Oklahoma Conservative Index Survives Covid-19
We base our ratings on ten key bills that were voted on by the legislators in the last legislative session. We explain the bills and publish how each legislator voted on each of the ten bills. As these legislators run for reelection, or perhaps for a higher office, you can evaluate if they deserve your vote. In the early years, the selection of the ten bills used to score the legislators were selected by our newspaper staff. But, in 2002, we broadened participation to include the membership of the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee (OCPAC).
I have been a member of this group since we were just a few conservatives who met for lunch each Wednesday. It evolved into a formal organization in 2000. We have been meeting each Wednesday for lunch for nearly three decades, missing only when Christmas came on a Wednesday. That is, until the Covid-19 hit the state. With restaurant dining rooms closing as a result of the pandemic, the OCPAC lunch was suspended “indefinitely” in the middle of March. As I noted in my column in that spring edition, it was uncertain if meetings would resume in time to follow our standard bill selection process
Gov. Stitt announced a 3 Phase Plan to begin reopening Oklahoma and moving toward normalcy. Starting on May 1, restaurant dining rooms could reopen statewide if they adhered to strict social distancing and sanitation protocols. I speculated that while restaurant dining rooms might gradually reopen their doors, they would do so at a reduced capacity. It was not clear how, or if, they would be able to serve groups, such as OCPAC. So, we were unsure when a suitable venue might be available to accommodate the OCPAC meetings.
Now, how would this impact creating the 2020 Oklahoma Conservative Index? Since 2002, at the end of the legislative session (this year it was scheduled to end on May 29), we ask conservative legislators to submit a list of suggested bills to be considered for the ratings. While we maintain our own list as the session progresses, we always discover bills on the submitted lists that received no notoriety in the media, but that are important votes to be considered. After merging the lists from legislators with our own, we study the bills and verify that the legislation is a true conservative versus liberal issue. Often there are multiple bills involving the same subject, and we narrow those down to the most important ones.
We usually end up with around 20 bills that are presented to OCPAC members at two consecutive lunch meetings. The first meeting involves discussion of the merits of the bills. The purpose of the meeting is to verify that the bills being considered merit inclusion in the ratings if selected. Some of the bills being considered are dropped from consideration as a result of the information discussed. The second meeting is devoted to discussion about which are the best bills to include, and ends with the vote by OCPAC members. Once the final list of ten bills has been selected, the staff of the Oklahoma Constitution compiles the scores and prepares the Oklahoma Conservative Index for publication. This process normally requires six weeks following adjournment of the Legislature.
In election years before 2012, our summer edition was in circulation before the Primary Elections. However, due to changes in election dates that took place beginning in 2012, that has not been possible, at least not in our printed edition. Legislation which passed the Oklahoma Legislature in 2011 shifted several election dates in order to comply with provisions of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act passed by Congress in 2009. The federal bill required states to provide absentee ballots to military and other overseas voters 45 days before an election. Shifting the dates of the candidate filing period and the elections provided the necessary time to prepare absentee ballots and send them to overseas voters.
The deadline to file for office in 2020 was April 8-10, over one month earlier than in elections prior to 2012. Oklahoma’s Primary Election date is the last Tuesday in June, instead of the last week in July. For the 2020 election, the date was June 30. For those seats in which no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the Runoff Primary Election is held on the last Tuesday of August, instead of the first Tuesday in September. The date for 2020 will be August 25. The General Election was not affected and in 2020 will be November 3.
It would not be possible to prepare the Conservative Index in time for our spring edition (the Legislature is not required to complete their session until the end of May, which is after our spring edition is published). In 2012, and the subsequent election years, we have compressed the schedule in order to score the legislators and post the scores on our website prior to the Primary Election. This is to allow dissemination of the scores for consideration by voters prior to the Primary Election. This is important information concerning legislators running for reelection who are being opposed in the primary election, or those who may be running for higher office. The Conservative Index is then included in our summer printed edition as it has every summer since 1979.
If this were not an election year, we would have had more time to complete the process, and it would be more likely that the weekly OCPAC meetings would resume in time to prepare the Conservative Index for the summer printed edition. But, with this being an election year, if we were going to complete the process and have it posted on our website before the Primary Election on June 30, we had to consider a contingency process. Fortunately, we were able to stay with our standard process.
The Legislature actually ended the session before the statutory deadline, which enabled an earlier start for our process. And, on June 3, our OCPAC meetings resumed utilizing a venue at Randall University in Moore, along with a food truck parked outside. We conducted our Oklahoma Conservative Index meetings with OCPAC on June 10 and June 17. The 2020 Oklahoma Conservative Index was completed and made available on our website, one week before the Primary Elections.
There was some impact from the pandemic on the 2020 Oklahoma Conservative Index. Because the Legislature did not conduct business for over six weeks, and finished early, fewer bills made their way through both chambers of the Legislature. If you read our article on legislation contained in our spring edition, you may have noticed that most bills were passed in the chamber of origin and sent to the other chamber for consideration. A bill had to be voted on in the second chamber by April 23, or the bill would be dead for the session. Since they were not in session during the first pandemic shutdown, the deadline was suspended, and bills could still be voted on right up until the day of adjournment. However, with so many bills and so little time, few bills survived the session.
In previous years, we have mostly included bills that received votes in both legislative chambers. That is our preference, so that members of the House and the Senate are rated based on their votes on the same bills. Occasionally, we have paired an important bill voted on in only one chamber, with a similar bill in the other chamber. It is a common practice for the same bill to be introduced in both chambers in the hope that one will make it through both chambers. But often, neither bill gets a vote in the other chamber. That was the case this year, where we paired nearly identical bills for expansion of the seat belt law. We also paired the votes on the strongest pro-life bills in each chamber. You can read the details on these, and the other bill included on the 2020 Oklahoma Conservative Index in this edition. It is also available on our recently upgraded (our thanks to Jason Murphey) website: www.oklahomaconstitution,com
Ron McWhirter is one of the founders of the Oklahoma Constitution newspaper and serves as the General Manager. He may be contacted at the newspaper email: firstname.lastname@example.org