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Thursday, November 23rd, 2017Last Update: Sunday, November 5th, 2017 11:44:31 PM

Tidbits for Fall 2017

By: Constitution Staff

Randall University to host Governor Candidate Forum

Randall University in Moore, Oklahoma, will host a forum for the governor candidates on November 7. The forum will begin at 7 p.m., and last until 9 p.m. All of the announced candidates for governor, whether Democrat, Republican, or Libertarian, have been invited to participate.

The forum is free, and open to the public. After brief opening statements, the candidates will take questions from the audience, which will be submitted on note cards. A bipartisan panel will select the questions, combining questions on the same topic, and weeding out “gotcha” questions, intended to target specific candidates.

The event will be held in the main auditorium of the Barber Center building, which can be seen from I-35, located just north of Indian Hills Road. Randall University is a liberal arts college associated with the Free Will Baptist denomination. It was formerly known as Hillsdale Free Will Baptist College.

OCPA Calls for Reform of TSET

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), the Oklahoma-based conservative think tank, has called on state lawmakers to allow Oklahomans to vote on reforming the state Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET). OCPA says TSET needs to be refocused on paying for core services to the most vulnerable Oklahomans, especially during tough economic times, rather than questionable grant programs and harassing Oklahomans about their personal lifestyle decisions aside from smoking. OCPA reports that TSET spent $653,150 in fiscal years 2015 and 2016 on a project called Free The Night, which offers “promotional opportunities to smokefree bars and clubs.”

OCPA president Jonathan Small says, “With more than $1 billion in the bank, investment earnings of about $40 million per year, and additional income of $50 million per year from the sale of cigarettes, it’s obvious TSET offers state leaders an opportunity to shore up core services.” TSET spends a little less than 40 percent on tobacco cessation and 30 percent on “obesity” efforts. Last year, public outrage forced TSET to change course when it attempted to create an administrative position with a salary of $250,000 a year. Since TSET was set up by a state constitutional amendment, reforming TSET will require a vote of the people. OCPA urges legislators to place a State Question on the ballot to reform TSET. For this and other information go to the OCPA website: www.ocpathink.org

Legislators Urged to Reject Tax Increases

Former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, and former Oklahoma Secretary of State and Secretary of Commerce Larry Parman sent a letter to state lawmakers urging them to resist tax increases in the special session. The trio said: “During this special session, those who claim the principles and label of Ronald Reagan must act on their promises. Those principles reject all tax increases and efforts to generate more revenue during times like these. State reports and certified revenue documents show that lawmakers have already passed legislation which increased annual revenues available for appropriation by more than $500 million over the last three legislative sessions.” Instead, they suggested several alternatives to further increasing taxes: “It is time to dig in to eradicate crony capitalism. It is time to rein in unreformed spending. It is time for real, market-driven Medicaid reforms and innovative health care spending. It is time to be honest about non-instructional growth in common and higher education. It is time to implement government-wide business process improvements and reform outdated government structures.”

Electric Vehicle Tax Struck Down

On October 24, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down H.B. 1449. In August, the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit challenging the passage of the bill which established a $100 annual fee for electric vehicles and $30 for a hybrid vehicle. The court declared that it was a revenue raising bill and was unconstitutional since it passed in the last five days of the session and didn’t receive and did not receive the supermajority vote required. The fees were expected to generate slightly more than $1 million, which would have been deposited into the State Highway Construction and Maintenance Fund. Since electric vehicles do not pay fuel taxes used to maintain roads, and hybrid vehicles don’t use as much fuel, the measure was intended to garner funds from those users.

Oklahoma REAL ID Extension

Governor Mary Fallin and the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety (DPS) were notified that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has expanded the state’s REAL ID compliance extension until Oct. 10, 2018. This means the federal government will continue to recognize Oklahoma driver’s licenses and ID cards until that time. “This is great news for Oklahomans, and means there will be no restrictions on individuals using Oklahoma licenses to fly or access federal buildings through October 10 of next year,” said Fallin. “I applaud our lawmakers for working in a constructive, bipartisan fashion in approving legislation earlier this year that made Oklahoma compliant with the REAL ID Act.” DPS Commissioner Michael C. Thompson said: “There have been many questions recently about Oklahoma’s status regarding REAL ID. DPS is actively working towards making Oklahoma REAL ID compliant and will use this time to gain compliance with the requirement. We strongly appreciate Governor Fallin’s leadership in signing REAL ID into law.” After Oklahoma received the last extension in June, Thompson said it could be two years before the state is able to produce a compliant card. Without the extension, Oklahoma residents could eventually be unable to board commercial aircraft or enter federal facilities and nuclear power plants without other forms of identification. Oklahoma is one of 18 states that have been granted extensions to come into compliance with the 2005 federal law.

