CASPER, Wyo. — Republican gubernatorial candidates Gov. Matt Mead, Taylor Haynes and Cindy Hill and Democratic candidate Pete Gosar dropped facts and numbers Tuesday during the Wyoming League of Women Voters debate in Cheyenne.
The Star-Tribune reviewed some of the statements, which entailed asking candidates to provide evidence of their claims or contacting other sources for their expertise.
Hill in an answer to a question about the biggest myth each candidate wanted to correct: “That there is a federal investigation going on,” she said. “That is a myth.”
Exhibit 71 of the Select Investigative Committee Final Report shows a March 28 email to the Wyoming Department of Education from Richard Esterbrook of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Financial Improvement and Post Audit Operations.
Esterbrook wanted answers about how federal money was spent in Wyoming, including on a contract that was allegedly awarded to a family member of a Wyoming Education Department employee and funding provided to Fremont County School District 38. Both were key parts of the Legislature's investigation into Hill's tenure as Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Sam Shumway, chief of operations at the Wyoming Department of Education, characterized Esterbrook’s letter as a routine federal audit.
“I’m not aware of any federal investigation,” Shumway said.
Esterbrook's email wasn’t out of the ordinary, Hill said in a message to the Star-Tribune.
“It’s a routine email regarding a routine audit,” she said.
Haynes on arresting federal employees, if he is elected governor and takes control of lands currently managed by the federal government: “First of all, on that statement about arresting federal employees, that’s your ridiculous statement, not mine. My statement is I’ll arrest all law-breakers.”
Haynes has previously told the Star-Tribune and The Associated Press that if federal employees tried to keep control of the lands, he would arrest them for impersonating a police officer, but he planned to extend job offers to fed employees to work for the state, and anticipated many would work for Wyoming.
On Wednesday, he explained that his statement at the debate was specifically aimed at Mead, whom he felt was misrepresenting his views.
“I never said I would arrest thousands of federal employees, round up thousands of federal employees,” Haynes said. “That’s what Mead said. Mead said rounding up thousands of federal employees. I never said that. I did say anyone who breaks the law I would arrest.”
At Tuesday's debate, Mead said: “I disagree respectfully with Dr. Haynes’ view that you’re going to tell the feds to stop doing business in the state, and if they don’t, you’re going to arrest all the federal employees.”
Gosar on Wyoming’s drop in the rankings in its treatment of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities: “We used to be No. 1 in this category. We’ve slipped to 41.”
Gosar on Wednesday said he got his data from the United Cerebral Palsy 2013 report, The Case for Inclusion. The report ranked the state 41st on a number of factors, from promoting independence to keeping families together.
The report doesn’t state when Wyoming was No. 1. Gosar said Wyoming was No. 1 in the 1990s.
Mead on Hill’s record on voting in favor of State Loan and Investment Board projects: “If you go back and look at some of the votes, some of those are 5-0 votes in providing incentives to companies in state and out of state.”
The Wyoming Business Council tracks SLIB votes on loans and grants to local governments. The governor and other top elected officials, including the state superintendent, sit on the board. The loans and grants can provide infrastructure and other funding to attract businesses to Wyoming, and Hill has criticized some of the funding.
The Business Council sent the Star-Tribune a list of votes. Most of them are 5-0. However, the vote on Laramie County money to attract firearms magazine manufacturer Magpul was 4-1.
Hill on Mead’s position on Senate File 104: “Gov. Mead, as I stood in the room as you signed (the bill into law). I heard you say, ‘I don’t know if it’s constitutional or not; we’ll let the courts decide.' How responsible is that?”
At the bill signing ceremony, a reporter asked Mead whether he expected to get sued, according to a recording of the event.
“If we’re sued, that’s not going to be a surprise,” he said. “The superintendent and others will make that decision, and I would anticipate they will make it quickly, and that’s appropriate if there’s feelings that it is unconstitutional. As I said, I reviewed the attorney general’s view on it, and he did not feel it was unconstitutional. But to those who feel strongly that it is, that’s the appropriate remedy to make the challenge in the court system.”