Sunday, April 2, 2017
Let the bragging and chest pounding begin!
Weekly Opinion Editorial
THE EXPANSION OF THE ROLE OF GOVERNOR!
by Steve Fair
In 2018, six of Oklahoma’s statewide elected officials will term out. The offices of Governor, Lt. Governor, State Auditor & Inspector, Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner, and one Corporation Commission seat will be up for grabs because Oklahomans approved a two term limit on those offices. At least three of the six that are termed out in one office will likely seek another office.
The race for Governor appears to be the one that is drawing the most attention. Gary Richardson, a Tulsa area attorney, who ran in 2002 as an Independent, played spoiler that year and got enough votes to throw the race to Democrat Brad Henry. Henry won over Richardson and Steve Largen, the GOP nominee, with less than 50% of the vote. This time around, Richardson is running as a Republican. His challenge will be explaining to GOP primary voters how he is now a loyal Republican after helping get Henry elected. It’s a cinch that Lt. Governor Todd Lamb will run. Lamb is popular with the Republican base, has raised lots of money, and is more fiscally conservative than the current Governor. Gary Jones, State Auditor & Inspector, has indicated he has formed an exploratory committee to decide if he will run for Governor. Jones, the former State GOP Chair, won the Auditor’s job with grassroots support. In a large field, Jones would be formidable. His supporters are loyal, understand the political process and can get the vote out. There are rumors of other candidates looking at the GOP nomination who can self-fund, but at this point, none have declared publically. It is a little early- filing isn’t for another year.
The office of Governor in Oklahoma was created weak when compared to the office in other states. Part of that is because of there were abuses by Territorial Governors in the state’s history, the writers of the State Constitution tried to restrict and limit the power of the office. It wasn’t until 1966 that an Oklahoma Governor could immediately succeed themselves. The reason Oklahoma directly elects so many statewide elected officials as Oklahoma is because the founders’ feared corruption and their fears were well founded. The Oklahoma legislature impeached two early Governors for corruption.
Through the years, the office of Oklahoma Governor has gained power, primarily by persuading the legislature to cooperate to circumvent those eleven constitutional offices. A prime example is the Oklahoma Office of State Finance. For years its role was to help the Governor develop the annual state budget, which was then presented to the legislature, but the Governor persuaded lawmakers to exponentially expand their role, usurping the roles of constitutionally created offices- in particular the office of State Auditor & Inspector. The head of the Office of State Finance is appointed by the Governor, accountable to no one but the Governor.
Slowly and methodically, Oklahoma’s Governors- Republican and Democrat- have restructured the role of the office of Governor. With the legislature’s help, they have expanded the Governor’s power. Most of the largest state agencies are now headed by appointees of the Governor, not by elected officials. Much of this happened right under the nose of unsuspecting Oklahomans and without a vote of the people.
Every candidate for Governor in 2018 should be asked if they will respect the state constitution and not seek to expand the duties of Governor without a vote of the people? We already have too many ‘appointed’ heads of state agencies. Will the candidate reduce or expand the footprint of Oklahoma government? Those are fundamental questions.
The majority of voters base their vote on personality-likability, or some complicated scientific formula like how many yard signs they pass on the way to the voting site. But sometimes the candidate who is not as politically savvy, who is abrasive, candid and insulting wins. A classic example is Donald Trump. The reason Trump won was because people are fed up with the status quo. It wasn’t his late night tweets or posts on social media about how great he is that got their vote. They wanted someone to change things. That same dynamic is true in Oklahoma. The candidate who has a definite, logical plan to address Oklahoma’s problems and who can execute that plan will get the Republican nomination.