Although impeachment looms over Wyoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill, she said she’s not going to let it stop her campaign for governor.
“They’ll do whatever they’re going to do,” she said in Newcastle on Wednesday, after an event to launch her campaign. “I don’t have any control over that because there doesn’t have to be any facts. There are no facts involved in impeachment. So, it’s all political. I can’t control it so I don’t think about it.”
Hill is being investigated for alleged misconduct while leading the Wyoming Department of Education. The Legislature stripped Hill of her administrative duties over the department last year. The investigation could lead to impeachment. The Wyoming Constitution prohibits officials who have been impeached from seeking public office again in the state.
Hill’s connection to Newcastle, where she kicked off her campaign before 13 people at the Weston County Senior Citizens Center, was that it was her childhood home. The Senior Citizens Center used to be a school that Hill attended from kindergarten to fifth grade. Her mother taught there. After Newcastle, her family moved to Rawlins and then to Wheatland, she said.
Hill, who describes herself as an optimist, isn’t concerned that her potential impeachment could scare away potential campaign donors.
“I think [among] the people who know me, I have a lot of support,” she said.
Her first campaign finance report isn’t due to the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office until Aug. 12, seven days before the Aug. 19 primary.
“I’ve been a little busy,” Hill said, in reference to the Legislature's Select Investigative Committee, which on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday heard testimony by Hill and Department of Education employees, many of whom alleged misconduct from January 2011 to early last year. “Have I been focused on [fundraising?] No, but I’m certainly hopeful. That’s always an important piece.”
Gillette Republican Tom Lubnau, the House speaker and chairman of the Legislature's Select Investigative Committee, said Hill’s potential impeachment is far down the road.
The committee will pour over a list of witnesses Hill is submitting and decide whether they should testify on the issues the committee is investigating – which include alleged mistreatment of employees, altering official Education Department reports and misspending funds, Lubnau said.
The committee will write a draft report of its findings and give Hill 15 days to comment. Then it will issue the final report, which could make recommendations for further legislative action, including impeachment or changes in the way state government operates, Lubnau said.
To start an impeachment, a member of the Wyoming House of Representatives would sponsor a bill. If a majority favors impeachment, Hill would be tried by the Wyoming Senate, which has the final impeachment authority, Lubnau said.
“We’re going to have to think real long, real hard about the impeachment option,” he said. “There are other options.”
Lubnau disagreed with Hill’s characterization of the impeachment process as not being based on facts. There were legislators who wanted to impeach Hill last year, but Lubnau prohibited them from moving forward, he said.
“I said, ‘No, it’s got to be based on facts,’” he said.
Experience and positions
Hill said her experience and passion make her a strong gubernatorial candidate.
“I’m familiar with one of the largest budgets in the state of Wyoming, an almost $2 billion budget,” she said of the Department of Education’s budget. “I know I can learn the rest.”
She doesn’t fold, she said. She has what it takes to fight the encroachment of the federal government in Wyoming, such as its attempts to protect wolves or federalize education or energy policy. She doesn’t fear being unpopular. She will stand up for the Constitution and Wyoming’s way of life, she said.
“I’m willing to speak to the values of the Wyoming people,” Hill said, then mentioned SF104, the legislation that removed her from overseeing the Department of Education. “That’s why they want to get rid of me so badly. Heck, I’m an educator. They did SF104. Why is there an investigation on me?”
As governor, Hill would like more at-will state employees who can be fired at any time, she said. Most state employees are classified, and there are procedures that require working with an employee before they can be let go.
“We have four branches of government,” Hill said. “The fourth branch is bureaucracy.”
Hill questioned whether the public is best served by career bureaucrats “because you forget what it’s like, I think, to be in the real world,” she said.
There are term limits on Wyoming’s elected officials; ”maybe there should be limits on how long you should be in state government,” she said.
Hill is under fire for trying to make some positions at the Department of Education at-will. During last week’s hearings, a state human resource manager testified that Hill’s administration asked five classified employees to sign at-will letters, despite a state attorney general’s opinion that elected officials didn’t have the authority to determine employment status.
Betty Jo Beardsley, executive director of the Wyoming Public Employees Association, said there is a reason public employees shouldn’t be at-will employees.
In an environment as political as state government, an administrator or elected official could take over an office, fire everyone and replace them with their cronies. That would cost the state money in training and lost knowledge and skills, Beardsley said.
The WPEA would likely oppose making more employees at-will, Beardsley said.
Hill has a website, www.cindyhillforgovernor.com, although nothing was posted on the site as of Friday evening.
If Linda Curley could describe Hill in three words, they would be “honest,” “sincere,” and “integrity,” she said.
“I just think she’s an honest person and she was done wrong,” Curley said. “I voted her in [for superintendent] because I thought she was the person who could do the job, and they took that away from her.”
Curley lives in Newcastle with her husband, William Curley, who is helping with Hill’s campaign.
Pat Logan, who also attended Hill’s campaign launch, used the word “patriotic” to describe Hill, although Logan said he is still gathering information about the candidates before the election.
“She’s an upright person, she’s done her research, and her heart’s in the right place,” he said.
If the election were held tomorrow, Dana Mann-Tavegia doesn’t know whom she would vote for. But Mann-Tavegia, who used to serve on the Wyoming State Board of Education, wanted to attend the campaign kickoff.
“This is pretty historic for our town,” she said. “I worked with Cindy for many years. I thought this would be an event I would want to see.”
State Rep. Hans Hunt, R-Newcastle, also attended. He voted against the bill last year that stripped Hill of most of her powers.
“I’m just here to see what she has to say,” he said. “No positions.”
Despite wanting more at-will positions in state government, Hill told the Newcastle crowd she has plenty of support there.
“There are a lot of people in state government who know who I am,” she said.
Hill will likely run against Gov. Matt Mead, but he has not yet announced whether he will seek a second term.
His spokesman, Renny MacKay, declined to comment on Hill’s campaign.
“As is customary for sitting governors in Wyoming, Gov. Mead will wait until after the [legislative] session to make an official announcement,” MacKay said in an email.
Hill is also running against Taylor Haynes, a Cheyenne physician and rancher, who last year announced his candidacy and filed papers to form a campaign committee with the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office.
“He doesn’t have three years of tested experience,” Hill said of Haynes.
Hill said Haynes raised tuition too frequently while a trustee at the University of Wyoming. She encouraged people to look up minutes at the University of Wyoming’s trustee meetings to learn more about him.
A man in the Newcastle audience worried that Hill and Haynes will cancel each other out, guaranteeing Mead will be reelected. That person asked Hill if she could join forces and run with Haynes as a team.
“I think you should talk to Taylor about your thoughts,” Hill told the man.
Haynes said he’s not concerned about splitting the vote. He looks at the governor’s race as a job interview. If Wyomingites agree with his vision and qualifications, they will vote him in, he said.
Haynes said he worked intimately with UW budgets and has had success in the free enterprise system. Before medical school, he worked as a mechanical engineer for Kennecott Copper when it owned coal mines. He has other natural resource experience from his work in ranching. He learned about health care as a doctor.
“So far she’s running because she’s angry and wants to get even with the governor,” he said. “Well, I don’t need to attack here. My offer is to the voters of Wyoming.”