Charlie Meadows Steps Down at OCPAC
Michener first met Meadows about ten years ago when he saw Charlie's pickup passing by, its back covered with conservative bumper stickers such as "Get US out! Of the UN!" Michener followed Meadows to a store parking lot where he was meeting his wife, Linda. Michener struck up a conversation and Meadows invited Michener to OCPAC.
Michener noted in an email following the change of leadership: "In a gesture intended to symbolize his transfer of leadership, Charlie Meadows passed me a gavel last Wednesday after I was elected only the second President of OCPAC. The gavel was a nice touch, but he really should have passed me a pair of overalls." For decades Charlie has worn overalls to work, to OCPAC meetings, to luncheons with legislators, and to the state capitol. They symbolize his hard work, consistency, common sense, and humility.
Charlie Meadows will certainly be a hard man to follow.
OCPAC has played a significant part in changing the political landscape of Oklahoma, and it was Charlie Meadows who created the organization, which evolved from a weekly lunch meeting with a friend of Charlie's, Tim Green, in 1991. Green and Meadows would meet on Wednesdays and would often discuss politics. The pair started inviting others to join them at a restaurant in north Oklahoma City.
In 1992, Rush Limbaugh began a TV program which was broadcast in the Oklahoma City area from 11:30 A.M. until noon. The group relocated to a hotel restaurant which had a TV in the bar area and they caught the program during lunch. Others were invited to the "Rush Room" (including one of the founders of the Oklahoma Constitution newspaper). As the group continued to grow, the restaurant began serving a buffet on Wednesdays and the group began calling themselves the "Rush Bunch." When the group gathered on the day following the November 1992 election of Bill Clinton as President, a sad event in itself, they were further saddened to learn that the restaurant had unplugged Rush and discontinued the buffet.
The Rush Bunch then relocated to the Split-T restaurant which was also equipped with TVs. The Split-T had been known to be frequented by many state legislators including a group of legislators known as the T-Bar 12 which had orchestrated the ouster of Oklahoma Speaker of the House Jim Barker in 1989. The Rush Bunch continued to grow and were soon provided the large meeting room at the restaurant. The informal group then evolved from just listening to Rush, to having guest speakers and sometimes showing videos. After some time, the group realized they were a little more conservative than Rush, and began calling themselves the "Right of Rush Bunch." When the Split-T temporarily closed in early 1994, the group relocated to another hotel restaurant.
With the 1994 political campaigns underway, Frank Keating became the first politician to address the group, seeking support in his gubernatorial race. Keating's Republican primary opponent, Jerry Pierce, spoke to the group at a following meeting. Eventually programs became more formal with weekly scheduled speakers.
In 1999, Meadows proposed forming an organization with an agenda and a strategy. "Debating societies have a lot of fun, but never accomplish anything," Charlie told the group. He wanted the meetings to morph into OCPAC. He told the Oklahoma Constitution the coming of term limits in the Oklahoma Legislature offered a chance to "really start making a difference."
In 2000, the first year that OCPAC endorsed candidates and gave contributions, the group gave four candidates $1,000 each, with three of the four winning, including Jim Reynolds who won a state Senate seat. In 2002, OCPAC contributed $8,400 to candidates. Then, in 2004, with the Republicans poised to take over the Oklahoma Legislature, their giving jumped to $24,000, followed by $31,000 in 2006, and $33,000 in 2008. By 2010, OCPAC gave out over $43,000 and in 2012 they contributed $44,000. In 2014 the total was $40,500.
In the 2012 campaign, OCPAC gave $5,000 (the maximum allowed by law) to the campaign of Nathan Dahm who was running for the state senate. The amount represented one-sixth of the campaign spending for Dahm, who defeated a retired millionaire who raised and spent over $160,000.
OCPAC has had many victories, but Meadows recalled one in particular for the Oklahoma Constitution, which concerned the proposed NAFTA "super highway." A bill had passed the Legislature and was on Governor Brad Henry's desk, awaiting his signature. The bill was designed to create a duty-free trade zone in Oklahoma, with the potential of it to become a foreign terminal port for Chinese goods. The bill was intended to make this a reality by making a one-word change in existing Oklahoma law. Senator Anthony Sykes of Moore caught the change, its potential mischief, and alerted Charlie Meadows.
OCPAC and other grassroots organizations swung into action, informing the bill's author that his bill was about to become "radioactive." The nervous author of the bill asked for it to be withdrawn from the governor's desk, which was done. The one word was removed. The Oklahoman newspaper ran an editorial crediting OCPAC with killing the proposal.
But, the yearly efforts of OCPAC to monitor the Legislature and evaluate candidates is the heart of the organization. OCPAC has interviewed 260 Republican candidates for the state legislature over the past eight election cycles, and has contributed to and worked for 128. Sixty-eight were elected. "We have made eight or nine mistakes," Meadows conceded, but the rest of them are the most conservative in the state legislature as rated by the Oklahoma Conservative Index published by the Oklahoma Constitution newspaper.
