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Govt-and-politics
breaking
Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Murray resigns; move caps dramatic fall for Cheyenne politician

Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Murray announced his resignation late Friday afternoon, effective immediately. Murray said he has been “devastated” by two recent accusations of sexual misconduct and that he is now “unable to focus entirely on serving the good people of Wyoming.”

“I step aside with peace and serenity in order that I may fully focus on what is most important in my life: my marriage, my family and my health,” Murray said in the statement.

The resignation offers a dramatic conclusion to a two-month period during which the Cheyenne businessman went from the likely frontrunner to replace Gov. Matt Mead to a private citizen.

Murray’s troubles began in mid-December when a woman named Tatiana Maxwell accused him in a public Facebook post of sexually assaulting her in the early 1980s when Murray and Maxwell were both working at a Cheyenne law firm. Murray strenuously denied the allegation.

Then in late January, Theresa Sullivan Twiford, the daughter of former Wyoming governor Mike Sullivan, told the Star-Tribune that Murray had forcibly kissed her when she was 18-years-old and babysitting for his family in 1989. Murray said he did not recall the incident, but announced that he would not run for governor or reelection as secretary of state.

His resignation came hours after State Sen. Leland Christensen, R-Alta, told the Star-Tribune he would be running for secretary of state and the day after Rep. Jim Byrd, D-Cheyenne, also entered the race.

Murray touted his accomplishments as secretary of state over the last three years in his resignation statement. He highlighted the office’s electronic filing system for businesses and his passionate opposition to “needless increases in filing fees.” Murray also cited the Wyoming Youth Voter Initiative, focused on youth voter turnout.

“I truly am enormously thankful to the people of Wyoming for the honor and privilege of serving this Great State during the past three years,” Murray said. “I am eternally grateful to my wife and family and many friends and supporters through this journey – with its highest of highs and its lowest of lows.”

Murray said that nobody had asked him to resign.

Deputy Secretary of State Karen Wheeler will serve until Gov. Matt Mead appoints a new secretary.

Misconduct allegations

Maxwell said that while she was a recent high school graduate interning at the Cheyenne law firm Dray, Madison and Thomson, Murray had invited her to hangout at the firm’s office after work hours. She said it was then that Murray attempted to forcibly kiss her, wrestled her to the ground, lifted up her shirt and ejaculated on her stomach.

“I was disgusted and horrified,” Maxwell wrote.

Murray strongly denied the accusation.

“This baseless claim about an encounter from thirty-five years ago is unequivocally false,” Murray said in a statement at the time. “There is no basis to this falsehood whatsoever and it is deeply hurtful to me and to my family, as well as to everyone I serve.”

Twiford’s accusation came a little more than one month later and described less violent behavior. Twiford said that while she was home from winter break at the University of Wyoming and staying with her parents at the governor’s mansion, she agreed to babysit for the Murrays on New Year’s Eve 1988. She said that when Ed and Caren Murray returned home, Ed Murray walked her to her car and forcibly kissed her.

“I was shocked and appalled. As I backed away from him, he said, ‘Everyone should have a kiss on New Year’s Eve,’” Twiford said in her statement to the Star-Tribune.

Murray said he did not recall the incident.

Maxwell said she had been inspired to tell her story by the #MeToo movement that has seen women accuse dozens of prominent men of sexual misconduct and led to the downfall of several prominent men in media and politics, including television anchor Matt Lauer and U.S. Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat.

Murray praised the movement in his statement denying Maxwell’s allegation.

“I struggle to understand what would motivate someone to make this kind of accusation,” Murray said. “But considering that this statement was made in the context of the #metoo movement, I want to take this moment to acknowledge the overall importance of this conversation, as well as to reaffirm my commitment to being an ally for women.”


Wyoming
UW Wrestling
University of Wyoming wrestler Bryce Meredith readies to give his home state one last show

LARAMIE — It starts with the eyebrows. Dark, thick, almost rectangular. Accompanied by a five o’clock shadow, they sit below a Macklemorian head of hair that’s occasionally dyed blond.

As fellow Wyoming senior wrestler Archie Colgan put it, Bryce Meredith’s face is “iconic.”

“Not many people look just like him,” Colgan said.

Josh Galemore, Star-Tribune 

University of Wyoming wrestler Bryce Meredith sits for a portrait Feb. 3 in Laramie. The 141-pound wrestler has become one of the school's most well-known athletes.

