Politically, Republicans Cindy Hill and Taylor Haynes may appear similar, but supporters of the two most conservative candidates in the Wyoming gubernatorial race articulate differences between them.
Hill's supporters said she has been tested in her work as a public official and has proved that she can stay true to her beliefs. Supporters of Haynes said his strength is his outsider status. He has never been employed full time by the government, and he has been successful as a physician, rancher and business owner.
Rep. Gerald Gay, R-Casper, will vote for Hill in the Aug. 19 primary.
“Taylor Haynes has no governing experience whatsoever,” he said. “Cindy Hill has exactly the same amount of experience in governing that Matt Mead has. So Cindy Hill has a much better vision of how conservatism works in government than Taylor Haynes does.”
Drake Allen, of Casper, supports Haynes.
“My impression is Cindy does what she does to get even,” he said. “Taylor Haynes is a very humble individual. He’s not stuck on himself. He sees that he has an opportunity to do something for the people of Wyoming.”
Even Haynes, while running a campaign in which he is making it a point not to sling mud at his opponents, said he disagreed with the alleged misappropriation of funds by the administration of Hill, currently the superintendent of public instruction.
Otherwise, Hill and Haynes appear in lockstep on issues.
Hill, in her "Second Red Book" political manifesto, and Haynes, in speeches and social media postings, quote the Wyoming and U.S. constitutions in depth.
Both opposed Senate File 104, which removed Hill from the state Department of Education until the Wyoming Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. Both oppose state consideration of a refugee resettlement program in Wyoming.
They both have spoken about how spirituality and prayer are important in their lives.
In addition to Hill and Haynes, two other candidates are running for governor: Pete Gosar, a Democrat, and Matt Mead, whom conservative Republican Rep. Tom Reeder, R-Casper, describes as a moderate-leaning Republican.
Hill and Haynes are drawing the conservative vote, Reeder said.
Conservative voters have approached Reeder asking for his perspective on whom to vote for. He’s been asked the question so many times that he wrote an analysis and distributes copies of it.
“I tried to take out all of the personal issues and look at the qualifications,” he said.
Based on factors such as opposition to the Common Core educational standards and federal funding in education and Hill’s leadership in fighting SF104 with a lawsuit, Reeder believes there is proof that Hill is the person for the job.
His analysis says there are many unknowns with Haynes.
Gay, a Casper Republican lawmaker who also supports Hill, criticized Haynes for making what he called “red meat statements.”
“He’s pandering to the right-wing extremists, whereas Cindy Hill has experience in government, and she’s much more reasonable in the statements she makes,” he said. “Taylor Haynes is pandering.”
Gay doesn’t think many of Haynes’ promises can be achieved, such as prohibiting the federal government’s presence in Wyoming.
“I always want to raise my hand and say, ‘How do you intend to do that?’” Gay said.
Hill was wronged during legislative hearings that Gay described as “inquisition meetings,” because she was not provided an attorney by the state, even though her accusers had attorneys, he said.
On Friday, Gay asked the state attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Mead and his staff over the handling of an investigation into Hill's actions as superintendent. That request was denied.
“She stood with her held high in dignity while she was stripped of her right to due process,” he said.
Hill did not return a message from the Star-Tribune about what she perceives as the differences between herself and Haynes.
At the July 12 Wyoming Liberty Conference, a gathering in Casper of conservative thinkers and voters, Haynes said he thought Mead and the Legislature acted wrongly in passing SF104. They were trying to get rid of the superintendent as an elected position with authority, he said.
But he thought Hill was wrong, too.
“But she made the first mistake,” he said. “She reappropriated legislative funds and federal funds without legislative approval. The Legislature controls the budget. Once they approve your programs, if they want to change that I understand that.
"I would have handled it different if I would have been governor. I would have facilitated that. But failing that, you have to live with the Legislature’s decision. That’s our system of government.”
A legislative report found evidence that in order to fund professional development programs after the Legislature had defunded them, Hill’s administration turned to the improper use of federal grants designated for special education.
Casper resident and Senate District 27 Republican candidate Kara Rae Linn said the Casper Star-Tribune had been unfair to Hill, which led Hill to decline an invitation to the July 15 gubernatorial debate, hosted in part by the Star-Tribune.
Haynes said that’s Hill's choice, but he expects to talk with every news media outlet.
“Because I have a disagreement with a reporter, (it) doesn’t allow me to shy away as the governor or candidate,” he said. “You’ve got to stick in there. The world is grossly tough. And I come from a really, really mean background. But I’m not mean. I’m a gentleman.”
In broad terms about the differences between him and the other candidates, Haynes noted his education and his experience running four companies.
“Wyoming is a large company,” he said.
Allen, the Casper resident who supports Haynes, believes that the difference between Hill and Haynes is wide.
Hill and the public were wronged by SF104, he said, “but Cindy Hill, her budget was illegal,” he said, referring to the alleged misappropriation.
Frank Jorge, of Basin, began as a Hill supporter before he became aware of Haynes. He is impressed by Haynes’ background in mechanical engineering — Haynes worked for a company that owned coal mines in the Powder River Basin —before graduating from medical school and establishing a practice in Cheyenne.
Jorge also believes that Haynes has strength that a man can provide, he said.
“I had to reflect on a lot of this because of course we live in an age where a lot of lines between men and women have been blurred, but the actual purpose and design if you look at it, men have been the ones who have gone off to war, traditionally, and that will remain forever because they are equipped to do that,” he said.
“They have been providers and they are protectors, and women have been the reason why we live because they bear children and protect those children, and they make homes and families. So I think it’s incumbent for a man to step up and take on the problems presented to us by the federal government and make Wyoming whole again.”
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Thomas Bleming calls Haynes a personal friend. Bleming will vote for Haynes. He is impressed by Haynes’ accomplishments, from growing up on a farm in Louisiana to graduating from medical school.
“If he weren’t running, I’d be voting for Cindy Hill,” he said.