Tidbits for Summer 2015
By: Constitution Staff
Oklahoma Democrat Party Convention
Yukon attorney Mark Hammons was elected the new chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party. Hammons, a former member of the Oklahoma House, was elected at the May 30 Oklahoma Democratic Convention held at Oklahoma City Community College with over 500 Democrats from across the state in attendance. Wallace Collins chose not to run for a third term, opening the door for a new chair to lead the party. Hammons won the race over the past Vice-chair Dana Orwig of Oklahoma City by a vote of 306-216. Former state Sen. Connie Johnson was elected vice chairman despite a last minute challenge from Laurie Phillips of Tulsa by a 322-198. Johnson made a race for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Sen. Tom Coburn, losing to James Lankford in the November 2014 election. Donna Russell of Moore and David Ratcliff of Owasso, were re-elected by acclimation to the offices of Treasurer and Secretary respectively. Hammons served several terms as the Canadian County Democratic Chairman. He served three terms as an Oklahoma state representative from 1972 to 1978. During his tenure in the legislature, he served multiple terms as president of the Oklahoma Young Democrats.
Second Oklahoma Democratic Party Convention
A resolution to open Democratic primary elections to Independent voters was scheduled to be considered at the party's state convention on May 30, but had to be tabled for consideration and debate until a later date when time ran out. Delegates returned to the Oklahoma City Community College on July 25th to address the proposal along with other resolutions and bylaw changes. Tom Guild, twice the party's nominee for the Fifth District congressional seat, created the primary proposal as a way to expand voter participation in the nomination process and hopefully attract Independents to the Democratic Party which has seen its ranks shrink to minority status in recent years. The resolution was adopted by the delegates 314-137 and will become effective in September. State Democratic Party Chairman Mark Hammons called the change historic. "Democrats have opened their arms in allowing Independent voters access to have a voice in deciding candidates before they are chosen for them," said Hammons.
Some have urged Republicans to make the same move, but most political analysts say it would cause fewer voters to register and get involved in the Republican Party if they did not have to join in order to vote in the primary elections. State Republican Party Chairman Randy Brogdon said Democrats were making a mistake. He predicted the change would further water down the Democratic Party's base. But, state Sen. David Holt (R-Edmond) said if the Republican Party doesn't follow suit, it could cause young voters to look less favorably on the GOP. Holt wants to even take things a step further and introduced a bill in the Legislature last year to create a "jungle" primary where all voters regardless of party affiliation would vote in a single primary.
House District 73 Special Election
Regina Goodwin was disappointed that she didn't win the state Senate District 11 special election earlier this year. But, she kept campaigning and won state House District 73 special election on July 14. Goodwin finished with 35 percent of the vote in the seven-way, winner-take-all Democratic primary. Jonathan Townsend came in second, with 27 percent. In normal primary elections a runoff primary would have been required between the top two candidates if no one receives more than half of the vote, but in special elections the first place finisher is the winner. No Republicans filed, so she will replace former Rep. Kevin Matthews who defeated her in the state Senate special election. She finished second in that race. The 52-year-old Goodwin is a longtime community activist whose family has been prominent in Tulsa since the city's early days.
House District 85 Special Election
State Rep. David Dank (R-Oklahoma City) who represented House District 85 in the Legislature died in April and a special primary election was held on July 14 to fill the vacant seat. The district includes parts of Nichols Hills, Oklahoma City, The Village and Warr Acres. Four Republicans filed for the nomination with the winner being Chip Carter, 45, who finished first with 37 percent of the vote. He was followed by Ralph Crawford who won 29 percent. In special elections the first place finisher wins the nomination, even if they received less than 50 percent of the vote. Carter will face Cyndi Munson, who was the only Democrat to file for the seat. Munson was the Democrat candidate who was defeated by Rep. David Dank when he was reelected last year. The demographics of the district have changed over the years and could be taken by the Democrats since it is an open seat. The district has been represented by a Dank for the past two decades. Before David Dank, the seat was held by his wife, Odilia Dank. The Special General Election will be held on September 8.