Meredith does possess the standard wrestler attributes as well. A face chiseled by meals that weren’t eaten. Ears cauliflowered by years of blunt force. You’d notice him walking down the streets of Laramie, even if you didn’t recognize him. Although, if you didn’t, someone else probably would. Like a young girl the other day, Colgan recalled, who overcame her nerves to approach Meredith at a restaurant, giving him a high five and telling him she was a big fan.

A 141-pound wrestler might not be the most likely candidate for the face of an athletic department. Though Wyoming’s Big 12 affiliation puts the Cowboys on a bigger stage, wrestling isn’t considered a revenue sport. Plus, a dominant Meredith match might provide less than 2 minutes of entertainment.

But Meredith has the qualifications. He made a name for himself as a sophomore when he flirted with an individual national championship, something only one Wyoming wrestler has ever attained. And he didn’t fade away, earning all-American honors again as a junior and wrestling his way to an unanimous No. 1 national ranking this season.

He’s the Prodigal Poke, a four-time state champion at Cheyenne Central who spent his freshman season at North Carolina State before returning home. And his successes on the mat, and the acclaim they’ve garnered, have energized Wyoming’s rise to the national rankings this season.

***

Meredith made his run in the 2016 championships as a No. 14 seed, but he didn’t sneak up on anyone after that.

“Now I hold myself as an NCAA finalist,” Meredith said earlier this season, “and everybody that wrestles me knows that I’m an NCAA finalist.”

That goes for the fans, too. Meredith’s success in his first two seasons at Wyoming put a special shine on his senior season. He joked that it has been like Derek Jeter’s farewell tour, when the Yankee shortstop was honored at each stadium he visited for the final time.

Josh Galemore, Star-Tribune 

Wyoming’s Bryce Meredith (141 lbs.) attempts to pin Oklahoma’s Mike Longo at the UW Sports Complex Sunday afternoon, Feb. 4, 2018.

Saturday at the Arena-Auditorium will be his finale in Wyoming, when the Cowboys host Northern Colorado at the Arena-Auditorium.

“Right now, I don’t know if I’ll get emotional,” Meredith said, “but the last couple years of my life as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become a more emotional person. I’ve never had tears of joy up until just recently. We’ll see. Luckily, I’ve still got a little wrestling to do afterwards, so my door isn’t all the way closed, but I understand which door is closing, and it is sad.”

Meredith has had numerous opportunities this season to create indelible memories. Dec. 19 at Cheyenne’s Storey Gym was chief among them. Meredith had an opportunity, in his hometown, to pick up his first win against Oklahoma State’s Dean Heil, the same wrestler who had denied Meredith a national championship his sophomore season. Heil had been the No. 1 seed at the 2016 Championships, and he clung to the top ranking as the result of a 55-match winning streak.

The night would culminate with Meredith and Heil at 141 pounds. Colgan was the only Wyoming wrestler favored to win against third-ranked Oklahoma State, so scheduling the hometown hero last would keep fans in the stands.

Meredith made his match worth the wait. After a scoreless first period, Heil took the first lead with a second-period escape. But Meredith matched Heil with a third-period escape of his own. In the third overtime, Meredith’s second escape point made the difference.

“It was awesome,” Colgan said. “He actually found a picture the other day of him cheering the crowd up and then me in the background, I’m just smiling at him. He’s just like, ‘Dang, you’re a good dude.’ But it’s just true. That’s just how I felt with him. There was no emotion hiding. I was so happy for him.”

It was a full-circle moment for a wrestler whose route from Cheyenne to Laramie included a pit stop in North Carolina.

“I’ve got a whole state backing me,” Meredith said. “And I truly feel that, too. I’m not just saying that in a cliche way. I truly feel like this state backs me and everybody loves and supports me, and it’s been amazing.

“I can’t even be one of these people that go, ‘Oh, these haters are fueling me.’ Because I don’t even have that. I have only support from this circle, and with that support, it’s just pushed us to this high level of success.”

Josh Galemore, Star-Tribune 

Wyoming’s Bryce Meredith takes off his headgear after finishing his Feb. 4 match against Oklahoma’s Mike Longo at the UW Sports Complex. Before wrestling for the University of Wyoming, Meredith was a four-time state champion at Cheyenne Central.

Meredith’s match that night wasn’t some consolation prize. As a team, Wyoming hung with Oklahoma State, splitting the 10 matches and falling just bonus points short of a dual win.

