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307 POLITICS
Wyoming ranked high for 'free speech,' but definition is iffy

I’ve written before about the weird, nationwide surveys and rankings that slot Wyoming in the strangest of places (the state with the highest level of racial equality, for example). In general, these rankings serve as an easy publicity tool for the groups that sponsor them. But I stumbled upon perhaps the oddest one I’ve seen yet recently.

The Institute for Free Speech sent me a copy of its first-ever “Free Speech Index,” ranking all 50 states. Now a big red flag in political coverage is whenever organizations wrap themselves in ambiguous but widely appreciated concepts, like “free speech.”

It quickly became clear that by “free speech,” the Virginia-based group means political contributions. Whether political donations qualify as speech protected by the First Amendment was, of course, the underlying question in the controversial “Citizens United” United States Supreme Court decision in 2010. The Court decided that, yes, money is speech.

While political operatives with access to major donors celebrated the decision, the whole money-as-free-speech argument never seemed to catch on with average Americans. We all seem to understand that expressing one’s ideas is clearly protected by the Constitution. But paying for the cost of a private jet to transport a candidate? Well, that’s a little more iffy as public perception is concerned. It gets all the more muddled when it’s a private corporation bankrolling candidates.

But anyway, the Institute on Free Speech is dedicated to winning the public to the side of unlimited political contributions.

“(I)f spending money (was) not a form of speech, the First Amendment would become hollow for all but newspapers and other press outlets, since any effort to spread one’s message, through advertising or pamphleteering, could be stripped of First Amendment protections simply by attacking the expenditure of money,” chairman Bradley Smith writes in the index’s introduction.

I actually read a “liberal defense” of Citizens United several years ago that argued the decision was necessary to protect the ability of newspapers to endorse political candidates because otherwise such actions could be barred since most papers are owned by corporations and promoting candidates could be categorized as corporate political speech and thus barred.

Personally, the whole “money as speech” argument strikes me as rather specious. Free speech, so far as I understand it, seems to revolve around the ideas being expressed rather than the reach or exposure of those ideas. To say that people with more money are entitled to more Constitutionally-protected speech just rings kind of hollow.

Then again, I’ve heard that during the many decades of Mexican dictatorship, newspapers there were largely free to publish whatever they liked but newsprint was intentionally rationed such that the dissident papers could only reach a sliver of the population. So I can see both sides — after all, if you’re not allowed to spend money to express your ideas, how will anyone find out about them?

In any case, you’ll be pleased — or discouraged — to know that Wyoming ranks 12th in the nationwide index of the states that impose no caps on state political donations.

“Wyoming is now the best of the rest,” the index entry on the Cowboy State reads. “Interestingly, the Equality State is the only state in the nation to allow unlimited giving for PACs to gubernatorial candidates but not to legislative candidates. If free political speech is good for the Governor’s Mansion, it stands to reason it’s good for the Legislature too.”

Cheney defends Libby

President Donald Trump pardoned Scooter Libby on Friday for his convictions on perjury and obstruction of justice that date back to the Bush administration. Libby was convicted of four felonies related to how CIA officer Valerie Plame’s cover was blown after her husband criticized Vice President Dick Cheney’s role in the Iraq War.

Libby was not charged with leaking Plame’s identity but rather because he described events differently than other witnesses in the case. President George W. Bush commuted Libby’s roughly two-year prison sentence, but refused to pardon him despite the strong urging of Cheney.

Libby was Cheney’s chief of staff — stop me if you know where this is going — and Wyoming’s U.S. House Rep. Liz Cheney, Dick’s daughter, backed Trump’s pardon on Twitter Friday.

“Scooter Libby is a good, honorable and innocent man who was the victim of prosecutorial misconduct and a miscarriage of justice,” Cheney wrote on social media. “Thank you @realDonaldTrump for righting a terrible wrong and delivering the full pardon Scooter deserved.”

The elder Cheney released his own statement praising the pardon.

Liz Cheney’s support for the move comes weeks after she offered an acerbic defense of the Central Intelligence Agency’s “Enhanced Interrogation” torture program that was defended by her father during and after the Bush administration.

Friess back at it

Jackson-based philanthropist and GOP megadonor Foster Friess is back to telling national reporters — this time one from Time Magazine — he’s about to start a “listening tour” across Wyoming to decide whether to run against Sen. John Barrasso in the Republican Senate primary.

When he told Buzzfeed this same thing last fall I asked him about it and he basically said, “stay tuned for more details.” None were forthcoming and there was no tour. Plus there’s the whole thing where Friess keeps saying Barrasso is a hero of his and doing a great job.

But, in a fun twist, Friess’s renewed comments about entering the race are providing some fodder for Democratic Senate candidate Gary Trauner.

In a fundraising email attacking Friess, Trauner warned Wyoming voters that the conservative Christian Friess, who has single-handedly propped up candidates of his liking in past national races, might be coming for their Senate seat.

“Friess is tired of writing fat checks for other people,” the email reads. “So he’s thinking about running against Gary in Wyoming — and he can pay for the entire campaign if he wants.”

Basically, they want supporters to donate to Trauner in case he’s forced to “play ball against a PAC-loving multi-millionaire.”

Hey, it’s a strategy!

Arno Rosenfeld covers state politics.