Oklahoma House Democrat Leaders
On May 4, Oklahoma House Democrats elected Rep. Scott Inman to an unprecedented fourth consecutive term as their legislative leader. The Democrats also picked Rep. Steve Kouplen to be the Caucus Chairman, and Rep. David Perryman to fill the role of Caucus Vice Chairman. All three were unopposed in their declarations of candidacy, and were elected by acclamation. Each officer will serve a two-year term starting in November 2016. Caucus elections are held in off-years. This will be Inman's record fourth consecutive term as the House Democratic Leader. If he is re-elected next year by constituents in his legislative district and completes his fourth term as Minority Leader in 2018, he will have achieved the record as the longest-serving leader of the House Democratic Caucus in state history: eight years.
When first elected Minority Leader in May 2009, at the age of 30, Inman was the youngest person in state history to be elected leader of either legislative caucus, House or Senate, Democrat or Republican. The Del City Democrat was only 32 when he assumed the leadership reins from former Rep. Danny Morgan, D-Prague, after the general election in November 2010.
SRLC Presidential Poll
Dr. Ben Carson won a decisive victory at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, held in Oklahoma City, defeating several other Republican presidential hopefuls. The increasingly well known pediatric surgeon-turned-political candidate garnered 25.4 percent of the vote, capturing the first major straw poll of the 2016 presidential campaign. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker finished second, at 20.5 percent, followed Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, with 16.6 percent. They were followed by several other candidates, all of whom were in single digits.
Ban Sale of Aborted Baby Parts
State Rep. Mike Ritze (R-Broken Arrow) said he will run legislation in 2016 to ban the sale of aborted baby parts. A video of a Planned Parenthood official discussing the method of saving organs during the abortion process so that they could be doled out received national attention. Supporters of the organization noted the practice was likely legal, Ritze said. "It's not enough for Planned Parenthood to be the leading abortion provider in the U.S.; now we are hearing that they are selling aborted baby parts," said Ritze,. "One of the first defenses posed by supporters of Planned Parenthood was that the practice of selling the organs of these aborted babies was legal. Well, my legislation, once drafted, would make it a felony in Oklahoma to sell aborted baby parts." Despite the unfortunate fact that abortion is currently protected by the law, it is still appropriate to set limitations on the abortion industry, Ritze said. "While it's incomprehensible that the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed for the murder of innocent unborn children, we don't have to encourage an industry that will lead to even greater slaughter," Ritze said. Ritze is the chair of the House Public Health Committee and a board-certified family practice physician and surgeon who has delivered more than 2,000 babies.
Defund Planned Parenthood
U.S. Senator James Lankford introduced a bill to end taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood for a year while they are investigated for possible illegal practices. Specifically, the Defund Planned Parenthood Act, would set a one-year moratorium on Planned Parenthood funding by the federal government, unless the organization ceases performing abortions. This would allow more federal dollars to go toward organizations like community health centers, which serve low-income populations and provide direct health care to women across the country. "The recent videos uncovering Planned Parenthood's inhumane abortion practices have hit a nerve with many Americans," said Lankford. "While the government investigates Planned Parenthood to determine if their practice of adapting their abortion procedures to harvest the organs of children violates federal law, they should not continue to receive taxpayer money." Planned Parenthood receives more than $500 million in taxpayer money every year. "This is a sensitive topic for many and I am aware our nation is divided on the issue of abortion, but it is common sense that we shouldn't force taxpayers to assist the harvesting of human organs." Although abortion services account for about 3 percent of Planned Parenthood's activities, serving about 10 percent of its clients, they perform over 300,000 abortions a year.
Lankford delivered a passionate speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate about Planned Parenthood. Lankford also wrote an op-ed calling for Congress to end taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood and take up the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (S.1553) to ban abortions after five months. Lankford has also signed onto two letters to the Obama Administration regarding investigations into Planned Parenthood. Lankford joined a letter, led by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell requesting a full investigation into whether they violated federal law prohibiting the sale of human fetal tissue for profit. Lankford also joined a letter, led by Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), to Secretary Burwell, requesting the immediate preservation of all Department records that could be related to funding Planned Parenthood.
