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Neal Herbert, NPS 

Bull elk are in the middle of their fall breeding season in Yellowstone National Park.

Fiery Kavanaugh denies quiet accuser in Senate showdown

WASHINGTON — In a day like few others in Senate history, California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford quietly recounted her “100 percent” certainty Thursday that President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court had sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers — and then Brett Kavanaugh defiantly testified he was “100 percent certain” he did no such thing.

That left senators to decide whether the long day of testimony tipped their confirmation votes for or against Trump’s nominee in a deeply partisan fight with the future of the high court and possibly control of Congress in the balance.

Showing their own certainty, Republicans quickly scheduled a recommendation vote for this morning in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where they hold an 11-10 majority. They’re hoping for a final Senate roll call next week, seating Kavanaugh on the court shortly after the Oct. start of its new term.

In the committee’s packed hearing room for hour upon hour Thursday, both Kavanaugh and Ford said the alleged assault and the storm of controversy that has erupted 36 years later had altered their lives forever and for the worse — perhaps the only thing they agreed on during their separate testimony marked by a stark contrast of tone and substance.

Ford recounted for the senators and a nationwide TV audience her long-held secret of the alleged assault in a locked room at a gathering of friends when she was just 15. The memory — and Kavanaugh’s laughter during the act — was “locked” in her brain, she said. Ford delivered her testimony with deliberate certitude, though admitting gaps in her memory as she choked back tears at some points and said she “believed he was going to rape me.”

Hours later, Kavanaugh entered the hearing room fuming. He angrily denied her allegation, alternating a loud, defiant tone with near tears of his own, particularly when discussing his family. He decried his confirmation opposition as a “national disgrace.” He interrupted senators and dismissed some questions with a flippant “whatever.”

“You have replaced ‘advice and consent’ with ‘search and destroy,’” he said, referring to the Constitution’s charge to senators’ duties in confirming high officials.

Democrats pressed the judge to call for an FBI investigation into the claims, but he would say only, “I welcome whatever the committee wants to do.”

Republicans are concerned, among other reasons, that further investigations could push a vote past the November elections that may switch Senate control back to the Democrats and make consideration of any Trump nominee more difficult.

Trump made his feelings newly clear that he was sticking by his choice. “His testimony was powerful, honest and riveting,” he tweeted. “The Senate must vote!”

Trump nominated the conservative jurist in what was supposed to be an election year capstone to the GOP agenda, locking in the court’s majority for years to come. Instead Kavanaugh has seemed in peril and on Thursday he faced the Senate hearing amid a national reckoning over sexual misconduct at the top of powerful institutions.

The day opened with Ford, now a 51-year-old college professor in California, raising her right hand to swear under oath about the allegations she said she never expected to share publicly until they leaked in the media two weeks ago and reporters started staking out her home and work.

As Anita Hill did more two decades ago when she alleged sexual misconduct by Clarence Thomas, the mom of two testified before a committee with only male senators on the Republican side of the dais.

The psychology professor described what she says was a harrowing assault in the summer of 1982: How an inebriated Kavanaugh and another teen, Mark Judge, locked her in a room at a house party as Kavanaugh was grinding and groping her. She said he put his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams. Judge has said does not recall the incident.

When the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, asked Ford how she could be sure that Kavanaugh was the attacker, Ford said, “The same way I’m sure I’m talking to you right now.” Later, she said her certainty was “100 percent.”

Her strongest memory of the alleged incident, Ford said, was the two boys’ laughter.

“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter,” said Ford, who is a research psychologist, “the uproarious laughter between the two.”

Republican strategists were privately hand-wringing after Ford’s testimony. The GOP special counsel Rachel Mitchell, a Phoenix sex crimes prosecutor, who Republicans had hired to avoid the optics of their all-male line up questioning Ford, left Republicans disappointed.

Mitchell’s attempt to draw out a counter-narrative was disrupted by the panel’s decision to allow alternating five-minute rounds of questions from Democratic senators.

During a lunch break, even typically talkative GOP senators on the panel were without words.

John Kennedy of Louisiana said he had no comment. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said he was “just listening.”

Then Kavanaugh strode into the committee room, arranged his nameplate, and with anger on his face started to testify with a statement he said he had shown only one other person. Almost immediately he choked up.

“My family and my name have been totally and permanently destroyed,” he said.

He lashed out over the time it took the committee to convene the hearing after Ford’s allegations emerged, singling out the Democrats for “unleashing” forces against him. He mocked Ford’s allegations — and several others since — that have accused him of sexual impropriety.

Even if senators vote down his confirmation, he said, “you’ll never get me to quit.”

Cost adjustment proposal would mean $4.7 million cut to Natrona County schools

Natrona County School District would lose nearly $4.7 million under a proposal presented to education lawmakers Thursday.

The report, presented by legislative consultant Lori Taylor at Thursday’s meeting of the Joint Education Committee, would update one of the indexes used to calculate the regional cost adjustment, or RCA, which essentially provides additional funding to districts in pricier areas, like Teton County. The proposal would update what’s called the Hedonic Wage Index, which hasn’t been brought up to date since 2005.

In a memo presented to lawmakers after Taylor walked them through the report, legislative staffers estimated that Natrona County would lose $4.67 million as a result of the change. In total, updating the index would mean a statewide reduction of $6.3 million to Wyoming schools.

Fourteen districts would lose money, nine would receive more funding, and 25 would be unaffected by the change. Of those that would lose money, none come anywhere near the losses that would be suffered by Natrona County. Indeed, the closest would be Campbell County School District, which would lose $623,000.

