Tidbits for Winter 2019
Record Voter Registration and Turnout
Official voter registration statistics released January 15 by the Oklahoma State Election Board show the highest number of registered voters following a gubernatorial election since the board began recording voter registration statistics in 1960. This year’s count reveals 2,126,897 people registered to vote, an increase of nearly 111,000 voters from the same time last year. Republican Party voter registration continues to grow, along with Independent voters, and Libertarian Party voters. Republicans lead with 1,008,775 or 47.4 percent of registered voters. It’s the first time in state history that a single party has had more than a million registered voters. Democrats have 777,770 registered voters or 36.6 percent. Independents number 331,078 or 15.6 percent. The Libertarian Party now has 9,274 registered members or .4 percent. Voter registration usually peaks following a general election, but it’s important to remember that the numbers are constantly changing. The Oklahoma State Election Board releases a comprehensive annual voter registration count each January 15.
The board also reported that nearly 1.2 million votes were cast in the November General Election, with a turnout of over 56 percent. It was the largest turnout for a midterm election in the state in decades. The election ranks above any gubernatorial year turnout since at least 1986, and by a wide margin. “We have set modern records for the number of candidates to file for office, turnout in a gubernatorial year primary election and turnout in a gubernatorial year general election.” said Oklahoma State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax.
Rep. Tadlock Switches Parties
State Representative Johnny Tadlock announced on December 6 that he changed his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. “This to me is not at all about party affiliation,” said Tadlock. “This is about representing the people who live in my district to the best of my ability and making sure their voice is heard at the state Capitol. To do this, I feel I would have better success in the majority party. I have not changed my beliefs. As a Democrat, I was endorsed by the National Rifle Association. I have always been pro-life.” Tadlock represents House District 1, which serves part of LeFlore and all of McCurtain counties in SE Oklahoma. He was first elected to serve in the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 2014. Tadlock was the only candidate to file for the seat in the 2018 election cycle. If he had gone through a partisan election and been reelected as a Democrat, there may have been criticism. While his 46% cumulative average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index would place him as one of the more liberal Republicans, he ranked as the second most conservative Democrat in the Oklahoma House. The only Democrat with a higher score was term-limited in 2018. The move adds to the Republican super majority in the House. The switch leaves state House Republicans with a 77-24 majority.
Democrat Minority Leaders in Legislature
For the first time ever, women now lead both of the Democrats’ legislative caucuses. On November 15, Okahoma House Democrats chose Rep. Emily Virgin of Norman over Oklahoma City Rep. Jason Dunnington during a closed-door meeting of the 25-member caucus (now 24 members since Rep. Tadlock changed party registration).The need for a new Democratic leader emerged after five-term state Rep. Steve Kouplen of Beggs was defeated in the November election the previous week. He was one of three Democratic House members to lose re-election. He was defeated by his Republican challenger who spent no money and did not actively campaign. He had put his name on the ballot in 2018 to get advance exposure for a run in 2020 when Kouplen would be term-limited. Virgin has a cumulative average score of 16% on the Oklahoma Conservative Index.
The Oklahoma Senate Democratic Caucus announced May 7 that they had selected Sen. Kay Floyd (D-Oklahoma City) to serve as Senate Democratic Leader for the 57th Oklahoma Legislature. Floyd, who served as Senate Democratic Caucus Chair, succeeds Sen. John Sparks (D-Norman) who could not run for reelection in 2018 due to term-limits. Sen. Floyd was elected to the Oklahoma Senate in 2014 after serving one term in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. The Democrat Caucus includes nine members. She has a cumulative average of 19% on the Oklahoma Conservative Index.
Organizational Day for Legislature
The Oklahoma Legislature held its post-election Organizational Day on January 8 at the state Capitol where Senator Greg Treat was formally elected President Pro Tempore and Rep. Charles McCall as Speaker of the House. Both chambers individually certified their 2018 election results, and held a joint session to certify the 2018 congressional election results. They also established rules for the 2019/2020 sessions of the 57th Oklahoma Legislature and approved legislative deadlines. Treat previously served as the majority floor leader, the Senate’s second-highest leadership office, and was selected by Senate Republicans last year as their choice to lead the Senate. He replaces Mike Schulz who was term-limited in 2018. Sen. Treat has a cumulative average score of 68% on the Oklahoma Conservative Index. McCall continues as Speaker of the House, a post he has held for several terms. He has a cumulative average score of 61% on the Oklahoma Conservative Index. The first session of the 57th Legislature will begin on Monday, February 4 at noon with the state of the state address from Gov. Kevin Stitt in the House Chamber.
