TIDBITS FOR SUMMER 2018
Libertarians Get First Ballot Position
The Oklahoma State Election Board held a drawing on July 12 to determine the order of political parties on the 2018 General Election ballot. A drawing was also held to determine the order of Independent candidates in races where multiple Independent candidates filed for the same office. The Libertarian Party ended up with the top spot, Republicans are next, and Democrats will be in third position. Prior to 1981, the Democrat candidate was always listed first on the ballot. Back then Oklahoma had a majority of Democrats in state government and controlled the legislative process. That process was changed with an Oklahoma Supreme Court decision in the Clegg v. Oklahoma Election Board case. The drawing method was then instituted. Research has shown that candidates listed first on the ballot have a slight advantage. In a very close race, that advantage could determine the winner.
Tax Increase Repeal Petition Dropped
The group that was working to repeal the massive tax increase passed by the Legislature and approved by Gov. Fallin, decided it would not file a reworked referendum petition because the deadline to gather signatures was too tight. On July 2, former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn that there was not time to collect signatures and get the measure approved for the November ballot. Coburn, a leader of Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite!, said a new petition to repeal the tax package would likely be challenged by the same education groups which successfully argued to the Oklahoma Supreme Court that the first petition was fatally flawed. The deadline for gathering more than 41,000 signatures on a new petition would have been July 18.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled on June 22 that the summary in the first petition did not adequately describe the $474 million tax package, which included tax increases on motor fuels, cigarettes and some oil and gas production. It also changed the tax structure of little cigars. The justices said the petition also failed to include an exact copy of the tax bill, as required by the state Constitution. The tax package was designed to increase state tax revenues which enabled the teacher pay hikes. The motor fuel, oil and gas production, and cigarette tax increases went into effect on July 1.
Optometrist Issue on November Ballot
On July 23, Gov. Fallin signed an election proclamation that places on the Nov. 6 general election ballot the question whether to allow optometrists and eyeglass retailers to operate in large retail stores. The governor received the certification that the backers of the issue collected enough signatures to qualify for placement on the November ballot, and that all of the other procedural requirements of state law had been met. It will appear on the ballot as State Question 793. The issue, if approved by a majority of voters, would amend the state constitution by allowing optometrists or opticians to practice in retail establishments, and allows the Legislature to regulate them. Oklahoma law prohibits consumers from getting their eyes examined and filling their eyeglasses prescription in the same store. Oklahoma is one of only three states that by statute prohibits an optometrist from practicing within a mercantile establishment. Neither Delaware, Rhode Island nor Oklahoma allows an optometrist to practice within stores like Costco, Target, or Walmart. A challenge by the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians was rejected by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The deadline for the governor to sign election proclamations for state questions to be placed on the Nov. 6 general election ballot is Aug. 27.
2020 Republican National Convention
On July 20, the Republican National Committee (RNC) voted to hold the 2020 presidential nominating convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Southern swing state is considered critical to reelection of President Donald Trump and has been coveted by both the Republican and Democratic parties in recent elections. In 2008, Democrat Barack Obama won the state’s 15 electoral votes, but Republicans have captured the state since, with GOP nominee Mitt Romney winning in 2012 and Trump in 2016. The party’s 2016 nominating convention in Cleveland was estimated to have generated $188 million in economic benefit, so landing the next convention was a highly desired prize. Charlotte was one of 30 cities that submitted proposals to the RNC. The national party conventions always attract hordes of protesters, which can present challenges for the host city. The Charlotte city council voted to accept the convention by a single vote after a public meeting in which about 100 residents testified. Democrats held their nominating convention in Charlotte in 2012.
Two Health Insurance Carriers
Oklahomans who buy their health insurance through the federal marketplace will have a choice between two insurers in 2019. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma and Medica both submitted Qualified Health Plan applications, along with rates, for certification. “Buying health coverage for you and your family is important, and now with two health insurance carriers on the exchange, Oklahoma consumers have more options from which to choose what best suits their needs,” Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak said. “Having two insurers creates product choices and alternatives that are essential to our marketplace.” Last year, Oklahoman’s had only one choice. More than 140,000 people purchased plans in Oklahoma’s exchange during open enrollment for the 2018 policy year. That was about four percent lower than those who enrolled the year before. By law, the Oklahoma Insurance Department (OID) does not have authority to approve or deny rates filed by insurers on the federal exchange. Oklahoma, along with Texas and Wyoming, is a direct enforcement state with no authority to enforce provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare). Insurance companies offering products on the exchange are required to submit rate filing justifications to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for evaluation and review. The 2019 open enrollment period is Nov. 1 – Dec. 15.
