TIDBITS for Summer 2022
State GOP Chairman Selected
The Oklahoma Republican Party elected a new leader during a meeting in Oklahoma City on Saturday, May 21. The Republican State Committee voted 187-105 to make AJ Ferate, who was the GOP’s legal counsel, the new chairman over the state party’s director of communications, Miles Rahimi. Ferate fills the vacancy created by the resignation of John Bennett who quit the post to run for the Second District seat in Congress earlier this year. Shane Jemison, the state party vice-chairman, served as Interim State Party Chairman during the intervening period.
Ferate gained notoriety on June 27 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a school district cannot prohibit a high school football coach’s on-field prayer. Coach Joe Kennedy lost his job in Washington State for praying at the 50-yard line after games and the high court ruled that the school district violated his First Amendment rights. Ferate was part of Kennedy’s legal team.
State Budget Balanced
In June, the Oklahoma State Board of Equalization certified that the budget for Fiscal Year 2023 was balanced as required by the state Constitution, The Board also certified that the budget will include a projected $2.7 billion in savings. Revenue was certified at $11.9 billion while expenses total $10.9 billion.”Government has a responsibility to do what Oklahoma families do every month, and that’s keep a balanced budget,” said Governor Kevin Stitt, who chairs the Equalization Board.”I am proud of our efforts to keep recurring expenses below recurring revenue, and I am pleased that we have $2.7 billion in savings for Fiscal Year 2023.” The state government Fiscal Year 2023 extends from July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023.
The largest segment of the state budget for FY 2023 is Education. The Legislature appropriated $4.26 billion for education, an 11.6 percent increase over the previous year. Looking at just the Common Education portion of the budget, it is the single largest expenditure in state government. It increased by about $17 million, for a total of about $3.1 billion.
Record High Oil & Gas Tax Collections
State Oil & Gas Tax Collections in June, and for the state government fiscal year which ended on June 30, were at an all-time high. June 2022 oil and gas production taxes of $171.2 million are the highest of any single month in history. For the first time in any 12-month period, oil and gas production taxes topped $1.5 billion in Fiscal Year 2022 (FY-22). Meanwhile, total Gross Receipts to the Oklahoma Treasury during FY-22 were $16.46 billion, up by 15 percent from Fiscal Year 2021 (FY-21). June Gross Receipts of $1.51 billion are down by 1.5 percent from the same month of last year, but the reduction was due to non-economic factors. The income tax filing deadline in 2021 was moved to June due to the pandemic, so collections spiked during that month instead of in April.
Combined sales and use tax receipts of $578.1 million in June were up by 10.3 percent from last year. During FY-22, those consumption taxes generated $5.59 billion, an increase of 13.3 percent. Due to last year’s shift in tax filing deadlines, combined income tax receipts of $541.2 million in June were down by 23.2 percent. For all of FY-22, income taxes generated $5.78 billion, up by 8.6 percent. The record high collections from oil and gas production in June were based on April production when crude oil averaged $101.78 per barrel in Cushing and natural gas averaged $6.60 per million BTUs at the Henry Hub.
Oklahoma Democrats Embrace Pregnant People
Oklahoma House Minority Leader Emily Virgin (D-Norman) and House Minority Caucus Chair Cyndi Munson (D-Oklahoma City) released a joint statement on June 24, 2022 in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe V. Wade. “We know that Oklahoma’s restrictive abortion laws are not popular and that most Oklahomans believe this fundamental truth: abortion is health care. Yet legislative Republicans continue to propose and pass the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, which will result in women and pregnant people dying because they cannot access the health care they need.” Rep. Cyndi Munson has been selected as the new House Minority Leader to secede Rep. Virgin who could not run for reelection this year due to Term Limits.
From their statement, the pair of Democrat leaders appear to be confused about who can give birth – women or pregnant people. This gender confusion apparently extends to women’s sports and the use of school restrooms. Both leaders, as well as nearly all of their Democrat colleagues in the Legislature, voted against a bill prohibiting anyone of the biological male sex from playing on athletic teams designated for females. They also voted against a bill requiring school restrooms be designated for the exclusive use of the male or female sex. Those were two of the bills included on 2022 Oklahoma Conservative Index.
