Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – Gary Richardson, the former U.S. Attorney in Tulsa who in 2002 ran for governor of Oklahoma as an independent, is running this time as a Republican.
He says he believes the GOP base is ready for a change agent, and that he is the agent.
Asked to give a general answer to the question – what will be your first action or actions as governor? – he gave a specific response.
In an interview with The City Sentinel, Richardson said: “I will request four forensic audits: 1. The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, 2. the Grand River Dam Authority, 3. The state education system, and 4. The prison system.”
He continued, “The purpose here is not for purposes of punishment, but for understanding when and how we got into the mess we’re in. It’s to provide a diagnosis of the problem, and the steps that need to be taken to turn our state around. Whoever gets hit in audits like that, gets hit.”
So, the next question was: Why him and not one of the others seeking the GOP nod, each of whom is considered a conservative (more or less)?
Richardson answered: “I think in order to hire someone for a job, you need to look at history. If you look back at [the late Democratic state Sen.] Gene Stipe, he had never lost in the U.S. Eastern District of Oklahoma until the County Commissioners’ scandal. Then, of 14 cases where I went up against him, we won 13 out of those cases. There are other areas of my work in the law I point do. The largest judgment in history winning a defamation case. And, My success in insurance sales. When I’m assigned to a job I will get it done.”
Then, your humble servant asked if he faces a critical legacy from his Independent campaign in 2002.
Richardson laughed briefly, saying, “I’ve never really heard it called a legacy before. I remember a meeting just a few months ago, where I spoke to 300 people. I asked how many remembered I had run as an independent in 2002. Only 30 raised their hands. I asked how many remembered I’d said the turnpike is a scam. None remembered that.”
Then, concerning a controversial turnpike in eastern Oklahoma County, he continued, “I asked how many of them believed today that the turnpike is a scam. They went wild agreeing with me. That’s the legacy. Now, when the turnpike issue is mentioned, my name comes up. If I become governor, there will be a huge change.
“Turnpikes are an issue. The Turnpike Authority is not even really a state agency. We’ve never had a governor willing to do an independent audit of them. We can’t find out who actually holds the bonds. My understanding is that there may be foreign countries.
“The negative I get from the 2002 campaign is that I’m blamed for electing Brad Henry. The one man I haven’t heard say that is Steve Largent [the Tulsa Republican who was the party nominee that year].”
Richardson said he believes, “Steve knows he screwed it up himself.”
Wrapping up, Richardson was asked what lessons he had learned from that County Commissioners scandal, the most successful attack on corruption in the modern history of the state, although it was guided by federal prosecutors like he was at the time and not by state officials.
He replied, “If you don’t put limits and guidelines on individuals who are holding other people’s money – I don’t care how good you think somebody is — you put yourself in a position for scandal. I may have been born at night, but it wasn’t last night.”
He concluded with another chuckle, adding, “I can smell corruption and I will fight it.”