step forward to shine a light on the dignity of people, no matter what.”

That’s what Leman hopes the Congressional staff took away from the meeting Monday. It’s easy to think about the issue in political terms, to see it as a Democrat versus Republican problem, he said. But the fates of about 690,000 DACA recipients are at stake. The deacon said the purpose of the meeting wasn’t to point fingers or assign blame about inaction on the issue, but to instead have a say in what happens next.

“The fact that they don’t have a path to become a citizen is a shameful thing,” Moldo, the rabbi, said. “Congress should change that.”

Overall, the group felt that their message was heard. While they’re confident the staff will pass their message to Barrasso, Enzi and Cheney, they said there is no guarantee that it will make a difference. (All three members of Congress supported Trump’s decision to end DACA.)

“Whether or not the people in D.C. are going to be able or willing to do anything on what we said, I have no idea,” Moldo said.

Casper City Council decides not to hold public hearing on anti-discrimination resolution

The Casper City Council voted Tuesday night not to hold a public hearing about an anti-discrimination resolution proposed by a local LGBT advocacy group—a decision that drew ire from a few constituents.

The members will still be voting whether to approve the resolution at an upcoming meeting.

“I think we should all have a say,” said Dale Zimmerle, adding that he does not support the resolution because he believes it conflicts with Biblical values.

Rob Peterson also told council members that he was disappointed with their decision. The local pastor said he was planning to speak at the hearing because he is concerned that a resolution will eventually lead to an ordinance, which could put those who hold Christian values at a disadvantage.

Council members quickly objected to the notion that they weren’t interested in hearing the community’s views.

“I wouldn’t say we are taking away your voice,” said Councilman Shawn Johnson, adding that constituents could still contact representatives with their opinions.

Given how passionately people feel about the matter, Councilman Chris Walsh explained that the council is concerned a public hearing would be neither productive nor civil.

Councilman Dallas Laird said a public hearing also seemed unnecessary because the council has already heard feedback from constituents on both sides of the issue.

Both Laird and Councilman Jesse Morgan pointed out that resolutions do not have the same weight and effect as ordinances.

“[A resolution is] an opinion of this body,” said Morgan.

Members of the local chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays first approached the City Council with their proposal at a meeting in November. Although a resolution doesn’t have the same teeth as an ordinance, it would still affirm the right of LGBT citizens to lead discrimination-free lives, chapter president Rob Johnston told council members.

PFLAG member Reverend Dee Lundberg reintegrated this point Tuesday night. A resolution would be a “healing and powerful” way to acknowledge the struggles the LBGT community faces, she said.

She also asked the council to keep in mind that the Christian community varies greatly on LBGT rights.

Council members largely expressed enthusiasm about the resolution when it was proposed two months ago, and about 120 local businesses have since signed a letter of support. The letter was sent to City Manager Carter Napier last month.

“Non-discrimination efforts throughout history have served to make explicit that the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution are in fact guaranteed to all citizens equally,” states a copy. “They seek to correct the systemic and historic discrimination some groups of people face and ensure that everyone has equal opportunity to work, live, and pursue happiness in their communities.”

Some council members said Tuesday that they have already reached a decision.

Explaining that the Wyoming constitution guarantees all citizens equality, Johnson said the resolution seemed unnecessary. The councilman said he was also opposed to labeling different sects of society.

But Councilwoman Kenyne Humphrey said she will be supporting the resolution, even if it causes some to question her religious beliefs.

Given that the issue is controversial, Councilman Bob Hopkins—who voted in favor of holding a public hearing—explained Wednesday that he wanted to ensure the community had every opportunity to share its views.

“I know it’s a divisive issue,” he said.

Although attempts to pass an anti-discrimination bill through the state Legislature have failed, some municipalities in Wyoming, including Laramie and Gillette, have established resolutions or ordinances to promote equal rights and opportunities for LGBT residents.

Senate celebrates budget deal — but shutdown still possible

WASHINGTON — Senate leaders brokered a long-sought budget agreement Wednesday that would shower the Pentagon and domestic programs with an extra $300 billion over the next two years. But both Democratic liberals and GOP tea party forces swung against the plan, raising questions about its chances just a day before the latest government shutdown deadline.

