Republican In Name Only (RINO)
Prior to initiating the Oklahoma Conservative Index, many legislators could claim to be a conservative and 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 in the past legislative session. This year’s edition also includes some bills from the Special Session which overlapped with the Regular Session and extended into the summer. We describe 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 this year was 45% in the House and 48% in the Senate. So, viewed as a whole, the Oklahoma Legislature is now more liberal than it is conservative. Prior to this year the opposite was true. Indeed, over the last several years the Legislature has been drifting steadily leftward. Despite being slightly to the left overall, 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 Conservative and the Top Liberal legislators based upon their scores. Making the Top Conservatives list this year were 19 lawmakers who scored 80 percent or higher. On the Top Liberals list were 29 lawmakers scoring 20 percent or lower. All of the Top Conservatives were Republicans. All except two of the Top Liberals were Democrats.
The average score for the 81 Republicans in the Oklahoma House was 51%, while the 20 Democrats averaged only 10% percent. Three Republicans (Tom Gann of Inola, Jim Olsen of Roland, and Rick West of Heavener) scored a perfect 100 percent. The lowest score for a Republican in the House was 19% (Eddy Dempsey of Valliant and T.J. Marti of Tulsa shared that dishonor, but both were absent for three of the ten votes, which probably depressed their scores). Meanwhile, the highest score among the Democrats in the House was 22% (Monroe Nichols of Tulsa). One House Democrat scored zero this year (Amanda Swope of Norman).
In the Oklahoma Senate, the average score of the 40 Republicans was 55 percent. One Republican (Warren Hamilton of McCurtain) scored a perfect 100%, while the lowest score for a Republican in the Senate was 36% (shared by Greg McCortney of Ada and John Montgomery of Lawton). The average score of the 8 Democrats in the Senate was just 9 percent. The highest score for a Democrat was 33 percent (Mary Boren of Norman). Three Senate Democrats scored zero this year (Michael Brooks, Kay Floyd, and George Young, all of Oklahoma City).
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 28 seats out of 149. This year, 26 of the Democrat legislators made the Top Liberals list. Clearly, they are not in step with most voters.
But the rapidly growing problem in the Legislature is the Republican In Name Only (RINO) members of the majority party. They make up a significant, and growing, segment of the Republicans in the Legislature. In the past, these moderate Republicans would probably have been registered Democrats. Today, they masquerade as Republicans because they could not get elected otherwise. It is worthy to note that of the 120 Republicans in the Legislature, only 19 made the Top Conservatives list. So, 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