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GOP leadership split by Hill controversy as '14 election approaches

Aug 2, 2013 - By Bob Moen, The Associated Press

CHEYENNE -- The allegations and conflict surrounding public schools Superintendent Cindy Hill haven't pushed the state's schools off course or knocked out its legislative process. Even Hill is still performing her official duties.

Instead, the state Republican Party appears to have the deepest scars to show for the controversy, with its leadership split over a new state law that reduced many of the superintendent's duties and a legislative investigation into how Hill ran the state Education Department over the last two years.

Hill, the Legislature that is investigating her, and Gov. Matt Mead, who signed into law a bill that removed her as head of the Education Department, are all Republican.

A large number of GOP Central Committee members have sided with Hill in her fight to regain duties stripped from her by the law.

In April, the Central Committee voted 40-32 to approve a resolution endorsing a petition drive to repeal the state law, an effort that ultimately failed. Last month, the Central Committee voted 33-32 to table the resolution that would have demanded due process for Hill during the investigation of her by the state House.

"I haven't heard anything that is more than rumors and innuendoes against her," said Central Committee member Karl Allred, of Evanston, who is a Hill supporter.

Republican legislators say they passed the law replacing the superintendent as head of the Education Department with a governor-appointed director because the department's operations had been degraded under Hill's administration to the point that it was hindering education reform efforts.

After Hill was forced out of the agency, a subsequent inquiry into the department's operations reported possible misuse of federal funds and other problems under her administration.

Hill has denied any wrongdoing. She has announced she'll run for governor next year.

Phil Roberts, a University of Wyoming associate professor of history, said there are several cases in Wyoming history of intraparty divisions among both Republican and Democrats, although the current situation involving a split between a Legislature and a statewide elected official of the same party is unusual.

"A result of the internal squabbles has, at least historically, turned into opportunities for the opposing party," Roberts said. "Historians are lousy predictors of the future, but at least in terms the way it's happened in the past, it always rebounded to the benefit of the party out of power whenever there's something like this."

However, UW political science professor Jim King said disagreements within a dominant political party aren't unusual and he expects the Wyoming GOP will survive this one.

"The party is in such a strong position, it will withstand these internal disagreements," King said. "Yes, they may disagree over this but come the 2014 election you're not going to see the Republican Party activists who disagree with the Legislature turn around and vote for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate."

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