Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater deserves praise for indicting Al Gerhart for felony blackmail. Prater is drawing a line in the sand most Oklahomans will applaud, including many who may agree with Gerhart's views on issues while deploring his tactics.
Gerhart, co-founder of the splinter Sooner Tea Party, recently emailed state Sen. Cliff Branan, R-Oklahoma City, demanding action on a bill related to the United Nations' Agenda 21 and property rights. In the email, Gerhart told Branan to give the bill a hearing “or I will make sure you regret not doing it,” vowing to “dig” into Branan's family and associates. Gerhart later held a news conference to accuse Branan, based on “scuttlebutt,” of cheating on his wife.
Under Oklahoma law, blackmail can involve a written communication threatening to expose information about someone “which would in any way subject such person to the ridicule or contempt of society” if the intent is “to extort or gain any thing of value from another or to compel another to do an act against his or her will.”
From a layman's perspective, Gerhart's actions clearly seem to cross the line from advocacy into intimidation and blackmail. Prater is making clear such abuses won't be tolerated.
Prater has taken similar stands in the past. He indicted former Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, for felony bribery after Terrill tried to create an $80,000 state job for a senator — a job other officials felt the senator was unqualified to perform — allegedly to pay her not to seek re-election. Once again, a layman would consider that a bribe. Prater agreed and made the tough call to prosecute.
We disagreed with Prater's recent decision to prosecute members of the Pardon and Parole Board for violating open meetings laws, feeling the punishment exceeded the alleged crime, but still appreciate his zeal for demanding — and protecting — integrity in our political system.