Oklahoma's Ethical Hiatus

Oklahoma’s Ethical Hiatus - May 13, 2018

State Representative David Perryman

In the 1960’s sitcom “Green Acres”, Sam Drucker’s General Store served as the social and commercial center of Hooterville and like most general stores across rural Americana in the first half of the last century it sold groceries, hardware, dry goods, household items and feed for livestock and chickens. At Drucker’s, patrons found a place to come in and visit, play checkers or rant and rave about community issues.

On election day, the store served as the polling place and year round, the store housed the Hooterville Post Office, operated by…, you guessed it, Postmaster Sam Drucker.

In addition to being the town merchant and postmaster, Sam Drucker served as Hooterville’s Constable, Justice of the Peace, Superintendent of Schools and Banker all the while operating (as editor, publisher and sole reporter) the Hooterville World-Guardian, Hooterville’s weekly newspaper.

Sam Drucker wore many hats….literally, because he took great pride in pulling out from under the counter whatever type of hat he needed to clearly distinguish the type of work that he was doing at any given time.

 While most Hooterville residents appreciated the many services that Sam Drucker provided, periodically issues did arise. When faced with a violation of a traffic law or building code, frustration arose when the violator learned that the Constable who issued the citation would simply “change hats” to serve as the Justice of the Peace and determine guilt or innocence. The conflict of interest became patently obvious when a portion of the fine went into the pocket of the J.P.

Surprisingly, it was not until the 1980’s that appellate courts in Oklahoma ruled that a municipal judge who determines guilt and innocence and sets the amount of the fine should be barred from receiving a salary based on the amount of the fines collected.

However, after the 1992 passage of State Question 640 which established the 75% threshold for the legislature to raise taxes, the legislature delved into the same type of practice. According to a 2015 joint report by KGOU and Oklahoma Watch, during the two decades after the passage of State Question 640, the Oklahoma legislature forced the court system as well as a number of various regulatory agencies to exist using the fines and fees that the agency collects.

As a result fines and fees skyrocketed. According to a District Judge quoted in the article, the legislature’s unwillingness to increase taxes resulted in the funding of Oklahoma Courts to go from more than half in appropriations to just over 10% with fines and fees making up the other 90%.

One area of similar concern involves the Oklahoma Ethics Commission. Since its formation in 1990, the Ethics Commission has attempted to fulfill its Constitutional mandate of collecting and making available to the public, information about campaign contributions and generally promoting transparency in government. This session, the Commission drew the ire of certain influential members of the State Legislature.

Certain legislators did not care for the public to have ready access to information about gifts, meals and gratuity received by elected officials, but when the Commission adopted a rule to bar legislators from the frequent practice of accepting financially lucrative jobs as lobbyists for two years after leaving office the legislature used its purse strings to retaliate.

In response, the legislature gutted the rule and made a legislative appropriation to the Ethics Commission of exactly ZERO. It appears that there are only two possible results. Either the Commission will not be able to effectively function in its duty to regulate lawmakers and the money that lobbyists shovel toward them OR the Oklahoma Ethics Commission will sue the legislature for failing to properly fund the agency.

The theme song of the sitcom was “Green Acres is the place to be. Farm Living is the life for me. Land spreadin’ out so far and wide. Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.”  The legislature’s defunding of the Ethics Commission will make it impossible for citizens to know how much “green” legislators receive from those who seek access and favors.

Questions or comments please call or write, 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.