close
close

Reamm Org

MX News Update 2024

bacul43e

Who is Honor Wyoming? | News Letter Journal

JACKSON — Rep. Andrew Byron first heard his integrity as a public servant was under fire in early April.

The Republican lawmaker from Hoback, who represents slices of Teton and Lincoln counties, got a call from a constituent he had never met before. The Lincoln County resident asked about an ad he had seen online criticizing Byron for voting against a bill introduced during the most recent session called “What is a Woman Act.”

Byron explained the bill and his reasoning for the vote, he said, and found common ground with a voter he might not have connected with prior. He’s continued to have these kinds of conversations over the past few weeks with residents across House District 22.

The reason: a social media campaign launched recently on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube by a group calling itself “Honor Wyoming.”

Byron is one of the many Republican lawmakers who has been deemed a “Rodeo Clown” and branded as having “low integrity” by Honor Wyoming. The group’s online “Brand Book” says its ranking is based on votes cast during the session and whether each one was aligned with upholding the rights of the U.S. and Wyoming constitutions and principles of the GOP platform.

Out of 93 members of the Wyoming Legislature, only 30 or so were given a high rating by the group. They’re all members of the far-right Wyoming Freedom Caucus and its allies in the Senate.

But there is little information available about who is conducting the ratings or running the group, which has registered with the state as a nonprofit.

David Scheurn, a Teton County Republican precinct committeeman who ran unsuccessfully for Jackson Town Council in 2022, said he is the group’s “director of grassroots.”

But he could not speak much about the group’s mission and identified a man named John Guido as “the boss.” Little is known about Guido, who has a California phone number and did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

“Everyone’s hiding behind every single door they can,” Byron said he is telling his constituents, “and no one wants to come forward and have a discussion about it, face-to-face or publicly. They’re the problem. They don’t care about Wyoming values.”

He said the approach taken by the nonprofit is hypocritical.

“You can’t accuse someone of not having any integrity if you can’t talk to them,” he said.

Honor Wyoming was established less than a year ago, and its online presence skyrocketed in the past few months with a constant stream of ads, professionally produced videos, petitions, lawmaker integrity ratings and the “Brand Book.” The group even has billboards popping up around the state in support of “Top Hand” legislators.

“We keep a vigilant watch on our state lawmakers in Cheyenne, making sure they uphold the commitments they made to the people who elected them,” according to the Honor Wyoming website. “We draw inspiration from the frontier scouts of old, who protected others from danger. This is why we proudly display the scout in our logo.”

Paper trail

There are two nonprofit entities registered on June 16, 2023, with the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office. The registered agent for the Honor Wyoming Foundation and Honor Wyoming Inc. is Incorp Services, an LLC filing and corporation service based in Las Vegas that can provide anonymity. Wyoming is one of four states that doesn’t require members or managers of an LLC to be listed, only the registered agent and person who files the paperwork.

No other information is provided, except that both nonprofits are in good standing regarding taxes and a registered agent, and the office and mailing address is for a strip mall suite in Cheyenne with a UPS Store. The address was changed in March from a UPS Store location in Casper.

Because both registered nonprofits are less than a year old, there are no tax documents available under the Internal Revenue Service tax-exempt organization search. These documents are due to the IRS on May 15, and include revenue, expenditure and income data.

Observers have expressed interest in Honor Wyoming and where its money is coming from, including on a Reddit thread. A commenter who goes by “NotoriousB_L_T” said it appeared the group has enough funding to put up billboards and pay for advertising across the state. The commenter received an email response from Honor Wyoming after leaving an inquiry on the group’s website, and posted that response on Reddit.

“Honor Wyoming is not a PAC so we don’t file reports with the Secretary of State on donors,” the response stated. “We have both a 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 non-profit entity. As per the IRS regulations, we do not engage in endorsing candidates or any campaign or election activities.”

The group defined its role as educating voters on important issues and the voting records of Wyoming state lawmakers, and providing voters with tools and resources to “make sure their voices are heard.

“As is common with most 501(c)nonprofits, we do not disclose donor information to respect their privacy unless they specifically state that they want to be recognized in some way. But I can tell you that all of our donors are Wyoming residents.”

The Reddit commenter was told in March that a donation app would be connected to the website “by the end of the month,” but there is still no way for people to donate money on the site. Instead they ask people to subscribe to a newsletter or sign petitions banning out-of-state lobbying.

Faces of Honor Wyoming

The only names publicly associated with the nonprofit are two board members listed in the leadership section of the Honor Wyoming website: Jackson businessman and skier Jimmy Anderson and Wheatland rancher and former Wyoming Game and Fish Commissioner Kerry Powers. Both men are “traditional conservatives” in their 80s who have lost their wives in the past year. Their biographies say they support Honor Wyoming to ensure the types of values revered in the state are restored and protected.

