CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - He’s the incumbent Republican governor in a heavily Republican state, and Wyoming’s energy riches have grown under his watch.
But Matt Mead isn’t taking his re-election for granted.
Mead, who’s seeking a second term, recently embarked with his family on a whirlwind 10-day campaign tour ahead of the state’s Aug. 19 primary election. Making the rounds of county fairs and fire stations, he says he’s anxious to get his message out to defeat two challengers in an unusually bitter campaign.
Personal attacks have come from Cindy Hill, the superintendent of public instruction, who said during a Cheyenne gubernatorial debate, “We have a governor who sits before us and doesn’t always tell us the truth.” The contender was referring to legal clashes she has had with the governor.
Mead hasn’t responded, preferring to focus on his record.
“The problem is, if you get in a response for that, pretty soon, it’s a race toward the bottom,” Mead said in a recent interview.
During his term, Wyoming has kept putting plenty of money in the bank. Statewide unemployment has dropped to about 4 percent - significantly below the national average of over 6 percent.
Mead has enticed high-tech companies to expand in Wyoming. He points to the development of a state energy strategy and ongoing work on a state water strategy. He also touts improvements to the state’s broadband network.
“We’re working now, as you know, on the unified network, which will provide 100-gigabit backbone to the state, which is unprecedented certainly in the West, and certainly for a rural state,” he said.
Mead brushes off criticism from Democrats for rejecting federal money to add some 17,600 working poor to the Medicaid rolls, a cornerstone of the federal Affordable Care Act. A former U.S. Attorney for Wyoming, he notes he challenged the constitutionality of the law early on and says he still has doubts about federal promises to cover expansion costs.
But Mead recently received more attention among many Republicans for signing into law a bill that stripped Hill, who holds a statewide elected office, of oversight of the education department. The move still rankles many in the party.
The state Supreme Court rejected the law as unconstitutional and reinstated Hill. In May, Mead narrowly avoided a strongly worded censure over the issue at the Republican Party convention in Evanston.
Looking back on it, Mead emphasizes that he and most legislators were trying to address issues they thought were important.
“The Supreme Court said, ‘You’ve gone about this the wrong way, and you’ve made a mistake,’” Mead said. “And the buck stops with me, I signed the bill, and we accept that that was a mistake.”
But Mead strongly denies Hill’s repeated charge that he signed the bill for political advantage.
“The Legislature was trying to get accountability, and they were hearing complaints about what was going on at the Department of Education,” Mead said. “They’re thinking about that we spend $4 million every single day of the year on education. We can’t just let it go and have voters come to us two years later and say, ‘You were aware of this, this, this and this, and yet you did nothing.’”
The other challenger is Taylor Haynes, a retired urologist. Haynes repeatedly calls for Wyoming taking over federal lands. County sheriffs, he says, are the highest level of law enforcement, with powers over federal workers who don’t bow to state authority.
Mead has said Haynes’ ideas aren’t legal. But in a state often wary of federal intrusion, he points out that his administration has filed many lawsuits against the federal government - especially the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has pushed regulations on coal-fired power plants that Mead says threaten the state’s coal industry.
“I’m not running because I want to have a career in politics,” Mead said. “You know, I’ve always said I think this is a job you get in, you make tough decisions, you get out, and that’s what we want to do.”
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