The cut would be significant enough — and isolated enough — that it prompted Natrona County administrators to make a rare public comment Thursday. While officials from Wyoming’s second-largest school district are regular attendees at these legislative meetings, they rarely if ever weigh in publicly, setting them apart from their colleagues at other large districts.

“Our concern is ... the update of the 2018 Hedonic Wage Index ... disproportionately hits one school district,” testified Mike Jennings, Natrona County’s executive director for human resources.

Jennings noted that the district has already cut $10 million over recent years to deal with the statewide K-12 funding shortfall — which, combined with construction, is roughly $300 million a year. Officials here have closed five schools and eliminated — via attrition — roughly 220 positions.

In an interview with the Star-Tribune, Jennings demurred when asked how the district would handle a fresh reduction of nearly $4.7 million. But he noted that there isn’t another school to close and that 85 percent of the district’s budget is tied up in salaries and benefits.

“We’d have to look at what other strategies we can employ,” he said.

It’s not exactly clear what about the updated index would hurt Natrona County so badly. Rep. Debbie Bovee, a Casper Democrat, and Teton County school board vice chairwoman Janine Bay Teske both questioned what set the district apart.

The report doesn’t go into detail about Natrona County. It does, however, note a handful of areas where it differs from the current index, areas that likely hold the answers to the severity of the Natrona County School District’s possible cut: The updated index would take the county wage index, population index and the percent of English language learners into account and would not include a handful of other things, like how many mobile students a district has or the supplemental salaries of staff.

It’s unclear what the committee will do next. After public testimony concluded Thursday afternoon, lawmakers moved on to their next topic without discussing the index change. Sen. Chris Rothfuss, a Laramie Democrat, said he suspected the regional cost adjustment would come up again Friday, when lawmakers will also discuss the inflation adjustment districts receive.

Jennings and Taylor, the legislative consultant who presented the report, both noted that legislators have options beyond just updating the index and letting the districts deal with the results. For instance, Taylor told lawmakers they can phase in the adjustment slowly, though that would still cost Natrona County $936,000 in the first year.

They could also have every district tie their RCA to the Hedonic Wage Index, rather than the current system, which ties each district’s to the best of three options. That system, Taylor wrote, would see every district’s adjustment increase — except for Teton County.

Jennings said that option would be a fair alternative.

Barrasso says he continues to support Kavanaugh nomination; Enzi doesn't offer comment

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso said Thursday evening that he continues to support Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who testified that he did not sexually assault psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford when they were teenagers.

“I found Judge Kavanaugh’s categorical denial of these events to be convincing and very credible,” Barrasso said in a statement.

Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh both testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. The emotional testimony transfixed the nation on a day that saw Blasey Ford state with certainty that Kavanaugh had assaulted her and Kavanaugh insist he had done no such thing.

Barrasso said he supported the committee’s decision to hold the hearing, but added the witnesses identified by Blasey Ford refuted her testimony.

“There has been no supporting evidence or witnesses confirming the serious allegations made by Dr. Ford against Judge Kavanaugh,” he said.

Two-thirds of Wyoming’s congressional delegation offered thoughts on the hearing. Barrasso’s came in the form of a written statement. Congresswoman Liz Cheney — one of Kavanaugh’s most vehement supporters — was vocal in reaffirming her support for the nominee on Thursday afternoon. A spokesman for Sen. Mike Enzi, meanwhile, said late Thursday afternoon that his office would not be issuing a comment.

Outside of Washington, the episode has prompted dialogue both on the prevalence — and ignorance — of sexual assault in America and the reasons why men and women are often reluctant to come forward as survivors. For Kavanaugh’s conservative supporters, the conversation has swirled around the burden of proof required for allegations to be considered “credible” enough to serve as a basis to deny someone’s appointment to the nation’s highest court.

Inside the bubble of Washington, pundits have speculated the drama surrounding the Kavanaugh nomination has served as a national platform for Democrats as well as Republicans to elevate themselves or, in some cases, to show party loyalty. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham tore into Democrats, calling Thursday’s hearing “the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics” while Democrats, meanwhile, used their opportunity to build a narrative around Republicans and their treatment of victims of sexual assault.

Neither Barrasso nor Enzi sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee. They will, however, vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation, should it reach the Senate.

Though the House does not vote for a Supreme Court justice, the Kavanaugh controversy has offered a partisan litmus test for many representatives, including Cheney, who sent out nine tweets in support of Kavanaugh in a five-day span last week. Though Cheney’s office also did not return a request for comment on Thursday afternoon, she tweeted her thanks at Sen. Graham for his statement, followed by a tweet attacking Democrats.

“Judge Kavanaugh ferociously defended his innocence, his family and our constitutional system,” she wrote. “He was absolutely right to call the Dems out for their disgraceful behavior. @SenFeinstein and the other committee Dems should be ashamed. #ConfirmKavanaughNow

Cheney also used Twitter to address a statement made by the Judiciary Committee’s ranking member, Sen. Diane Feinstein, which called on Blasey Ford to testify by Thursday or it would proceed forward with a vote on the judge’s nomination without regard for the accusations made against him.

“Just when you thought @SenFeinstein had hit bottom in her conduct during these hearings, she finds a new low,” wrote Cheney. “This is a lie, a disgraceful denial of due process, and an abandonment of her constitutional duty by the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

Barrasso and Cheney are both up for reelection this November. Each are considered to be overwhelming favorites.

The Judiciary Committee is expected to vote today on Kavanaugh’s confirmation. A full Senate vote is set for next week.