Patrick B. McGuigan
The top five news stories in Oklahoma government and policy were outlined in a December 31 story, which is commended to the attention of readers.
The University of Oklahoma somehow became, over the past years, a “Black Hole” for journalists and citizens wanting to monitor how tax dollars are spent. This is CapitolBeatOK’s sixth most significant story about the government of Oklahoma in 2019.
The “black hole” designation comes from Freedom of Information (FOI) Oklahoma, frustrated with the Board of Regents for events surrounding (and lack of information about) the departures of long-time President David Boren and his first successor, James L. Gallogly.
For its own reasons, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) grew increasingly frustrated with the Open Records office at OU. Mike Brake, a veteran journalist, is in stages sharing that story with avid readers.
At least in terms of government openness, The City Sentinel newspaper and CapitolBeatOK can relate to both FOI and OCPA.
From September 17, 2018 (Constitution Day) to November 4, 2019 (Will Rogers Birthday), we waited for the Open Records office to provide information about academics who used the University email system and state government time to engage in political activism.
A review of 635 records over recent weeks brought into the open a story of a triad of activist professors utilizing state resources, particularly their university emails, for non-state business. Resources were leveraged to influence students, the community and the city of Norman in a political direction the professors preferred.
Developing strategy to impact City Council votes, attack business people and volunteers, criticism of meetings held at a non-profit, coordination of a forum to advance personal agenda, planting negative stories about opposing voices, contacting the local D.A. to allege wrongdoing by others, coordinating student activity in a way more reminiscent of running a campaign office than offering traditional learning.
Your tax dollars at work?
Or taxpayer-financed advantage to one faction in a dispute with (at least) two sides in play?
James Lankford, the man and the politician, is the seventh top news story of 2019 for CapitolBeatOK.
Since his first run for political office, the former church camp director has always outperformed expectations. In the House, he was thoughtful and hard-working.
In the Senate, Lankford has become a leader for conservatism of the best kind, and for openness to those with differing views, in the Reagan tradition. He does not play by the Washington rules, or even most of the “rules” in the contemporary world of politics and policy.
In a recent appearance on national television, Sen. Lankford stated the obvious: President Donald Trump does many things on the policy front that conservatives (and some others) can applaud, but he is not a role model for children.
What Lankford said is so plainly accurate that it should be understood for what it is: Truth-telling.
Trump is the president, and many of his policy priorities match those of Lankford.
What the state’s junior member of the Senate said is not an endorsement of the policy or other preferences of many of Trump’s greatest political enemies. Nonetheless, stating the obvious can be, in some eras, an act of courage.
Lankford is a good citizen, an effective politician, and an excellent Senator. His steady performance is one of the top news stories in current Oklahoma politics.
Developments in Indian Country beyond the widely-noted dispute over gaming compacts between the governor and leaders of the 32 gaming tribes constitute the eighth top state story for 2019.
Some time soon, the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal will take a fresh look at the clash of a Native American David (the Comanche Nation) against a Goliath (the Chickasaw Nation). Their dispute centers around a dubious grant of land to the Chickasaw (without notice to the Comanche) for gaming purposes along the Red River.
As has been the case often with large tribes, the Chickasaw have operated at the site without having to be concerned over environmental protections.
Further, the Comanche asserted in recent filings, sacred lands where their forebears wandered before the 1850s include likely burial grounds. That is an old and distressing story, to informed observers of Native American politics, but one where the smaller tribe might finally garner the sympathetic ear of the right federal authorities.
Once upon a time, it seemed likely that an old murder case (Sharp v. Murphy) touching former Creek Reservation areas in northeast Oklahoma could trigger an existential crisis for Oklahoma. The online Indianz.com, which provides consistent coverage of Indian Country developments nationwide, has wondered if “half of Oklahoma is still Indian Country?” But even a dramatic decision turning over big chunks of land to the tribe would have had “only” regional implications, because the recusal of Justice Neil Gorsuch left justices in a perceived 4-4 tie.
Regardless of the outcome in Murphy, the implications of any decision in another case, “McGirt v. Oklahoma,” may be greater because Justice Gorsuch (not involved in earlier stages of the matter, as is the case with Murphy) is able to participate.
The McGirt case involves a Seminole Indian man serving time for sex crimes with a child, seeking re-disposition of his case into a tribal forum. The nation’s High Court has scheduled the McGirt case for consideration – in the current term. Gorsuch will take part in deliberations, and in the end a tie vote seems unlikely. And given his past reputation as one of the most knowledgeable American minds on legal policy and precedent in Native American jurisdictions, his words could be persuasive to other justices, regardless of their past holdings. Stay tuned, for news.
CapitolBeatOK’s ninth top story incorporates legal and political developments in the Medicaid Expansion controversy.
When a group called “Oklahoma Decides Healthcare” launched a constitutional ballot initiative petition, they were challenged in court before signature-gathering began. Opponents asserted the measure’s summary statement was unclear, and that costs for expansion were understated. Based on a 2018 state Supreme Court decision, foes thought they could stop petition circulation and make opponents go back to the drawing board.
Despite reservations from some justices, last summer the state Supreme Court sided with advocates of State Question 802, as it is now designated
A statewide petition-gathering process resulted in the largest number of signatures ever gathered on a citizen initiative (313,000) in Oklahoma U.S. Sen. James Lankford, a well-known budget hawk, says the measure, if successful, will force some tough choices “at 23rd and Lincoln.
The tenth top story of the year – U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn’s vote to impeach President Donald Trump – may be ranked too low, but time will tell.
Nine Republicans are vying for the opportunity to unseat Horn, who has established a somewhat moderate record in the evolving Fifth Congressional District (central Oklahoma).
Sketching our top five stories, they are: The Compact Quarrel between Gov. Kevin Stitt and leaders of the 32 gaming tribes, the death penalty and other criminal justice issues, the late-in-the-year tightening of state government revenues, the performance of Senate President Pro Temp Great Treat and his leadership team (including Stephanie Bice), and the statewide decline in professional journalism.
Still to come, worthy “nuggets” missed in the first two segments.
NOTE: An award-winning reporter, Pat McGuigan is a member of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame. He is the founder of CapitolBeatOK and the editor/publisher of The City Sentinel newspaper.