EPA Regulations Overturned
On June 29, Governor Mary Fallin issued the following statement regarding the U.S. Supreme Court's opinion in Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency, in which the court struck down certain EPA-imposed regulations on power plant emissions: "As Justice Scalia noted today, the EPA regulations in question would have imposed a $10 billion a year cost for power plants. The EPA issued these edicts with no thought as to the economic consequences of its regulatory scheme, which would have dramatically raised utility rates. Today's decision is a victory for American families and businesses that would have faced skyrocketing costs because of unreasonable rules and regulations."
ESEA Waiver Extension
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said Oklahoma schools will maintain the benefits that come with continued flexibility from provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) announced on July 9 that it is granting the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) an extension to a flexibility waiver to provide relief from some provisions of NCLB. Hofmeister said the waiver is good news for schoolchildren but underscores the need for the end of NCLB. "We are certainly grateful for the waiver extension, but our greater hope is that the ESEA reauthorization under consideration by Congress will put an end to the one-size-fits-all approach and excessive federal mandates of No Child Left Behind," the superintendent said.
As part of the USDE decision, the one-year waiver would be extended to two additional years if OSDE demonstrates continued and significant progress by Aug. 1, 2016, in improving education and preparing high school graduates for college- and career-readiness. In granting the waiver, USDE officials commended Oklahoma for the creation of several standing focus groups and advisory committees comprised of education stakeholders. In addition, the state has developed an Office of School Turnaround to provide professional development, coaching and technical assistance for priority schools.
Insure Oklahoma Funded Through 2016
Governor Mary Fallin and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) announced July 10 that federal funding for the Insure Oklahoma program has been secured through the end of 2016. Insure Oklahoma is the state's premium assistance program that helps businesses and their modest and low-income employees afford health insurance coverage. The program, which has been in operation since November 2005, currently serves 17,923 Oklahomans with more than 3,700 businesses participating. "This funding extension is great news for the thousands of working Oklahomans and small businesses that rely on Insure Oklahoma for affordable health insurance options," said Fallin. "Our goal moving forward continues to be securing a permanent extension for this successful, Oklahoma-based program."
Insure Oklahoma is funded by state tobacco tax matched by federal Medicaid dollars. The employer-sponsored insurance (ESI) part of Insure Oklahoma pays at least 60 percent of the premiums for private market health insurance policies. Participating employers pay at least 25 percent of the qualified employee's monthly premiums, and the employee pays no more than 15 percent of their health premium. The program also assists with premiums for the employee's spouse. Insure Oklahoma Individual Plan (IP) is for Oklahomans working for small businesses that do not have access to group coverage and who earn less than the federal poverty level, as well as those who are temporarily unemployed and seeking work. The secured funding for an additional year will provide state leaders time to continue the discussion for a long-term funding agreement.
ObamaCare Medicaid Enrollments Surge
More than a dozen states that opted to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare, have seen enrollments surge beyond projections, raising concerns that the added costs will strain their budgets when federal aid is scaled back starting in two years. According to a recent Associated Press analysis, some lawmakers warn the price of expanding the health care program for poor and lower-income Americans could mean less money available for other state services, including education. Thirty states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid, or plan to do so, to include all adults with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which is currently $16,243 for an individual.
The federal government agreed to pay all costs for the new enrollees through 2016, but it will begin lowering its share in 2017. States will pay 10 percent of the costs by 2020. At least 14 states have seen new enrollments exceed their original projections, causing at least seven to increase their cost estimates for 2017, according to an Associated Press analysis of state budget projections. California, for example, has enrolled nearly 2.3 million people so far, which is almost three times more than the 800,257 the state had anticipated. Oklahoma is one of the states that decided not to participate in the ObamaCare Medicaid expansion because of concern of state tax dollars that would be required to fund the program when the federal funds were phased out. While some chided Oklahoma officials for turning down the additional federal funds, it looks like they were right in their decision.
Arm the National Guard
State Rep. Chris Kannady (R-Oklahoma City) issued the following statement after Gov. Mary Fallin issued an executive order to allow full-time National Guard personnel at recruiting centers to be armed. Seven states, including Oklahoma, have ordered their Guardsmen to be armed at recruitment centers following the killing of four Marines and a Navy sailor by an Islamic extremist in Chattanooga, Tenn. "After some reflection following the tragic loss of our Marines and Sailor in Tennessee, I believe we need to take steps to further protect those who devote their lives to protect us. I have had the honor to serve in the Marine Corps, and I now serve in the Oklahoma Guard. As the only active member of the Oklahoma Guard in the Legislature, I have a vested interest in protecting my fellow Guardsmen. Although I appreciate and commend Gov. Fallin for taking the first step in protecting Oklahoma's full time Guardsmen, it does not protect the thousands of part-time Guardsmen that give up at least one weekend a month to serve our state and country. With the training we as service members receive, we should be allowed to open carry weapons while in uniform in a drill or full-time status for self-defense purposes. Our finest citizens are put in harm's way overseas in a time a war; therefore, we should do our very best to protect them at home, even if it that means we give them the means to protect themselves if they so choose."
Iran Nuclear Deal
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, the senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), released the following statement regarding the Obama Administration's announcement that the P5+1 reached an agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear program: "The president's deal with Iran failed to meet the only standard that ensures the future safety of America and its allies, which is the complete dismantling of Iran's capability to build a nuclear bomb. The U.S.-Iran agreement also entangles the inspection process in red tape that will ultimately result in no verification of Iran's nuclear facilities. Instead, Iran will get roughly 21 days to prepare for an inspection and even then there is no certainty that International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors will get full access. President Reagan's method to diplomatic negotiations was trust but verify. This deal has no guarantee of verification."
Sen. Inhofe also said the agreement will also put the Middle East on the brink of a nuclear arms race, which will further destabilize the region. He said that the lifting of sanctions will infuse Iran with billions of dollars in assets and empower Iran with the ability to export more of its abundant energy resources. This will allow the international community to become dependent on Iran's cheap energy, which in turn will make it more difficult to get them to re-impose sanctions the moment Iran violates the agreement. "I do not trust Iran who has been the leading state sponsor of terrorism for generations, and I have no faith that President Obama's deal will change the irrational and dangerous behaviors of Iran's government leaders," Inhofe concluded.
Medical Marijuana 2015 Initiative
Oklahomans for Health kicked off their 2015 ballot initiative campaign to legalize the use of medical marijuana on Saturday May 30th at the Oklahoma State Capitol. Several hundred people attended the event in support of the project. Guest speakers included Chip Paul, Board Chair of Oklahomans for Health, and advocates for the use of medical marijuana.The purpose of the rally was to launch the 2015 Medical Marijuana Petition Drive and to increase public awareness about the benefits of medical marijuana. Oklahomans for Health is a 501(c)4 that provides information to the public about the potential health benefits of medical cannabis and to promotes changes in the law to allow individuals along with their doctors to decide if medical cannabis is a viable treatment option.
NFWL Oklahoma Conference
The National Foundation for Women Legislators announced the Co-Chairs of the 2015 NFWL Annual Conference which will be held September 11 - 15, 2015 in Oklahoma City. NFWL is the nation's oldest organization addressing the needs of elected women at all levels of government. Governor Mary Fallin was named as the Honorary Chair of the 2015 conference. Co-Chairs will be NFWL State Director, state Rep. Pam Peterson, NFWL Board Member Tribal Legislator Dean McManus, state Sen. A.J. Griffin, state Sen. Stephanie Bice, state Sen. Kay Floyd, state Sen. Anastasia Pittman, state Rep. Leslie Osborn, Corporation Commissioner Dana Murphy and state House Speaker Pro-Tempore Lee Denney. Elected women from across the country will gather in Oklahoma City for NFWL's Annual Conference to identify effective solutions to some of the nation's pressing issues. Rep. Pam Peterson, said "This is the first time NFWL has had their annual conference in the central part of the United States, and we're thrilled they chose Oklahoma." She went on to say, "This is a great opportunity to network with elected women from across the country to share and discuss policy ideas." As a non-profit, non-partisan organization, NFWL does not take ideological positions on public policy issues, but rather serves as a forum for women legislators to be empowered through information and experience.
