STATE Sen. Susan Paddack ran for the office of state schools superintendent in 2010. She lost. Now Paddack, D-Ada, says there's no reason for the job to be political in nature. She's filed a bill seeking to make the position appointive.
Sour grapes? Perish the thought, Paddack says. “If I would have done this right after the election, you might make that case,” she said. “It's not something that hasn't been discussed for a long time.”
We don't recall much talk about making the superintendent's job elective during the 20 years that Democrat Sandy Garrett occupied the office. Democrats controlled both branches of the Legislature most of that time.
Instead, our sense is that this push relates not to the job but to the woman now holding it. Republican Janet Barresi's two years in office have been contentious. She angered the education establishment by fighting against delaying end-of-instruction exams for high school seniors — a law passed in 2005 with the support of a Democratic governor — and by moving forward with A-F grading for schools and school districts.
Simply put, Barresi has rankled folks, including some Republicans, by actively working to change education in Oklahoma, as she promised to do during her campaign against Paddack.
Paddack or other lawmakers interested in her proposal should legitimize it by placing the jobs of insurance commissioner and labor commissioner under similar review. We've long argued those are two jobs for which competence, not party affiliation, should be the foremost requirement.
The insurance commissioner's position has a history of ethically challenged occupants. Carroll Fisher was impeached and sent to prison. His predecessor, John Crawford, was the subject of an FBI investigation before losing an election. The current commissioner, Republican John Doak, rode an anti-Barack Obama wave into the office and since then has hired former legislators with little or no industry experience and spent nearly $200,000 arming his anti-fraud unit to the teeth.
A long list of characters, from both parties, have held the labor job. Before she was defeated, GOP commish Brenda Reneau was only showing up at work occasionally. Democrat Lloyd Fields was the definition of a party hack whose term was best remembered for a run-in at a party where he reportedly tried to steal a guitar and was taken to the city's detox center.
Both those jobs were made elective offices by the state's founders. In 1975, voters made labor commission an appointed position, but in 1988 they changed course and voted to make it elective again. So there is precedent for change, although more recent efforts to do so have failed.
In 2004, then-Democratic state Rep. Dan Boren teamed with Republican Rep. John Trebilcock to seek making the insurance and labor jobs appointive. Their efforts went nowhere. A poll commissioned a few months earlier by The Oklahoman showed Oklahomans preferred, by healthy margins, that those jobs remain elective.
Our guess is that if Paddack were to succeed in getting her bill through the Legislature — a long shot — then those populist sentiments would show themselves at the ballot box. Oklahomans prefer to make the call on these jobs, as they did two years ago when they chose Barresi for superintendent. They'll have the chance in two years to change their minds if they wish.