CHEYENNE – It was an action-packed year for the residents of Cheyenne and the rest of the state, as the world returned to a more familiar rhythm following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mask requirements were lifted, and offices, boutiques and restaurants filled back up with community members ready to get back to normal. The Capital City bustled with lawmakers during the budget session; filled with excitement at Fridays on the Plaza, Cheyenne Frontier Days and Edgefest throughout the summer; and kept busy with Halloween celebrations and the Christmas parade as the year drew to a close.
There were no breaks in the news cycle, either, as the Wyoming Tribune Eagle newsroom tracked down stories in Cheyenne and beyond. From covering impactful decisions, such as the Wyoming Legislature passing a redistricting plan that would add three more lawmakers, to following the journey of a mother biking to bring awareness to her son’s neurodevelopmental disorder, the newspaper’s journalists were ready to take it on.
After being so close to each community event, election, government meeting, court case or legislative committee, here are our top stories of 2022.
1. Abortion “trigger bill” passed by Legislature
The story that got the most high-ranking votes was the decision by the Wyoming Legislature to pass an abortion “trigger bill” during the budget session in March. The Senate voted 25-4 in favor of House Bill 92, and it was sent back to the House of Representatives, which voted 45-14 to concur with the Senate’s changes.
Although Roe v. Wade was still in effect at the time, legislators preemptively passed the bill that would ban abortions if the U.S. Supreme Court decision was overturned. The legislation states that an abortion shall not be performed except when necessary to keep a woman from serious risk of death or “irreversible physical impairment,” or the pregnancy was the result of incest or sexual assault.
Gov. Mark Gordon signed the bill following the session, and when the Supreme Court ended the constitutional protections for abortion in a ruling released June 24, he certified the trigger bill after it passed Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill’s legal review.
However, it was quickly challenged in court by Wyoming abortion providers, an abortion fund and residents just days after the certification in July. They sought temporary prevention of enforcement, which was granted.
“Wyomingites have historically relied on the right to be left alone by the government – especially when it comes to their private affairs, such as family composition and decisions about their private health care, fundamental rights guaranteed by the Wyoming Constitution,” the lawsuit stated. “On Wednesday, July 27, 2022, for Wyoming women and their families, these rights will be taken away.”
A stay on the ban was granted, and the legal battle has continued since then between the original plaintiffs, the state and a pro-choice coalition. Teton County District Court Judge Melissa Owens blocked the ban, and sent the case to the Wyoming Supreme Court in November after it was appealed by the state.
The Wyoming Supreme Court decided not to hear the appeal, which sends the case back to Teton County. Abortion will remain legal in Wyoming until another ruling by Owens.
2. Cheney censured by party, loses primary to Hageman
The top story of 2021 was the vote by Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., to impeach former President Donald Trump for “the incitement of insurrection” following the deadly mob siege of the Capitol on Jan. 6 of that year. She was only one of 10 Republican representatives to vote for the article of impeachment, and it cost her the support of the Wyoming Republican Party and the endorsement of Trump in the primary.
She stayed in the news throughout 2022, as she was censured by the Republican National Committee and lost the state GOP primary to Trump-endorsed Cheyenne attorney Harriet Hageman.
“Liz Cheney hates the voters of the Republican Party, and she has for longer than you know,” Trump said at a rally held in Casper in May. “Wyoming deserves a congresswoman who stands up for you and your values, not one who spends all of her time putting you down and going after your president in the most vicious way.”
Trump’s attacks on Cheney continued throughout the summer, and support grew for Hageman as she disparaged the three-term representative with the former president and other party members. Hageman told the crowd at the same rally it was time to elect a congresswoman who would protect residents from current President Joe Biden’s administration.
When it came time for voters to choose a side in August, they chose Hageman. She defeated Cheney and three other candidates with more than 66% of the vote, and went on to crush Democrat Lynette Grey Bull in the general election.
“Two years ago, I won this primary with 73% of the vote. I could have done the same again,” Cheney said in her televised concession speech. “But it would have required that I go along with President Trump’s lie about the 2020 election.”
3. Disciplinary hearing for Manlove
Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove’s story was followed both in 2021 and 2022. Formal charges were filed against her last year, with the State Bar alleging that she had mishandled the prosecution of cases in Laramie County and inappropriately dismissed certain cases, as well as that she created a hostile work environment for employees of the district attorney’s office.
During a disciplinary hearing earlier this year, former employees testified that the DA”s office under Manlove had been “chaotic and hostile,” preventing work from getting done and leading to their departures.
Manlove had her own chance to testify, in which she was questioned on her intentions in suggesting that law enforcement agencies would have to prosecute some of their own cases following budget cuts, and the announcement in September that her office would no longer be prosecuting non-priority cases, such as violent felonies, domestic violence cases and DUIs. At one point, Manlove was even declared a hostile witness, giving permission for leading questions, like in cross-examinations.
After more than a week of testimony, the hearing panel convened by the Wyoming State Bar found that Manlove was in violation of multiple rules of professional conduct that govern attorneys in the state. Oral arguments were held in front of the Wyoming Supreme Court later this year, which could lead to the prosecutor being stripped of her law license.
A ruling has not been issued yet by the high court, but Manlove chose not to run for re-election and will leave office next week.
4. Former Supt. of Public Instruction Balow resigns, Schroeder named replacement
The fourth highest-ranking story of the year was the resignation of former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, and the short term of her successor, Brian Schroeder.
Balow, a fifth-generation Wyomingite and former Cheyenne school principal, announced in mid-January she was leaving the statewide office to take a similar position in Virginia under Gov. Glenn Youngkin after serving for seven years.
Once she resigned, Gov. Mark Gordon had to choose from three candidates offered up by the Wyoming Republican Party’s Central Committee for her replacement. There were delays due to a district court case filed to seek a temporary halt on the governor’s appointment, but an injunction was denied.
Schroeder was sworn in at the start of February, and has since brought a spotlight to the Wyoming Department of Education. From advocating for charter schools, supporting anti-transgender legislation, fighting critical race theory being taught and pushing against the sexualization of children in public schools, he has made his opinion on major education issues in the past year well known.
“One of the predominant manifestations of the brave new world we now live in is a hyper-sexualized culture that is relentlessly sexualizing our kids from as many directions as possible. The pop music culture, movies, TV shows, the fashion industry, social media, and now even through some of the books made available to our kids in our school libraries,” Schroeder said at a news conference in October. “We would be utterly complicit and completely irresponsible not to challenge this. Moreover, if we don’t challenge it, we enable it.”
Schroeder ran for the position, but lost in the August GOP primary to Megan Degenfelder, who will take office next week.
5. Cheyenne mother fights for crosswalk safety
The story of Janelle Jones and her fight for improving crosswalk safety and preventing distracted driving in Cheyenne was another important highlight of 2022. She lost her 13-year-old son, Makaili James Evans, known as Mak, on Nov. 4, 2021, when he was struck by a vehicle and killed on his way to school while walking in a crosswalk near McCormick Junior High.
Jones has since turned her grief into action, starting a nonprofit organization earlier this year called ForMak in her son’s honor. It aims to improve crosswalk safety in Cheyenne, leading to discussions with the city and Laramie County School District 1 to fund an audit to figure out which parts of the city are in need of crosswalks the most. It also led to the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee taking up crosswalk safety as an interim topic.
“To learn that there are so many other areas in our community that need that – it became a broader picture for me, because it’s not just my kid that this had happened to, and I’m not just trying to keep those kids at McCormick safe,” Jones told the WTE in April. “But I want those necessary changes throughout our community so that nobody has to experience this.”
The power of her story spread through the community, and that was reflected in the public’s vote for it to be the top story of 2022.
6. Yellowstone experiences historic flooding
At the start of Yellowstone National Park’s summer tourist season in June, the nation’s first national park had to be closed for historic flooding and rockslides that caused widespread damage in the park and surrounding communities. It has since reopened, with approximately 93% of its roads accessible to the public, but residents felt the impacts of the mess and the economic fallout.
“This has been extraordinarily hard on a lot of people, and we are doing all we can to assist,” Gov. Mark Gordon said in his emergency declaration response to the flooding, which came during the park’s 150th anniversary. “Thankfully, visitors have been evacuated, and we can go about helping local communities, businesses and others address the historic impacts of this flood.”
Wyoming provided assistance to Montana and the National Park Service, and the Wyoming Department of Transportation temporarily maintained roads between the neighboring states. The Biden administration also approved disaster declaration funds to address damage to roads, bridges and buildings.