Waste Watch No. 2
On July 7, Congressman Steve Russell, a member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, released the second edition in his Waste Watch series. The July edition continues the pattern of highlighting ten instances where the federal government, despite what were perhaps good intentions, spent taxpayer funds in an unwise fashion. Some notable instances from Waste Watch No. 2 are the VA hospital that will cost five times its initial price estimate (more than the tallest "ultraluxury" condominium skyscraper in Manhattan, NY); a million dollars spent by Department of Defense employees at casinos and strip clubs; and multiple instances where the government poured hundreds of millions of dollars into programs only to abandon them. All in all, the wasted money underscored in Waste Watch No. 2 totals nearly $4.2 billion.
Speaking about the new publication, Congressman Russell said, "It never ceases to amaze me the amount of waste the federal government produces. A lot of these instances could have been prevented with some common sense, and I hope that we can continue to change the culture. I was very pleased that after our first edition, we were able to make some suggestions and changes in the NDAA to correct some of the instances highlighted. There is much more work to do, and I will continue to find ways to cut the spending and waste, and hopefully we can avoid some of these problems before they happen. That will be the true marker of change."A full copy of the second edition of Waste Watch is available on Congressman Russell's website.
Bridenstine Presented ACU Award
In June, American Conservative Union (ACU) Chairman Matt Schlapp presented Oklahoma first district Congressman Jim Bridenstine with the ACU Award for Conservative Excellence based on his score of 92% as part of ACU's Annual Rating of Congress. The 2014 Rating of Congress grades members of Congress based on their votes on issues important to conservatives. The award is given only to those Members of the House and Senate who scored 90-100% on a wide variety of issues of concern to grassroots conservatives voted on during the second session of the 113th Congress. "For 44 years, our ACU Ratings have been considered the gold standard in determining a Member of Congress' courage to stand up to big government liberals and to stand strongly in favor of policy positions important to conservatives. Our award-winning Senators and Congressmen are fighting to protect the rights and freedom of all Americans by honoring President Reagan's three-legged stool of economic, national security, and cultural conservative issues," said Schlapp. Since 1971, the nation's oldest grassroots conservative organization has annually graded members of Congress based on their votes on issues important to conservatives. The full guide is now available at: www.conservative.org/ratings
OCPA Legislative Scorecard
OCPA Impact, a partner organization of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), the state's free market think tank, released its scorecard for Oklahoma's 2015 legislative session. This is the first year the organization has graded Oklahoma legislators. The OCPA Impact scorecard focuses on how Oklahoma state legislators voted during the 2015 session on key bills related to issues of economic freedom, free enterprise, individual opportunity, limited state government and federalism. "For some time, our members and state lawmakers have requested that we publish an annual scorecard of the legislative session," Dave Bond, CEO of OCPA Impact, said. "The scorecard allows Oklahomans to see how their lawmakers voted on legislation impacting taxpayers and the size and scope of state government." The scorecard analyzed votes by lawmakers on 22 pieces of legislation. Of 48 senators, 13 received an "A" grade, while 17 received a "B" grade. Of 101 House members, 24 received an "A" grade, while 35 received a "B" grade. The scorecard can be reviewed at: ocpa.us/1KqLhau.
