Saturday, September 2, 2023

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission used to be more crooked than a barrel of snakes!

 Weekly Opinion Editorial


by Steve Fair


     In 2024, Oklahoma voters will elect a Corporation Commissioner.  It is the only statewide race on the ’24 ballot.  The current Commissioner is Bob Anthony.  He is term limited and has served 35 years in the same office.  Anthony, 75, was elected in 1989.  He is the longest serving statewide elected official in the United States (not counting US Senators).  When Anthony took office in 1989, the commission was more crooked than a barrel of snakes.  The other two commissioners- both Democrats- voted in 1989 for a plan by Southwestern Bell- now AT&T Oklahoma- to reinvest a tax windfall in operations instead of refunding the money back to customers.  Anthony was the lone no vote.  Anthony cooperated with an FBI investigation and ‘wore a wire,’ which means he knowingly recorded conversations he had with an AT&T lobbyist. 

     Anthony’s cooperation with the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office led to a 1994 bribery case against fellow Corporation Commissioner Bob Hopkins.  Hopkins was convicted for taking $15,000 cash from a former Southwestern Bell Telephone lawyer for his vote in 1989.  The attorney/bagman, William Anderson was also convicted.  Both were sentenced to federal prison.

     For his cooperation in the investigation Anthony was awarded the Louis E. Peters Memorial Service Award in 1995 by FBI Director Louis Freeh. It is the highest civilian award given to a private citizen by the Bureau. Three observations: 

     First, Oklahoma taxpayers owe Bob Anthony a sincere debt of gratitude.  Commissioner Anthony is an honest and courageous man.  His sense of honor and integrity is to be commended.  He took his oath of office seriously and has been the rate payer’s watchdog in his time on the commission.  No one can doubt or question Bob Anthony’s honesty. 

     Second, Bob Anthony doesn’t work and play well with others.  He has been at odds with his fellow commissioners- both Republicans and Democrats- throughout his 30 plus years on the commission.  Most often it is because of their reluctance to revisit the 1989 SW Bell decision.  Anthony contends the vote should be revisited because Hopkins was bribed and therefore the vote is illegitimate.  Anthony claims AT&T has overcharged Oklahomans $16 billion the last 30 years. 

     Anthony’s most aggressive effort to revisit the ’89 vote was in 2016, after a group of private citizens sued the state, claiming bribed votes should not be binding.  Then AG Scott Pruitt ruled revisiting the decision was not in the best interest of AT&T ratepayers and the Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed with him. 

     Anthony’s disagreement with his fellow commissions isn’t just about the 1989 AT&T vote. Earlier this year, Anthony filed a 180-page dissent opposing his fellow commissioners-both Republicans- for granting rate increases for the state’s three largest utility providers, saying the increases were, “rotting from a putrid core of greed, public corruption and regulatory capture.”  The other two commissioners contend the rate hikes were justified and disagree with Anthony’s viewpoint. 

     Anthony’s stubbornness and persistence has created hard feelings with other commissioners during his tenure on the commission.  Because of it, he has had to survive a couple of close re-election campaigns with his fellow commissioners campaigning for his opponent. 

     Third, Bob Anthony will be hard to replace, but not impossible.  He is not the only honest person in Oklahoma.  But few have Bob’s tenacious, unshakeable resolve. 

     Thankfully, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission is not the den of corruption it once was.  When January 2025 comes around and Bob Anthony leaves the Corporation Commission, Oklahoma rate payers will have lost a dependable, reliable guard dog on the commission.  His replacement has big shoes to fill.  He has been a good steward of Oklahoma taxpayer/ratepayer’s money.

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