Legislature Completes Bill Filing
January 17was the deadline to file legislation for the first session of the 57th Legislature. In the Oklahoma House of Representatives a total of 1,733 House Bills and 21 House Joint Resolutions were filed. Last year, the Clerk of the House reported 1,193 House bills and 32 House Joint Resolutions were filed for the 2018 session. In the Oklahoma Senate, a total of 1,040 Senate Bills and 21 Senate Joint Resolutions were filed. In 2017, a total of 831 Senate bills were filed, along with 46 Senate Joint Resolutions. The filing deadline only applies to Bills and Joint Resolutions. The deadline does not apply to appropriations bills, which can be filed throughout the session, nor to Concurrent Resolutions and House or Senate Resolutions, which may be requested and filed at any time until Sine Die Adjournment of the Regular Session. Also, upon a two-thirds (2/3) vote of the membership of both houses, a measure can be exempt from all cutoff dates in both houses.
Let Governor Pick Agency Heads
Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City) filed a series of bills granting the Oklahoma governor more appointment power of five top agency directors. Treat said the bills will provide more accountability and give the governor the ability to truly lead the state. “Regardless of the governor’s political party affiliation, they are elected to serve as the chief executive of the state and to lead the state. The governor should be able to select the men and women he or she wants to run these top state agencies to help fully enact the governor’s vision and agenda,” Treat said. The bills call for the administrator to be confirmed by the Senate and to serve at the pleasure of the governor. The five bills address five of the top 10 agencies according to state appropriated dollars:
Senate Bill 456 would grant the governor authority to appoint the administrator of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.
Senate Bill 457 would grant the governor authority to appoint the director of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.
Senate Bill 458 would grant the governor authority to appoint the director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. The DOC director already is confirmed by the Senate.
Senate Bill 459 would grant the governor authority to appoint the commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
Senate Bill 460 would grant the governor authority to appoint the executive director of the Office of Juvenile Affairs.
Special Election Costs
Sen. Ron Sharp (R-Shawnee )is continuing his push to save taxpayers from paying for special elections when state legislators leave office before their term is up. Senate Bill 363 requires state Senators or Representatives who resign, are removed from office, or are expelled, to pay the remaining balance of their campaign fund to the State Election Board to offset the costs of the resulting special election. “Special elections are expensive and the taxpayers shouldn’t be burdened with that cost,” said Sharp. Senate Bill 363 does not apply to those members who pass away while serving office. The senator said he respects people’s career choices, but wants legislators to be held accountable for the oath they make to their constituents to serve out their full term. “Why should Oklahoma taxpayers pick up the bill because someone decides mid-term to pursue another job or, as has been the case recently, are removed from office because they committed a crime?” said Sharp. He filed similar legislation (SB 1006) in 2018 but the bill was not given a committee hearing in the Senate. Since 2013, 14 House and Senate special elections have been held. The nine legislative special elections in 2017 and 2018 alone cost Oklahoma taxpayers more than $250,000.
Allow Lawmakers to Return to Teaching
State Sen. Carri Hicks (D-Oklahoma City) is among a group of educators who sought public office in 2018. But by law in Oklahoma, when these legislators complete their service at the Capitol, they cannot return to the classroom for two years unless a school can find alternative funding that does not include state dollars. Hicks wants to give Oklahomans the opportunity to change that law and has filed Senate Joint Resolution 8. “Current law actually prevents legislators from accepting any job paid with state dollars for the first two years after leaving office. I’m sure it was designed to prevent any deals with a state agency or other institution that could result in a high-paying job awaiting them as a result of efforts undertaken for that agency,” said Hicks. “But with teachers, it’s simply a matter of being able to return to the job they were doing before seeking office.”