Rep. Murphey Present for 99.3% of Votes
State Representative Jason Murphey (R-Guthrie) made sure that he was representing House District 31 citizens by being present to vote in 872 out of 878 roll call votes or 99.3% of the time during the recently concluded 2015 legislative session. During the nine-year time frame since being elected to office, Murphey voted in 11,020 out of 11,089 roll call votes, or 99.4% of the time. According to the Tulsa World newspaper analysis, Murphey led the 149 member state Legislature with the fewest number of votes missed in 2015. "One of my goals has been to be present for as many roll call votes as possible. I want to demonstrate to the voters that I am taking their trust seriously and working hard on their behalf," Murphey said. Murphey also explained his policy of never "walking" or intentionally missing a vote. Legislators sometimes walk off the floor in order to avoid casting a tough vote. When legislators walk a vote their constituents are unable to hold them accountable for that vote. To date Murphey has maintained a nine year perfect attendance record by never missing a day of session since being elected in 2006.
OU Stolen Jewish Painting
In July, state Rep. Paul WesselhÃ¶ft (R-Moore) publicized a letter he recently received from Leone Meyer, a Jewish woman from Paris, whose family is the rightful owner, according to WesselhÃ¶ft, of a stolen Jewish painting being displayed at the University of Oklahoma's Fred Jones, Jr. Museum of Art in Norman. The painting, an 1886 Camille Pissarro oil painting titled Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep, was stolen by Nazi pillagers. Meyer's entire family was later killed at the Auschwitz concentration camp. In the letter, Meyer says her "quest carries within it a tremendous emotional burden . . . I find all of this very difficult. But I simply cannot surrender . . . That is out of the question. Because this is also about a duty to seek justice . . . I cannot conceive that the University of Oklahoma could aid and abet those crimes in any form." WesselhÃ¶ft has been protesting and encouraging the University of Oklahoma to turn over the painting. "Ms. Meyer is 75 years old, and is legally and emotionally fighting to recover her father's painting," said WesselhÃ¶ft,. "She wants the painting returned to her family while she is able to enjoy it. The University of Oklahoma needs to make our state proud by giving this painting back to the Meyer family immediately." The legislator pledged to keep pushing his effort to get the painting released from the university.
OU Diversity Training Program
The University of Oklahoma unveiled a mandatory "diversity training program" for all incoming freshmen. The program is predominantly the work of Jabar Shumate, who fills the newly-created position of Vice President for University Community. It will require that all freshmen complete five hours of "diversity and inclusivity" training. The program came three months after the OU branch of the national fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) whose racist party-chant went viral last spring and resulted in closure of the fraternity and expulsion of two members, "We really want students from the start at OU to understand that diversity and inclusivity is at the core of who we are as Sooners," said Shumate. Students will be able to complete the requisite five hours of diversity training during a three-day/two-night camp for incoming freshmen called "Camp Crimson," in certain introductory courses or in a special standalone class. Shumate, who resigned from the state Senate at the beginning of the past legislative session, did not specify the penalties students who fail to attend mandatory diversity training might face.
Do Not Feed the Animals
Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman Randy Brogdon apologized for a Facebook post that some claimed was offensive. Writing on Facebook, Brogdon said, "Last night, there was a post on our OKGOP Facebook page, and it was misinterpreted by many. I offer my apologies for those who were offended -- that was not my intention. This post was supposed to be an analogy that compared two situations illustrating the cycle of government dependency in America, not humans as animals. However I do think that it's important to have conversations about government welfare programs since our dependency on government is at its highest level ever. Quoting President Reagan, "We should measure welfare's success by how many people leave welfare, not by how many are added.'"
While Oklahoma Democratic Party leaders, and even some Republicans took issue with the post, most conservatives thought it was a valid insight concerning how government welfare programs create dependency and people will not learn to take care of themselves. Here is the original OKGOP post: "The Food Stamp Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is proud to be distributing this year the greatest amount of free Meals and Food Stamps ever, to 46 million people. Meanwhile, the National Park Service, administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, asks us "Please Do Not Feed the Animals.' Their stated reason for the policy is because "The animals will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves.' Thus ends today's lesson in irony."
