EVANSTON, Wyo. — Gov. Matt Mead narrowly avoided being branded with a censure resolution at the Wyoming Republican Party Convention in Evanston on Saturday.
The resolution failed Saturday by a vote of 145 against, 132 in favor. It called for rebuking Mead, a Republican seeking his party's nomination in a contested primary, for his approval of a bill last year that removed much of the power from the office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction. A divided Supreme Court earlier this year overturned the law as unconstitutional.
The resolution also stated that Mead supported common core education standards against party policies.
The prospect that the censure motion might stick hung over the convention Saturday as Mead and challengers Cindy Hill, the state superintendent of public instruction, and Cheyenne rancher and retired physician Taylor Haynes asked delegates for their support in speeches earlier in the day.
The language of the resolution was blistering in its condemnation of Mead. "Only in times of egregious betrayal is it necessary to publicly censure one of our leaders," it stated. "Today, we are faced with such a betrayal."
The overwhelmingly Republican Wyoming Legislature last year approved the bill to turn administration of the education department over to a director to be hired by the governor. Many lawmakers had expressed concern when they passed the legislation that Hill had failed to respond adequately to their directives of how to make the education system more accountable in improving the state school system.
In his address to the convention, Mead said the purpose of last year's bill was to seek a process and a structure that provided success and accountability to Wyoming education.
"What was sought was a structure that prevented what's happening now, with the feds looking under the hood to see what has gone wrong," Mead said.
Mead wasn't present when delegates voted one-by-one on the censure motion early Saturday evening. He provided a statement after the vote through his campaign staff saying he appreciated the 145 people who voted against the resolution.
"Wyoming has been recognized as the state with the lowest taxes," Mead stated in response to the vote. He gave a series of statistics about how economic conditions have improved in the state during his tenure.
"We've trimmed government, cut the budget and reduced the state workforce," he said. "We're the state with the third lowest poverty rate. That's what I'll be talking about, and we'll see in August what Republicans in the state deem important."
Speaking in a telephone interview after the vote, Hill also focused on economic issues, saying Wyoming state government has gotten big.
"We now pay a higher gas tax, as you know," Hill said, adding that Mead's administration has handed out millions to out-of-state companies to locate some of their operations in Wyoming.
The delegates rejected an amendment to the censure motion proposed by Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan. He called for removing language that claimed Mead had delayed restoring the Education Department after the Supreme Court's ruling.
In fact, the law had remained in effect after the Supreme Court's order for several months. Mead, meanwhile, had expressed frustration that Hill refused to accept offers from the Wyoming Attorney General's Office to return to work while the legal case was still pending.
David Robb, a delegate from Platte County, had drafted the resolution against Mead.
Speaking after the vote, Robb said he believes Mead's actions will still cost him support this year. Robb said he had campaigned for Mead in his first campaign.
"We have the head of our party, and the governor of our state who doesn't think that law applies to him," Robb said. "We passed resolutions two years ago and four years ago against common core standards in this state. He's the one that has pushed them through.
"He took the votes of the majority of people in this state who voted for the superintendent of public instruction and negated those completely," Robb said of Mead.
Hill, in her address to delegates, emphasized that she fought back after Mead signed the education reform measure.
"People are taking notice of government, not because it's doing such wonderful things, but because the hard working men and women of Wyoming have seen that government is taking greater and greater control over democracy," Hill said. "When did our party become the party of big government?"
Hill promised, if elected, to defend the rights of the people. "The current governor took your vote, and now he wants to have your vote," she said.
Haynes also asked delegates for their support.
"I will unleash our natural resources, you're going to see the private sector explode," Haynes said. "As governor, I'm not going to create jobs. When the governor creates jobs, he creates taxes. I'm going to allow the private sector to create jobs by improving our regulatory climate."