A state senator Tuesday called an accusation about his marriage a lie and said his accuser, Sooner Tea Party co-founder Al Gerhart, is a bully.
“It just makes me sick. He has no shame,” Sen. Cliff Branan told The Oklahoman. “It was a crazy, untrue allegation that was just shameful. We've been happily married for nearly 18 years. … Our marriage is awesome.
“Nothing like that has ever happened. And I think, candidly, he got me confused with somebody else. It's just nuts.”
Gerhart on Tuesday accused Branan of infidelity during a news conference after coming under investigation for an email he sent Branan.
In the March 26 email, Gerhart wrote about House Bill 1412, which would prohibit state communities from having anything to do with the United Nations' Agenda 21 plan.
Misspelling one word, Gerhart wrote: “Get that bill heard or I will make sure you regret not doing it. I will make you the laughing stock of the Senate if I don't hear that this bill will be heard and passed. We will dig into your past, yoru family, your associates and once we start on you there will be no end to it. This is a promise.”
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation has begun a blackmail inquiry over the email, OSBI spokeswoman Jessica Brown confirmed Tuesday.
At the news conference at the Capitol, Gerhart, 54, of Oklahoma City, admitted again that he sent the email but said he absolutely did nothing wrong.
“Political pain and embarrassment will be necessary if the citizens expect to regain control of this Senate down here from the state chamber of commerce and special interests,” he said. “The time for ‘nice' behavior is over with.”
After reading from prepared remarks, Gerhart told reporters that the scuttlebutt at the Capitol is that Branan “is concerned that we have some information on him on an alleged infidelity.”
“That is why Mr. Branan has reacted the way he does,” he said. “It's the real reason he's attacking us, according to the scuttlebutt inside the Senate. Why shouldn't I bring it up?”
He admitted he has no proof of his accusation.
Gerhart's statements at the news conference could become evidence against him if he is charged with blackmail. Gerhart contends his email is constitutionally protected free speech.
‘Craving for attention'
Branan said he debated whether to respond to the accusation about his marriage. “He's just craving for attention,” Branan said.
The senator called Gerhart a bully. He said he worries, though, about what others influenced by Gerhart might do.
Branan said his wife, Connell Branan, was at the Capitol by coincidence Tuesday.
“She is president of a national nonprofit that recognizes mothers of distinction,” he said. “I just thought, ‘This is just nuts. She's down on the second floor honoring those moms. And he's up on the fourth floor just ranting about something that is a total lie.'”
Branan also said Tuesday that his Senate committee will not take up HB 1412 at its next meeting Thursday. He said not hearing HB 1412 on Thursday means that bill will be dead for this session.
“It's a solution to a problem that doesn't exist,” he said. “It's more of a fringe conspiracy issue that is frankly just bad public policy. Part of my job is to keep that stuff from happening.”
Branan, R-Oklahoma City, is chairman of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee.
About the same time as Branan was making the decision not to hear the bill, the Senate sponsor asked that it be pulled from the committee “out of respect for you and your family.”
“I am appalled at the personal attacks and the false accusations that you have endured regarding your family in an attempt to influence your decision to hear HB 1412,” Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, wrote.
The state House in March voted 67-17 to pass HB 1412. Gerhart and other supporters of the legislation said it would protect citizens' property rights.