In the 1970s, a popular television show was The Dukes of Hazard. In every episode, Bo and Luke Duke battled the local political boss- appropriately named Boss Hogg. It was not your classic case of good vs. evil, because sometimes the Duke boys bent the law a little to suit their taste, but fundamentally they were the good guys. Boss Hogg had his dirty work done by Roscoe the dim-witted sheriff and Cletus, the Deputy. Roscoe never worried about re-election so long as the Boss was happy. The Boss reigned sovereign in Hazard County! It was good entertainment because we knew that in every episode, the Dukes would win out over Boss Hogg. It wasn’t set in Oklahoma because in the Sooner state unfortunately, the good guys don’t always win.
For decades when one thought of sleazy, backroom politics in Oklahoma, Gene Stipe instantly came to mind. Stipe was at one time the longest serving elected official in America. Serving over 50 years in the Oklahoma state legislature, he was the poster boy for term limits. During his reign, Stipe abused his office as State Senator by using his power to build what can only be described as an empire in Southeast Oklahoma. Senator Stipe was so notorious that he earned the nickname “The Prince of Darkness”- a real-life Boss Hogg.
It seems the Prince has left his mark on many associates and partners that will perpetuate the Good Ole Boy network for decades to come in Oklahoma. Stipe followers have watched their idol rule over the State in a way that only a mafia boss could appreciate. The good Senator manipulated and abused the system so effectively that his personal wealth is estimated to be over 26 million dollars.
Many Oklahomans were hopeful that the day of Good Ole Boy politics in Oklahoma had come to an end when Stipe was forced to resign in shame. He pled guilty of violating federal campaign laws by illegally funneling $50,000 into Walt Roberts failed Congressional campaign, but it appears he hasn’t learned his lesson yet.
Now, one of Stipe’s minions, Steve Phipps along with the former Senator are being investigated for what appears to be a scam to open a dog food plant in McAlester. The plant, which was financed by state and city tax dollars, has not produced a single can or bag of dog food. It has not created the 25 jobs that were promised. However: the facility has been utilized to service Indian gaming machines. Phipps owns a business that provides that service to the tribes and he evidently, is using the facility to work on one arm bandits, but not to make pet food.
Who is Steve Phipps? His nickname is “Big Daddy.” It seems that the dog food factory isn’t the only connection Big Daddy has to the Prince. Phipps and Stipe are partners in abstract companies across Southeast Oklahoma. Anyone selling or refinancing property in Oklahoma are required to have titles brought up to date within a 90 day period. Abstract companies are the only place to get that done in the state. In many counties, Phipps and Stipe own the only abstract office in town. To add insult to injury, abstractors set their own rates. What an industry-to have customers that have to do business with you- on your terms- at your price?
One has to ask how such a system could be allowed to exist in Oklahoma? Who is responsible for watching the abstractors? That responsibility falls to the Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector. The author of the bill that gave the Auditor’s office that job? That’s right- Senator Gene Stipe.
The Bellamy Brothers sang, What you need is a Sugar Daddy. It looks like Jeff McMahan has found one- maybe two. Now we learn that Big Daddy, The Prince and many of their employees and associates contributed to the 2002 campaign war chest of State Auditor Jeff McMahan. When asked about the contributions McMahan stated that he would take any “legal campaign contribution.” He went on to say that anyone contributing to him was doing so because they “believed in good government.” The average Oklahoma taxpayer’s idea of good government and Phipps’ and Stipe’s idea might be a much different. To accept campaign contributions from any and everyone shows a serious lack of judgment on McMahan’s part.
Who says that contributing to campaigns doesn’t pay dividends? It has paid excellent dividends for Phipps and Stipe. McMahan has refused to audit the Private Economic Authority that gave the money to Phipps to build the phantom pet food plant. The land the authority gave to Phipps was purchased from Gene Stipe at more than 2 ½ times the assessed value. This whole multi-pronged transaction doesn’t pass the “smell” test.
And when Steve Phipps-aka- Big Daddy- feels the need to meet with someone at the State Capital to try to get laws passed, who does he call?. He calls his good buddy Jeff McMahan. Evidently, Steve Phipps has used the State Auditor’s office to meet with legislators and others on numerous occasions while trying to influence legislation. He may have gotten some wording inserted into a bill that gave him a competitive advantage to produce Indian Gaming machines. As private citizens and taxpayers, we may not be able to do much about Stipe and Phipps and their shady dealings. That will be left to the investigators and prosecutors, but McMahan is another matter. His ties to Stipe and Phipps are troubling. We need to change our image in Oklahoma. McMahan is up for re-election in 2006 and we need to McFIRE him.