Oklahoma governor’s office releases e-mails previously withheld from public

Politics, pragmatism are front and center in new email release from Oklahoma’s governor.
by Rick Green Published: August 11, 2014


photo - Governor Mary Fallin and Norman Regional Health System President David Whitaker take the stage at a one-year memorial ceremony and groundbreaking on Tuesday, May 20, 2014 in Moore, Okla.  Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman
Governor Mary Fallin and Norman Regional Health System President David Whitaker take the stage at a one-year memorial ceremony and groundbreaking on Tuesday, May 20, 2014 in Moore, Okla. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman

Gov. Mary Fallin released 31 documents Monday that her office had withheld from a major public records release concerning her decisions about the Affordable Care Act. Political and pragmatic concerns take center stage in the newly released emails.

On Nov. 14, 2012, Fallin press secretary Alex Weintz sent an email to Katie Altshuler, the governor’s policy director, and Denise Northrup, the governor’s chief of staff. Weintz discussed whether the governor should abandon her support for setting up a state health care exchange for people to select insurance.

“In my opinion the two choices that make the most sense are: State exchanges can be good if done right so we are going to build one OR Obamacare sucks, we aren’t going to help implement it and we aren’t creating an exchange,” Weintz said in the email.

“Since there is no way the legislature is going to allow us to do the former, I suggest we do the latter.”

Ultimately, the governor decided against setting up a state exchange. People in Oklahoma instead use one set up by the federal government.

Responding to public records requests, Fallin’s office in March 2013 released more than 51,000 pages of documents about her approach to the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare.

She withheld 31 documents totaling 100 pages. Her general counsel, Steven Mullins, said those pages were exempt from the state Open Records Act on the grounds of executive privilege, deliberative process privilege and attorney-client privilege.

The decision to withhold documents was challenged in court. A judge ruled June 17 that the governor could withhold the documents under a deliberative process privilege.

On Monday, Mullins said the governor had decided to voluntarily waive the privilege and release the documents because the court affirmed the privilege, the documents have become less sensitive and she believes in transparency and openness.

The documents that were released shed light on the inner workings of the governor’s office.

In 2012, the governor’s office was considering whether to expand Medicaid, as envisioned under Obamacare, with the federal government picking up much of the early expense.

State Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, was strongly against this and issued a news release on July 3, 2012, urging Fallin to “be on the front line with those governors who have already announced they won’t submit to the federal health care law.”

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by Rick Green
Capitol Bureau Chief
Rick Green is the Capitol Bureau Chief of The Oklahoman. A graduate of Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif., he worked as news editor for The Associated Press in Oklahoma City before joining The Oklahoman.
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