Republican In Name Only
Prior to initiating the Oklahoma Conservative Index, many legislators could claim to be a conservative, but there was no objective measure to determine if that was true. We base our ratings on ten key bills that were voted on by the legislators. 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.
Each year I use this space to provide some analysis of the Conservative Index results. In addition to evaluating individual legislators, the Conservative Index is also a useful tool to examine the Legislature in a broader context.
At the national level there is no longer any dispute that there is a vast chasm between the political philosophy (conservative versus liberal) of Republican and Democrat officeholders. But in Oklahoma, it was long claimed that Oklahoma Democrats are different from the national party. It was said that a Democrat here would be called a Republican in another state. That difference in philosophy between the two major parties can be tested by using the Conservative Index to evaluate the Oklahoma Legislature.
As reported in the article accompanying this year’s ratings, the average Oklahoma Conservative Index score was 60% in the House and 62% in the Senate. So, viewed as a whole, the Oklahoma Legislature is more conservative than it is liberal, but not dramatically so. Meanwhile, breaking out the scores by political party shows a vast difference between the Republicans and the Democrats in the Legislature.
Each year we name the top conservatives and liberals. The Top Conservative and the Top Liberal legislators are selected based upon the scores. Making the Top Conservatives list this year were 19 lawmakers who scored 80 percent or higher. On the Top Liberals list were 23 lawmakers scoring 20 percent or lower. All of the Top Conservatives were Republicans. All of the Top Liberals were Democrats.
The average score for the 82 Republicans in the Oklahoma House was 70%, while the 18 Democrats averaged only 13% percent. Four Republicans (Tom Gann of Inola, Jim Olsen of Roland, Wendi Stearman of Collinsville, and Rick West of Heavener) scored a perfect 100 percent. The lowest score for a Republican in the House was 35% (Carol Bush of Tulsa who was absent for five of the ten votes, which probably depressed her score). The highest score among the Democrats in the House was 24% (Denice Brewer of Tulsa who missed eight of the votes, which actually elevated her score). No Democrat scored zero this year, but one scored just 9 percent (Collin Walke of Oklahoma City who only earned points for the three votes he missed).
In the Oklahoma Senate, the average score of the 39 Republicans was 72 percent. One Republican (Shane Jett of Shawnee) scored a perfect 100%, while the lowest score for a Republican in the Senate was 42% (Kim David of Porter, who missed four of the votes, which depressed her score). The average score for the 9 Democrats in the Senate was just 13 percent. The highest score for a Democrat was a surprising 73 percent, which deserves some explanation. J.J. Dossett of Sperry gained office in a Special Election in 2015 to fill a vacant seat. The incumbent Republican was charged with embezzlement and tax evasion and resigned. The district was considered a safe Republican district, but Dossett was elected in what could be considered a “perfect storm.” He has usually scored the highest among the Democrats in the Senate. But, this year he is no doubt concerned about being up for reelection to a Republican district in a what is expected to be a good year for Republicans. The next highest score for a Democrat was 20%, which was shared by three senators. No Democrat scored zero this year, but the lowest score was 6 percent (Kevin Matthews of Tulsa, who only earned points for the two votes he missed).
The Democratic Party used to be the majority party in Oklahoma, both in voter registration and in the number offices held. Today, neither of those are true. In the Oklahoma Legislature, Democrats hold only 27 seats out of 149. This year, 24 of the Democrat legislators made the Top Liberals list.
A growing problem in the Legislature is the Republican In Name Only (RINO) members of the majority party. They make up a significant segment of the Republicans in the Legislature. In the past, they would have been registered Democrats. Today, they masquerade as Republicans because they could not get elected otherwise. It is worthy to note that of the 121 Republicans in the Legislature, only 19 made the Top Conservatives list. In Oklahoma, the battle is between liberals and conservatives within the Republican Party.
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