WHEN Brad Henry won the race for Oklahoma governor in 2002, there was less talk about the poor campaign run by Republican Steve Largent — particularly in the late stages — than there was about Barry Switzer's endorsement of Henry. The popular former Oklahoma football coach got Henry across the goal line, or so the stories went.
Having Switzer on board remains a priority among state Democratic politicians and their causes. Thus Jari Askins turned to Switzer during her run for governor in 2010 (it didn't help; she got waxed by Mary Fallin). And as this year's elections approached, Switzer took to the stump to encourage voters to retain the 12 appellate court judges on the retention ballot.
“In many ways, Judges are the referees of the courtroom,” the newspaper ad said. “I know a thing or two about the importance of neutral officiating and I have a strong opinion about the November Judicial election.”
This was a counter to a State Chamber-sponsored rating system for judges that the Oklahoma Bar Association said was a threat to judicial independence.
All four state Supreme Court justices, three Court of Criminal Appeals judges and five Court of Civil Appeals judges who were on the ball were all retained by wide margins. So no doubt those who enlisted Switzer to help their cause will see it as time well spent. But it's worth noting, no Oklahoma judge on a retention ballot has ever been sent packing by voters.
A real public service
All too often, political discussion in this social media age can devolve into tripe. State Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, recently used his Facebook page to conduct a true public service. Hickman wrote a thoughtful analysis of the six state questions that were on Tuesday's ballot in Oklahoma. He chided the state attorney general's office for its confusing wording of State Question 765, which sought to disband the Oklahoma Human Services Commission. He pointed out that SQ 758, which lowers to 3 percent the amount that county assessors can increase property values each year, wouldn't result in a cut for education and county government “but would restrain the growth in revenue generated by property tax for these entities.” To his credit Hickman didn't urge readers to vote one way or the other on any of the questions, he simply laid out the pros and cons of all six and explained what a “yes” or “no” vote would mean on each. Kudos.
Overall, a smooth operation
Oklahoma Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax was glad to have new voting machines in place for Tuesday's elections. “The old system, I don't think it would have survived this level of turnout and all the data,” Ziriax said on the morning after the elections. The state used funding from a federal grant to switch to the new machines last year after retiring the previous optical scan machines, which had been in place 20 years. There were some hiccups during a special state House election in April, but the state agency addressed those and Tuesday's election went “overall pretty well,” Ziriax said. Snags in Cleveland and Tulsa counties kept about a dozen precincts from promptly producing final results. Lines were long in some densely populated precincts, but Ziriax reported no significant problems related to voters having to show their ID before receiving a ballot. There were a few complaints of electioneering, he said, and this: “We did have a complaint from one voter that a precinct official coughed on her.” Go figure.
Passing the laugh test
It's not unusual for political candidates to portray opponents as being outside the mainstream, but occasionally those attacks don't pass the laugh test. Take U.S. Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., who faced a strong challenge from Richard Tisei, the former leader of the tiny Republican caucus in the Massachusetts Senate. The Tierney campaign portrayed Tisei as a “radical” who would advance the agenda of the most “right wing” elements in Congress. As a Republican in Massachusetts, Tisei is technically outside that state's mainstream, but here's the catch: Tisei is a gay Republican who describes himself as fiscally conservative but libertarian on social issues. He's therefore to the political left of most congressional Republicans and even to the left of many Oklahoma Democrats. Only in a political campaign would someone describe him as an element of the conservative political fringe and keep a straight face.