Jan 8, 2015

Coe headed for his 27th year in the Senate; may run again

Facing a write-in challenge after a narrow primary win in 2012, state Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, hinted at retirement from a long legislative career.

Coe had just defeated Bob Berry of Cody by 112 votes in the Republican primary in Senate District 18, and Berry immediately moved to continue the contest as a write-in candidate in the November general election. Coe said he felt “under full-scale assault” from the Tea Party faction of the Park County Republican Party during the 2012 election cycle.

State Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, is returning to the Wyoming Senate for his 27th year
Coe admits that he mentioned possible retirement at the time. But he went on to handily defeat Berry by amassing 71 percent of the vote in the general election, winning his seventh senate term to represent Cody, Meeteetse, Clark and areas west of Powell.

Halfway through that term — 26 years after he was first elected to the state Senate — Coe leaves for Cheyenne and the opening of the 63rd Legislature on Jan. 13. And he’s not talking like a man ready to walk away from what he loves to do.

“I think what I stated then was this probably will be my last election,” said Coe, reflecting back to 2012. “I never said specifically or guaranteed this will be my last run.”

Coe, 68, said he has been approached by a lineup of people — “a lot of people, not just a couple” — encouraging him to run again in 2016.

“I don’t really know what I’ll do,” Coe said. “I love legislating. I spend about half of my time doing legislative business. My health’s really good. I think I’ll be pretty good at 70.”

Seniority he has built up in the Senate benefits Park County, he noted.

“I’m not bragging, but I’m in a position of seniority and committee chairmanships that are vital for Park County and my constituents,” he said. “This seniority thing is really relevant.”

Coe, who served as president of the Senate in 2001, is chairman of the Senate Education Committee and the Senate Air Transportation Liaison Committee in 2015. He said he hopes the contentious times between the Legislature and the State Department of Education under former Superintendent of PublicInstruction Cindy Hill are a thing of the past.

“I’m looking forward to collaboration with new Superintendent Jillian Balow and the Department of Education,” Coe said. “Collaboration is the key word that I’m using with the department.”

Still, Coe supported a bill out of the Joint Interim Education Committee to propose a constitutional amendment to change the position of state superintendent of public instruction from an elected office to an appointed office. The bill, entered as House Joint Resolution 2, will be heard first in the House Education Committee.
“I’m not bragging, but I’m in a position of seniority and committee chairmanships that are vital for Park County and my constituents,” Coe said. “This seniority thing is really relevant.”
“There might be too much fallout from H.B. 104 (the failed legislative effort to remove Hill in favor of an appointed department head) to pass it down there,” he said. “It’s a long process. It would need to pass both House and Senate, be signed by the governor, and then submitted to a statewide vote as a constitutional amendment.”

The Joint Education Committee commissioned a study of governance of the Department of Education in which 1,546 parties were polled. The respondents favored an appointed position by 64 percent to 36 percent.

“That’s why I voted for the bill (HJR2) to come out of committee,” Coe said. “We need to have the debate.”

Coe said he supports most of Gov. Matt Mead’s budget proposals. He specifically applauds more money for tourism development, for local government infrastructure, the University of Wyoming and community college matching funds programs and the Tier 1 engineering school at UW.

“I want to hear the debate on Medicaid expansion,” he added. “It’s costing our hospitals hand and fist for uncompensated care. We’ve got to do something.”

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