No way to contact them is listed. However, a generic email contact form is available; no one responded to News&Guide questions via the form. The News&Guide was unable to reach Powers due to the phone number associated with his business and a legislative candidate filing with the Secretary of State’s Office being disconnected.

Anderson, reached by phone last week, said he was not interested in speaking about his involvement with Honor Wyoming. He was approached by the group around a year ago, and heard his photo and bio were on the website. But he had not seen the website, ads or any other online posts, he said, because he doesn’t have a computer. His wife was in charge of the internet before she died in February. Anderson described himself as a “wheelbarrow and shovel guy” and said the board members were “just the umpires.”

Anderson sifted through his desk while on the phone, looking in vain for the contact information of the person the News&Guide should speak to about the group: John Guido.

Scheurn, the Jackson resident who has been heavily involved with the Teton County GOP and a property tax ballot initiative, also cited Guido. Scheurn self-identified as a lobbyist for Honor Wyoming at the Teton County GOP convention in March, but he is not registered with the Secretary of State’s Office.

Scheurn said he took on his unpaid director position at Honor Wyoming when the group got up and running about six months ago. He learned about the organization from “friends of friends,” he said. “I mean, it’s a small state with a long highway.”

The grassroots director said he offers ideas about how to get more people interacting with the group — such as a contest for kids about living the Code of the West. He has also helped define the pillars of Honor Wyoming and bounced strategy ideas around with colleagues. While he is based in Jackson, he said his focus isn’t in Teton County.

When it came to the emergence of the nonprofit and its goal in the state, Scheurn said he wasn’t the one who could give the answers.

He said to speak to Guido. He said he didn’t know Guido’s exact title, but he was the only paid employee of Honor Wyoming. The rest are volunteers Scheurn didn’t want to name.

“He’s in charge,” Scheurn said. “And so he’s the one that I was taught is the main point of contact for Honor Wyoming as a whole.”

There is little on record about Guido, except that his California phone number has an area code associated with Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties. Guido has not answered multiple texts and calls over the past two weeks. The voicemail welcomes leaving a message for “John.”

Others with connections to Honor Wyoming continue to reference Guido, such as Rep. Jeanette Ward, R-Casper, a lawmaker deemed a “Top Hand.”

The only other name directly linked to the group is Kevin Lewis, a lobbyist registered with the Secretary of State’s Office between May 1, 2023, and April 30, 2024. The list updates every May 1, and his registration was not renewed.

Lewis was tracked down Monday after the incorrect phone number and address were listed on his registration. Lewis has lived in the state for more than three decades and worn many hats, including working in former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill’s administration, teaching at the University of Wyoming and being an engineer. Now, he said, he is contracted out by attorneys for research.

He said he would not reveal who asked him to lobby for the nonprofit and said he paid for his lobbyist registration out of his own pocket and had not invoiced Honor Wyoming for the work he did. He said his sole job was to deliver petitions to the Capitol during the session and meet a “marketing gal” from Laramie (whose name he couldn’t remember) to give her a guided tour.

His interest in the group was first piqued in November, after he said he saw videos featured on the website and YouTube page. The videos cover topics from protecting Wyoming values from out-of-state interests to how “God Made A Top Hand,” which has 342,000 views.

“People sent me videos,” he said. “They have some fantastic videos. I don’t know who they’ve got doing their cinematography, but they’re very high quality.”

The brand

Although Scheurn deflected questions about the purpose of Honor Wyoming to Guido, he acknowledged the tools the group has been using to get people involved. He said the focus was to have a strong internet and marketing presence throughout the state.

“We’re doing a pretty good job, right?” he said, regarding the online chatter.

He said the ads were based on the “Brand Book” that gives ratings to all 93 lawmakers in the state. Those with an unfavorable voting pattern are called “Rodeo Clowns,” while “Top Hands” are high in integrity. Then there are the “Fence-Sitters.”

The majority of the Legislature are deemed Rodeo Clowns, including every Teton County lawmaker. Scheurn said that was the reason Byron’s face was seen in ads on Facebook and Instagram: because he wasn’t upholding the values of the Republican Party.

“Lawmakers with low integrity are recognized as Clowns, showing voters they are not honoring their word,” according to the “Brand Book.” “That maybe they don’t Honor Wyoming.”

Byron said he felt bad someone was spending so much money on the campaign. He said from his experience campaigning for legislative office, he knew how much the video, graphics, web design and ads cost. He said thousands of dollars had to be spent weekly to keep up the pace.

The Republican lawmaker also noted the amount of data on voters and constituents the nonprofit was banking. Email addresses and ZIP codes are only the tip of the iceberg of information collected for the email campaigns and prizes, and Byron wondered if the group is developing lists to sell or roll into another statewide entity heading into election season.

