Patrick B. McGuigan
The House Investigative Committee Report submitted September 16, represented the closing point of the panel’s deliberations.
The report combined strong criticism of actions allegedly taken by state Rep. Randy Terrill, an Oklahoma City Republican, during his work on a 2010 bill, with a decision not to punish the controversial legislator beyond a reprimand he faced early in the 2011 legislative session.
In the final report, the Committee noted Speaker of the House Kris Steele, a Shawnee Republican, established the panel with a mandate “to investigate whether [Rep. Terrill] had engaged in conduct that impaired his ability to perform his duties as a Member of the House or that substantially impaired public confidence in the Legislature.” The panel had authority “to recommend … whether the House should punish or expel the Member.”
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater opened an investigation into allegations that Terrill in 2010 sought to bribe former state Sen. Debbe Leftwich, a Democrat, assuring her of a state job if she would not seek reelection to her southside Oklahoma City seat. The state Supreme Court is presently considering whether legislators are exempt from prosecution for actions taken while performing their law-writing functions.
Terrill was reprimanded by the House this year for his alleged verbal attack on the House speaker in the presence of a House staffer. In an affidavit that was not available to members when they voted on the reprimand, Terrill was described as cursing the Speaker, and threatening to “break his other” leg.
The final report, signed by all eight members who served, commended Steele for forming the Special Investigative Committee.
The report affirmed, “Allegations of bribery in connection with the work of the House of Representatives go to the heart of the democratic process. It was incumbent upon the House of Representatives to explore and understand for itself the basis of such allegations, regardless of the pendency of the criminal action. Certainly, any private business, large or small, would examine for itself the facts surrounding alleged corruption within the company. Government should be no different.”
The group said in its final accounting it had “concluded it is appropriate for Committee proceedings to conclude with this Report.” Members of the panel said they could not predict “the outcome of the criminal charges now pending against the Member.”
The decision not to take further action against Terrill “should not be perceived as a finding no improper conduct occurred. Rather, the Committee’s decision is simply based on the fact it has accomplished its purpose of gathering the facts, and based on the information before it, deems the most appropriate forum in which to determine the truth of the allegations to be the criminal proceedings.”
The panel noted that Terrill “has not had an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses, nor did he choose to provide the Committee with evidence.” In sum, the committee said that unless Terrill’s conduct “constitutes a felony, expulsion is not an appropriate punishment.”
The narrative said members “met on several occasions to discuss the evidence. … Each of the Members indicated deep concern about the allegations, perhaps best summed up by one Member’s statement that if the allegations are true, and that is what politics is all about, ‘I don’t want anything to do with politics.’”
The panel’s narrative said that although Terrill’s expulsion was conceivable, constituents reelected him after allegations first arose last year. In Congress, the narrative observed, expulsion has only occurred in rare instances. And, “To the best of the Committee’s knowledge, neither legislative body in Oklahoma has ever expelled a Member.”
The narrative continued, “To be sure, the challenged conduct, assuming it happened, is egregiously reprehensible, and is certainly not something that occurs in the usual course of business at the Oklahoma House of Representatives. No Member of the Committee has previously witnessed or heard of similar conduct while serving in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. All Members of the Committee strongly disapprove of the challenged conduct.”
The panelists expressed a belief that “recent changes to the Rules of the Oklahoma House of Representatives should drastically reduce the opportunities for such conduct to occur and recommends that the Leadership and Members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives should closely monitor the results of the changes and, if necessary, make additional changes to inhibit abuse of the legislative process.”
Members expressed confidence that rules changes requiring transparency, and a 24-hour rule between conference committee report submissions and votes on the same, “together with some technological changes to the House of Representatives’ computer system, should dramatically reduce the opportunities for abuse of the legislative process, particularly at the end of a legislative session.”
The committee operated under the chairmanship of Rep. Fred Jordan of Jenks, Chairman and Rep. Ben Sherrer of Pryor Creek, Vice-Chairman. Members were Rep. Gary Banz of Midwest City, Rep. Doug Cox of Grove, Rep. Steve Kouplen of Beggs, Rep. Jeannie McDaniel of Tulsa, Rep. Purcy Walker of Elk City, and Rep. Harold Wright of Weatherford.
Jordan, Banz, Cox and Wright are Republicans. Sherrer, Kouplen, McDaniel and Walker are Democrats.
Chief counsel was Andy Lester, Chief Counsel; he was assisted by Carrie L. Vaughn, Counsel.