Representative Scott Martin, (R-Norman) is the author of HB #1208 which would allow Oklahoma’s governor to ‘clean house’ when they are elected. Martin’s bill would allow the governor to appoint their own state board and commission members instead of inheriting the previous governor’s appointments. In other words, when a new governor is appointed, every citizen on a state board would be required to resign and the new governor would appoint someone who agrees with them philosophically.
“When the people vote for change, for a new governor, that change can be thwarted by board and commission members who aren't currently answerable to that governor,” Martin says. Martin’s bill is targeted at the State School Board, which is loaded with Democrats appointed by former Governor Brad Henry. The board has given newly elected Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi fits over personnel issues in recent meetings.
I understand the reasoning behind Martin’s bill and agree the actions of the current state school board have been very partisan and out of line, but moving to a rubber stamp board that blindly answers to the governor is a mistake. If a governor is allowed to load up partisans on a board, it takes away the very purpose of the boards and commissions- citizen oversight. These boards and commissions should not be a ‘rubber stamp’ for anyone. If that is what elected officials expect from private citizens they appoint to a board, then what is the purpose of even having citizen’s boards and commissions?
Senate Bill 435, by Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman, (R-Sapulpa), would change the state school board's makeup from private citizens appointed by the governor to include the governor and three statewide officials. Bingman’s solution is to dissolve the state school board and go back having a board made up of statewide elected officials. This makes more sense than Martin’s proposal, but what happens if the statewide elected officials are from different political parties or different philosophies? We would likely have the same conflict we have on the state school board today.
Another proposal SB # 622, by Sen. Cliff Aldridge, (R-Midwest City) would let the governor appoint four of the statewide offices that are now elective. Alridge wants to let the Guv appoint the state superintendent, treasurer, insurance commissioner and labor commissioner. The right of the citizens to vote on elected officials should never be taken away and that is what Aldridge’s proposal does.
The legal powers of governors vary from state to state. Some governors are strong while others are relatively weak. Nearly all have president-like powers to appoint top executive officials, propose legislation, and sign or veto bills passed by the legislature.
The disappointing thing about these bills is that it is doubtful they would be on the table if a liberal Democrat were governor. But since a Republican is there, some of the Rs mistakenly believe it is time to clear up an error by our founders in letting us elect so many statewide officials. Maybe Will Rogers was right when he said, “Democrats are the only reason to vote for Republicans.”
Oklahoma’s founding fathers used wisdom is giving the state a constitution that gives citizen voters the power to elect the heads of important state agencies. That power should not be taken away and given to the governor- no matter what their party affiliation.