“All of a sudden it became a very special night instead of just, ‘We’re here to see one match,’” Wyoming head wrestling coach Mark Branch said. “People got to witness one of the best duals of the year, and one of the best duals they’ll ever see in college wrestling. In addition to what was at stake in that last match, when you went back and looked at it, you’re like, man, the stars kind of aligned that night for something that a lucky 3,000 people got to witness.”

***

Meredith does not lack for competition at 141 pounds. Heil, the class’s two-time defending champion, has lost three more times since falling to Meredith. But Meredith’s most historic match this season might have come against a 133-pounder.

Prior to Wyoming’s Jan. 18 dual at South Dakota State, the Jackrabbits’ promotional team tweeted out a photo illustration of Meredith standing alongside Seth Gross, South Dakota State’s own top-ranked wrestler. Gross also tweeted out the image, which made it look as if he was going up against Meredith, who wrestles one weight class above him.

“Me vs. @GodsWrestler133,” Meredith tweeted out jokingly, using Gross’ handle.

“Gotta finish our best of 3 series,” answered Gross, who had split two matches with Meredith when he wrestled at 141 pounds.

The idea began to pick up steam.

“All of a sudden, it was something that I think everybody looked at like a win-win for the sport,” Branch said.

Though for Meredith, it was actually a no-win situation. If he lost, he would be losing to a lighter wrestler. If he won, he would be winning a match he should have won.

Still, Meredith’s 4-2 win, sealed with a late takedown, resonated throughout the sport.

“I mean, those things don’t happen,” Branch said. “One versus one, at least since the weight class changes and the weight certification changes 20 years ago, I don’t think it’s every been done.”

Josh Galemore, Star-Tribune 

Wyoming’s Bryce Meredith takes down Oklahoma’s Mike Longo on Feb. 4 at the UW Sports Complex. 

FloWrestling tweeted a highlight of the match that received nearly 1,300 retweets. Olympic champion wrestler Jordan Burroughs tweeted Meredith and Gross congratulations.

“The wrestling community exploded for the match,” Meredith said. “Social media was out of control, and any time I can help grow the sport or grow my brand or Wyoming, I love to do it. I’m down for anything. I don’t care about wins or losses. I just care about growing with anybody and everybody that’s on the team.”

***

Last season, for the first time under Branch, Wyoming lost more duels than it won. The Cowboys had individual successes, sending five wrestlers to the 2017 NCAA Championships, but as a team, things didn’t click.

“That really sucks the life out of you,” Meredith said, “when you go out and get a pin and you come back and get yelled at by Coach.”

This year, the Cowboys are making a name for themselves up and down the lineup. Five Cowboys currently hold individually rankings, three 10th or better. Wyoming is 10th in the Trackwrestling team rankings and 17th in the coaches poll, its best since 2014-15.

Some of the ranked Pokes fall near Meredith’s weight class, which Branch said has had a direct effect on the team’s success. Redshirt freshman Montorie Bridges, for example, has been a breakout star himself this season, earning a top-three ranking at 133 pounds.

But Meredith’s presence has had another effect on the team as a whole.

“One of the hardest things that we battle here is our kids believing that we can compete with the best,” Branch said. “So when you have one of your teammates do it, not to mention that he’s a Wyoming kid, to go to the pinnacle of our sport, be in the NCAA finals and then come back and be an all-American last year, I think those things really solidify what we’re doing here and what we’re capable of.

“So that affects all the guys on the team, whether they have hands-on training experience with Bryce or not.”

Josh Galemore, Star-Tribune 

Wyoming’s Bryce Meredith (141 lbs.) wrestles against Oklahoma’s Mike Longo at the UW Sports Complex Sunday afternoon, Feb. 4, 2018.

That team growth could make March a fun month for the Wyoming wrestling team. But Saturday, Meredith, Colgan and Wyoming’s senior class will close a different chapter, giving the state one last chance to see something unforgettable.

“I want a huge crowd for that last dual,” Meredith said. “I want everybody to be out there. I want everyone supporting us seniors, because we’ve grinded for this state, and they’ve grinded for us. It’s our time to salute each other.”


Josh Galemore, Star-Tribune 

Wyoming’s Bryce Meredith pulls down Oklahoma’s Mike Longo on Feb. 4 at the UW Sports Complex. Meredith, who's ranked first in the nation for his weight class, will compete in his final home match on Saturday.


