by Patrick B. McGuigan, editor
OKLAHOMA CITY – Journalist M. Scott Carter has vacated the halls of power at the seat of Oklahoma government. He has assumed a new position with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oklahoma.
Carter’s new office lies in the heart of a vibrant community of artists, and thereby lies at least part of his story, and mine.
I often cite the late, great William F. Buckley, Jr., a journalist and commentator of conservative renown. Affection for Carter is at least partial proof that I live as best I can the Buckley creed: “I am a conservative in all things, save for my choice of friends.”
Last month’s welcome reception at Carter’s new office on Paseo Drive drew an eclectic mix including a few conservatives and of course many liberals/progressives of note.
Executive Director Ryan Kiesel told attendees at the modest fete that the idea to pull Carter away from his office at the state Capitol press room emerged over drinks at a Paseo restaurant, slowly evolving from aspiration into reality.
Oklahoma’s ACLU office is apparently the only one in the United States with an old-fashioned “storefront.” Some years ago, the advocacy group moved to the Historic District, home of a vibrant collection of small and mid-sized galleries, a mix of nice restaurants and neighborhood hang-outs.
The area includes many homes, from single-family to apartment living. Recent decades have brought a renaissance to the once-sleepy part of town. Artists moved in thanks to the organizational and promotional work of the late John L. Belt. A modernistic dance sculpture in Belt’s memory rests in the midst of greenery which adorns a grassy median about 100 feet from ACLU-Oklahoma’s front door.
“Nosh” for that reception was simple fare: cheeses, fruits, veggies, and assorted goods from a nearby caterer. No alcohol was served. (They were saving money for future activities.) The old-school event with a conservative air was appropriate, somehow, for the cutting edge organization’s persona and style.
Board members range from James Nimmo, a liberal activist whose photographs often appears in The City Sentinel, to Marcus Haley, an African-American with a gentle demeanor and friendships across partisan lines.
Director Kiesel — a passionate country Democrat who served in the state Legislature before that body went solidly into Republican control – sports a beard and has a progressive’s heart. But he can converse comfortably with conservative rural farmers and ranchers and with left-wing litigators across the land.
Long-standing friendships across the spectrum make him an effective presence in the Sooner State, able to form alliances (on issues like government secrecy and limits on drone technology) with stalwart conservatives such as state Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Oklahoma City.
Brady Henderson, lead lawyer for the local ACLU, is a registered Republican who, from time to time, contributes to dialogue at meetings of the state’s conservative activists.
Bryan Newell serves as director of operations for the state affiliate, running the office day-in and day-out while taking care of social media and other practical matters.
Allie Shinn is the group’s development officer, a tall and striking woman who deals well with the organization’s donors and supporters.
And then, there’s the new guy. For 25 years one of the state’s best-known reporters, Carter worked at the Norman Transcript, The Journal Record (a big-city business paper) and Oklahoma Watch, a non-profit news organization with growing impact.
Among Carter’s award-winning stories was a detailed expose of problems in veterans’ care facilities. Many of those reports included reflections of now-retired Rita Aragon, the highest-ranking Oklahoma female in the U.S. military and the consistent advocate for those who have served America.
Scott’s commentaries were known for frequently scorching conservative Republicans in the Legislature.
Former president of the state chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (for which I served as treasurer), Carter has become a fiction writer of some renown, including “The Immortal Von B,” a novel about the greatest classical composer of all time.
In brief comments at last month’s gathering, Carter said he came to the ACLU because his heart and mind drew him to focus on “the little guy” and “the underdog” in policy and politics.
When his hiring was announced in late summer he remarked succinctly, “The ACLU has a long history of fighting for the civil rights of all Americans. They are fearless. They are courageous and I’m honored they asked me to be a part of their organization.”
Kiesel at that time said, “Scott Carter is a gifted journalist and has a deep understanding of Oklahoma government, law and history and an insatiable determination to find the truth. I am confident his work will make Oklahoma’s premier champion for civil liberties an even more formidable opponent to those standing in the way of the march towards liberty and equality in Oklahoma.”
Reception attendees included Carter, Kiesel, Henderson, Newell, Nimmo, Shinn and Haley, board president Juanita Vasquez-Sykes, vice-president Mike Redman, treasurer Sheryl Lovelady, affirmative action officer Cassidy Fallik and board member Ed Romo. National board representative Lindsay Earls was unable to attend.
Henderson’s sweet family was present – wife Karina and a growing brood of boys.
Supporters present included Carter’s wife Karen (a school teacher and mother of six), Bob Lemon and his daughter Robyn Sellers, David Glover and Herb Eakers. The Journal Record’s Sara Terry Cobo, a rising star in Oklahoma journalism, covered the proceedings, as did this writer and The City Sentinel’s Reporter, Darla Shelden.
State Sen. Kyle Loveless, a conservative Republican from Oklahoma City who has worked with the group on asset forfeiture reforms, stopped by to congratulate Carter on his new gig.
In 2013, The Washington Post political blog, “The Fix,” named Scott one of the three best political reporters in Oklahoma, along with your humble servant and Michael McNutt, then capitol reporter for The Oklahoman, the state’s largest newspaper.
We three formed a rather interesting fraternity of too-rare diversity in the profession, each with an office in the Capitol press room.
As profitable journalism business models collapse nationwide, people like Carter and McNutt have moved into full-time advocacy roles, the former at a storied left-of-center group as director of investigative communications, the latter as a spokesman for Oklahoma’s conservative governor.
Things change, but I’m still in journalism – also working as a high school teacher for both the joy it brings me and steady compensation with decent benefits.
Back in the day, the three of us discussed (and occasionally cussed over) issues of the moment.
I miss daily interactions with them and others in the press room, but look forward to the future we will share with Oklahoma.
It affords some joy to anticipate that our trio might one day hold a reunion, lifting a glass or two at one of the worthy establishments along the Paseo, in the creative heart of a great city.
NOTE: McGuigan, a member of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, is editor of The City Sentinel newspaper, and founder of CapitolBeatOK.com, an online news organization.