Analysis: Politics beckons as legislative choices remain

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 12-Mar-2010

At the state Capitol in Oklahoma City, rancor and recriminations flowing from tough decisions made about 2010 budget cuts may fade soon, especially due to a slightly improved government tax revenue picture in the closing months of this fiscal cycle.

The January to March set of triggers for legislative tension may flow smoothly into the coming weeks, in the form of renewed stress from arguably even tough choices for the fiscal year 2011 cycle. For all that, further stirring the pot at 2300 North Lincoln Boulevard is the advance of the political season, impacting often the debate and consideration of substantive legislation in the balance of this legislative session. 

Tensions in the past two weeks between President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, a Republican, and Democratic Sen. Ken Corn are at least partially a “surrogate” battle in the anticipated general election battle for lieutenant governor between Corn and Sen. Todd Lamb, an Edmond Republican.

But analysts don’t count out state Rep. John Wright of Broken Arrow, who is also seeking the GOP nod for the number two job. The script for Corn vs. Lamb can’t be written yet.

With the announced departure of state Treasurer Scott Meacham, a Democrat, two credible Republicans have emerged in Edmond’s Ken Miller, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, and former state Sen. Owen Laughlin, who for 12 years represented most of Northwest Oklahoma at the Capitol. One newcomer to politics, Democrat Jon Robinson of Newcastle, is also in the race.

In the same week that Republican party national chairman Michael Steele came to Oklahoma City and long-time Democratic operative Ivan Holmes opened a new business aimed solely at impacting elections, the race to succeed U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin in the fifth district congressional seat got even more crowded.

State Rep. Shane Jett, a Tecumseh Republican, jumped into the race for Fallin’s seat, as her attention turns to her race for governor.

Mike McCarville, one of the Sooner State’s most seasoned and wise observers, observed this week that Jett’s leap came after several months of speculation. As McCarville reports, Rep. Jett, who is eventually obligated to fulfill a one-year obligation to the Naval Reserve, will either be in the military or in Congress come next year.

Jett enters a race with two credible “heavy weights” in conservative Republican circles, namely state Rep. Mike Thompson of Oklahoma City and former state Rep. Kevin Calvey of Del City. Also running are political newcomer James Lankford, Dr. Johnny Roy of Edmond (who impressed many observers of the 2006 congressional campaign) and Rick Flanigan of Bethany. So far, no Democrats have entered the 5th district race.

In the other congressional races, incumbents Tom Cole, Frank Lucas, John Sullivan and Dan Boren are each early favorites, but the only Democrat in Oklahoma’s delegation (Boren) has attracted several opponents already, and Sullivan is perennially considered at least potentially vulnerable.

In the U.S. Senate race, Tom Coburn is odds-on favorite for another term, and does not yet have an announced opponent.

With the departure of Schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett, a legendary Democratic vote-getter, a bruising race seems likely between Republican Janet Baressi, an Oklahoma City charter school innovator and founder, and state Sen. Susan Paddack, an Ada Democrat. Another Republican hopeful has jumped also into the fray, Enid school Superintendent Shawn Hime.

Former legislator Scott Pruitt of Broken Arrow, now a partner at the Oklahoma RedHawks baseball team, quietly entered the race for state Attorney General this week.

A McCarville Report online poll, while unscientific, this week gave a strong hint of how far Pruitt will have to go to challenge Oklahoma City attorney Ryan Leonard and state Sen. Clark Jolley of Edmond for the GOP nod.

Leonard had 71% support, to 24% for Pruitt and 5% for Jolley.

As for Democrats, Oklahoma City lawyer Jim Priest has announced his candidacy. The AG hopefuls want to replace incumbent Drew Edmondson, a Democrat, who is running for governor.

Speaking of the governor’ race, Roger Jackson of Oklahoma City, a retired businessman, is now in the Grand Old Party’s primary contest. He is the fourth Republican to jump in. Another businessman, Robert Hubbard of Yukon, is in the contest.

The best-known candidates are state Sen. Randy Brogdon of Owasso and Rep. Fallin.

Lt. Gov. Jari Askins is also seeking the Democratic nomination for the top job.

Down ballot a bit, three Republicans are contending for their party’s nomination to challenge incumbent Democrat Labor Commissioner Lloyd Fields. The GOP candidates are Jason Rees, an Oklahoma City lawyer, state Rep. Tad Jones of Claremore, and Oklahoma City businessman Mark Costello.

At the moment, state Auditor and Inspector Steve Burrage, a Democrat appointed by Governor Brad Henry to replace prison-bound Jeff McMahon, has no opponent in either party. Another Democrat, Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland, is well-positioned for another term at this early stage.

Corporation Commissioners Dana Murphy, elected in 2008 to finish out an unexpired term, faces a reelection campaign for a full six-year term this year. At this early stage she seems to have a clear path, but that could change.