Editor’s Notebook: Gen. Franks delivers, Speaker Shannon looks at judges, a Fallin veto

OKLAHOMA CITY – From an editor’s notebook: Gen Tommy Franks gives back, House Speaker T.W. Shannon wants an interim study of the judiciary, and another veto from Gov. Mary Fallin. 

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Retired Gen. Tommy Franks, USA, has coordinated a successful campaign to raise money from rural and small town residents in southwest Oklahoma to benefit “Oklahoma Strong,” the joint effort between Gov. Mary Fallin and the United Way of Central Oklahoma.

The $35,000 gift came from Gen. Franks and his Youth Leadership Institute – from money raised over Memorial Day weekend in Hobart at the Celebration of Freedom. Warren Martin, Gen. Franks’ aide, made the presentation to Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb.

Lamb’s office explained, “General Franks chose to donate the money to Gov. Fallin’s Oklahoma Strong Fund to help long-term problems of the May tornadoes.”

Lamb, in comments at a Blue Room meeting this week (June 4), told CapitolBeatOK, “Gen. Tommy Franks is an American hero, and an Oklahoma icon. After all his achievements and the things he accomplished on the national and world stage, we are glad Gen. Franks came home to Hobart and to Oklahoma. That’s who he is. Gen. Franks chose Oklahoma, and actions like this contribution demonstrate the values and principles that have made him the leader that he is.

“I’m pleased to accept this contribution on behalf of Gov. Mary Fallin, who couldn’t be here. This contribution will be put to immediate good use.”

Warren Martin, who runs Franks’ programs, said the money was intended both for Moore residents and others impacted by the wave of storms in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area in May. He said, “We are dedicated to investing in Oklahoma, and in the values that make Oklahoma strong.”

The gift resulted from Hobart’s May 24-27 Celebration of Freedom. A silent auction and other fundraising activities procured the money.

Gen. Rita Aragon, USAF (ret.) – affectionately dubbed “the little general” for her diminutive stature – visited with Martin and Lt. Gov. Lamb before Martin presented Frank’s donation. Aragon serves as Secretary of Veterans Affairs in Gov. Mary Fallin’s cabinet. A former schoolteacher, she was the first woman in history to achieve the rank of brigadier general in the U.S. Air National Guard.

Aragon told CapitolBeatOK that a group of U.S. military veterans now incarcerated in a state prison took the initiative to make an Afghan blanket, which they donated to be auctioned at the Celebration. Proceeds from that effort were included in the money given to Oklahoma Strong.

Now in retirement, Gen. Franks and his wife, Cathryn, divide their time living in Tampa, Florida, and on their ranch in Roosevelt, Oklahoma. After he left the U.S. Army, Gen. Franks founded a museum in his hometown of Hobart. The museum organizes an annual Four Star Leadership development program for young Oklahomans.

Franks’ lengthy military service stretched from the Vietnam War era to the Second Gulf War. He led the combined U.S. Central Command as commander-in-chief in both Operating Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq). His autobiography, “American Soldier” was a New York Times bestseller.

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Friday (June 7), Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, announced plans for an interim study to focus on reforming the state judicial process. While he did not say so, the announcement was probably triggered by a 7-2 state Supreme Court decision striking down the lawsuit reform (i.e. tort reform) legislation passed in 2011. 

The justices slammed down the law (enacted as House Bill 2128) for violating the “single subject” rule – a recurring matter of tension between the Legislature and the state High Court in recent years. 

In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, Shannon said the study will be conducted held this fall, and commented: 

“As lawmakers, it is essential that we monitor the processes of government and ensure a balance of power among the three branches. This study will be a healthy evaluation of our judicial process to make sure we are properly serving the public and correctly enforcing the will of the people.

“The Forefathers created a system of checks and balances. We must make sure that system is not completely controlled by a powerful handful of activists.” Shannon said judicial term limits should be considered for Oklahoma. 

Oklahoma City attorney Jerry Fent, a frequent critic of the Legislature for “logrolling” (putting more than one discrete issue into legislation) is challenging the recently enacted “apportionment” legislation for a .25 percent personal income tax (albeit not in effect until 2015) which also authorized infrastructure improvements to the state Capitol. 

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Gov. Fallin has vetoed Senate Bill 954, a measure crafted by state Sen. Ron Justice, R-Chickasha, and Rep. Mike Jackson, R-Enid, the speaker pro tempore. 

The vetoed legislation would have provided money for county assessors to improve their auditing techniques. The bill also shifted some support and maintenance functions from the Tax Commission to the Oklahoma State University center for local government technology.

Fallin insisted she supports technology upgrades for county assessors, but objected to the bill because it “spends too little on those upgrades and too much on other areas of government.”

In her veto message, sent to CapitolBeatOK, the chief executive said her administration “supports pursuing improvements in the process by which county assessors value real property” and other projects for which assessors sought more resources. 

Fallin said “As chair of the State Board of Equalization, I am committed to working with the Legislature and county assessors during the interim to create a responsible, fiscally sound policy that supports our assessors.” 

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.