Senate File 104 – How our legislature, governor, and media have let us down

By Parker Jackson
Aide to Rep. Allen Jaggi,
Lyman, WY

Voters across Wyoming have been silenced. Your vote doesn’t matter. At least, that’s what they want you to think.
Since the 2010 election, those on the left, both Democrats and “Republicans” who have abandoned their professed party at heart, have constantly undermined Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill. Their goal: to legislate the undoing of an election, ignoring the voters and Wyoming Constitution in the process. Unfortunately, they have at least temporarily succeeded.
Even if you didn’t vote for Cindy Hill, you should be concerned.
When the legislature stripped Supt. Hill of virtually all duties in Senate File 104 (SF104), they also eliminated the people’s voice in education. From now on, your vote is for a purely ceremonial position, a figurehead who will appear at “Teacher of the Year” ceremonies and prepare one yearly report. If SF104 is not undone, there will be no more interaction with teachers or students. The Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) will be geared only towards federal compliance, not toward instruction or student achievement.
How could this happen in Wyoming? The political tactics used typically surface in Chicago and Washington, D.C., but rarely here.
As the last few weeks have shown, Wyoming has been infiltrated by an elitist, establishment, “good old boy” network, consisting of people from legislators to lobbyists, reporters to long-time bureaucrats, all of whom have become masters at beating the system.
The “good old boys” control our government, decide the fate of bills before they are brought up, and throw around money to decide who wins elections. They are well funded both in their businesses and campaigns by lobbyists, contractors, and lawyers who line their own pockets with tax dollars.
Their leaders include Governor Mead, members of the Governor’s office, Senate President Tony Ross, House Speaker Tom Lubnau, Senate Majority Leader Phil Nicholas, House Majority Leader Kermit Brown and powerful committee heads like Appropriations co-chairs Sen. Eli Bebout and Rep. Steve Harshman, and Education co-chairs Sen. Hank Coe and Rep. Matt Teeters. This group has become so influential that they essentially dictate how the legislature will vote, based on inferred threats of denying committee assignments or killing bills based on the sponsor. They yearn for more government, more control, more of your tax dollars, and, ultimately, more power.
Prior to Supt. Hill’s election, the legislature began micromanaging both our schools and the WDE. In response, frustrated voters elected a new Superintendent.
In 2010, Cindy Hill ran on a message of improving instruction and combating corruption in our education system. She broke many unspoken rules of establishment politics, soundly beating a Republican incumbent in every county in the primary, then going on to trounce Mike Massie, another Senate “good old boy.” Both decisive elections frustrated entrenched politicians and longtime WDE employees; they knew she threatened the corrupt policies and ineffective legislation they were responsible for.
After she took office, many highly paid and unproductive contractors, consultants, and state employees, accustomed to cushy deals and lavish vacations, abandoned the WDE of their own accord, moving on only to take positions in the Governor’s office or other government agencies.
However, Cindy Hill pushed forward, improving education across the state. She consolidated the Laramie assessment office into the Department and fixed many prior mishaps with the PAWS test. She focused on improving classroom instruction and, by extension, student achievement. As a result of Supt. Hill’s efforts in coordination with the local school districts, she is the only Supt. in decades who has seen test scores increase across all grade levels two years in a row.
Despite these results, many in the system chose to ignore the details. Worse, they sought to discredit her by conjuring up false accusations, such as saying she missed deadlines and misappropriated funds. Following these specific allegations, two huge facts went unreported by the media.
First, the legislature’s own liaison, Ruth Sommers, stated in a report to the Joint Education Committee that Supt. Hill and the WDE “did meet the deadlines” required by the accountability bill. In fact, Hill’s team had gone further and completed work that was initially supposed to be done by other groups. Rather than admit that the allegations were unfounded, Sommers blamed “formatting error” in their initial report.
Second, the WDE was audited, covering nearly every expenditure in a $20 million budget. They came through with an accuracy of 99.65%, perhaps the best audit of a state agency in history. On top of that, Supt. Hill and the WDE are reverting over $1 million dollars, saving funds from every account.
Although Superintendent Hill has answered every false attack, exposed corruption, and publicized truth, the media has failed to tell the whole story.
Every branch of the media has engaged in unequal reporting, whether it be newspapers (Casper Star Tribune, Wyoming Tribune Eagle), websites (WyoFile), radio (David Koch among others) or TV (PBS, CBS, and NBC affiliates). Very few outlets dared to publish any criticism of SF104 or the legislature.
In the end, the media has nurtured the corruption out of both negligence and the fact that the liberal ideology of our “Republican” legislature closely resembles theirs.
Poor coverage has allowed the attacks to continue. However, Cindy pressed forward. She has continued to keep her promises and advocate for principled improvement. At the start of the legislative session, Supt. Hill published an “Address to the Sixty-Second Legislature and the People of the State of Wyoming,” outlining how Wyoming can become the top education state in the nation. The response from Senator Phil Nicholas was to label it a “statement of belligerence.”
When the “good old boys” could do nothing else to discredit or silence Cindy Hill, they invoked sly legislative tricks and unconstitutional measures to pass SF104 and a resulting budget amendment, ordering physical removal of Supt. Hill from the WDE and the stripping of duties, staff, and funds.
In short, they have punished her for challenging corruption, cutting government, achieving positive results, and simply applying conservative principles.
Consequently, Hill filed a constitutional lawsuit based on her constitutional charge over the “general supervision of the public schools.” In another act of “belligerence,” Cindy Hill announced that she will run for Governor in 2014, in hope of bringing lasting change not only to a corrupt system, but to solidify the progress that has been made in education. If these two efforts don’t pan out, things will go back to business as usual for the “good old boys” and all educational growth that originated in the WDE over the last two years will be halted or undone.
As a result of this entrenched corruption, Wyoming has become a place where the government and the media constantly fails the people they claim to serve. During the debates on SF104, voters from all over the state sent massive waves of emails and phone calls demanding that their legislators represent the people. Instead, the majority of legislators turned their back on their constituents and their Constitution, deciding to serve only personal interests.
Following the passage of SF104 in the House, another massive wave of communication went to the Governor’s office, asking him to buck up and veto the bill. Instead, he happily signed it. However, recognizing that voters have begun to realize what is happening in state government, in a direct, but silent rebuttal to the “good old boy” label, Governor Mead only confirmed the true problem when he surrounded himself with the “good old gals,” including Reps. Sue Wallis, Mary Throne, Cathy Connolly and Rosie Berger at the highly publicized signing ceremony. Our Governor has again put politics before people.
So, what should be done? The “good old boys” have ignored the people, assuming that you will forgive and forget before the election. They count on continuing their unethical behavior.
The real question is: Will you let them get away with it?
We need meaningful reforms across all levels of our government. Yes, we need a new Governor; Cindy Hill can solve that problem if the voters choose, but we need more than that. We need statewide turnover in the legislature, replacing “good old boys” with statesmen who will protect government of the people, by the people, for the people.
Only about 30 true Republicans reside in the legislature right now, less than half of the professed number and only one third of the total members. Most of those who voted against SF104 fall into that category. The rest need to know where you stand.
The Declaration of Independence states “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
2014 can be the year that Wyoming voters take back their state. If your legislator has voted against their constituents, party platform, or the Wyoming constitution, consider running against them. Pull their voting records and see if they are sticking up for what they say they are. The only thing that will solve this epidemic of corruption is more public involvement.
We the people know best. Sometimes, we just need to prove it.