Wyoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction and gubernatorial candidate Cindy Hill addresses a crowd at the Uinta County Library Wednesday evening. Hill sat down with the Herald to discuss the state Legislature’s investigations into alleged misappropriation of funds and misconduct, corruption within the legislature and her bid for governor of Wyoming before taking questions at the library, most of which were concerned with Common Core, which she strongly opposes. (HERALD PHOTO/Ed Close)
By Deborah Demander
and Bryon Glathar
EVANSTON — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill is tired of the word embattled. After nearly a year of exhaustive legislative investigations, Hill is hoping the media will choose a different word to describe her.
“I’m not really embattled,” she said during a Herald interview on Wednesday. In spite of this assertion, another battle looms for Hill, as she mounts an unlikely campaign to unseat Gov. Matt Mead.
“After I served him the papers (challenging Senate File 104 in the Supreme Court), we were sitting in a room, just he and I,” Hill said of Mead. “He said, ‘Cindy, what are you going to do now, run for Senate?’ and I said to him, ‘No, governor, I’m running for governor.’”
What appears to be an impromptu decision, Hill said she didn’t even tell her husband until the following day.
“But that’s another story,” she said.
Hill said the state deserves better than to be led by an empty suit, which is one reason she is challenging Mead.
During the interview, Hill talked openly about her experiences with the state legislature.
“We have a lot of good people in the state government,” she said. “Out of 158 people who worked for me in the Department of Education, they could only find 14 to testify against me. But we have an out of control state legislature.”
Members of the Legislature passed Senate File 104 last year — quite hastily, according to Rep. Allen Jaggi, R-Lyman — leaving Hill with virtually no power.
Now many seek to oust her from her elected position as the state superintendent of public instruction. When they couldn’t get Hill to step down, she said the legislature fomented a plan to strip Hill of most of her duties, and remove her as the head of the Department of Education.
Jaggi described the first days of last year’s Legislative session, in which Senate File 104 sped through processes that usually take weeks.
“We got there on Tuesday,” Jaggi said. “…On Wednesday, in a full Republican caucus, they told us that it would be read in the first day we had business. …Monday it was read in the House. Where are the people in Wyoming to even hear about this?”
Jaggi voted against Senate File 104, along with fellow legislators who represent Uinta County Rep. Garry Piiparinen, R-Evanston, and Sen. Stan Cooper, R-Kemmerer. Rep. Kathy Davison, R-Kemmerer, didn’t vote on the bill and Sen. Paul Barnard, R-Evanston, voted in favor of it.
Both Hill and Jaggi blame corruption in the governing bodies for what has been called a witch hunt.
Just moments before sitting down with the Herald, they said they met an Evanston resident who said he’s afraid to publicly support Hill because he’s an at-will employee and fears he could lose his job for supporting the wrong candidate for governor.
“Boy, if that doesn’t show the corruption in our state,” Hill said. “Holy moly!”
Jaggi said there are serious problems with leadership within the Legislature.
“If leadership wants to do something, it will go through,” he said, adding that leaders will take advantage of “any wiggle room at all in our bylaws” to get what they want.
And if you don’t follow suit?
“If you voted against Senate File 104,” Jaggi said, “well, let me tell you, I’ve been taken off committees.”
Three separate investigations into allegations of wrongdoing by Hill have led nowhere, she said, but the machinations of the legislature continue. The latest plan is to impeach Hill, thereby disqualifying her as a candidate for governor. State law says that anyone impeached from elected office cannot run for governor.
A big problem with that, Hill said, is that she’s not given due process or fair representation.
“They can impeach me without any facts,” she said.
And regarding her current investigations, in which over $1 million of taxpayer money has been spent, she’s not even afforded an attorney.
“There were 12 attorneys in that room and not one of them was mine,” she said, adding that all 12 were being paid about $350 an hour by Wyoming residents.
“There’s been no due process from the start,” she said.
Hill said a lot of the legislature is just one person pulling another person’s strings, whose strings are being pulled by another person, and so on.
“It’s just this silly little game,” she said.
Hill sits as an ex facto member on the University of Wyoming Board of Trustees.
“I don’t get a vote, but I get a voice,” she said.
So what has she voiced?
She said she’s against a soon-to-be third tuition hike in as many years at the university.
She points to Article 7 Section 16 of the Wyoming State Constitution that reads, “… the instruction furnished may be as nearly free as possible.”
“We are in a wealthy state,” Hill said. “Why put that large burden of tuition on our children?”
Does she think the board of trustees was hasty in their decision to disregard input from faculty and others and instead appoint Dick McGinity as president last week?
“Absolutely,” Hill said. “We all deserved an open process. And guess what? We didn’t get it.”
But Hill takes every hit on the chin and comes back for more.
“People are smart,” she said. “They know how things work. We’ve had this corruption for years. I’ll keep speaking out about it until they either impeach me or kill me.”