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Saturday, June 24th, 2017Last Update: Thursday, May 4th, 2017 02:03:55 PM

RIED Report Names Legislators Supporting Big Business Interests

By: Constitution Staff

In June, the Research Institute for Economic Development (RIED) released their legislative scorecard showing that 13 members of the state Senate and 13 members of the state House of Representatives scored a perfect 100 on the 2016 RIED Report. The non-partisan organization produces the annual scorecard, grading Oklahoma legislators' votes on business issues. But, many challenge RIED's validity. Rather than being a pro-business scorecard, the RIED Report is better characterized as supporting corporate welfare programs, state fee increases, and state spending.

Former state Rep. Susan Winchester, who is RIED president, said: "No matter what area of the state they represent, the majority of legislators proved this session that Oklahoma's business environment is a top priority." During the 2016 session 115 of the 149 legislative members received passing scores of 70 or higher including 39 Senate members (90%) and 76 House members (76%). "The legislative scores this session once again represent support for business statewide, and it is imperative this positive attitude toward business continue next session and in sessions beyond" said Greg Love, RIED board chairman. Love is President of Love's Travel Stops and Country Stores.

Senate members receiving perfect scores from REID are Speaker Pro-Tempore Brian Bingman (R-Sapulpa), Stephanie Bice (R-Oklahoma City), Kim David (R-Porter), Eddie Fields (R-Wynona), John Ford (R-Bartlesville), Ron Justice (R-Chickasha), Bryce Marlatt (R-Woodward), Mike Schulz (R-Altus), Ron Sharp (R-Shawnee), Wayne Shaw (R-Grove), Rob Standridge (R-Norman), Roger Thompson (R-Okemah ) and Ervin Yen (R-Oklahoma City).

House members receiving perfect scores are House Speaker Jeff Hickman (R-Fairview), Ann Coody (R-Lawton), Dennis Johnson (R-Duncan), Mark Lepak (R-Claremore), Scott Martin (R-Norman), Glen Mulready (R-Tulsa), Jadine Nollan (R-Sand Springs), Pat Ownbey (R-Ardmore), Scooter Park (R-Devol), Mike Sanders (R-Kingfisher), Todd Thomsen (R-Ada), Steve Vaughan (R-Ponca City), and Weldon Watson (R-Tulsa).

It is interesting to note that all in this group are Republicans. It is also interesting that none of this group received a perfect score on the 2016 Oklahoma Conservative Index published by the Oklahoma Constitution newspaper. In fact, most of those with perfect scores on the RIED Report can be characterized as being RINOs (Republicans In Name Only). For example, in the Senate, Bingman's Conservative Index score this year was 40%, as was Senators Bice, David, Fields, Ford, Justice, Marlatt, Schulz, and Thompson. Sen. Shaw received a 30% rating, and Sen. Yen earned only 10%, which was the most liberal score in the entire Senate. The highest score in the group was 50% received by Sen. Standridge.

It was a similar story in the House. Speaker Hickman scored only 33%. Representatives Coody 30%, Lepak 60%, Martin 30%, Mulready 40%, Nollan 23%, Ownbey 26%, Park 60%, Sanders52%, Thomsen 30%, and Watson 23%. The highest scores in the group were Rep. Johnson at 73%, and Vaughan with 90%.

The RIED Report claims to "create a profile of each legislator's individual voting record for bills dealing with business, industry, job creation and economic growth issues deemed important by the private sector." Significantly, the RIED makes no claim to support the concept of free enterprise, leading to the charge by many legislators that the Index actually measures support for big business interests instead. Perhaps most importantly, while the report compilers claim their research is "supported by qualified data," they do not reveal any details.

The RIED Report has a notorious track record for failing to make information available as to how they score the legislators. In previous years, legislators have told the Oklahoma Constitution that they had been refused when they asked to see how their score was calculated. This year RIED provides a list of 18 bill numbers for legislation supposedly "utilized for final 2016 RIED evaluations." There is no description of the bills, no explanation or justification for the use of each vote, no indication how a legislator should have voted on the bills, nor how individual legislators voted. There is no indication if all the bills were weighted equally, or if some were worth more points. Under the RIED evaluation system, legislators earn positive points when they support job creation and economic development issues. Points are deducted when they introduce or vote for legislation that negatively impacts Oklahoma's business climate.

In stark contrast to the RIED Report, the Oklahoma Constitution publishes the exact votes used on the Conservative Index, and gives an explanation of the reasoning for placing the vote on the Index. Anyone, including legislators of either party, are welcome to suggest bills and votes used for the Conservative Index. The issues are debated publicly at two meetings of the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee (OCPAC), which then holds a vote of its membership to recommend the ten bills to be used.

The RIED Report on the other hand, is compiled in secrecy, leading to speculation as to who is really behind its compilation, and the exact motives of those compiling it. In fact, many of the legislative votes used for the RIED Report appear to be what many refer to as "corporate welfare," or the favoring of big business interests with tax credits or other such subsidies. It is very difficult for the average citizen to make an informed judgment as to what the scores actually mean, other than support for big business interests.

Interestingly, none of the ten bills included on the Oklahoma Conservative Index were among the 18 bills that RIED says it utilized to compile its ratings. It is clear the RIED will oppose conservative legislators and will back liberal legislators, as long as they support the positions advanced by RIED. They say a score of 70 and above represents a passing grade while 69 and below represents a failing grade. There were 24 members of the House and 7 members of the Senate that were identified as receiving failing scores this year.

It is also interesting to compare the scores of the most conservative legislators. Five legislators (three in the House and two in the Senate) received perfect 100% conservative ratings on the Oklahoma Conservative Index this year: Rep. David Brumbaugh (R-Broken Arrow), Rep. Jason Murphey (R-Guthrie), Rep. Paul Wesselhoft (R-Moore), Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow), and Sen. Anthony Sykes (R-Moore). Several received a failing grade from RIED. In the Senate, Dahm received 49% and Sykes 51%. In the House, RIED gave Brumbaugh 77%,, Murphey 64%, and Wesselhoft 82%.

RIED was founded in 1997 by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, the Tulsa Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, and the Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce. In addition to Love and Winchester, other officers of note include Larry Nichols of Devon Energy which built the tallest building in Oklahoma City for its headquarters, and Clayton Bennett of Dorchester Capital, and who is also chairman of the ownership group for the Oklahoma City Thunder, an NBA franchise. The complete 2016 RIED Report is available at www.riedreport.com.

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