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Carolyn Deuel, director of Artcore, introduces Prairie Wildfire on Jan. 7, at an afternoon performance at The Lyric in Casper. Deuel has been on Artcore's board since 1979.

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Cheney says she will vote to impeach Trump
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Rep. Liz Cheney said Tuesday she will vote to impeach President Donald Trump following last week’s attack at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of the president.

In a statement, Cheney said the president incited the mob that attacked the Capitol on Wednesday. Afterward, he could have “immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence,” but didn’t, she said.

“There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,” she said in a statement.

Cheney becomes the highest-profile Republican to announce that she would support impeachment. She is the third-ranking Republican in the House.

Cheney has sided with Trump in the vast majority of her votes during his presidency. Still, she has publicly broken with Trump in numerous instances in the past — never more prominently than last week, when she vehemently condemned Trump’s role in the Capitol riot, calling it “a part of his legacy.”

“Much more will become clear in coming days and weeks, but what we know now is enough,” she said in her statement Tuesday. “The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President.”

The lawmaker, who was elected in 2016, had previously criticized the president for failing to produce evidence to back his claims of widespread voter fraud.

Trump had struck back at Cheney after her comments ahead of last week’s congressional certification of the Electoral Vote. In his speech before the riot began, Trump called on his supporters to “get rid of the weak congress people” who declined to back his baseless allegations of rampant voter fraud.

“The Liz Cheneys of the world. We have to get rid of them,” Trump said, while encouraging primary challenges against Republicans who opposed him.

Cheney’s father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, also condemned the president’s attempts to overturn the election, joining all other living former defense secretaries in a Washington Post op-ed cautioning against military action in support of Trump’s efforts.

Liz Cheney was the member of Wyoming’s delegation most vocally opposed to protesting the results of the Electoral College. Sen. John Barrasso also voted to certify the votes but was not as outspoken about the situation. Newly elected Sen. Cynthia Lummis was one of eight senators who voted not to certify Pennsylvania’s results, though she did vote in favor of certifying Arizona’s.

In a statement, Lummis told the Star-Tribune she opposed impeaching the president.

“We will witness, once again, the peaceful transition of power on January 20th,” Lummis said in a written statement on Tuesday. “Moving forward with impeachment at this juncture will only further divide our already hurting nation. I respect the right of all of my colleagues to vote their conscience, but we need to calm the rhetoric and start finding ways to work together as Americans. I look forward to working with my colleagues to address the most pressing issues we face today.”

The Star-Tribune also reached out to Barrasso for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Trump conceded the election on Thursday, saying that President-elect Joe Biden’s “administration will be inaugurated on January 20” and that his “focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power.”

The president, however, has since defended his speech at the rally that preceded the siege of the Capitol.

Meanwhile, fellow House Republicans John Katko of New York and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois backed Cheney’s position. Both issued statements supporting the impeachment of the president on Tuesday.

The New York Times has reported that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell “believes President Trump committed impeachable offenses” and “is pleased that Democrats are moving to impeach him, believing that it will make it easier to purge him from the party,” citing “people familiar with his thinking.”

Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, called the decision by high-profile Republicans to support the impeachment of the president “shocking.” But the insurrection at the Capitol last week likely threw Republicans over the edge, he said.

Tobias anticipates more Republicans will follow suit.

“I think the breach (of the party) has been made, just like they breached the Capitol,” he said.

“I think (the insurrection) has really fractured the Republican party and the party reflects that,” he added.

When the House of Representatives voted in December 2019 to impeach Trump the first time, a 230-197-1 decision passed the abuse of power article and a 229-198-1 vote decided the obstruction of Congress article. No Republicans voted in favor of either. Democrats now control the House of Representatives by a slimmer majority: 222 to 212.

Tobias anticipates more Republicans will support the latest article of impeachment. Not only is the allegation easier for the public to understand, it also hits closer to home.

Five House Democrats voted in 1998 to impeach Democratic President Bill Clinton, the most recent president to be impeached before Trump. Like Trump, Clinton was acquitted by the Senate.

Star-Tribune staff writer Nick Reynolds and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photos: Scenes of violence at U.S. Capitol shock world

Photos: Scenes of violence at U.S. Capitol shock world

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Wyoming Legislature votes to adjourn after one day, as expected
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The first day of the 66th Wyoming Legislature was anticipated to be quick and simple, focused on assigning bills and swearing in legislative leadership before adjourning for a largely online session until the body reconvened in person in March.

Instead, the day featured a debate between House lawmakers over adopting a set of temporary rules that essentially allow state lawmakers to meet and vote remotely amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with some arguing legislators should be allowed to meet in person and in the Capitol if they chose to do so.