Victory for Women’s Sports
On July 15, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee temporarily prohibited the Biden Administration from enforcing new gender identity mandates against Oklahoma and 19 other States. The Biden “guidance” documents attempted, among other things, to force schools to allow biological males to compete on girls’ sports teams and use the girls’ showers and locker rooms. Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor said, “The federal district court ruling out of Tennessee is a major victory for women’s sports and for the privacy and safety of girls and women in their school bathrooms and locker rooms. I am grateful the court ruled for Oklahoma and stopped the Biden Administration from enforcing its outrageous reading of Title IX, to include gender identity as a protected class.” The states bringing the lawsuit include: Tennessee, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia.
Panasonic Picks Kansas for Battery Plant
On July 14, Japan’s Panasonic Corp. selected Kansas over Oklahoma as the location for a multibillion-dollar mega-factory to produce electric vehicle batteries for Tesla and other car makers. Tesla is building an electric vehicle plant in Texas. Valued at $1.2 billion, the Kansas incentives were more than half a billion dollars more than what Oklahoma offered. Oklahoma’s MidAmerica Industrial Park in Pryor had been in the running for the factory. In April, Gov. Kevin Stitt signed House Bill 4455 creating the Large-scale Economic Activity and Development (LEAD) Act of 2022, which offered $698 million in rebates based on capital investment and job creation. Oklahoma could still be in the running if increased sales of electric vehicles prompts Panasonic to build another facility in the region.
Now that Panasonic decided not to locate here, some Democrats charge that it was more than the incentives that caused Oklahoma to lose the facility. Oklahoma House Minority Leader, Emily Virgin (D-Norman) said, “It seems that there is probably more to the story.” Considering Panasonic’s commitment to an inclusive work environment, House Democrats feel that questions are needed about whether or not Oklahoma’s extremist laws against abortion and the 2SLGBTQ+ community contributed to the decision.. “Panasonic believes that inclusion and diversity is the key to innovation.”
Recounts Confirm Outcomes of Primary Elections
Recounts in the Oklahoma County District Attorney, District 7 Republican Primary; the McIntosh County Commissioner, District 3 Democratic Primary; and the Nowata County Assessor Republican Primary have each confirmed the outcomes of those elections. The recounts were conducted in the weeks following the June 28 Primary Elections. The recounts in McIntosh and Nowata counties exactly matched the election results. The Oklahoma County recount confirmed that the Republican Primary for District Attorney is headed to the August 23 Runoff. Out of nearly 58,000 ballots that were recounted by hand in Oklahoma County, only six vote changes occurred from the original count: Robert W. Gray (+2), Gayland Gieger (+2) and Kevin Calvey (+2).
“Recounts are an important part of the election process, and these recounts proved once again that Oklahoma has one of the most accurate and secure voting systems in the entire world. That is something that every Oklahoman can be proud of,” said Paul Ziriax, Secretary of the Oklahoma State Election Board. “These hand recounts are the latest proof that Oklahoma’s eScan voting devices accurately tabulate ballots. Voters should avoid misinformation that claims otherwise,” he said.
Oklahoma post-election audits were scheduled across the state for July 28. County election board secretaries in thirty-three (33) counties were tasked with conducting a manual audit of ballots pursuant to the procedures established by the Secretary of the State Election Board. Thirty-six (36) different races were included in the audit. State law defines post-election audits as a “manual or electronic examination of a limited number of ballots ... for the purpose of maintaining the security of the election system by ensuring that voting devices and software used in a particular election correctly tabulated votes.” Audit results cannot be used to change or alter certified election results. An audit report will be posted on the Oklahoma State Election Board website following completion of the audits.
Low Voter Turnout in Primary Elections
Voter turnout in the Oklahoma Primary Elections on June 28 was low compared to 2018, the last time state offices were on the ballot. In 2018 the state question to legalize medical marijuana was on the ballot and attracted additional voters. The Republican and Democratic primaries for Governor attracted more voters than the respective primaries for the U.S. Senate. The Republican primary for Governor had 359,871 voters, slightly less than 1/3 of registered GOP voters. The Democrat primary for Governor had 167,807 voters, which would represent less than 1/4 of registered Democrats. However, since independent voters were invited to vote in the Democrat primary, the actual Democrat turnout was even lower. Voter turnout is not expected to improve for the August 23 Runoff Primary Elections despite several statewide runoffs, including U.S. Senate runoffs for both parties.