7. Inflation takes its toll
Inflation affecting the nation and the state earned a place in the top 10 stories of the year.
At the start of 2022, a nationwide report estimated that residents of the Cheyenne area experienced an increase of 12.1% in the cost of living between 2010 and 2020. The state’s data found the cumulative inflation between those years was 22.2% for Wyoming and 27.2% for the southeast region.
Prices continued to climb throughout the year, and by April, records were being broken. The statewide inflation rate for the fourth quarter of last year was 9.3% higher than it was in the same three-month period of 2021. That was the highest increase since 1981 for one quarter in a given year versus the same quarter in a previous year, according to the Wyoming Cost of Living Index.
Supply chain issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic drove up costs in key consumer spending categories, such as transportation, housing, apparel and food. Inflation was also impacted by the war in Ukraine, influencing both energy prices and food prices.
8. WEA sues state over K-12 funding
The Wyoming Education Association announced in August that it was filing suit against the state for failing to adequately fund K-12 education, and the motion to dismiss the case by the state was denied later this fall. WEA President Grady Hutcherson was joined by the association’s lawyer at a news conference at the end of the summer to assert that the state had violated the Wyoming Constitution, and the state has suffered for it.
“Wyoming children and families are promised access to high quality and equitable education – in too many ways, that promise is going unfulfilled. Funding education is not an option; it is a paramount duty of the Legislature,” said Hutcherson. “The Wyoming Education Association is committed to seeking justice for students.”
Although no one else has joined as plaintiffs with WEA, four school district boards have passed resolutions in support of joining the suit. Laramie County School District 1, Sweetwater County School Districts 1 and 2, as well as Lincoln County School District 1 have indicated their intent to join.
9. Rep. Gray elected as secretary of state
Trump-endorsed state Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, defeated state Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, in the Republican primary for secretary of state, and went on to win in the general election unopposed. Although moderate Republicans across the state searched for an independent candidate to run against Gray in the general election, they didn’t find a successful challenger.
“Thank you to the people of Wyoming. I’m honored that the citizens of Wyoming have entrusted me to work for their best interests as our next Secretary of State,” Gray said in a social media post following his general election win. “This is the people of Wyoming’s victory. Thank you to those who voted yesterday and made their voices known.”
Gray was known throughout his campaign for his strong stances on election integrity. He said he wanted to ban ballot drop boxes and revert to strictly paper ballots in Wyoming. He also claimed the 2020 election was fraudulent, which was not a concern shared by his opponent.
Less than two weeks before the primary election, Nethercott also said Gray should be disqualified in the secretary of state race. She cited a then-recent complaint by former Secretary of State Max Maxfield to the Federal Election Commission for insufficient financial disclosures when he was previously seeking to become the next U.S. House member from Wyoming.
These accusations didn’t stop Gray from securing both elections, as well as a place in the top stories of the year. He will be sworn into office at the start of 2023.
10. Increased reports of racism addressed in Cheyenne
Both Laramie County School District 1 and city officials put forward their best efforts to address reports of racism in Cheyenne, after a call to action from local military personnel and other community members voiced concern. Multiple racist incidents in LCSD1 schools and at least one local business were experienced by airmen and their families, which led to the eventual reassignment of two families from F.E. Warren Air Force Base.
LCSD1 Superintendent Margaret Crespo said in March that throughout the 2021-22 school year, there was an “increase in negative behaviors that impact a safe, responsible and respectful environment. These have ranged from physical fighting to the use of derogatory language.”
She urged community members to help cultivate a safer and friendlier environment, and the LCSD1 Board of Trustees passed a resolution that condemned discrimination and harassment later in the year.
“Our minority children have endured fights, have been called a word we dare not repeat, have been told to go back to a foreign country, even though their entire family was born in the U.S., and have been told your own people want you dead,” testified base commander Col. Catherine Barrington in a request for the school district’s response. “This is an ugliness that is too much to bear and can no longer be tolerated.”
Action was taken by other local governing bodies, such as the Cheyenne City Council’s ordinance to bar discriminatory and intimidating actions, and a resolution encouraging respectful dialogue. Local leaders also encouraged conversation and kindness in the wake of the racist incidents.
“It is important that we look forward to figuring out how we can make sure that this is a community of acceptance, and that we have respect,” Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce CEO Dale Steenbergen said at a forum in March. “And I think that is built into our culture.”