Thompson Named Adjutant General

On October 19, Governor Mary Fallin named Assistant Adjutant Brig. Gen. Michael C. Thompson to serve as Oklahoma’s adjutant general. His appointment takes effect on November 15. Thompson currently serves as Oklahoma’s Secretary of Safety and Security and as commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. Thompson will be the first African-American to serve as the Oklahoma National Guard adjutant general. Thompson succeeds Maj. Gen. Robbie L. Asher, who resigned in August. Thompson will command the Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard, and will continue to serve on the governor’s Cabinet as Secretary of the Military.

Thompson enlisted in the Oklahoma Army National Guard in 1983 and was commissioned as an officer in 1986 through the Oklahoma Military Department’s officer candidate school. He was promoted to brigadier general in 2014. Thompson has served as land component commander with the Oklahoma National Guard; chief of staff with the Oklahoma National Guard; and commander of the Oklahoma National Guard’s 90th Troop Command. Thompson is a combat veteran of two deployments to Iraq in 2003 and 2008 as well as an integral part of the responding Oklahoma Guard units to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He has a bachelor’s degree from Langston University, a master’s degree from Oklahoma State University, and an additional master’s degree in strategic studies from the United States Army War College.

Renaming Oklahoma City Public Schools

Following the recent controversy over the removal of statues of General Robert E. Lee and other Confederate leaders, Oklahoma City Public Schools administrators proposed renaming some Oklahoma City schools. While at least one school is clearly linked to the Confederacy, Stand Watie Elementary, others may actually be named for local community leaders. It appears that Lee Elementary is not named for the Confederate General, but instead the school and nearby Lee Avenue, are named after Oscar G. Lee who was a real estate developer who played an instrumental role in building the first significant downtown skyline. One building, the Lee-Huckins Hotel, was a landmark until destroyed by fire. And, Wheeler Elementary was not named after Confederate General Joseph Wheeler, but instead for James B. Wheeler a civic leader and neighborhood developer. Wheeler Park, near to Wheeler Elementary, was donated by Wheeler to the city. Wheeler died in 1906, just a couple of years before planning began for Wheeler Elementary. It appears the school administrators, who are not originally from Oklahoma City, may have been too quick at trying to be politically correct.

On October 23, the Oklahoma City School Board voted 7-0 to rename three schools: Stand Watie Elementary, Lee Elementary, and Jackson Enterprise Elementary (General Stonewall Jackson). The decision to re-name Stand Watie Elementary can be taken as insensitive toward American Indians. Watie was the only general of Native American blood on either side of the Civil War, and was, in fact, the last Confederate general to surrender at the end of the Civil War. Watie specifically said he was fighting for the cause of local rule – not slavery.

Libertarians Vote for Closed Primary

At their October 7, 2017 state convention, Oklahoma Libertarian Party delegates voted for closed primary elections in 2018. So, only registered Libertarians will be able to vote in the Libertarian primary elections to select the nominees for their party. Three candidates are currently seeking the party’s gubernatorial nomination in 2018, and the majority of the convention delegates want the voters in the Libertarian primary well-informed about their choices and that they represent libertarian ideas. A majority of the delegates believed that the candidates for the gubernatorial nomination would be better able to communicate with the 5,000 registered Libertarians during the primary season, rather than 300,000 independents. The Libertarian delegates also expressed that having an open primary would hamper growth of the party. If independents could vote in their primary elections anyway, there would be no reason for them to register as Libertarians.

The Oklahoma Republican Party has also adhered to closed primaries, while Democrats decided to open their primaries to independents beginning with the 2016 elections. Another consideration for the Libertarians involved an expected challenge to a new election law. If a Libertarian candidate decides to sue to overturn the new law on petitions in lieu of paying a filing fee to be on the ballot, having a closed primary could make it easier to win that case. In the 2017 regular legislative session the law was changed to base the number of signatures on all registered voters instead of the number of eligible primary voters.

