WASHINGTON -- Wyoming's Republican governor, Matt Mead, insisted he's focused on his job and not on a tea party challenger to his re-election in the 2014 GOP primary.
Mead told The Huffington Post in an interview last weekend that he hasn't begun a re-election campaign, and a challenge by Cindy Hill, the tea party-aligned state superintendent of public instruction, is not on his radar. Hill, elected superintendent in 2010, announced her gubernatorial campaign earlier this month, days after Mead signed legislation stripping most of her duties.
"Certainly she has the right to make decisions," Mead said of Hill.
Mead signed the legislation stripping Hill of her role running the state Department of Education late last month following accusations in the Republican-controlled legislature that Hill wasn't implementing new education laws and had otherwise mismanaged the department. Hill has denied the accusations. Under the new law, the superintendent, a constitutionally mandated position, has largely ceremonial duties, including writing an annual report, overseeing the teacher of the year awards program and developing ways for schools to store toxic chemicals. Mead will now appoint the education department chief.
Mead said Hill's candidacy is "so far out," with the election not until 2014.
"We don't like long campaigns." Mead said of Wyoming.
Mead's comments echo those of state Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne) who told HuffPost earlier this month that Hill's candidacy was the earliest he's seen a recent statewide contest.
Hill did not return a call from HuffPost seeking comment.
The race between Mead and Hill may shape up as one of the more interesting Republican gubernatorial primaries in 2014. Hill is popular among tea party members in the state, with access to funding through the movement. Her new duties also leave her more time to travel the state, which Zwonitzer noted earlier this month. Mead's base is rooted in the traditional GOP establishment, giving him easy access to campaign funds.
Mead, a former U.S. attorney, is part of the state's leading GOP family. His mother, Mary, was the 1990 GOP nominee for governor and his grandfather, Clifford Hansen, was governor and a U.S. senator.
Mead said he doesn't know if Hill's new duties could be defined as reduced. Hill had sought a $6.2 million budget for her newly constituted office. Legislators adopted a roughly $2 million budget.
Mead said the change in management at the Department of Education was needed for the future of the state. "The Legislature recognized that education is a key component of our future," he said.