Meadows wrote a regular column for the Oklahoma Constitution newspaper for 21 years, until he recently gave that up. The relationship between the Oklahoma Constitution and OCPAC has been close, but often misunderstood. The Oklahoma Constitution published the Conservative Index (CI) for twenty years before OCPAC existed. In the late 1990s, the owners of the Oklahoma Constitution began to enlist the help of the group in the creation of the CI, using them as a sounding board to help decide which bills to include. In 2002, the process became more formal. The newspaper staff submits a list of potential bills to the group and after debate the OCPAC members vote to select the ten key bills on which legislators are judged. The newspaper staff retain a final veto, but that has rarely proved necessary.
OCPAC then takes the Oklahoma Constitution's Conservative Index scores to nominate legislators for "awards" such as outstanding conservative legislators. The members then vote to select the final winners. Of real concern in the halls of the Capitol is the Republican in Name Only (RINO) designation that OCPAC gives to low-ranking Republican legislators.
In 2006, when the Senate was tied at 24 between the Democrats and the Republicans, channel nine news in Oklahoma City hired a Hoover Institute scholar (Stanford University) to evaluate the performance of the state Senate. As Meadows pointed out, "Every key issue cited in the report was either on the CI, or was considered for it."
"No other state has anything like it," Meadows told the Constitution. "It is a credit to you two guys (Ron McWhirter and Steve Byas) and your commitment for the past 36 years."
"The Oklahoma Constitution is a very unique newspaper," Meadows added. "The service that the Conservative Index provides in accurately portraying the conservatives and liberals in the legislature is invaluable. When I go outside of Oklahoma to speak, I always take the paper with the C.I. with me, and share it, as an example of what an effective grass-roots organization can do. It objectively measures the performance of the state legislature. The C.I. is so accurate, that after four years, the annual score [of a legislator] rarely varies more than ten points from their lifetime average," Meadows said.
Charlie Meadows was born in Sentinel, Oklahoma, but his family moved to Oklahoma City to the area around Will Rogers Park when he was less than two years old. He graduated from Northwest Classen in 1964, when it was known as "the country club at 30th and North May." Meadows went to Oklahoma State University (OSU), with the intentions of becoming a veterinarian. He later tried to join the army, but asthma caused him to fail the physical.
After living for a time in California where he worked as an aircraft structural mechanic, Meadows moved back to Oklahoma. Having worked "between jobs," for a window cleaner, Meadows decided to open his own window-cleaning business. Meadows recalled that he and his wife, Linda, whom he married in 1971, had a hard time making ends meet for about two years, as he knocked on a "lot of doors" while building his business.
When about ten years old, Meadows said he had a "powerful experience" with the Lord, but had periods of backsliding, before finally beginning to "walk steadily" in 1973. Anyone who knows Meadows well, knows that his world view is dominated by biblical Christianity.
Although he considered himself philosophically conservative, even as a child, he was not active politically until well into adulthood, not even voting in a presidential race until 1988, when interest in the Pat Robertson campaign got him involved. In fact, Meadows opposed Christians even being involved in politics, at all, for several years. He convinced others not to get involved in politics and would not even help a good friend, Ray Grantham, when Grantham ran for a state senate seat.
After listening to Bill Bowen speak at Sunnyside Baptist Church about the public school system being used to destroy the country, Meadows became a political activist. (Bowen had been superintendent of the social studies department of the Baltimore, Maryland school district). "I concluded that politics and government are simply a different arena of spiritual warfare than had ever perceived before," Meadows told the Constitution.
By March of 1990, the change in Meadows' thinking was so complete that he ran for the state Senate, losing to incumbent Democrat Senator Kelly Haney. But, Meadows garnered nearly 44% of the vote in a district that only had 21% Republican registration at the time.
It was in that campaign that he got to know Tim Green so well, as Green was one of Meadows' best campaign volunteers. While Meadows was unable to capture a seat in the Oklahoma Legislature, his effort led him to a close friendship with Green, which led to their weekly meetings for lunch.
The cause of conservative and constitutional limited government in Oklahoma was probably helped greatly by Meadows' loss to Haney in 1990. Had Meadows won, it is unlikely OCPAC would have ever existed. The contribution OCPAC has made to improving Oklahoma is simply immeasurable. And when it comes to OCPAC, Charlie Meadows was, as they said of George Washington, the indispensable man.
The meeting site has changed over the years as restaurants either went out of business, or the group outgrew meeting space. They have rotated between hotel restaurants, Mexican, Chinese, pizza places, a stint at Golden Corral, and more recently at a church. In April, they relocated to a site north of the State Capitol. Until it closed, the group had previously met at an Italian restaurant on Lincoln Boulevard which allowed legislators to frequently attend and speak at the lunch. The new location will again offer that opportunity.
The group now meets in the Old Surety Life building at the northwest corner of 50th and North Lincoln. Park in the lot directly west of the building only. The conference center and cafÃ© is located on the first floor. Enter the cafÃ© directly from the south doors which face the capitol. Lunch is catered with a choice of boxed lunches for $8. Lunch includes a gourmet sandwich, chips, cookie, and iced tea or water. When you enter the cafÃ©, you will proceed to the lunch line, or if you are not purchasing a lunch, give a $1 cover charge to the OCPAC officer at the door and move to the tables.