Homeless Student Scholarships
Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat filed legislation that would allow homeless students to qualify for the highly successful Lindsey Nicole Henry (LNH) scholarship program. The LNH scholarship program was created in 2010 to allow state funds for children with special needs to be used by private schools that could better accommodate their needs. “Homeless students face tremendous obstacles. Giving them access to this scholarship program is a great way to help them overcome those hurdles by getting an education that hopefully could help them become a transformational generation in their family tree,” said Treat. Senate Bill 901 amends the LNH scholarship program by expanding the program to “a student who is classified as homeless, meaning that they lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence, and is enrolling in a school specifically designated for homeless students.”
Illegal Immigrant Healthcare Funding
Sen. Paul Scott (R-Duncan) filed Senate Bill 40 hoping to stop state funds from providing healthcare to pregnant illegal immigrants under the Soon-to-be-Sooners Program (STBS). “I filed this bill to bring to light the fact that the federal government is forcing states and hardworking taxpayers to foot the bill for illegal immigrants to have their babies in the U.S. This isn’t right. They are in the country illegally,” said Scott. “The federal government has tied our hands. The State of Oklahoma can’t stop providing funding to the more than 6,200 noncitizens receiving services under the Soon-to-be-Sooner Program or they will take away our federal CHIP funding, which is over $91 million.” The STBS program falls under the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) authority. According to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the STBS program covered 9,856 individuals in FY’18: 3,629 were Oklahomans and 6,227 were illegal immigrants. The program cost just over $15.74 million with the federal government providing $14.8 million and Oklahoma paying nearly $907,000.
Abolition of Abortion
Senate Bill 13, authored by Sen. Joseph Silk (R-Broken Bow) is cited as the “Abolition of Abortion in Oklahoma Act.” The bill would give fetuses equal protection under state laws and would include abortion in Oklahoma’s definition of felony homicide. The legislation makes no exceptions for cases of rape, incest, or danger to a woman’s life. The proposal seeks to both reestablish state sovereignty and the most basic role of government: the defense of human life. Silk also argues that it is justifiable for Oklahoma to pass such a bill, despite the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which created a woman’s legal right to abortion. Sen. Silk says it is time to challenge the high court as has been done in the past. “The Supreme Court also ruled that slaves were private property and they were wrong,” Silk said. “And so, the courts do need to be challenged.” The bill would also repeal all the pro-life legislation passed over the past few decades, designed to restrict abortion in various ways.
The bill includes a clause “declaring act inseverable” – that a judge could not declare one part unconstitutional (such as making all abortion illegal) but allow the repeal of all pro-life legislation to stand. However, two former members of the Legislature – both lawyers – expressed fear that a judge might do that anyway, regardless of Silk’s intent. The Abortion Abolitionists generally argue that any pro-life legislation (such as requiring parental consent, ultrasounds, and the like) that fall short of a complete ban on abortion is simply “regulating” the practice of abortion, and such laws should be eliminated. The traditional pro-life position is that these multiple laws enacted over the years at least save some unborn babies until the day comes that abortion is finally banned completely. Has that day come?
Constitutional Carry of Firearms
Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) has again filed constitutional carry legislation. Senate Bill 12 is the same legislation that was passed during the 2018 Legislative Session with overwhelming approval and placed on the desk of Gov. Mary Fallin, who then broke her campaign pledge and vetoed the legislation. The measure would allow any person at least 21 years of age, or a person who is at least 18 years of age and in the military, to carry a firearm concealed or unconcealed if the person is not otherwise disqualified from the possession or purchase of a firearm. It excludes persons convicted of certain crimes from carrying a firearm. Firearms would remain prohibited in places where weapons are not allowed. Currently training and a permit are required to carry a firearm. No other Constitutional right requires people to get training and be licensed in order to exercise that right. A similar bill, HB2597, was introduced in the House with multiple authors. Gov. Kevin Stitt promised during his campaign that he would sign this important self-defense legislation when it makes it to his desk in 2019.
