Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Central Oklahoma Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, held the 2017 Labor & Friends banquet on Thursday (April 20) at The Centre on N.W. 50.
Tim O’Connor, president of the federation and a member of OPEIU Local 277 and AFM Local 375-703, presided over the gathering.
Introducing keynote speaker David Walters, O’Connor said the former chief executive of Oklahoma was “the best one in my in my lifetime.”
Former Governor Walters then delivered a strong denunciation of the Republican Party, nationally and locally.
Walters listed deficiencies of President Donald Trump, including a recent congratulatory phone call to Turkish strong-arm ruler President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (who earlier this month won a national referendum weaking democratic norms in the constitution). After catalogueing other objections to the Republican president, Walters jokingly asked the audience, “Is anyone else here obsessed with Trump?”
Concerning voting patterns in the Sooner State, Walters walked the audience through a series of steps that lead, he said, to only 10 percent of eligible voters deciding on state political leadership — and that some of those deciding key elections are “our nuttiest adults.”
He blamed state Republicans for poor management of public education, government finance, health care and other government priorities. He criticized oil and gas leaders for having “the audacity” to lobby for low taxes on their industry.
Walters ended on a hopeful note, including a contention that with renewed voter registration drives, the situation can improve, from the Labor and Democratic perspective.
Early in his remarks, Walters related stories of his 1986 campaign for governor, in which he ran as a supporter of the right-to-work. Although he gained the nomination, defeating Attorney General Mike Turpen, he remembered winning the party nod, only to “get my ass kicked by Henry Bellmon” in the general election.
Walters said he was “educated” by union members, and came to believe his initial position on right-to-work was wrong. He shifted to organized labor’s side of the debate before his second run for the state’s top job, in 1990. In that latter campaign, Walters defeated Republican Bill Price.
Walters pointed to House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City (who was in the audience) and noted he was the second official candidate for the party gubernatorial nomination, noting the previously announced candidacy of former state Sen. Connie Johnson of Oklahoma City. Walters also gave a shout-out to former Attorney General Drew Edmondson, also at the labor gathering and frequently mentioned as a possible candidate, saying among those three the party will have a good standard-bearer, in the end.
Several awards were presented at the Labor & Friends event. Audra Breann Akerman, granddaughter of long-time union man Carlen Leon Green, was named recipient of a $1,000 scholarship for upcoming college studies. Akerman, a senior at Purcell High School, plans to study clinical psychology at the University of Oklahoma.
Lois Williams was designated the federation’s volunteer of the year. In a brief and light-hearted address, the former airlines union president shared her passion for activism. Her recent activities have included “days and days” of help for the recent city council campaign of former state Rep. Richard Morrissette.
The volunteer award is named for the late Keith Leftwich, a state senator from Oklahoma City.
The “Whitey” Sneed and “Bob” Spinks humanitarian volunteer award was shared, for 2017, by President O’Connor and Perry Sneed, a retired worker who belongs to the Sheet Metal Workers Union.
The two men were hailed for a broad range of philanthropic activity, including their work as members of the United Way of Central Oklahoma Board of Directors.
State Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, was honored as the 2017 “Friend of Labor.” Floyd spoke admiringly of the many fellow legislative Democrats in attendance, saying she wanted to share credit for the impact of her work with them.
Many speakers honored the memory of two recently deceased friends of labor – attorney and philanthropist Robert D. Lemon and Oklahoma Observer founder Frosty Troy. Lemon’s daughter, Robyn, and Troy’s successor, journalist Arnold Hamilton, were both present for the celebration.
In addition to Sen. Floyd and House Minority Leader Inman, legislators present included Democratic state Rep. David Perryman of Chickasha, and Oklahoma City Reps. Cyndi Munson, Mickey Dollens, George Young, Shane Stone, Forrest Bennett and Collin Walke.
Oklahoma City Ward 2 Council Member Ed Shadid was also present.
Roy Gordon, treasurer of the Central Oklahoma Labor Federation, led the pledge of allegiance at the start of the evening, and teacher Lynn Green delivered an invocation. As has been traditional at the event, Lee Graham joined President O’Connor to lead a rousing chorus of the trade unionists’ anthem, “Solidarity Forever,” to close the evening.
Sponsors for the banquet included several union locals – AFGE, AFL, IAFF, IBEW, IOUE, SMART, Teamsters, UFCW and UAW – as well as American Income Insurance, Joseph C. Biscone, II, Drew & Linda Edmondson, Lawter and Associates, the Building and Construction Trades Council, the state Democratic Party, the Oklahoma Observer newspaper, and the Bob & Mary Lou Lemon Family.