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No rubber stamp

Jul 17, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

It would be wrong to deny defenders of Cindy Hill a seat at the investigative table

Wyoming House Speaker Tom Lubnau said something interesting last week after the Wyoming Legislature's management council agreed to move forward with its investigation of alleged wrongdoing by Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill.

Hill has complained repeatedly that she is being denied "due process" as her critics make allegations and refer to often-unseen evidence against her. She thinks she ought to have equal access to the information, with rules of evidence and testimony akin to those in a court of law.

Speaker Lubnau said she has it wrong.

"This is not a judicial process," he said. "This is a political process."

He hit a bullseye there. This is political, all right.

But fairness and politics needn't be mutually exclusive, at least not entirely. The best political processes are those in which a fair hearing to both sides of an issue is given, followed by a majority vote.

Lubnau soon will direct a new investigative committee to examine Hill's alleged offenses. The speaker already has indicated that he would prefer the Legislature's standing House Rules and Procedures Committee to do the probe, which many observers believe is simply a formality leading to the launching of impeachment proceedings against the superintendent.

If impeachment does come, then the speaker and other opponents of Hill can be expected to mount as one-sided a case as possible against her, much in the same way that a prosecutor goes after a defendant.

But this intermediate committee is to be a fact-finding body, not a prosecutorial one. The panel suggested by Lubnau would be comprised solely of lawmakers who voted in favor of the controversial legislation last winter that removed virtually all of the superintendent's administrative authority and placed it instead with an appointed director.

Despite the impression many lawmakers are trying to create -- backed, oddly, by the reporting of several big news media outlets -- Senate File 104, the bill in question, was by no means approved unanimously. It had significant opposition, both during debate and in the final vote, where it was only a vote or two short of failing to pass. Since then, SF104 has been roundly criticized across the state. Our newspaper has received more than a dozen letters to the editor slamming SF104.

But if the committee that the speaker has recommended is empaneled for the pre-impeachment investigation, not a single opponent of SF104 will be included.

That simply is not fair, nor is it prudent considering the continuing controversy around Hill's treatment at the hands of her opponents.

There already is widespread skepticism about this investigation and what might follow, just as there is about what has led to it. Denying even one opponent of SF104 a voting role in this new investigation would undermine it significantly in the eyes of the public.

In a process already littered with missteps, stacking the committee with people whose minds already are made up would be another one. This is supposed to be an investigation, not a rubber stamp. Otherwise, why bother?

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