Gun Law for Felon Passengers
Legislation has been filed to keep felons from being unfairly punished for riding in vehicles with drivers legally carrying a firearm. Senate Bill 46 is authored by Sen. Paul Scott (R-Duncan) would remove language prohibiting a convicted felon, person serving on probation, or any person previously adjudicated as a delinquent child or a youthful offender, from riding in a vehicle as a passenger if there is a firearm in the vehicle. “This loophole has unnecessarily caused individuals to be put back in prison because they weren’t aware that the driver of the vehicle had a gun in the car,” said Scott. “A great example is ministers with conceal carry licenses who are concerned about giving felons a ride to church events. They’re trying to help the felon yet if they’re pulled over for a traffic violation, it could be devastating for the individual they’re trying to help.” The current law was made before the state passed Conceal Carry in 1995. The bill was requested by the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association. SB 46 also strikes any reference to sawed-off shotguns, machine guns, and the adjective “dangerous or deadly” to clarify that the law applies to all types of firearms not just specific ones.
Make SQ 780 Retroactive
Oklahoma House Majority Leader Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City), and State. Rep. Jason Dunnington (D-Oklahoma City) filed legislation that would make State Question 780 retroactive. House Bill 1269 would provide post-conviction relief to Oklahomans whose convictions took place prior to State Question 780 passing, but would have been affected had SQ780 been in place. “It is time for Oklahoma to get out of the business of arresting and prosecuting individuals afflicted by drug addiction,” Dunnington said. “We have Oklahomans that are labeled as felons, and their crimes would be legal or a much lesser crime today.” Dunnington and Echols, who have worked together on bipartisan legislation in the past, see the bill as a chance for lawmakers to come together and do what is best for Oklahoma. “The people of Oklahoma have spoken loud and clear on the issue of criminal justice reform,” Echols said. “I look forward to working with members of both parties to find not Democratic or Republican solutions, but Oklahoma solutions to the issues facing this state.”
Gov. Fallin Approves Commutation Requests
On December 20, Gov. Mary Fallin commuted the sentences of nine nonviolent offenders who were incarcerated for 10 years or more for offenses that now carry either no prison term or a significantly shorter prison term. These nine offenders, seven men and two women, were among a second group of former inmates being assisted by Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, a bipartisan coalition of community leaders working to help dozens of inmates seek a commutation, which is a form of clemency intended to correct an unjust or excessive sentence. Earlier in the month, Fallin commuted the sentences of 21 nonviolent offenders, 20 women and one man. Their applications were submitted to the governor after they received a favorable vote from the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board. Fallin is a strong advocate for criminal justice reform. She signed 17 criminal justice reforms during her time in office, including seven last year that will reduce the flow of nonviolent offenders into prison; establish a more efficient and streamlined parole process; and facilitate successful reentry that reduces recidivism. Governor Fallin has helped lay the groundwork for legislators to make State Question 780 retroactive. That was the initiative, approved by voters, that reduced or eliminated prison terms for certain crimes.
Oklahoma Democrats Unionize Staff
Last year, non-managerial staff members of the Oklahoma Democratic Party became the first in the nation among state Democratic Party headquarters to officially unionize. The six employees chose to join the Office & Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), Local No. 381. The union typically represents office workers who work for organizations where leaders are elected by members such as labor unions. But the union also represents many office and clerical workers across a broad range of businesses. According to information on the union’s website, the union has 104,000 members representing workers in all fifty states, Puerto Rico and Canada.
Tod Tucker Returns to Radio
Last summer, conservative radio talk show host Tod Tucker vanished from his morning drive-time show on KOKC 1520-AM in Oklahoma City. There was no explanation from station management as to why he was no longer on the air. After several weeks of guest hosts, they finally settled on a non-conservative replacement. Happily, the Tod Tucker Show resurfaced in October on “The Eagle” – KZLS 1640-AM Oklahoma City-Enid. Tod (spelled with one “D”) brought along “Frosty,” his young liberal sidekick program technician. The banter between the two has always been an enjoyable part of the program. As we write this, the program was up for its 90 review for renewal. Hopefully, it survives and you can tune in. The show airs weekday mornings from 6:00AM to 10:00 AM in north central Oklahoma.
