Commentary: Roth’s confirmation to Election Board stalls in Oklahoma state Senate

Senator Sean Burrage, the Claremore Democrat who serves as Senate Minority Leader, has blasted a decision by the Senate Rules Committee to refuse consideration of Governor Mary Fallin’s nomination of former Corporation Commissioner Jim Roth to serve on the Election Board. 

Roth deserved a Senate vote, and it’s too bad he did not get it.

In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, Burrage said, “Today the people of Oklahoma have been done a tremendous disservice. A dedicated, intelligent and proven public servant was denied the courtesy of an up or down vote on his nomination by our Governor to serve on the State Election Board. The reason given was that he was too partisan. It seems unbelievable that anyone would have the nerve to say that when at the very same meeting a current Vice Chairman of the First District of the Republican Party was given approval.
“Our statutes allow for members of the Election Board to be registered and even active in a political party. I find it hard to believe his political registration is the issue here. The fact is the Governor was able to look at the man’s experience and qualifications and make her decision based on that. It is a shame and Oklahoma’s loss that the Senate Rules Committee would not do the same.”

The state’s largest newspaper, The Oklahoman, in a May 16 house editorial, supported an up-or-down vote on Roth’s nomination.

Rules Committee Chairman Rob Johnson, a Kingfisher Republican, says members are concerned about Roth’s nomination not because he is gay, but because they are not sure it is appropriate to put on the board a former statewide office holder who would “be in control in helping determine what candidates are and are not on the ballot, including his former opponents.” 

Roth, a Democrat, twice was elected an Oklahoma County Commissioner.
He was eventually appointed to the Corporation Commission, the constitutional state body that regulates utilities and other businesses, by former Governor Brad Henry. Roth lost a bid for statewide reelection in 2008, losing a competitive race to Republican Dana Murphy. 

When he served on the county commission, Roth often clashed with another member of the panel, Brent Rinehart.

In a 2009 interview, Roth said he appreciated the approach of Brian Maughan, the conservative Republican who defeated Rinehart in 2008. Maughan made a point of inviting all living present and former country officials to attend his swearing-in.  

In that interview, Roth reflected positively on his time in public office. With a range of opportunities to move out of state, Roth chose to stay in Oklahoma, where he built a “green home,” utilizing what he characterized as environmentally friendly construction plans, including passive solar collection.

During his career, Roth has established a record advocating such “green” energy approaches without, however, opposing Oklahoma’s heritage oil industry.

In that unsuccessful 2008 statewide reelection campaign, Roth lost statewide, but garnered 68 percent support in his home area, the historic Crown Heights neighborhood of Oklahoma City. 

It was in the Crown Heights context that this writer got to know Roth as more than a politician. My wife and I typically saw Roth at neighborhood gatherings, or when walking around Crown Heights in the evenings.

A decade ago, when my son Stefan went to fight for our country in the war on terror, Roth would frequently inquire as to his welfare. After his time in combat, Stefan nearly died in a terrible motorcycle accident. Roth and other neighbors provided tremendous support to our family during our son’s recovery. 

On more than one occasion, in the wake of destructive storms that hit our part of town, Roth and I and a few of the other men in Crown Heights worked together, clearing streets of broken branches, pushing cars that were having trouble getting traction during icy conditions, and doing other things neighbors do to help each other when bad weather strikes in Oklahoma. 

Mary Fallin nominated Roth, and in most cases chief executives deserve to have their nominees confirmed. If confirmed, Roth would have served dutifully in a post that, after all, has to be filled by a Democrat. 

While not sharing Jim Roth’s philosophy on some things, I learned long ago to respect him and appreciate his integrity. If I were a member of the Senate, I would support his confirmation.