Runoff Primary Elections
The Runoff Primary Elections will be on Tuesday, August 23. Polls will be open on Election Day from 7 a.m.-7p.m. In addition to voting at your polling place on Election Day, in-person absentee voting – more commonly referred to as “early voting” in Oklahoma – is available to all voters. No excuse is needed. You can vote early in your county at your designated early voting location from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, August 18 and 19. Early voting is also available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, August 20.
U.S. Supreme Court Limits McGirt Decision
On June 29, the U.S. Supreme Court held in a 5-4 decision in Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta that the federal government and the states can prosecute crimes committed by non-tribal members against tribal members on tribal reservation territory. This decision limits the earlier McGirt decision which led to a major change in law enforcement jurisdiction between the state, tribes with reservations which were never disestablished by Congress, and federal law enforcement.
Gov. Kevin Stitt called the decision a victory for crime victims in Oklahoma. “For two years, as a fourth generation Oklahoman, member of the Cherokees, and Governor of the state of Oklahoma, I have been fighting for equal protection under the law for all citizens. Today our efforts proved worthwhile and the Court upheld that Indian country is part of a State, not separate from it,” said Stitt.
The Choctaw Nation is one of the tribes impacted by the Castro-Huerta decision. Chief Gary Batton said that while the decision limits McGirt, the basis of the original decision is still intact. “To be clear, this ruling does not affect the main holding of the McGirt decision, which affirmed tribal sovereignty and requires the United States to uphold its treaty obligations,” he said. “Our focus remains on protecting our members, as well as all 4 million Oklahoma residents,” Batton said.
State Legislature Interim Studies Approved
In July, the leaders of both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature announced the approval of interim study requests. Interim studies are held by legislative committees outside of the regular session to take closer looks at issues, often for future legislation. The studies will be conducted during the months of August - October. Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat announced that members had submitted 60 requests, of which 41 were approved. House Speaker Charles McCall announced that all 82 study requests were approved, including eight proposed joint studies with senators. Hearings will be livestreamed on the House and Senate websites. A full list of approved studies is available on those websites which can be accessed at: www.oklegislature.gov
Death Row Execution Dates Set
Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor announced on July 1 that the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals had set execution dates in six cases involving the murders of eight individuals: Albert Hale, Barry Van Treese, Brianna Cole, Adam Broomhall, Mary Bowles, Jerald Thurman, and A.J. and Patsy Cantrell. The earliest of these murders was committed in 1993, and the most recent was in 2003. “The family members of these loved ones have waited decades for justice. They are courageous and inspiring in their continued expressions of love for the ones they lost. My office stands beside them as they take this next step in the journey that the murderers forced upon them.” Oklahomans overwhelmingly voted in 2016 to preserve the death penalty as a consequence for the most heinous murders.
Downing Appointed to Court of Civil Appeals
On May 27, 2022, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced the appointment of Timothy Downing to serve on the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals. Downing’s appointment fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Trevor Pemberton which was effective October 18, 2021. At the time of his appointment, Downing was the First Assistant Attorney General of Oklahoma. He is also an Appellate Military Judge for the Oklahoma Military Court of Appeals, a position appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Oklahoma Senate. Downing previously served as the 25th United States Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma. Prior to his appointment as United States Attorney in 2019, Downing served as Counselor to the Oklahoma Secretary of State. From 2016 to 2018, he served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, where he was an Assistant Majority Floor Leader, an Assistant Majority Whip, and Vice-Chair of the Judiciary Committee. From 2011 to 2016, Downing was an Assistant Attorney General for the State Oklahoma. He is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in Public Affairs and Administration, Oral Roberts University with a Masters in Management, and Regent University School of Law.
Death of former State Rep. Jerry Shoemake
Former state Representative Jerry Shoemake (D-Morris) died on July 3, 2022 at the age of 79. He was raised on the family dairy farm and spent his life farming and ranching. He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Oklahoma State University. He served as the state representative for District 16 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 2004-2016. He was unable to seek reelection in 2016 due to Term Limits. During his service in the Oklahoma House his cumulative average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index was 34 percent.