The measure was a win for Republican allies of the Pentagon and for Democrats seeking more for infrastructure projects and combatting opioid abuse. But it represented a bitter defeat for many liberal Democrats who sought to use the party's leverage on the budget to resolve the plight of immigrant "Dreamers" who face deportation after being brought to the U.S. illegally as children. The deal does not address immigration.

Beyond the $300 billion figure, the agreement adds almost $90 billion in overdue disaster aid for hurricane-slammed Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

Senate leaders hope to approve the measure today and send it to the House for a confirming vote before the government begins to shut down at midnight today. But hurdles remain to avert the second shutdown in a month.

While Senate Democrats celebrated the moment of rare bipartisanship — Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called it a "genuine breakthrough" — progressives and activists blasted them for leaving immigrants in legislative limbo. Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California, herself a key architect of the budget plan, announced her opposition Wednesday morning and mounted a remarkable daylong speech on the House floor, trying to force GOP leaders in the House to promise a later vote on legislation to protect the younger immigrants.

"Let Congress work its will," Pelosi said, before holding the floor for more than eight hours without a break. "What are you afraid of?"

The White House backed the deal — despite President Donald Trump's outburst a day earlier that he'd welcome a government shutdown if Democrats didn't accept his immigration-limiting proposals.

Trump himself tweeted that the agreement "is so important for our great Military," and he urged both Republicans and Democrats to support it.

But the plan faced criticism from deficit hawks in his own party.

Some tea party Republicans shredded the measure as a budget-buster. Combined with the party's December tax cut bill, the burst in military and other spending would put the GOP-controlled government on track for the first $1 trillion-plus deficits since President Barack Obama's first term. That's when Congress passed massive stimulus legislation to try to stabilize a down-spiraling economy.

"It's too much," said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., a fiscal hawk.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., however, backed the agreement and was hoping to cobble together a coalition of moderate Democrats and Republicans to push it through.

Despite the 77-year-old Pelosi's public talkathon, she was not pressuring the party's rank-and-file to oppose the measure, Democrats said. The deal contains far more money demanded by Democrats than had seemed possible only weeks ago, including $90 billion in disaster aid for Florida and Texas. Some other veteran Democrats — some of whom said holding the budget deal hostage to action on Dreamer immigrants had already proven to be a failed strategy — appeared more likely to support the agreement than junior progressives elected in recent years.

The budget agreement would give both the Pentagon and domestic agencies relief from a budget freeze that lawmakers say threatens military readiness and training as well as domestic priorities such as combating opioid abuse and repairing the troubled health care system for veterans.

The core of the agreement would shatter tight "caps" on defense and domestic programs funded by Congress each year. They are a hangover from a failed 2011 budget agreement and have led to military readiness problems and caused hardship at domestic agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the IRS.

The agreement would give the Pentagon an $80 billion increase for the current budget year for core defense programs, a 14 percent increase over current limits and $26 billion more than Trump's budget request. Nondefense programs would receive about $60 billion over current levels. Those figures would be slightly increased for the 2019 budget year beginning Oct. 1.

"For the first time in years, our armed forces will have more of the resources they need to keep America safe," said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "It will help us serve the veterans who have bravely served us. And it will ensure funding for important efforts such as disaster relief, infrastructure and building on our work to fight opioid abuse and drug addiction."

The $90 billion in disaster aid would bring the total appropriated in the wake of last year's hurricane season to almost $140 billion.

The agreement would increase the government's borrowing cap to prevent a first-ever default on U.S. obligations that looms in just a few weeks. The debt limit would be suspended through March of 2019.

The House on Tuesday passed legislation to keep the government running through March 23, marrying the stopgap spending measure with a $659 billion Pentagon spending plan, but the Senate plan would rewrite that measure.

Josh Galemore, Star-Tribune 

Natrona running back Brett Brenton dives into the end zone for a touchdown against Cheyenne East on Nov. 3.

Natrona County School District announces recommendation for new Kelly Walsh principal

Natrona County School District officials have recommended Mike Britt, the principal at Centennial Junior High, to replace Brad Diller as the principal at Kelly Walsh High School.

"I guess I'll see if my old letterman jacket still fits," Britt, a KW alum, laughed Wednesday. "I just am completely humbled by the opportunity to become part of the family over at Kelly Walsh in this role." 

