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In law and in life, forming a team sometimes requires tolerating differences and knowing essentials

The City Sentinel Editorial

According to a story by two seasoned reporters for The Oklahoman newspaper (‘Gov. Stitt considering his attorney general pick’) in the June 15 print edition, five names are reportedly on a “short list” for Governor Kevin’ Stitt’s interim appointment to the Attorney General’s job. Stitt’s appointment will fill out the remaining 18 months of the position held until June 1 by Mike Hunter, and probably seek the post in her or his own right next year.

Ryan Leonard and Timothy Downing seem strongest of the five listed names, but not the best possible choice, in part because of statewide electoral politics. (Please see below.)

Tricia Everest, a member of Stitt’s cabinet, has earned respect for willingness to serve, but would carry the “baggage”  – fair or not — of continued turmoil at the Oklahoma City jail.

Greg Mashburn, a district attorney, has opposed criminal justice reform, which disqualifies him absolutely in The City Sentinel’s view.

A.J. Ferate is a conservative who, however, has alienated some important conservatives during his years in Republican politics.

Which leads to the reflections below.

In her deft (and lengthy) study of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” American historian Doris Kearns Goodwin aptly summarized the ways in which the Great Emancipator, for all his faults, governed a fractious and divided (literally) nation with a stunning combination of tolerance and firmness.

That’s sort of where Oklahoma is right now. Divisions that count the most in terms of policy development are within the Republican Party, so Gov. Stitt probably needs to worry about those more than the aspirations of the Democrats.

Over time, the comparative partisan strength in Oklahoma might change. Nothing is inevitable in this world, and only a few things (natural laws) are carved in stone.

Bottom line: Healthy degrees of tension within a governing institution can be positive.

In tensions over the development of policy between the governor and the Legislature – most often manifested in his vetoes, but also in the Managed Care debate — the governor has been more often right, and the Legislature more often wrong. 

Now, as Oklahoma remains in an existential battle over its very existence as a state, it is important to understand what is involved – including what is essential, and what is not.

In the attorney general’s office, actual court room experience as a litigator seems as important as managerial style.

Former Attorney General Hunter so comprehensively mishandled his litigation duties touching Indian Country (in the case, the state’s Big Tribes) that a solid second argument (conducted over the Internet at the height of the Pandemic) in one essential case could not overcome the first, disastrously weak argument.

The rest is, unfortunately, Oklahoma’s recent history.

Both men who tried to keep Mike Hunter from continuing his appointed tenure as Attorney General in 2018 – Republican Gentner Drummond in the runoff and Democratic nominee Mark Myles in the general election –  were more experienced in courtrooms, and in the real-world challenge of working with others of divergent views, than was Mike Hunter.

The City Sentinel endorsed Drummond in the 2018 GOP primary and in the subsequent runoff, when he almost won. Then, this newspaper backed Myles in the general election. Both decisions were deeply informed about matters of public policy, legal experience and understanding the legal dynamic.

Endorsing Drummond in the 2022 election for attorney general last month, The City Sentinel newspaper reflected: “A patriot, Drummond is proud of the state he calls home, but he wants to make it better. The governor will soon name an interim to the post, as is his prerogative.”

With sincere respect, The City Sentinel exercises still-operative rights protected in this nation’s fundamental law.

Not ‘woke,’ we remain in awe as we cherish the constitutional design (as amended over time) that allows people of good will advocating sound and good public policy to contend with the opposition.

We encourage and petition the state’s chief executive to make his decision about an Attorney General appointment with every word of the foregoing narrative in mind.