OUT WEST ROUNDUP | New Mexico judge bans Trump ally from office for insurrection


Court banishes Trump ally from office for insurrection

SANTA FE — A New Mexico state district court judge on Sept. 6 disqualified county commissioner and Cowboys for Trump cofounder Couy Griffin from holding public office for engaging in insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The judgment from state District Court Judge Francis Mathew permanently bars Griffin from federal and local public office. It arrived amid a spate of lawsuits aimed at sidelining political candidates and elected officials linked to the Capitol riots.

Griffin was previously convicted in federal court of a misdemeanor for entering Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, without going inside the building. He was sentenced to 14 days and given credit for time served.

The new ruling immediately removes Griffin from his position as a commissioner in Otero County in southern New Mexico. He also is barred from serving as a presidential elector.

“Mr. Griffin aided the insurrection even though he did not personally engage in violence,” Mathew wrote. “By joining the mob and trespassing on restricted Capitol grounds, Mr. Griffin contributed to delaying Congress’s election-certification proceedings.”

Griffin said he was notified of his removal from office by Otero County staff, who prevented him from accessing his work computer and office space at a county building in Alamogordo.

Griffin, who served as his own legal counsel at a two-day bench trial in August, called the ruling a “total disgrace” that disenfranchises his constituents in Otero County.

“The actions that are being taken are, I believe, perfect evidence of the tyranny that we’re right now living under,” Griffin said. “The left continues to speak about democracy being under attack, but is this democracy? Whenever you’re removed from office by the civil courts by the opinion of a liberal judge.”

Lawmakers ask about self-sufficiency of spaceport

ALBUQUERQUE — Some members of a legislative financial oversight committee asked on Aug. 29 whether Spaceport America will ever be self-sufficient, and they’ll likely have to wait months for an answer.

Public funds bankrolled the years-long construction of the desert outpost in southern New Mexico, and figures presented during a meeting of the New Mexico Finance Authority Oversight Committee showed the Legislature provided about $2 million in general fund dollars for the fiscal year that ended this summer.

Another appropriation of state funding is budgeted for the current fiscal year, and executive director Scott McLaughlin told the lawmakers gathered in Truth or Consequences — just west of the spaceport — that the state funds will help to stabilize the budget and allow for hiring additional personnel.

McLaughlin said he has never made promises about being revenue neutral but that about 65% of revenue now comes from customer leases and fees and he hopes to grow that number.

He also told lawmakers the spaceport has broader impacts on economic development in the region, brings in tax revenues and plays a role in educational programs focused on science and technology.

The spaceport is home to anchor tenant Virgin Galactic, and a handful of other aerospace ventures have used the port for testing and vertical launches. Virgin Galactic anticipates commercial flights in 2023.

Sen. Joseph Cervantes, a Las Cruces Democrat, noted that Virgin Galactic’s stock price is a fraction of what it was when the company went public. He also pointed to recent announcements that the company’s special carrier planes and rocket ships would be built out of state, while taxpayers in Dona Ana and Sierra counties continue to see a portion of their sales tax go toward paying off construction bonds for the spaceport.


Climate damage from oil leases on US land gets 2nd look

BILLINGS — The Biden administration reached a legal settlement on Sept. 6 that requires the government to reexamine potential climate damages from oil and gas leases put up for sale under the Trump administration on government land in Montana and North Dakota.

Similar deals have been reached in recent weeks for lease sales covering thousands of square miles public lands under the Trump and Obama administrations in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

The Sept. 6 settlement between the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and environmental groups involves parcels totaling 91 square miles and was detailed in documents filed in U.S. District Court in Montana.

About a quarter of U.S. fossil fuels comes from federal lands and waters, making them important for industry and also a prime target for climate activists who want to shut down leasing.

The state of Wyoming and American Petroleum Institute opposed attempts to revisit previously sold leases. They argued that leasing decisions were final after 90 days and any changes now could financially harm companies.

WildEarth Guardians, Sierra Club and other groups had sued over the sales. They’re hopeful President Joe Biden’s administration will curb drilling on the leased parcels after climate damages and other future potential pollution are considered.

The agreements don’t include deadlines for new environmental reviews, and they don’t cancel any leases or prevent development. Any attempt to do so would meet fierce opposition from energy companies and their allies in Congress.


Legalized sports betting begins in Kansas with ‘soft launch’

TOPEKA — Legalized sports betting arrived in Kansas on Sept. 1, with wagers being taken at state-owned casinos and via mobile apps.

The “soft launch” of sports betting in Kansas comes after Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly signed a bill in May that the Republican-controlled Legislature passed with bipartisan support.

The launch meets a goal set by state officials to have the operations running by Sept. 1, in time for the first NFL games. An official launch of the operations is scheduled for Sept. 8.

Bettors must be in Kansas to place their wagers.

Under the law, each state-owned casino may offer in-person sportsbooks and mobile sports betting on up to three platforms or applications.

As of Sept. 1, in-person betting is available at Hollywood Casino in Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas Star Casino in Mulvane.

Hollywood Casino will partner with Barstool Sports for mobile betting and Kansas Star will partner with FanDuel. Boot Hill Casino and Resort in Dodge City will offer mobile sports betting through DraftKings, and Kansas Crossing Casino in Pittsburg will offer mobile sports betting through BetMGM, Caesars, and PointsBet.

Tribal casinos in Kansas are working with state officials on contracts to allow sports betting.


Protesters seek to disrupt LGBTQ event at university

PROVO — Protesters including Brigham Young University students yelled homophobic slurs and taunted LGBTQ students and their supporters during an off campus gathering in Utah.

About 100 protesters showed up at the “Back to School Pride Night” event over the Labor Day weekend at a public park in Provo. A dozen people dressed up as angels and who were supporting the LGBTQ students stood in a line to block the protesters, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Police broke up a handful of clashes between the two sides.

The confrontation happened a week after BYU banned a fan who yelled racial slurs at a Duke University volleyball player who is black during an August 26 match in Provo.

BYU apologized, but Duke player Rachel Richardson criticized school officials for not reacting quickly enough during the match. The South Carolina women’s basketball team and its coach later canceled a series against BYU over the incident.

BYU is operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and does not allow clubs for queer students to meet on campus, according to the Tribune. The school also forbids same-sex romantic partnerships and displays of affection among LGBTQ students.