GOP Political Director Resigns
The political director of the Oklahoma Republican Party resigned June. The action came after Gov. Mary Fallin and other party leaders urged the termination of Thomas Clint "T.C" Ryan. Controversy swilled when it was learned Ryan pleaded guilty in 2012 to domestic assault and battery. He received a deferred sentence on the misdemeanor charges, and the case was dismissed. Ryan was hired by Randy Brogdon, the recently elected chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party. Brogdon said that he accepted Ryan's resignation after reading Fallin's comments on the matter, acknowledging that Fallin was the titular head of the party.
T.W. Shannon Heads GOP Project
In June, former Oklahoma Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon was named chairman of a national Republican group seeking to recruit and train GOP candidates from more diverse communities and backgrounds. The Republican State Leadership Committee announced that Shannon will chair its Future Majority Project. The group's goal is to recruit 250 new, diverse candidates and see at least 50 of those elected to office. Shannon was both the youngest and first African-American speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives when he was elected speaker in 2013. He left his post to make an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Sen. Tom Coburn. Shannon now works for a Tulsa-based consulting firm.
State Seismologist Leaves Oklahoma
State Seismologist Austin Holland says long workdays was the main reason he decided to leave his position in Oklahoma. He announced in July that he will be a supervisory geophysicist at the Seismic Lab in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After Holland came to the Oklahoma Geological Survey, the state experienced a dramtic increase in earthquakes, some have been linked to disposal wells used for produced water from oil and gas activity. As the state seismologist, Holland researched the cause of Oklahoma's quake surge and in April concluded it was "likely" triggered by wastewater disposal wells associated with the hydraulic fracturing process. Holland was included in a controversial meeting with University of Oklahoma President David Boren and Continental Resources Chairman and oil billionaire Harold Hamm. Holland said afterwards that the meeting "just a little bit intimidating." Holland became the state seismologist in 2010.
Former Rep. Terrill in Prison
On May 29, former state Rep. Randy Terrill (R-Moore) began servings a one-year prison sentence for a bribery conviction. Terrill, 45, turned himself into the Oklahoma County jail and was moved to a state Corrections Department facility. An Oklahoma County jury found Terrill guilty in 2013 of offering a bribe to get a political candidate to not run for reelection. Jurors chose a punishment of a year in prison and a $5,000 fine on the felony count. The conviction was upheld by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on May 22. Jurors at his trial believed that Terrill in 2010 offered then-state Sen. Debbe Leftwich an $80,000-a-year state job to not run for reelection. Leftwich, a Democrat, was convicted in 2013 by a judge for soliciting and/or accepting a bribe to withdraw her candidacy. Leftwich, 63, of Oklahoma City, was sentenced to one year on probation. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals also upheld her conviction May 22. Prosecutors alleged Terrill wanted to help his friend, state Rep. Mike Christian (R-Oklahoma City) who was planning to run for the Senate seat. Christian, who was not charged, ran for re-election to his House seat instead and was reelected. Leftwich did not run for reelection and did not get the state job, either, because the bill creating the position was vetoed by Gov. Fallin after the criminal investigation began.
Passing of former Senator Bill Gustafson
Former state Senator William "Bill" Gustafson (R-El Reno) died at his home in Oklahoma City May 24 . He was 84 years old. Gustafson served two terms representing District 22 in the state Senate, from 1990 to 1998. In 1996, he was elected by Senate Republicans to serve as Minority Leader. He was a distinguished veteran and a recipient of the Purple Heart for wounds received in combat in the Korean War. As a Senator, he was a powerful advocate for Oklahoma veterans, and a leading voice on economic development issues. He had a 60% cumulative average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index for the time he served in the Legislature.
Passing of Former Sen. Herschal Crow
Former state Sen. Herschal H. Crow, Jr. (D-Altus) died unexpectedly July 22, days after surgery for a broken hip. Crow, who was 80, served in the Senate representing District 25 from 1969 through 1982. Crow served as Chairman of the Oklahoma Transportation Commission and District Five Commissioner from 1995 until his appointment as Secretary of Transportation in June 2001. He held that position until January 2003. He was one of the more conservative Democrats in the Legislature, scoring a 47% cumulative average for the three years he served after the Oklahoma Conservative Index began rating legislators.
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