A delayed, in-person session has long been an accepted fact among members of legislative leadership, due both to the lack of volunteer staff needed to keep the session running smoothly as well as the lack of vaccines for lawmakers and staff. That decision was made after negotiations between legislative leadership and Gov. Mark Gordon, lawmakers said in a Tuesday press conference.

While an effort was made to acquire the vaccines and protect both legislators and staff, ultimately state lawmakers were determined to remain in a lower priority group than other essential workers, like medical professionals.

The group of dissenting legislators consisted primarily of newly elected, far-right lawmakers, who argued that hosting the session online would reduce public access and hinder people’s ability to engage in the legislative process, which has been conducted almost exclusively through platforms like Zoom since a special session last spring.

Rep. Bob Wharff — a newly elected Republican from Evanston — argued that as a public participant, participating by Zoom is “user unfriendly and a huge disservice” to members of the public, before downplaying the risk of a pandemic that has killed more than 500 Wyoming residents since it began here in March.

Others, like Rep. Bill Fortner, R-Gillette, expressed concerns the laws could set a precedent for future sessions, despite language in the bill stating that the rules were temporary and only in place for the 2021 session.

The opposing voices gained little momentum however. On the Senate side of the building, just two members — Sens. Tom James, R-Rock Springs, and Troy McKeown, R-Gillette — ultimately voted to object to the rules, and the body adjourned without incident with only six lawmakers in opposition.

Meanwhile, House Republican leadership defended its case by noting that the Legislature has seen unprecedented levels of participation during the 2020 interim session — all of which was conducted digitally — and that holding the legislative session on time would likely be a herculean task given that most of the elderly, volunteer staffers required to run a session were unwilling to participate, due to concerns for their own health.

“If we were to stay in session and come back in, I would hazard a guess we would be 20% effective without our staff,” said Rep. Mike Greear, R-Worland.

Ultimately, the rules were adopted by a 50-10 margin.

Few masks in sight

Despite Wyoming’s statewide mask mandate, few of the roughly 30 lawmakers in attendance Tuesday were wearing face-coverings on the floor of the House, even among lawmakers sitting close together.

Legislative leadership voted earlier this winter to exempt itself from state and local mask mandates, citing anticipated challenges in enforcing the mandate with some of its members.

Mask usage was inconsistent on the floor of the House. While four members of the Senate wore masks consistently throughout the day, just one lawmaker in attendance Tuesday — Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, a public health official — kept theirs on for the entirety of the day’s proceedings. In contrast, all of the legislative staff wore masks while on the floor.

In a press conference with legislative leadership following the day’s vote, Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, told reporters that enforcing mask usage on the floor of the Senate would have been a distraction from the work needing to be done, telling WyoFile’s Andrew Graham that “to venture into whether we have a mask or not causes more problems,” he said.

House Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, told reporters that he had encouraged members to wear masks, and that he was disappointed that some members did not take the virus seriously, noting the resolution read on the floor in memory of late Gillette Republican Rep. Roy Edwards, who died after contracting COVID-19 last year.

Others — like Senate Minority Floor Leader Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie — were more critical of those who chose not to mask up, saying it showed a lack of respect for fellow lawmakers and legislative staff.

“I’m disappointed, and I know not everyone is,” he said.

Gordon delivers address

The day also featured an address from the governor himself.

Though Gordon’s official State of the State Address will be delayed until a “more appropriate time,” he told lawmakers in a virtual address, Wyoming’s chief executive walked the House and Senate through the state’s current multi-million dollar deficit and the challenges they will face in implementing his cuts without causing significant harm to the state’s most vulnerable populations.

Despite the release of more optimistic revenue projections from the state’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Group — which predicted an improvement of $132 million over the group’s October report — Wyoming’s key industries face a challenging road ahead. Overall, Wyoming’s mining employment was down by approximately 6,000 jobs between November 2019 and November 2020, according to the latest figures from the Wyoming Department of Administration & Information, signifying the 11th straight month of year-over-year declines for the state’s already struggling extraction sector.

These declines — despite a surprisingly good year for tourism and a relatively low unemployment rate — have driven the extent of the decline, requiring new revenues in order to fund services at their current levels. Without those new revenues, Gordon said, the cuts will likely be painful.

“I have already had to make deeper cuts than any other governor,” Gordon said in his address. “We have tried to do our best to protect those who are vulnerable. But cuts of this magnitude are unavoidably painful. I do not like any of this, because I know it hurts people. There simply was no other viable option. Still, I pledge to work assiduously with you to find ways to better serve those affected by the constraints of this budget. I will offer some other ideas and strategies in the days and weeks to follow. But for right now, our budget situation requires us to consider things carefully and demands us to think big and act boldly.”

