Oklahoma's state senators were asked to reread their body's rules and code of conduct Monday in a secret meeting called near the end of day's session.
Reporters, staff and viewers in the gallery were asked to leave Senate chambers without warning as legislators invoked executive privilege for the first time in decades.
The move came on the first day of Sunshine Week, a national acknowledgment of openness and transparency in state government.
President Pro Tem Brian Bingman made the motion to go into executive session about 3:55 p.m., Minority Leader Sean Burrage immediately seconded and then the doors were closed and guarded by red-vested Senate sergeants until about 4:20 p.m.
Both Bingman, R-Sapulpa, and Burrage, D-Claremore, declined to say afterward what prompted the rare session, but others in the room said it was simply a chance for them to remind lawmakers to follow the rules.
“It wasn't anyone specifically called out,” said Sen. David Holt.
“A lot of rules have been broken this year.”
Insiders, however, say it was Holt who may have pushed the envelope the furthest.
During a March 6 debate on the Senate floor, Holt chided Burrage with an unprompted nickname after Burrage asked him a stream of questions.
“I'm not going to go down your assumption path, ‘Matlock', sorry,” he said, referencing the television legal drama of the mid-1980s to early 1990s.
The Senate's code of conduct prohibits members from “personal attacks and dealing in personalities” on the floor during session and in committee, and requires members to address one another as “senator” during formal proceedings.
On Monday, one senator called another by his first name.
Holt said be believes the executive session was called more so because of convenience than anything else.
“It didn't feel that historic; it felt more like we were all in the same place,” he said.
But mundane or not, the surprise session was certainly a piece of history.
Though Oklahoma's legislative bodies are not bound by the state's Open Meetings Act, Capitol employees who have worked here since before “Matlock” premiered on television said they could not remember such a thing.
“I don't ever recall stepping out of the chamber when they did that,” said Caroline Dennis, director of legislative operations and a Capitol employee since 1982.
Joey Senat, a media law professor at Oklahoma State University, said the move demonstrates why Oklahoma's legislative bodies should fall under the same rules as other governing boards.
The discussion over rules could have just as easily happened in open meeting, and maybe should have, Senat said.
“I'm sure they didn't do it on purpose to insult the idea of open government, but they sure did prove the point there should be a statute that applies to them,” he said.