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.
Bait and switch?
A political TV ad by “Yes for Fair and Impartial Judges” could be accused of a lie by omission. The ad, which urged retention of all Oklahoma Supreme Court justices, touted the support of former Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, and James Dunn, “a Republican nominee for attorney general” for retaining the judges. There's just one problem with the ad. In August, Dunn told The Associated Press he was leaving the Republican Party because he “totally disagrees” with much of the GOP's state and national platforms. He was particularly opposed to GOP support for lawsuit reform, another stance he shares with Henry. So the judicial retention ad would have been more accurate had it touted that one man who is not a Republican agrees with another man who is not a Republican. But we suppose that would not pack the same punch.
Get them confirmed
The re-election of President Barack Obama should be good news for two Oklahoma men who have waited a long time to be confirmed to federal benches. U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma City was nominated by Obama in January to a post on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. Tulsa attorney John Dowell is in line for a federal judgeship in Tulsa. Both men sailed through confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but their nominations got high-centered this summer by political gamesmanship. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, who refused to buck his party when an opportunity arose in July to move Bacharach's nomination forward, says both judges should now “fly through” the Senate. We hope so. The 10th Circuit seat has been vacant more than two years.
Level only for some
Those who support the idea of adding yet another classification for high school football in Oklahoma say they're trying to “level the playing field.” Jenks and Tulsa Union have combined to win the championship in the state's largest class (6A) every year since 1996. A plan offered this week to the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association would split the current Class 6A in half, with the 16 largest schools becoming 7A, and the other 16 remaining as 6A. So to win a state title in either class, a team would have to be better than just 15 other schools. What's next, a move in a few years to 8A to water down the pool even further? Meantime, the OSSAA this week rejected a request to let schools pull individual sports out from under the OSSAA umbrella. Large urban schools such as U.S. Grant and Capitol Hill have no chance in football because their programs struggle to get even 30 boys to play. Allowing them to play other schools facing the same challenges is a worthy pursuit. But it's clear concern about “leveling” the playing field extends only so far.
Has he thought this through?
As Oklahoma officials debate expansion of Medicaid to receive Obamacare subsidies, some local medical officials are urging expansion. John Silva, CEO of Morton Comprehensive Health Services in Tulsa, is among them. About 55 percent of Morton's patients are uninsured. The federal government provides about a quarter of the facility's funding, but Silva notes federal rates haven't increased in 15 years. So his solution to insufficient government funding is to trust that the feds will do better paying an even bigger bill. U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, suggests that's a poor strategy and has warned state officials to consider “what will happen when politicians face reality and decide the federal government can no longer afford to pay the rate as promised.” If the federal government fails to fund current obligations, why would one think it will do better once federal costs are dramatically increased?