Casper
Chattin’ with Sal
Natrona County Master Gardeners conference kicks off

The Natrona County Master Gardeners 2018 Spring Gardening Conference is 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Agricultural Resource and Learning Center, 2011 Fairground Rd. Donna Hoffman is the assistant extension educator for UW Extension of Natrona County. Her love of gardening can be traced to gardening with her grandmother at an early age. This is the 23rd year for a spring conference, so we thought we’d chat with Donna about it.

Is your conference for anyone interested in gardening? Absolutely anybody who is interested in gardening, from the very beginner to the more advanced master gardener.

Your conference coincides with Earth Day. Tell us why. Our committee chair, Rachel Spear, picked the title, “Back to the Earth,” which tapped into the idea that lots of people have not been gardeners or homesteading for the past generation or maybe two generations, but people are now really interested in getting back to that.

And you have primarily local presenters this year. Tell us about that. Part of that was a timeline situation, we didn’t have our chair for the conference until January, and part is we’ve got great connections to UW Extension and Colorado people, so we have three UW educators coming, one presenter from Colorado and a master gardener.

Tell us about the presenters and their topics. Hudson Hill will speak about composting and a bit about backyard chickens. Jennifer Thompson will talk about landscaping for pollinators and bee people. Deryn Davidson will delve into rain harvesting to activate your landscape. Jeff Edwards will talk about small fruit planting, care and production in the western high plains and Ernie Schierwagen, a master gardener, will talk about growing vegetables in the wild west.

How experienced do you need to be to learn something? We are hoping to get some people who are just beginning to think that they want to try some stuff in their backyard and we look forward to sharing in-depth for people ready to step up to the next level. People anywhere along the spectrum can learn things.

What do you hope those who attend take away from the day? Getting back to our roots, a lot of people think it’s a lot of hard work that grandpa and grandma had to do back in the day. But now we know that our environment is much healthier if we keep things like yard waste right on our own properties and our own home site benefits from things we all tend to push off and push away. It’s very gratifying to do your own bit to improve the environment as a whole and your living environment at the same time.

Registration is still open? Yes, it is $60 for the full day, which includes continental breakfast and a full lunch. You can call 235-9400, stop by our office at 2011 Fairgrounds Rd. or pull up the registration brochure at https://bit.ly/2JEaWPO.

Follow community news editor Sally Ann Shurmur on Twitter @WYOSAS


Arno Rosenfeld / ASSOCIATED PRESS 

Demonstrators gather outside the Supreme Court in 2013 to protest campaign finance. The Institute for Free Speech released its first-ever “Free Speech Index” recently, which considers political contributions as protected.


Arno Rosenfeld


Casper
Gaslight Social makes changes after facing criticism from City Council

One of Casper’s largest downtown bars is taking steps to prevent disorderly conduct among its patrons.

The City Council recently expressed concerns that the Gaslight Social was over-serving alcohol and, as a result, too frequently required police assistance to handle rowdy customers.

But owner Matt Galloway told the Council recently that he’s improved security.

“We are on the same page,” he said, explaining that he wants his business to be a positive asset to the city.

Last call was moved up to 1 a.m., new security cameras were installed and the staff received additional training about how to handle intoxicated customers, according to Galloway. The bar is subsequently experiencing less problems, he said. Even St. Patrick’s Day went off without a hitch.

Police were called on a few occasions in recent months, but Galloway said that was unpreventable.

“I am the busiest bar later in the evening and it’s just a reality that’s generally when more problems happen,” he explained.

Council members thanked Galloway for his efforts and told him not to hesitate to call law enforcement.

“I didn’t want you guys to feel that you can’t call the police department… My biggest nag is over-serving,” said Councilwoman Kenyne Humphrey.

Galloway said Thursday that he and his staff are always willing to work with city leaders to address any concerns they have about the bar. Many employees appreciated the additional training sessions, one of which was led by Police Chief Keith McPheeters.

“There’s a right way and a wrong way to handle over-intoxication,” said Galloway, explaining that the staff learned some valuable tips from the chief.

The 11,000-square-feet facility opened last summer and has mostly experienced a positive first year, according to Galloway. He added that the majority of the bar’s customers are responsible drinkers.

The Gaslight Social isn’t the only place in Casper that has struggled with alcohol-related problems.

Two months ago, McPheeters asked the Council to recognize that the over-service of alcohol is creating serious challenges for the city. Bar patrons who become too intoxicated eventually leave the establishment and can then create problems for other citizens and the police.

Fifty-nine percent of people in Casper who are booked into jail are intoxicated and almost half of all drivers arrested for DUIs are more than the twice the legal limit, according to the chief.

“As a community I think there is room for us to improve,” he told the Council.

McPheeters advised city leaders to establish a stricter demerit system for the city’s liquor license holders.

Many violations are 25 points, including serving alcohol to minors, selling alcohol outside of the established hours or failing to maintain exits and emergency escapes.

Currently, the Council does not begin to take disciplinary action until a liquor license holder has reached 125 points within a one-year time frame. Disciplinary action can include anything from a brief liquor license suspension to revoking a license completely.

Vice Mayor Charlie Powell previously told the Star-Tribune that the Council appreciated the chief’s suggestions and will be re-examining the demerit system this year.