Governor Candidate Loses “Husband”

The “husband” of an Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate held a gun to his head and told others with him it would not fire before he pulled the trigger and killed himself, said Garvin County Sheriff Larry Rhodes. In October, Travis Maldonado, 23, was found dead with a gunshot wound to his head at the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in an apparent self-inflicted gun accident, Rhodes said. His “husband,” Joseph Maldonado, known as “Joe Exotic,” was not present at the time of his death, Rhodes said. Travis Maldonado had a marijuana-smoking pipe in his pants pocket and a small amount of marijuana on him when he apparently shot himself in the head. Witnesses told detectives that Travis took the magazine out of the gun and held the gun to his head. While he knew there was a bullet in the chamber, Travis said it would not fire without the magazine inserted. He then squeezed the trigger, Rhodes said. The gun fired. Joseph Maldonado, 54, is one of three announced candidates vying for the Libertarian Party nomination for Governor in 2018. Maldonado vowed to continue the campaign because that is what Travis would have wanted him to do.

Innovate Oklahoma

On September 21, Gov. Mary Fallin, along with State Chief Information Officer Bo Reese and members of the Oklahoma tech community, launched Innovate Oklahoma, a new technology initiative between the state Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) and the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST). The initiative will allow custom technology applications to be developed to directly meet the needs of the state departments and agencies, leading to innovation and efficiency in government. “Oklahoma is on it’s way to becoming the silicon prairie of the Heartland,” said Governor Fallin. “This initiative is a partnership between state entities and the private sector to bring new, innovative ideas that promote efficiency and save money in state government operations.” The Innovate Oklahoma website gives citizens the opportunity to submit a challenge or problem they would like to have solved with an application solution. From there, the submission becomes a foundation block to launch a community-led, collaborative environment that uses technology to improve Oklahoma’s government services. Innovate Oklahoma, innovate.ok.gov, is the first of its kind in the nation.

State CIO Named President of National Organization

State Chief Information Office (CIO) Bo Reese has been named President of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) executive committee for 2018. Reese serves as CIO for the State of Oklahoma as administrator of the Information Services division of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES). “Bo has continually demonstrated his leadership in overseeing the state's technology and data,” said Governor Mary Fallin. “To date, OMES, under Bo's leadership, has saved the state $328 million through statewide IT consolidation. I have no doubt he will provide NASCIO with the same thoughtful and driven leadership that he has provided for the State of Oklahoma.”

As president, Reese will lead NASCIO’s executive board in promoting the adoption of information technology best practices and innovations for state governments. The organization was founded in 1969. “Like many states, Oklahoma has the challenges of being a central IT organization inside the broad and diverse enterprise of state government,” Reese said. “NASCIO assembles a community of professionals with invaluable experience and facilitates the exchange of innovative ideas and solutions which empowers members to find success. I am thrilled to be serving this organization and its members.” Under Reese, OMES has promoted the state’s usage of cloud technology, launched the tech initiative Innovate Oklahoma, and served as an example for the nation in training and educating employees on potential cyber threats to government resources.

Supreme Court Justice Watt to Retire

On October 2, Governor Mary Fallin accepted a letter from Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Joseph Watt stating his intention to retire at the end of this year. Watt represents the 9th Supreme Court Judicial District which consists of Harmon, Greer, Kiowa, Caddo, Canadian, Comanche, Jackson, Tillman and Cotton counties. There is no mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court justices, but they must appear on the retention ballot every six years. Gov. David Walters named Watt to the Oklahoma Supreme Court on May 17, 1992. He is in his 26th year of service on the high court, and served two terms as chief justice, from 2003 until 2007.

The Judicial Nominating Commission will accept applications for nominees to the court vacancy. The commission reviews the applications and submits three nominees to the governor. At the time of appointment, applicants must be 30 or older, have been a qualified elector in the Supreme Court Judicial District for at least one year immediately prior to the date of appointment, and have been a licensed practicing attorney or judge of a court of record, or both, in Oklahoma for five years preceding the appointment.

Sen. Schulz Looking at Future Job

State Senate President Pro Tem Mike Schulz (R-Altus) said he plans to submit an application to become the next executive director of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau. The organization posted the job on September 8 and is accepting applications. An interim executive director of the organization was named on July 31 following the departure of Monica Wilke. Schulz says if selected for the job he would like to finish his current term in the Legislature. His Senate seat is up for election in 2018, and he cannot run again due to legislative term-limits.

Death of Former State Senator Ed Long

Former state Sen. Ed Long (D-Garber) died on October 12 at the age of 83. The Enid Democrat was born in Garber, and represented Senate District 19 which is comprised of parts of Kingfisher, Logan, Garfield and Noble counties. Long served as state senator from 1988 to 1996. He was a graduate of Garber High School and earned a Bachelor of Agriculture Education at Oklahoma State University in 1956. He owned and operated a John Deere farm equipment business. After leaving office, he retired to Stillwater where he remained active in civic and social clubs. During his service in the Legislature he had a cumulative average of 11 percent on the Oklahoma Conservative Index.

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