Business
AP
All sides claim budget win; immigration fight looks tougher

WASHINGTON — Republican leaders, top Democrats and President Donald Trump are all claiming big wins in the $400 billion budget agreement signed into law Friday. But the push to pass the massive legislation underscored enduring divisions within both parties, and those rifts are likely to make the next fight over immigration even more challenging.

In Washington’s latest display of governance by brinkmanship, the bipartisan accord bolstering military and domestic programs and deepening federal deficits crossed the finish line just before dawn — but not before the government shut down overnight.

Passage left nerves frayed and Democrats with little leverage to force congressional action on their most high-profile priority: preventing deportation of hundreds of thousands of the young immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children and remain here without permanent legal protection.

Lawmakers rushed to limit the disruption and impact over the lapse in government funding, voting in the middle of the night to reopen agencies before workers were due to report to the office. It was the government’s second shutdown in three weeks, and most lawmakers were eager to avoid a big show of dysfunction in an election year.

Sen. Rand Paul did not share the urgency. Late Thursday, the tea party leader and Kentucky Republican put the brakes on the bill in protest over Congress’ sudden willingness to embrace big deficit spending. Paul noted that he and many in his party railed against deficits when Democrats held the White House, but now seemed willing to look the other way with Republicans in control.

He said he hoped his stand would teach conservatives “to not accept just anything because it comes from a GOP Congress.”

Paul’s call clearly angered Republican leaders — Sen. John Cornyn called it “grossly irresponsible” — and it exposed a contradiction that may come to haunt Republicans as they try to fire up conservatives in midterm elections.

The budget measure provides Pentagon spending increases sought by Trump and the GOP, more money for domestic agencies demanded by Democrats and $89 billion that both wanted for disaster relief. The two-year pact, which also continues the government’s authority to borrow money, postpones any possible federal default or likely shutdowns until after the November elections.

But the 652-page budget bill says nothing about protection for the “Dreamer” immigrants. That omission largely explains why a quarter of Senate Democrats and two-thirds of House Democrats voted no, and why immigration now because the next battle. In January, after a three-day closure, Senate Democrats secured from GOP leaders the promise of a debate and vote on a deal to protect the younger immigrants from deportation.

“Democrats have fought hard but, in the end, many opted to say yes to other priorities and leave Dreamers behind,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigration America’s Voice. He called that decision plus opposition by many Republicans “inhumane and indecent.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., set next Monday as the start of a free-wheeling immigration battle, a debate he promised when Democrats agreed to vote to reopen the government last month. Ryan hasn’t scheduled House consideration, infuriating Democrats, but he said Friday, “We will focus on bringing that debate to this floor and finding a solution.”

Democrats want to extend the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which lets the immigrants temporarily live and work in the U.S. but that Trump would end March 5. The Democrats also want to make the immigrants eligible for citizenship or permanent residence.

In exchange, Trump wants $25 billion to build his beloved, proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall and other barriers. He also wants reductions in legal immigration, including limiting the relatives whom legal residents can sponsor and eliminating a lottery that offers visas to residents of diverse countries.

There’s no obvious compromise that could win the 60 votes from Republicans and Democrats needed to prevail in the Senate. The most promising outcome may be a narrow bill extending DACA protections for a year or so and providing some border security money for Trump.

Whatever happens, this week’s budget battle dealt a clear immigration defeat to Democrats, who’d initially vowed to block spending bills until there was a deal to help the Dreamers. The setback left party members divided.

No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin of Illinois, a leader in the immigration fight, said the budget pact “opens the door” for Senate votes on protecting the young immigrants. But Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said anyone supporting the spending measure was “colluding with this president and this administration to deport Dreamers.”

Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona is preparing compromises to offer during his chamber’s upcoming debate and says his party will suffer in November if the issue isn’t addressed. No. 3 House GOP leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana says Republicans still disagree about “how to handle this number of people that Barack Obama encouraged to come in here illegally.”

With the immigration fight looming, Congress voted overnight to finance the government through March 23, giving budget-writers time to craft detailed legislation funding agencies through the rest of this fiscal year.


Shannon Broderick, Laramie Boomerang 

Wyoming forward Taylor Rusk dribbles past San Jose State's Myzhanique Ladd during their game Saturday at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie.