Legislative leadership, however, acknowledged Tuesday many of the newest legislators elected to the body this year ran on platforms of cutting government and no new taxes, a predisposition Barlow told reporters could present a “unique opportunity” for those lawmakers to underscore the impacts of deep cuts to services within an already lean budget.

Others, like Rothfuss, called the looming budget cuts a “long-term, high interest loans on ourselves” that would ultimately cost the state more in long-term costs than they would save in the short term. That penalty, the minority argues, will likely be exacted on the state’s most at-risk populations.

“Don’t tell me your values or what you care about,” House Minority Leader Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, said. “Show me your budget.”

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Thirty-three more Wyomingites have died from COVID-19, state reports
  • Updated

The Wyoming Department of Health announced 33 new COVID-19 deaths Tuesday, matching the highest number it has announced in a single day.

There have now been 522 coronavirus deaths in Wyoming — 84 of which have been reported this month.

The new deaths come on the heels of Wyoming’s deadliest month for COVID-19, when 190 deaths were reported in December. Thirty-three deaths were also announced Dec. 31.

The state does not include a death in its COVID-19 count unless the virus is listed on the patient’s death certificate as either the cause of death or a contributing factor. There is often a lag between when deaths occur and when deaths are reported because of the time it takes for death certificates to be processed.

The majority of the deaths occurred this or last month, with one occurring in November. Ten of the deaths occurred in the last week. Of the 33 residents who died, 16 were hospitalized before their deaths. Fourteen were residents at long-term care facilities and 17 had underlying health conditions that made them more vulnerable to COVID-19 complications.

Laramie County reported the most new deaths, with 10 residents from that county among the newly announced deaths. That county has now lost 75 residents to COVID-19, the second-highest death toll in the state behind Natrona County, where 103 residents have been confirmed dead from the virus as of Tuesday.

Campbell County added seven new deaths, bringing that community’s death toll to 45.

Fremont County added three new deaths. Converse, Goshen, Natrona, Sweetwater and Washakie counties each added two new deaths. Johnson and Uinta counties both added one.

Since Thanksgiving, the number of active cases in the state has decreased, as has the average number of new cases reported. Some local health officials have attributed the decline to face mask usage.

However, health officials caution that the virus is not finished spreading through Wyoming and have urged residents to continue taking it seriously. Vaccines are slowly making their way through priority populations, but officials have said it will likely be spring before enough doses are available for mass vaccinations.

Photos: A timeline of coronavirus in Wyoming

PHOTOS: A timeline of coronavirus in Wyoming

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Natrona County School District could lose $18 million annually under state funding proposal
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The Natrona County School District stands to lose $18 million from its annual budget, depending on what the Wyoming Legislature decides as it meets over the coming months.

District Superintendent Mark Jennings presented the budget outline to the board of trustees in a meeting Monday. That outline paints a better picture than an early proposal from the Legislature’s Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration, which in September asked districts what a 16% cut from the school foundation fund would look like.

The board estimated at the time that proposal could cost the district $32 million and eliminate between 331 and 384 positions.

Jennings did not present new estimates for how many staff could be affected under an $18 million cut. That reduction includes a $13 million cut from the school foundation fund — which provides block grants to every Wyoming school district — and an estimated $4 million loss from reduced enrollment.

A $13 million cut constitutes about 6% of the district’s general fund budget. An $18 million cut represents 8% of that budget.

While Jennings didn’t provide new staffing estimates, he did say any serious cuts would likely come from employees, as personnel makes up 80% of the district budget.

For reference, he said in 2015, the district cut $12 million from the budget over three years. That resulted in 130 lost positions, which he said have not been reopened.

Jennings also proposed eliminating $1.5 million from a variety of school programs, including a 33% cut to the district’s school resource officer program, a 28% cut to a fund for out-of-district special education needs and the complete elimination of We Read, a program that gifts one book a month to students in kindergarten through the third grade.

Jennings explained the proposals aren’t final but added the majority of cuts identified in those programs come from surplus funding those accounts typically have.

The school foundation fund is how Wyoming upholds its legal obligation to provide every student an equal and “adequate” education. The program guarantees a degree of funding to every district in the state, depending on things like enrollment, transportation costs and special education needs.

As the second-largest school district in the state, the Natrona County School District receives a large sum from this program — just over $142 million in fiscal year 2020, or just under half the district’s budget.

