Gov. Mary Fallin, with the assistance of lawmakers and Oklahoma voters, has attained additional gubernatorial power during her first 2½ years in office. And she doesn't appear to be shying away from attempting to increase her influence.
“Obviously she has flexed her muscle, and that's her prerogative,” said Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage, D-Claremore. “Whether or not it's outside the realm of what other governors have done, it's hard to say. But she certainly has been active.”
House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, said Fallin, a Republican, has succeeded in increasing the limited powers given her office by the state's constitutional framers.
“They wanted to diffuse power,” Inman said.
“But Gov. Fallin is just another example of this effort by chief executives to overturn the will of the people and to get around the constitution, as it were, to try to consolidate as much power in his or her office as they possibly can,” he said.
Fallin, who is expected to seek another four-year term in 2014, denies she's making a power grab. Mostly, she said, she is following through on her 2010 campaign pledge to consolidate agencies and bring efficiency to state government.
“When I ran for office, one of the things I told the people of Oklahoma I was going to do was to work on right-sizing state government, eliminating waste, looking for areas that have overlapping services and agencies, boards and commissions,” she said.
The Republican-controlled Legislature this year passed and Fallin signed measures that abolished nearly 50 boards and commissions and consolidated more than 40 others into eight panels.
Fallin in recent months has spoken out and criticized actions and decisions by the state Corrections Department and the Grand River Dam Authority.
She supported efforts last year in which voters approved a measure that eliminated an oversight board of the Department of Human Services and requires the director of the state's largest agency to report instead directly to the governor.
In 2011, Fallin backed legislation that revised how the state Board of Education is composed. The bill originally was filed after Democratic board members were uncooperative with the incoming Republican state schools superintendent.
Under Senate Bill 435, the governor, after taking office, may appoint six members to the board who serve during the same four-year period as the governor. Previously, the gubernatorial appointments to the board were staggered, with the governor appointing one member to a six-year term every year. Senate confirmation still is required.
The bill was filed shortly after the six-member Board of Education, all Democrats, had a contentious meeting with newly elected state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi.
“She just simply went to the Republican majority and said make it legal, and they did,” Inman said.
Fallin earlier this month asked state Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones to audit the Corrections Department and assess whether its current structure “is in the best interests of the taxpayers of Oklahoma.” Fallin's request came three weeks after Director Justin Jones announced his resignation.
It is routine for the governor to request an audit during a change in leadership at a state agency.
Earlier this year, Fallin questioned the fiscal management of the Corrections Department after learning staff members had requested a $6.4 million supplemental appropriation at a time when it had about $22 million in three revolving funds.
Corrections officials eventually withdrew the supplemental funding request; corrections officials had underreported the amount of cash held in two key agency revolving funds to Fallin as she was preparing her budget recommendations for the 2014 fiscal year, which began July 1.
Fallin backed legislation that voters approved in November which authorized a change of governance of DHS. The agency's governing board was abolished and was replaced with advisory panels. The DHS director now reports to the governor.
Fallin this month ordered the creation of a 15-member Grand River Dam Authority task force; all the members will be appointed by Fallin.