Byron said real Wyomingites didn’t give credence to the marketing.

“It’s just another out-of-state entity, or an entity backed by out-of-state people, trying to come in and influence Wyoming politics,” he said.

Rep. Ward, a member of the Wyoming Freedom Caucus who reposted an Honor Wyoming ad to her campaign site, said she views the “Brand Book” as a benefit to the community. Ward recently moved to Wyoming seeking relief from COVID mask mandates in Illinois and calls herself “a political refugee.”

She first was introduced to Honor Wyoming last summer, she said, and speaks with Guido periodically, the last time being in March. However, she has not given the group money and said she is not aware of the particulars of its donations.

Ward said the messaging offers a quick way to understand the voting tendencies of Wyoming legislators, with one of her bills — “What is a Woman Act” — used as a litmus test. She was proud to be recognized that she votes with integrity.

“If legislators voted the way they present themselves to their constituents, as conservatives, then all legislators would be Top Hands,” she said. “Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The truth is that many legislators align more closely with Democrat philosophy.”

Rodeo fever

What’s gotten the most interaction online isn’t the “Brand Book” or shout-outs to Wyoming residents living by the Code of the West — it was an ad campaign in Jackson. Teton County’s rodeo grounds were targeted this spring by the nonprofit, which warned the community was at risk of losing its Western heritage.

Newsletters were sent out calling Jackson politicians liars. A caricature of Town Councilor Arne Jorgensen depicted as a “spin master” made its way through the Meta-sphere. And an entire section of the website was dedicated to the issue.

Scheurn said boots weren’t on the ground in Teton County, but internet activity was different.

The ads spurred reaction statewide and outside Wyoming, including hundreds of social media comments and at least 10,000 emails to Jackson and Teton County government officials. More than 1,500 of those emails are available to view on the Jackson Town Council archive.

A petition to “Save the Rodeo Grounds” and the page dedicated to the issue were removed in the past week, but Facebook ads are still telling Wyomingites to email officials. The link goes to an “error 404 page.”

The majority of commenters voiced concerns about the Town Council and County Commission trying to remove the fairgrounds from the heart of Jackson and hand it off to developers. Emailers with Wyoming

ZIP codes talk about their lifelong connections to the rodeo and how it’s a community hub.

“As a town resident I do not want the rodeo/fairgrounds used for any other purpose than the rodeo and fair,” Kelly McCooey, with a Teton County ZIP code, wrote April 28. “Please respect the opinions of the people who live and work here. Little by little our recreation spaces are being taken away.”

Within Teton County, opponents of affordable housing have seized upon the fairgrounds issue. A group calling itself “Save the Rodeo Grounds,” led by Rebecca Bextel and Blair Maus, has fomented opposition to an affordable housing development being built on a parcel of land located across Snow King Avenue from the fairgrounds and formerly used for ancillary fair activities. Town councilors have called the group’s claims inaccurate and unfounded, so Bextel and Maus took their campaign to state lawmakers in Cheyenne, where they aimed to get a more favorable reception from the Freedom Caucus.

Maus and Bextel did not respond to calls for comment this week about the rodeo grounds campaign by Honor Wyoming.

Some of the emails Honor Wyoming has solicited about the fairgrounds are less about the rodeo and more about out-of-staters coming into Wyoming.

A man who called himself Don Julio, listed with a Fremont County ZIP code, was among the emailers via Honor Wyoming who raised red flags for officials. Julio said he was a lifelong resident, but his comment was laced with profanity and prejudice.

“Money around here isn’t everything honestly you can’t wave a fancy little bill or gold plated checkbook in my face and tell me how it goes, f- — that!”

While all town and county officials have received these emails, Councilor Jorgensen has faced the brunt of the accusations. He said his integrity and dedication to the community he’s lived in all his life have been dragged through the mud.

He’s been trying to repair relationships by sending hundreds of responses to emails with Teton County ZIP codes, and even had back-and-forth with 45 to 50 residents. He said he is assuring them there is no threat to the rodeo grounds.

“It is certainly unfortunate that there has been a significant amount of misinformation distributed about these events,” he wrote. “The website that you appear to have used to send your comments from has focused on at least four items that are simply false and highly misleading.

“As a highly engaged native of Teton County and having served on the Jackson Town Council since 2018, I am unaware of any effort that is targeted at, or would result in, the ending of the Teton County Fair or the Jackson Hole Rodeo. In fact, the current Council has extended both the fair lease with Teton County and the concession agreement for the rodeo as well as beginning discussions with Teton County about further extensions.”

Honor Wyoming is “further building anxiety, building mistrust, in ways that do not help our community,” he said. “They do not help our citizens feel like they can engage, feel like their concerns are being heard. And that does harm.”

This story was published on May 8, 2024.