Former Wyoming Senate President John Hines was a man whose actions often spoke louder than his words. Soft-spoken but firm when he did speak, Hines was usually concise and straight to the point, which former state lawmakers Drew Perkins and Eli Bebout said lent credibility to what he did say.
“When he said something, you paid attention to it,” Bebout said.
Hines, a Republican from Gillette, died Friday at the age of 87.
He’ll be remembered in Cowboy State political circles for his 29 years in the Wyoming Legislature. Hines was voted by his colleagues to serve as Senate president in 2009-2010.
It was an honor he had to earn after an earlier defeat, once losing a bid for House majority floor leader after dozens of tiebreaker votes, said former Senate President Tony Ross.
“While he was disappointed about it, you never would’ve known,” Ross said.
Many considered Hines to be as Wyoming as it gets — thoughtful and kind while caring deeply for his community and state. Ross and Perkins said he was always open to a friendly debate, even if he didn’t agree with most of what was being said.
“He had a great grasp of everything and everybody,” said former House Speaker Tom Lubnau, also of Gillette. “He had a great point of view on how to address issues.”
State Sen. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, said Hines took him under his wing while he was serving his first term in the House while Hines was in his last two years in the Senate. The two had already developed a bond from working on local issues together.
Hines and Barlow’s father had been in the same 1954 graduating class at Campbell County High School. After Barlow’s father died, he said Hines filled a bit of a fatherly role in his life.
“I had some of the same feelings when John died as when my father passed,” Barlow said.
It Started In 1985
After serving as a lobbyist, Hines was elected to his first term in the House in 1985. He moved over to the Senate in 2003, where he served for 11 years, including stints as majority floor leader, vice president and president of the chamber.
Former legislator Tony Ross shared an office with Hines when he was Senate president and Ross was vice president. Ross said a simple hand gesture was often all Hines needed to get his point across.
“He was quiet and gentle, but everyone knew where he stood,” Ross said.
One of Hines’ biggest accomplishments was getting the $217 million Madison Pipeline project passed through the Legislature, which former Gillette House Speaker Tom Lubnau said was critical to maintaining Gillette’s water security for the future.
In years leading up to approval and construction of the pipeline, the city had initiated various water rationing efforts.
“The Gillette population would have had to be capped at 25,000 people if it weren’t for that,” Lubnau said. “There was not enough water to support the community.”
Lubnau said the legislator was also a key voice in securing Wyoming’s relatively strong current economic picture.
Hines helped secure reclamation of abandoned coal-bed methane gas wells in the Powder River Basin, an effort that was of particular importance to Hines. He had mineral reserves underneath the ranch he lived at for nearly his whole life, Bebout said.
Perkins served on the Legislature’s Revenue Committee with Hines. He said although Hines was very knowledgeable about the issues, he was always open to having his opinion changed.
“It was never my way or the highway with John,” Perkins said.
Current House Speaker Albert Sommers served on the Brucellosis Task Force with Hines before entering the Legislature, an experience Sommers said inspired him to run for the House.
“John had a powerful voice and was one of the most thoughtful, common-sense legislators I have ever been around,” Sommers said.
Don Richards, budget and fiscal administrator for the Legislature, worked with Hines at various junctures in his career.
“He was an extraordinary statesman who had an outsized impact on Wyoming and, frankly, on my career,” Richards said.
Barlow said Hines was a textbook elder statesman, reveling in the value of relationships with his fellow legislators.
“That was the currency, that was the gold in those days,” Barlow said.
Loved A Good Drink
Barlow was one of Hines’ last friends to see him, grabbing happy hour drinks with the former legislator about a week before his death.
One of Hines’ favorite drinks was Sheep Dip single malt scotch whiskey, which Bebout frequently had on-hand at his house in Riverton.
“I wouldn’t drink it with him, but that wouldn’t stop him,” Bebout said. “He liked his scotch.”
Barlow said Hines and Jim Hageman, father of current U.S. Rep. Harriet Hageman, were good friends. The two would rent rooms next to each other during the legislative session at Cheyenne’s Hitching Post Motel and would celebrate their birthdays one day after the other.
“They just partied for two days,” Barlow said.
Hines was also a big University of Wyoming athletics fan and would often go to games with Bebout and Hageman.
Barlow and some other friends held a party for Hines last December. When Barlow dropped him off at his assisted living community at the end of the night, Hines made a stunning revelation.
“He didn’t want me to walk him back in because he had snuck out,” Barlow said with a laugh. “He didn’t want them to know.”
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.