A family-owned daily newspaper serving Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming since 1949


Jan 18, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

The 'Hill bill' flies in the face of what most legislators claim to believe

One of the oddest aspects of the steam-rolling show in the Wyoming Legislature, which is on track to reduce the job of State Superintendent of Public Instruction to an inert figurehead, is that it flies in the face of so much rhetoric spouted by most of the very same legislators.

We thought Wyoming stood for less government control of our lives, not more. We thought Wyoming wanted fewer regulations, fewer mandates from on high, fewer strictures and edicts handed down by faceless bureaucrats whose greatest loyalty is to their thick rulebook, human consequences be damned.

Normally we don't like this kind of thing in Wyoming, or at least we say we don't.

"Who elected you?" our state leaders often demand rhetorically of an EPA administrator, or a U.S. Forest Service official, or a U.S. Fish and Wildlife desk jockey as that person imposes "unfunded mandates" or "heavy-handed regulations" from an appointed chair rather than an elected one.

"Who elected you?" growls the surly elected official when a journalist asks a question he doesn't like, or when a columnist cracks wise about an official's pet project, or when an editorial writer offers an alternative to the one the official espouses.

"You're entitled to your opinion," the office-holder will say, "but I have to answer to the voters. You don't."

This kind of remark usually is spoken triumphantly, as if it and it alone ought to silence all diversity of opinion.

And don't we in Wyoming complain bitterly about the "rush to judgment" imposed by bureaucrats who don't listen to local concerns? Don't we gripe that "they would never get away with it if they had to face the voters at the polls"?

In Wyoming we celebrate "grass-roots politics" and pat ourselves on the back for "keeping government close to the people." Our elected leaders boast about how "accessible" they are, how they prefer to practice "retail politics" of the sort where voters can stop them at the grocery store to introduce an idea, and how "the only poll that matters is the one on election day," meaning that what the voters want trumps all else.

Senate File 104 contradicts every one of those cherished platitudes that are the stock and trade of our independent-thinking Wyoming politicians.

This bill removes another toe-hold of power from the people and relegates it to closed-door policymaking by an appointed executive answerable to no one but his master with the power of the appointment. Voters? What voters?

There has been so much change in public education already, virtually all of it imposed with virtually no input from voters whatsoever.

The all-powerful School Facilities Commission, which first says we have to build a new school, then says we can't, then says we have to build the way a "consultant" says? Appointed, not elected. The all-powerful high school activities association, which rules sports competition and classification? Appointed, not elected. The board of trustees of the University of Wyoming, our state's one and only public university? Appointed, not elected. The Wyoming state school board? Appointed, not elected.

Now, here it comes again. With only the vaguest explanation, the Wyoming Legislature has the pedal to the metal on removing all effective power from the only statewide education official accountable to the voters. And isn't education "accountability" supposedly what this is all about?

Senate File 104 rubs harshly against our voting culture and electoral history. It is being driven by a handful of disgruntled lawmakers untouchable by voters outside their own districts. It is being done far too quickly, with far too little justification, and with scant assurance that it will solve the poorly-defined problems it is intended to remedy.

That is the wrong direction for Wyoming to be going. If it does happen, then let's never hear one more complaint about "decrees" being handed down from Washington and the White House without proper respect for local control. They will ring not only false, but hypocritical and ridiculous from this point forward.

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