Lamb Joins Cybersecurity Firm
Former Lt. Governor Todd Lamb has accepted a job at a cybersecurity firm. He is the new Chief Development Officer for TriCorps in Oklahoma City, which provides integrated security and technology services. TriCorps has operations in 12 states and Washington D.C. He was elected Lieutenant Governor in 2010 and reelected in 2014. He was term-limited in 2018 and ran for Governor, but lost in the Republican primary. Prior to his election as Lt. Governor, Lamb served in the State Senate from 2004 to 2010. Before his election to the Oklahoma Senate, he worked for former Gov. Frank Keating and former U.S. Sen. Don Nickles. He also previously worked as a U.S. Secret Service agent. “Serving the citizens of Oklahoma as state Senator and Lieutenant Governor have been tremendous honors and ones that I will always cherish,” Lamb said. “As excited as I was to serve the wonderful people of Oklahoma in elected office, I am equally excited to return to the private sector with an exceptional Oklahoma-based company. The opportunity to expand TriCorps’ already impressive footprint across the United States really attracted me to the innovative and integrated cybersecurity model they have established.”
Death of Former Sen. Jim Wilson
Former state Sen. Jim Wilson (D-Tahlequah) died on November 11, Veterans Day, after recently being diagnosed with cancer. He was 71. From 2004 to 2012 he was a member of the Oklahoma Senate representing District 3, which includes Adair, Cherokee and Sequoyah counties. He earlier was a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 2000 through 2004. He ran unsuccessfully against Democrat incumbent Congressman Dan Boren in Oklahoma’s 2nd Congressional District in the 2010 Democrat primary. He was a veteran of the Vietnam War, serving with the U.S. Marine Corps from 1966-1968. He served on the Tahlequah Public Schools Board of Education and the NeoHealth Board of Directors. He was an opponent of private schools and especially home educators. He was among the most liberal members of the Legislature, earning only a 15% score on the Oklahoma Conservative Index.
Passing of Daniel Keating
Daniel Keating, a businessman who served on the Oklahoma Board of Education and was the twin brother of former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, died on November 24. He was 74. He was the Oklahoma co-chairman of the Trump for President campaign in 2016. Keating was the president of Summit Consolidated Group, a national brokerage and insurance company with offices in Tulsa and Oklahoma City as well as in several other states. In 2002, he was appointed by President Bush to the Board of Advisors on Tribal Colleges and Universities. He was a member of Oklahoma Wesleyan University Foundation’s board of directors, and previously was an adjunct professor at Oral Roberts University.
Death of Former Senate President Pro Tem Jim Hamilton
Jim Hamilton, a former state lawmaker who sponsored constitutional changes that limit state spending, died January 10 in Rogers, Arkansas. He was 83. Hamilton was a Le Flore County Democrat who kept a law office in Poteau, where he practiced for nearly 50 years. “Jim Hamilton was a fiscal conservative who sponsored the constitutional amendment that created Oklahoma’s constitutional `Rainy Day Fund,’” said Gov. Mary Fallin in a statement released after his death. “He also drafted the language in the state’s balanced budget amendment to the state constitution, which placed a cap on the growth of state government.” He was preceded in public service by his father, Clem, who died of a heart attack in 1967 during his 17th year in the Senate. He replaced his father in office and rose to become the state Senate’s top leader, president pro tempore, in 1973 and left the Senate after the 1974 elections. He returned to the Legislature in 1984 and served 14 years in the House, including eight years as chairman of the Appropriations and Budget Committee. During his time in the Oklahoma House, he earned a 33% score on the Oklahoma Conservative Index.
DEQ Announces New License Plates
The state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) announced that environmental license plates are now available for purchase. Last year, Oklahomans took to their computers in droves to vote for the two winning designs. Ultimately, the American Bison grazing on the Oklahoma prairie and the Oklahoma sunset over a field of flowers were crowned the winners. The new tags were created to help communicate the importance of preserving and restoring Oklahoma’s beautiful landscape. Each specialty plate costs $39, with $20 going to fund DEQ’s Environmental Education Tag Grant Program, which provides money to Oklahoma schools for environmentally-focused projects. For more information on the tags or the Environmental Education Tag Grant Program, visit DEQ’s website at www.deq.state.ok.us.
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