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News Briefs from the Capitol: Ladies take the lead, Republican legislators don’t like Biden, and other news

Patrick B. McGuigan

Some legislative ladies are in the news … a new set of eyes at the Juvenile Justice Board after a surprising departure … and other snippets from the Capitol news “beat” I have covered since 2009. … 

As had been widely speculated, state Senator Kim David, R-Porter, became the first candidate to announce for the State Corporation Commission job that Dana Murphy will vacate next year.

In the wake of broad achievement of conservative policy objectives at the 2021 regular session, David – the Senate Majority Leader – seems fit for the challenge. In her online announcement, she said, “For the past decade, I’ve fought to ensure Oklahomans have reliable, affordable energy and strong infrastructure. Serving on the Oklahoma Corporation Commission is the next step in continuing this important work while growing jobs and opportunities in our state.”

David shares the nearly-universal Republican disdain for the policy objectives and early performance of President Joe Biden: 

“As the Biden administration continues to put the squeeze on energy and utilities, the role of commissioner will take on even greater import. I think I have the right experience, knowledge and temperament to fight and win on behalf of all Oklahomans.”

Having worked in several aspects of business, including energy, Senator David might seem a natural to become Commissioner David. In her announcement release, she said, “I know how important low energy costs are to businesses and Oklahoma families alike. These are pocketbook issues that require strong, consistent, conservative leadership.”  (link to our earlier coverage if you wish)

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Although she does not normally sport feminine head-gear, state Representative Rhonda Baker, a Yukon Republican, has a new feather in her cap. 

She was recently elected vice chair of the Education Committee for the Southern Legislative Conference (SLC).

Baker said, in a statement, “What an honor to be elected by my national peers to be vice chair of this important committee. Oklahoma has made enormous strides in recent years in funding education and crafting reforms to help improve student outcomes. I look forward to sharing our work with other legislators and learning from their experience as well.”

(link to our recent coverage on CS website, if you wish)

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Melissa Provenzano, a Democratic state representative from Tulsa, was chosen an Oklahoma State Director for Women in Government (WIG). The group, based in the nation’s capital city, is a non-partisan non-profit for women in state legislatures. 

Rep. Provenzano said, “The mission of this organization can’t be understated. For most of our country’s history, the government has been a male-dominated arena. That is changing. We are beginning to see more parity. There is a lot of work left to do, but with organizations like Women in Government, I know we can get there.” 

link to our recent coverage on CS website, if you wish) 

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Donald Trump left office in January as perhaps the most controversial president in modern American history. 

As his successor, Joe Biden, reaches the six-month mark in tenure, he’s got his own set of problems and controversies. Republicans seem as unhappy with Biden as Democrats were with Trump.

At the state Capitol, Representative Jay Steagall of Yukon is among Biden’s most prolific Oklahoma critics, and no wonder – he runs the recently-created State’s Rights Committee for the State House.

From that perspective, Rep. Steagall didn’t like it one bit when White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, outlining steps her boss was taking to combat the COVID variant surge, said early this month the administration would, among other things, pursue “targeted, community-by-community, door-to-door outreach to get remaining Americans vaccinated by ensuring they have the information they need on how both safe and accessible the vaccine is.”

Rep. Steagall and other Republicans also blasted Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra when he said, on July 8, that it is “absolutely the government’s business” to know which Americans have not taken the coronavirus vaccine. 

Steagall’s contention? “[T]hese types of actions and assertions from the federal government are not just overreaching, but violate multiple provisions of the U.S. Constitution. First, the enumerated powers delegated in Article I, Section 8; the right of the People to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects as found in the Fourth Amendment; as well as the vertical separation of powers prescribed in the Tenth Amendment.”

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Another Republican solon, Kevin West of Moore, took note when the powerful National Education Association said it would make “Critical Race Theory” tenets part of its nationwide agenda. 

West said, “When we ran legislation to prohibit the teaching of Critical Race Theory in Oklahoma public schools, we heard multiple allegations that this wasn’t a problem and this wasn’t being taught in our schools.

“Now we see that the largest teachers’ union in the nation, and the parent organization of the largest teachers’ union in the state, is pushing this harmful curriculum. This proves that Oklahoma Republican legislators were prudent to get in front of this issue and stop this increasing push to indoctrinate our children.”

Not long after Rep. West’s statement, the Oklahoma Board of Education decided (with only one dissenting vote) to develop rules to forbid the use of many of the CRT tenets in Oklahoma classrooms. In doing so, the Board emphasized that teachers would not get in trouble if they stick with the Oklahoma Academic Standards to fashion their curriculum. 

The Oklahoma Education Association issued a somewhat conciliatory statement after the Board’s vote, with Katherine Bishop, the group’s president, commenting: 

“We believe this should clear up some confusion and gives Oklahoma’s educators the confidence to continue teaching as they have been since the standards were adopted. We encourage the involvement of education professionals in the full rule-making process moving forward. 

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Every year, during the time between the close of one regular session and the early fall, legislators conduct “interim studies” on matters they deem unresolved of insufficiently considered in earlier deliberations. Under both Democrats (who used to run everything) and Republicans, who rule the roost these days, the Interim Studies generally follow the policy preferences of the majority party.

This year, to the surprise of long-time observers of state policy-making (i.e. old guys like me), Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, approved all 71 requests for Interim Studies this summer and fall. 

As a result, Democrats like Senators Kay Floyd and George Young of Oklahoma City will guide – working with Republican committee chairs, to be sure — studies on youth suicide and racial equity. 

For the lower chamber, Speaker McCall on Friday, July 23, decided to allow the vast majority of the Interim Study requests he received.

The majority of ideas submitted to him cleave to expected conservative goals, but several House Democrats, including state Representatives Ajay Pittman and Forrest Bennett of Oklahoma City, got approval for a study focused on high-speed police pursuits and other issues.

Watch for follow-ups on the many Interim Studies of broad interest to members of both parties in the Legislature, with a special emphasis on those in the Oklahoma City and Norman delegations working “Under the Dome” at N.W. 23 and Lincoln Blvd. 

Note: Adapted from a column first printed in the July 20 edition of Southwest Ledger, 7602 US Highway 277, Elgin, OK 73538, (580) 350-1111.

(L-R) Oklahoma State Representatives Rhonda Baker of Yukon, Marilyn Provenzano of Tulsa and Jay Steagall of Yukon.
Representatives Ajay Pittman and Forrest Bennett
Kim David, Oklahoma Senate Majority leader, is running for Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner