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'Hill Bill' struck down

Jan 29, 2014 - By Steven R. Peck

The embattled superintendent has confounded her foes again

From the start, the enemies of Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill have found it much harder to get rid of her than they ever imagined.

Now, the Wyoming Supreme Court has just made it harder.

The court stunned the anti-Hill faction in Cheyenne on Tuesday by ruling that the now-infamous Senate File 104 is unconstitutional. The law, rushed through the Wyoming Legislature last year and signed by Gov. Matt Mead, immediately was challenged in court by the superintendent.

And she has won. SF104 is no longer law.

The court ruling is the latest setback for those who would destroy Hill. From the moment SF104 began to surface in the Legislature a year ago, it was criticized roundly by the general public across Wyoming. Lawmakers hoping their vague and unsubstantiated criticisms of Hill would lead to a groundswell of support among the public were wrong. To this day, it is difficult to find a rank-and-file Wyoming citizen who doesn't think SF104 was improper, unfair and/or cruel. Now it has been ruled illegal as well.

Trailing badly in the public relations game, anti-Hill legislators then formed a committee intent on finding a way to impeach her. But that effort has fallen pretty flat as well, so far. After spending hundreds of thousand dollars and countless hours examining documents, taking testimony and having hearings, the special committee still has failed to produce any "misconduct" that reasonably could be used as the basis for any legitimate impeachment process.

In the meantime, Hill has announced she will run for governor this year, and she has assembled, at least in the preliminary stages, an unusual and potentially powerful coalition of support that appears to draw backers from both parties. It's early yet, but she will be a substantial candidate.

Hill's critics, supported by a reliable tide of anti-Hill media coverage in some quarters, kept relentless pressure on her for months, most likely hoping that eventually she would crack under the strain and simply resign.

That did not happen either. Hill has proved much tougher and more resilient than her enemies expected. In recent months, in fact, some of the loudest criticism of Hill has died down, probably because her detractors realize that the relentless whipping of Hill wasn't really getting anywhere -- and may have be damaging them politically as well.

When the latest, highly publicized round of hearings from the "impeachment committee" concluded with little more than innuendo and hearsay tied to mostly insignificant, even laughable, complaints, the committee decided to put off any further work until after the Wyoming Legislature adjourns in March.

A big rationale in that decision may have been so that the committee investigation could be dragged out through the Republican gubernatorial primary campaign in the spring and summer, the better to cast Hill in unflattering light in case her gubernatorial poll numbers catch fire.

Now, however, with the stinging rebuke from the Wyoming Supreme Court on SF104, further committee action runs the risk of appearing desperate.

It is possible that the Legislature, with the Supreme Court's written opinion as its guide, might try to cobble together another law to keep Hill from doing the job 100,000 Wyoming voters elected her to do in 2010. Or, the ad hoc committee could plunge forward with impeachment proceedings, or various sorts of legal foot-dragging could be attempted to keep her from reclaiming her constitutional duties as the supervisor of public education in Wyoming.

But such courses of action would be more risky politically today than they were Monday. We now are in an election year, and many officials who must seek re-election would rather not have to defend their actions on Hill. They thought this would have gone away by now.

Instead, the Hill case is positioned to be front and center during this year's elections, from the governor's primary down to every Wyoming House race and half of the Wyoming Senate races.

A year after the all-out effort to crush her, Hill is riding far higher than any of her opposition would have imagined. They are unlikely ever to admit it, but many of them probably wish they could turn back time and avoid getting mixed up in this in the first place.

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