Casper
breaking
Fremont County child dies from flu-related illness; Wyoming experiencing high activity

A Fremont County child died this week from a flu-related illness, the Wyoming Department of Health said Friday, bringing the state’s likely influenza-related death toll for this season to at least 11.

“We continue to see widespread influenza across the state with indications of high activity levels,” said Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist. “We do not know if we have yet reached this season’s peak or for how much longer flu will spread in the state.”

Health officials are only aware of one pediatric death tied to the flu in Wyoming this season. They declined to say whether the child had been vaccinated against influenza.

Last year, there were 15 flu-related deaths during the influenza season in Wyoming, which stretches from October to May. The season’s peak is typically in mid-winter. Natrona County had at least three flu-related deaths as of early January, health officials said.

Health department spokeswoman Kim Deti declined to describe the flu’s spread as an epidemic, citing specific criteria epidemiologists require. But she said it wasn’t “anything exotic.”

“Obviously we’re looking at a lot of illness this year,” she said. “But it happens every year.”

In Natrona County, the school district has seen “a lack of student and staff attendance ... related to flu cases and illness,” said Wendy Wilson, the district’s nurse coordinator. School officials have also seen “an increase in parent calls to school nurses related to questions about when to send their child to school or when not to send them.”

District officials recommend keeping a child home if he or she exhibits flu-like symptoms, which they identify as “a fever over 100 degrees with a cough or sore throat. Other flu symptoms can include tiredness, body aches, vomiting and diarrhea.” The student should stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever subsides without the aid of medication.

Deti said officials aren’t prepared to say the spread of the illness is ebbing. She noted there’s been an increase of a different strain that’s typically less severe than the dominant strain seen thus far.

“While H3N2, an ‘A’ virus, has been dominant so far this season, we are now seeing a shift in Wyoming to some ‘B’ viruses,” said Harrist, the state health officer. “Historically, seasons with high levels of H3N2 have been associated with more severe influenza illnesses with higher numbers of hospitalizations and deaths.”

The national spread of the flu is worse than it’s been in years, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The season has been driven by a nasty type of flu that tends to put more people in the hospital and cause more deaths than other more common flu bugs. But its long-lasting intensity has surprised experts, who are still sorting out why it’s been so bad. One possibility is that the vaccine is doing an unusually poor job; U.S. data on effectiveness is expected next week.

A government report out Friday shows one of every 13 visits to the doctor last week was for fever, cough and other symptoms of the flu. That ties the highest level seen in the U.S. during swine flu in 2009.

Influenza-related illnesses have “reached 7.7 percent this week and is the highest level ... recorded since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, which reached 7.7 percent,” CDC officials wrote last week. “The overall hospitalization rate is higher than the overall hospitalization rate reported for the same week during the 2014-2015 season; the most severe season in recent years.”

“I wish that there were better news this week, but almost everything we’re looking at is bad news,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the CDC.

At least 63 children have died nationwide this season from flu-related illnesses. Wyoming is one of 43 states that’s experienced high influenza-related illness activity.

The mortality rate nationwide attributed to the flu and pneumonia “is high again at 10.1% for the week ending January 20, 2018 (week 3). This percentage is above the epidemic threshold of 7.3% for week 3 in the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) Mortality Surveillance System,” the CDC wrote.

“What I’m finding, having been here 25 years, this is a rate for us that is above average,” county health officer Mark Dowell said last month. “It’s not as aggressive as H1N1 was back around 2009, but it’s more aggressive” than usual.

State health officials typically do not have a complete death count from flu-related illnesses until the season ends, officials have said, when the state gathers data from death certificates.

But officials warned in December that they were seeing an uptick in flu activity.

Dowell, who was unavailable to comment Friday, said last month that the Northern Hemisphere normally takes its vaccine cues from Australia, where the flu typically appears first. But the nation had a bad season this year, he said, and the strain of the flu that the vaccine was supposed to protect against mutated.

Still, Dowell, the CDC and the state Department of Health all recommend that people over the age of six months be vaccinated.

There are a number of groups that are especially at risk for flu complications, including young children, older adults, people with chronic illnesses and challenged immune systems, pregnant women, the extremely overweight, those under age 19 taking long-term aspirin therapy, and residents of nursing homes.

Physicians may recommend prescription antiviral medications to treat the illness. But to make that option most effective, “it is important to seek medical care quickly once you become ill,” Harrist said in the health department’s press release.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.