That fund is in better shape than anticipated in the spring. In May, the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group estimated a $500 million shortfall for the School Foundation fund, amid the ongoing pandemic and declining energy revenues. The picture brightened slightly in October, when that same group revised their estimate to about $310 million, after higher-than-expected sales and lodging tax returns over the summer.

The newest iteration of that report, published Tuesday, shaves off $31 million in total anticipated losses to that fund — and improvement of $10.6 million for the remainder of this biennium and $20.3 million in the next.

The legislature’s Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration moved a bill forward in December that cuts $100 million from that fund. The bill still needs to be approved by both chambers of the Wyoming Legislature, which convened Tuesday but has yet to start discussing bills.

House races to oust Trump, he blames accusers for US 'anger'
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. House pressed forward Tuesday toward impeaching President Donald Trump for the deadly Capitol attack, taking time only to try to persuade his vice president to push him out first. Trump showed no remorse, blaming impeachment itself for the “tremendous anger” in America.

Already scheduled to leave office next week, Trump is on the verge of becoming the only president in history to be twice impeached. His incendiary rhetoric at a rally ahead of the Capitol uprising is now in the impeachment charge against him, even as the falsehoods he spread about election fraud are still being championed by some Republicans.’

The House convened Tuesday night to vote on urging Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to remove Trump with a Cabinet vote. But shortly before that, Pence said he would not do so in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

He said that it would not be in the best interest of the nation or consistent with the Constitution and that it was “time to unite our country as we prepare to inaugurate President-elect Joe Biden.”

Meanwhile, three Republicans including third-ranking House GOP leader Liz Cheney of Wyoming, announced they would vote to impeach Trump, cleaving the party’s leadership.

“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” said Cheney in a statement. “There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”

Reps. John Katko of New York, a former federal prosecutor, and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, an Air Force veteran, said they, too, would vote to impeach.

As lawmakers reconvened at the Capitol for the first time since the bloody siege, they were also bracing for more violence ahead of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration Jan. 20.

“All of us have to do some soul searching,” said Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, imploring other Republicans to join.

Trump, meanwhile, warned the lawmakers off impeachment and suggested it was the drive to oust him that was dividing the country.

“To continue on this path, I think it’s causing tremendous danger to our country, and it’s causing tremendous anger,” Trump said.

In his first remarks to reporters since last week’s violence, the outgoing president offered no condolences for those dead or injured, only saying, “I want no violence.”

Trump on Tuesday took no responsibility for his part in fomenting a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week, despite his comments encouraging supporters to march on the Capitol and praise for them while they were still carrying out the assault.

“People thought that what I said was totally appropriate,” Trump said. He made the comments during his first appearance in public since the Capitol siege, which came as lawmakers were tallying Electoral College votes affirming Biden’s victory. Trump arrived in Texas on Tuesday to trumpet his campaign against illegal immigration in an attempt to burnish his legacy with eight days remaining in his term, as lawmakers in Congress appeared set to impeach him this week for the second time.

Impeachment ahead, the House was first pressing Pence and the Cabinet to remove Trump more quickly and surely, warning he is a threat to democracy in the few remaining days of his presidency.

The House was expected to approve a resolution calling on Pence and the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to declare the president unable to serve. Pence, who had a “good meeting” with Trump on Monday, their first since the vice president was among those sheltering from the attack, was not expected to take any such action.

After that, the House would move swiftly to impeachment on Wednesday.

Trump faces a single charge — “incitement of insurrection” — in the impeachment resolution after the most serious and deadly domestic incursion at the Capitol in the nation’s history.

During an emotional debate ahead of the House action, Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif., urged her Republican colleagues to understand the stakes, recounting a phone call from her son as she fled during the siege.

“Sweetie, I’m OK,” she told him. “I’m running for my life.”

A handful of other House Republicans could vote to impeach, but in the narrowly divided Senate there are not expected to be the two-thirds votes to convict him, though some Republicans say it’s time for Trump to resign.

The unprecedented events, with just over a week remaining in Trump’s term, are unfolding in a nation bracing for more unrest. The FBI has warned ominously of potential armed protests in Washington and many states by Trump loyalists ahead of Biden’s inauguration and Capitol Police warned lawmakers to be on alert.

Lawmakers will be required to pass through metal detectors to enter the House chamber, not far from where Capitol police, guns drawn, had barricaded the door against the rioters.

The final days of Trump’s presidency will be like none other as Democrats, and a small number of Republicans try to expel him after he incited the mob that violently ransacked the Capitol last Wednesday.

A Capitol police officer died from injuries suffered in the riot, and police shot a woman during the violence. Three other people died in what authorities said were medical emergencies.