The district's board of trustees will vote on the recommendation at its Monday night meeting. 

The announcement comes less than a week after the district held a forum with the five finalists for the job, which will be empty after Diller -- who's run the school for 23 years -- retires. The other finalists were two assistant principals at Natrona County High and KW, the principal at Park Elementary, and the principal from Sheridan County's Tongue River High.

The district took public feedback from community members until Feb. 4.

Britt is in his third year as the principal of Centennial after previously working at Evansville Elementary. He described his leadership style as "strategic," visible within the school and centered around building a team.

"The first rule I came into my leadership roles at Evansville and Centennial with my office manager was this: If the door’s open, they come in, and it doesn’t matter if that’s a student, a staff member, a parent," he said at the forum. "And I’ve kept that as a strong characteristic of mine throughout my leadership career."

He said in an interview that he doesn't have to fill Diller's shoes because "the great things he's accomplished at the school" will remain.

"How do I now put a spin on it where we keep those important things he's done and still continue to improve that school," Britt said. He ticked off Kelly Walsh's four pillars, the school's culture and leadership teams as part of Diller's legacy.

Britt takes over as KW navigates a number of obstacles. The school recently completed a major renovation project and teachers are still getting into the "groove" of working in the new facility, Britt said. The school district -- led by high school leaders -- has significantly changed its approach to the new Pathways Innovation Center. Recent allegations involving the Kelly Walsh wrestling team have sparked a broader conversation across the district about bullying. 

On the renovation

Britt praised the construction both at KW and Natrona County High, which also recently wrapped up a years-long renovation. He said his challenge as principal in a new building will be maximizing the space and the school's staff.

"So many options with it being so new and spacing being so flexible," he said.

He said some areas might be "lecture hall-type rooms."

On Pathways

"PIC is such an incredible facility," Britt said. "And I think one of the things I mentioned in the community forum, we have got to do a way better job as administrators, instructional leaders of promoting what is at that facility because for most people, it really is an unknown."

He said that effort will include more outreach to middle schools and educating teachers and counselors about what PIC can provide. The high schools can also do a better job of sending counselors, teachers and administrators to tour the facility and have a sense of what's available within the building. He said he "was disappointed" in himself because he had only recently visited Pathways for the first time.

Part of Pathways' purpose is to act as space for NC and KW students. Both high schools are full, officials have said, and the new goal is to have hundreds of KW students in the morning and a roughly equal number of NC students in the afternoon. Midwest and Roosevelt -- which shares a campus with PIC -- will also be able to send students to the facility. 

Britt praised the work of PIC's instructional team to educate the community.

"They were feet on the street, doing everything they could to promote it," he said. But district numbers have shown that nearly two-thirds of district high schoolers said they were unfamiliar with PIC's offerings. 

"It's a matter of getting everyone on the same page," Britt continued. "Saying, 'Folks we’ve gotta get kids over there. If not it’s going to make our jobs more difficult at these two high schools.'"

On bullying

One of the five questions asked at the forum was how the candidates would handle bullying at Kelly Walsh. The problem has received harsher scrutiny lately, especially at KW: The Star-Tribune reported in January that members of the wrestling team allegedly held down and waterboarded a teammate. The district attorney said the allegations are overblown and that the victim participated willingly in at least part of the incident. He said his office will not be pressing charges.

Still, the allegations brought members of the public to a recent school board meeting to criticize the district's general handling of bullying. 

In an interview, Britt reiterated his answer from the panel: The easiest part of handling bullying is enforcing the policy, investigating allegations and meting out appropriate punishments. 

He said the hard part is school officials becoming aware of bullying. 

"I think everyone is looking for solutions to minimize it," he said. "I say minimize because it's one of those things that's very difficult to completely eliminate."

He declined to comment on specific allegations. But he said he planned on instituting programs to address bullying in Kelly Walsh and bring students in as part of the solution. He said he wasn't yet sure what programs he would use.

"While I can’t give you what program, I can tell you one of first things when I talk to leadership team is what are some of the ways that kids are part of the solution," Britt said.

He said that both recent incidents and the general problem of bullying played a role in that becoming a priority for his tenure at Kelly Walsh.