The Best Government Contains Checks and Balances

The Best Government Contains Checks and Balances - March 10, 2019

State Representative David Perryman

In 1907 the People of the State of Oklahoma chose to establish a form of state government in which directors of agencies were chosen to run those agencies based on qualifications. To accomplish this task, agency board members were likewise appointed based on knowledge, experience and qualifications.

Like most early 20th Century Americans, Oklahomans did not trust partisan, oligarchical attitudes prevalent in the spoils systems of the era that favored rich and privileged patrons who flourished under those conditions. Consequently, most states moved toward longer ballots and states such as Oklahoma that came into being in that period had both long ballots and weak governors.

In the heavily Democratic Sooner State, Republican Territorial Governors who had been appointed by Republican Presidents were suspect, in large part because of interparty GOP strife brought on by scandals, most notably in 1901 during the controversy over the mental sanitarium at Norman under a contract with the territorial government. According to an article by Kenny Brown in the Oklahoma Historical Society Encyclopedia, several party members had shares in the company.

Mr. Brown reported that President Theodore Roosevelt dismissed Republican Governor William Jenkins for his suspected role, but then appointed a couple of other Republican Territorial Governors in quick succession, including one of whom was Frank Frantz, a long-time friend of the President who had also served as a Rough Rider under Roosevelt.

Fast forward 112 years and now a movement is underway to shift power to Oklahoma’s Governor. Proponents say that agency directors are not responsive to the Governor and consequently the Governor needs the statutory authority to appoint and remove board members without regard to their qualifications or expertise. Coupled with that power will be the power to appoint and remove agency directors transforming those positions into purely patronage at-will jobs serving at the pleasure of the Governor.

Last week HB2479 (Juvenile Affairs); HB2480 (Corrections); and HB2483 (Mental Health and Substance Abuse) were heard on the floor of the House of Representatives and passed by large margins along party lines. Last week also saw the passage of HB1201 amending the procedure for Agency Rules to be adopted.

Coming down the pike on the House calendar are bills having a similar impact on the Fire Marshall Commission (HB1108); Health Care Authority (HB2481); and Department of Transportation (HB2482). The Senate Calendar also contains measures of like intent.

Shifting the power to and from a chief executive is nothing new and is frequently attempted for partisan purposes. Partisan power shifts are directly contrary to the “Rule of Law” that both parties like to espouse. But alarmingly, that is exactly what is happening in a number of states. In December in Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker signed several bills that were passed by Wisconsin’s GOP-controlled legislature designed to cure the power of incoming Democratic governor Tony Evers. Likewise, in Michigan, in the wake of the election of Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer, Republicans took steps to shift power away from the new chief executive.

Last June, the Charlotte Observer reported that the Republican legislature in North Carolina was actively trying to remove statutory power and authority from Democratic Governor Roy Cooper. Fortunately, in North Carolina former governors, both Republican and Democratic are speaking out about the dangers of the blatant power grab. Who will speak out in Oklahoma?

Questions or comments call or write or 405-557-7401.

State Question 798 Proposed Running Mates

State Question 798 Proposed Running Mates - September 30, 2018

State Representative David Perryman

State Question 798 is likely the most straight-forward of the five state questions that will appear on the November 2018 ballot. It simply provides that if it passes, beginning in 2026 our Governor and Lieutenant Governor will be elected as running mates.

Many Oklahomans don’t realize that it is possible for these two offices to be held by members of different parties however that has occurred in four of the 11 elections held between 1962 and 2006. The state question does not resolve all issues however. The legislature will work out the specifics if State Question 798 passes, but the most likely scenarios would be:

A. The winner of the primary in each party’s gubernatorial race will be paired on the general election ballot with the winner of that party’s lieutenant gubernatorial race; OR

B. The winner of the primary in each party’s gubernatorial race would choose a running mate; OR

C. The candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor would file for office as a team.

One issue that could arise and would need to be legislatively resolved prior to the initial election (in the event the winners of the Governor and Lt. Governor primaries were paired) would be the scenario when a party does not field candidates in both the governor’s and the lieutenant governor’s races. Another scenario that would need to be addressed is how independent candidates would be paired up.

What the proponents of the state question hope to avoid are circumstances similar to what has occurred in the state of California. According to Louis Jacobson in a April 12, 2013 online article, in the late 1970’s Democratic Governor Jerry Brown was running for president and Republican Lt. Governor Mike Curb used Brown’s frequent absences to appoint judges. A few years later, Republican Governor Pete Wilson tried to throw Democratic Lt. Governor Gray Davis’ office out of the Capitol and even more recently, GOP Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger cut Democratic Lt. Governor John Garamendi’s office budget by two-thirds as a punishment for criticizing the governor’s cuts to state universities.

Of course all stress between Governors and Lt. Governors is not partisan. Online editor Patrick J. Kiger wrties that In the 1940’s when Republican future U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren was governor of California, he reportedly disliked Republican Lt. Governor Goodwin Knight so intensely that when Warren went on trips, he locked up legislation in his desk so that Knight couldn’t sign it.

Oklahomans have had direct elections of its Governor independent of its Lt. Governor for 111 years and has not yet experienced a constitutional crisis. Perhaps part of that is because no one in Oklahoma really knows what the Lt. Governor is supposed to do, including the Lt. Governor.

In fact, Oklahoma might be better served to instead vote on a state question to totally eliminate the $114,713 annual salaried (plus benefits) position. Five other states, Oregon, Arizona, Wyoming, New Hampshire and Maine have gotten along longer than 111 years without a Lt. Governor. We would also save hundreds of thousands by eliminating the need of the 24 hour OHP Security detail and the shiny black suburban.

If State Question 798 passes on November 6, 2022 may be the last time that Oklahomans select a Lt. Governor as a stand-alone office. Good or bad? You be the judge. Questions or comments, please call or write: 405-557-7401 or