Online Sales Tax Collections
On June 21, Gov. Mary Fallin commented on the U.S. Supreme Court decision that states can collect online sales taxes. “I applaud today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court overturning an earlier ruling that a business had to have a physical presence in a state in order for that state to collect state sales tax on online purchases. The earlier ruling placed the responsibility of paying the online sales tax on customers who generally did not realize they owed it.” Fallin called on Congress to level the field for small businesses and retailers in Oklahoma and across the country by implementing a fair system for online sales tax. “We have to help our local communities keep local businesses healthy so that cities and towns can fund core services. I appreciate Amazon and other retailers who already have agreed to collect Oklahoma sales tax on items sold directly through their companies.” Oklahoma and other states are expected to move ahead with more aggressive legislation to collect sales taxes on online purchases.
State Senate Democratic Leader
The Oklahoma Senate Democratic Caucus announced May 7 that they had elected Sen. Kay Floyd (D-Oklahoma City) to serve as Senate Democratic Leader for the 57th Oklahoma Legislature. Floyd, who currently serves as Senate Democratic Caucus Chair, will succeed Sen. John Sparks (D-Norman) in January of 2019. Sen. Floyd will be the first woman to lead a caucus in the Oklahoma Senate. Sen. Floyd was elected to the Oklahoma Senate in 2014 after serving one term in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. She previously served as an Administrative Law Judge for the State of Oklahoma, a Municipal Court Judge for the City of Oklahoma City, as Deputy Executive Director of the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission, and as an Assistant Attorney General for Oklahoma. Sen. Floyd is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma College of Law. She grew up in Ada, Oklahoma. She has a cumulative average of 19 percent on the Oklahoma Conservative Index.
Secretary of State
Gov. Mary Fallin announced on May 31 that James Williamson, who has served as her general counsel, will serve as Secretary of State. He will continue to provide legal and policy advice as he did in the role of the governor’s general counsel, a post he was appointed to in March 2017. Williamson, of Tulsa, succeeds Dave Lopez, who resigned as Secretary of State in March to pursue personal and business endeavors. As secretary of state, Williamson will serve as a senior adviser to the governor on policy, economic and legal issues. From 2010 to 2012, Williamson, a former legislator, served as senior policy analyst and chief legal counsel to then-Senate President Pro Tempores Glenn Coffee and Brian Bingman.
Before his gubernatorial appointment, Williamson, of Tulsa, had been in private practice since 1975. He served 18 years in Oklahoma’s Legislature, representing Tulsa in both the Oklahoma House of Representatives and the state Senate. From 1980 through 1986, he represented the southeast part of Tulsa and Broken Arrow in the state House. He was elected in 1996 to the Senate, where he represented the south central part of Tulsa and Jenks until 2008. He served as assistant floor leader from 1998 to 2002 and as floor leader from 2003 to 2004.
Secretary of Education and Workforce Development
On June 5, Gov. Fallin announced that Labor Commissioner Melissa McLawhorn Houston will serve on her executive Cabinet as secretary of education and workforce development. Fallin appointed Houston state Labor Commissioner in the fall of 2015, to fulfill the remainder of then-Labor Commissioner Mark Costello’s term. Before that, Houston served as chief of staff and policy adviser in the Oklahoma attorney general’s office. When she was appointed labor commissioner, Houston said she would not seek election to a full four-year term. Before serving as the attorney general’s chief of staff, Houston served for nine years (2002-2011) as the chief of staff for the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security. Prior to that, she served as deputy director for the Oklahoma Sheriffs Association and as an attorney for the Oklahoma Truth in Sentencing Policy Advisory Commission. She has a law degree from the University of Oklahoma College of Law.
Funding for the governments schools has been one of the governor’s biggest priorities during her administration. She pushed the past three years for teacher pay raises, culminating with this year’s approval of the largest teacher pay raise in the history of the state. Oklahoma teacher pay improved from last in the seven-state region to second for average annual pay, and from 49th in the nation to 29th. When taking into account the cost of living, Oklahoma teachers will be the 12th-highest-paid in the country. The teacher pay was one component of a 19.7 percent increase in state appropriations for K-12 public education for the fiscal year which began on July 1.
CLO Makes Special Distribution
On June 22, the Commissioners of the Land Office (CLO)announced that a special distribution of $7,157,724 was made to the government common school districts (K-12) in the state that receives money from the state agency. This supplemental year-end distribution was made to ensure total distributions to K-12 beneficiaries were equivalent to funding levels for the previous fiscal year. Several years ago, the CLO created the Multi-Year Education Stabilization Fund to help hold beneficiaries harmless from the volatility of oil and gas lease-bonus revenues, the CLO’s most unpredictable funding source. “Every income source of the Commissioners of the Land Office remained stable or above average in FY 2018, with the exception of oil and gas lease-bonus revenues,” said CLO Secretary Harry Birdwell. Working with the Legislature, a procedure was established several years ago to allow the CLO to hold back about $15 million in the Multi-Year Education Stabilization Fund so that school district distributions could be smoothed out over a five-year moving average. Governor Mary Fallin, CLO chairman, said the supplemental distribution will be helpful to the government school districts. “I appreciate the hard work of Secretary Birdwell and the Commissioners of the Land Office staff for their successful efforts in maximizing distributable revenue to the common school districts in Oklahoma,” she said. With the special distribution, the agency matched last year’s record total distribution of $103,430,605. The mission of the CLO, which is also known as the School Land Commission, is to distribute earnings from the commissions assets to benefit the state government schools.
In May, the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed Oklahoma veteran and Retired Rear Admiral Gregory Slavonic to be the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. Slavonic is a native Oklahoman and former Chief of Staff for Senator James Lankford. Prior to Slavonic’s role in Lankford’s office, he was a senior leader at the Computer Sciences Corporation, where he planned and executed several nationwide US Navy community outreach engagements. He also served as Executive Director of the Jim Thorpe Association; and as President of Flagbridge Strategic Communications, a consulting company focused on strategic communications and leadership. Mr. Slavonic retired from the US Navy after a 34-year career, where he originally enlisted as a Seaman Recruit and, after repeatedly distinguishing himself, was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral. During his Navy career, he held four command assignments, served in combat deployments to Vietnam, Operation Desert Shield/Storm, and Operation Iraqi Freedom, and was awarded numerous decorations including the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Presidential Unit Citation, and Combat Action Ribbon.
Death of Charlie Morgan
Former state Representative Charlie Morgan (D-Prague) died on April 25 at the age of 86. Morgan was elected to the Oklahoma House District 32 in 1972 and served through 1988. He was the brother of former Rep. Jim Morgan and father of Rep. Danny Morgan who served as House Minority Leader during his time in office. Morgan started Morgan Well Service in 1963 which continues operations today. He has also served as city councilman and mayor of Prague. He was one of the more conservative Democrats serving at the time, earning a cumulative average score of 51 percent on the Oklahoma Conservative Index.
Death of Rep. Griffith
State Rep. Claudia Griffith died on July 14 at the age of 67. The Democrat from Norman was elected to the Oklahoma House in 2014 and again in 2016. Griffith was a Registered Nurse who earned a master’s degree in public heath from the University of Oklahoma. Instead of running for reelection this year to House District 45, she decided to run for the open Senate District 16 seat, currently held by Senator John Sparks (D-Norman). He could not run in 2018 due to term limits. Rep. Griffith finished second in the June 26 Democrat Primary with 32.8 percent of the vote and was set for the August 28 runoff the against Mary Boren, who finished first. Under state law, Griffith’s name will remain on the ballot because the deadline for withdrawing has passed. Griffith had a liberal voting record, scoring a 21 percent average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index for the eight years she served in the House.
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