A free and open press. What a pain in the neck that can be.
Just ask officials at Oklahoma State University, who are hacked off that newspapers are wondering why the school didn’t notify Stillwater police after students reported they had been assaulted by another student. OSU says a federal privacy law prohibits the release of names or information about victims and witnesses in the case, and that university officials encouraged the alleged victims to contact police.
“The press has tried to indicate we tried to hide something,” said Gary Clark, OSU’s general counsel. “It’s not our place to try to force them to do something they don’t want to do in this regard.”
OSU could have given the identity of the suspect to police after wrapping up student conduct hearings involving the alleged perpetrator, but Clark said officials didn’t think that would have been useful. “What would the police be able to do with that information? Nothing, as far as I can tell,” he said.
Stillwater police Capt. Randy Dickerson said he wished his office had been contacted sooner because delays can hurt investigations. The first assault allegedly occurred Nov. 3, 2011. Police didn’t learn of it until last week — after being asked about it by a reporter with OSU’s student newspaper. And now OSU President Burns Hargis has requested an inquiry into the handling of this case.
That danged media, always stirring up trouble.
At a recent State Chamber forum, House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, promised business officials that his caucus was changing tactics in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. “We’re not going back to two years ago,” Inman said. “I’m not going to be throwing rocks to throw rocks to prove a point.” That was an inadvertent admission that House Democrats haven’t been relevant in recent years because they chose not to be relevant. Causing pointless disruption may have made Democrats feel better, but it did nothing for the state and it minimized their policy influence. Whatever limited leverage they had was quickly squandered. Oklahoma voters rewarded that behavior by electing just 29 House Democrats this year, the lowest number in state history. Time will tell if House Democrats become serious players at the Legislature, or if Inman is merely giving lip service to the concept.
David Northcutt, chairman of the Democratic Party in Bryan County, recently issued a missive he described as “very much in the spirit of Christmas.” Apparently, those words have a different meaning to Northcutt. He attacks Republicans as sore losers, but then personifies the sour-grapes mindset. Northcutt said President Barack Obama’s election was cause for Oklahoma Democrats to celebrate but “our celebrations were tempered with disdain” by the Oklahoma gains of the Republican Party, describing “feelings of anguish” as he watched Democrat candidates “fall to lesser opponents in Oklahoma politics these last several years.” Northcutt rightly criticizes those who’ve called for secession after Obama’s re-election, but then he lumps serious leaders like Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor in with them. Even prominent national Democrats have praised Ryan for tackling serious budget problems. That Northcutt thinks avoiding fiscal catastrophe is equivalent to demanding secession shows why his party is struggling in Oklahoma.
Nice showing by the unions this week in Michigan in their effort to thwart right-to-work legislation. Union members swarmed the Capitol grounds in Lansing, at one point ripping down a tent that belonged to a group that favored right to work and punching out one of its occupants. Nuance has never been Big Labor’s strong suit. It’s always been easier, and more effective, to resort to muscle. The unions didn’t succeed this time, as Republican Gov. Rick Snyder held firm and signed the bills into law. What paved the way for this change was rejection in November of an effort to guarantee collective bargaining by placing it in the state constitution. Voters gave the idea just 42 percent approval. Right to work is now the law in 24 states, but none of the others carried as much symbolic value as Michigan.
Having seen fit — finally — to confirm attorney John Dowdell to the federal court in Tulsa, perhaps now the U.S. Senate can get around to placing Robert Bacharach on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. Both men had the backing of Oklahoma’s U.S. senators, Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, but the nominations got gummed up by Senate gamesmanship. Republicans held up many nominations made by President Obama, hoping Mitt Romney would win the presidency and submit his own nominations for those posts. But Obama won. So this week the Senate voted 95-0 to place Dowdell on the federal bench. Now Inhofe and Coburn need to push for Bacharach’s immediate confirmation. After all, he’s in line for a seat on the Denver court that’s been vacant nearly 2
Oklahoma’s November tax collections contained both good news and warning signs. Sales tax collections for the month were 8.4 percent higher than the prior year; motor vehicles tax collections were 2.2 percent higher. Both figures are signs of continuing consumer confidence in Oklahoma. On the downside, low energy prices made net gross production taxes nonexistent, and individual income tax collections were down 5.4 percent. Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger noted total collections for the fiscal year to date are $33 million above the estimate. Still, he warned that if the federal government goes over the “fiscal cliff,” it could have dramatic impact on the state economy. The governor’s office is drafting a state budget responsibly prepared for federal cuts of $137 million to $200 million. Oklahoma’s economy is faring well, but warning signs are on the horizon. Haphazard federal fiscal policy could easily plunge us back into recession. Stay tuned.
Twelve years ago this week, Al Gore conceded the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush. His concession came more than five weeks after the bitterly contested election that introduced us to Florida’s “hanging chads” and spurred a call for nationwide election reform. Twelve years later that call remains, because so many states continue to have problems on Election Day. This year, some voters in Miami — what’s in the water down there? — had to endure seven-hour waits before casting their ballots. We’ll leave the calls for reform to other parts of the country. Oklahoma experienced a few snags while breaking in new voting machines, and there were pockets of long lines related mostly to precinct staffing. But on the whole our system works well, and has for many years.
With Republicans holding a 72-29 edge in the state House of Representatives, Speaker-elect T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, had his hands full just trying to placate all his GOP colleagues when naming committee chairs and vice-chairs. That’s why it is notable Shannon made a point of including Democrats. Rep. Anastasia Pittman of Oklahoma City was named vice-chairman of the Human Services Committee. Rep. Donnie Condit of McAlester was appointed vice-chairman of the Long-term Care and Senior Services Committee. Rep. R.C. Pruett of Antlers was named vice-chairman of the Tourism and International Relations Committee, and Rep. Cory Williams of Stillwater is vice-chairman of the Tax Credit & Economic Incentive Oversight Committee. Vice-chairmen have little real power, so the appointments are largely symbolic. But given the Republican margins, they still represent a goodwill gesture Shannon didn’t have to make, and show a willingness to work with those who may disagree with him on issues.