Editor’s Notebook: No blathering allowed at Auditor’s debate, prescient thinking about water, practical curriculum, and “agency capture” in Oklahoma governance

From an editor’s notebook, a debate among three candidates seeking the Republican nomination for the state Auditor and Inspector’s job, an “old” commentary on water policy now seems the first draft of history, a reality-based curriculum for trades professionals, and an excellent study on needed reforms in governance of state agencies. 

A few readers took offense at my distillation of a legal case involving Charlie Prater, one of the three GOP candidates for Oklahoma auditor and inspector. Someone even said an analysis I wrote (https://capitolbeatok.worldsecuresystems.com/reports/analysis-in-sleeper-race-one-candidate-for-state-auditor-and-inspector-sued-for-default-on-business-) was mere “blathering.”
Nonetheless, as I sketched in that analysis, Prater is the odd man out in an Edmond lawsuit involving unpaid loans for a now-defunct venture. 
The story continues: Prater’s attorney was disqualified from the proceeding due to a conflict of interest. Last time I checked (Tuesday), he did not yet have a new lawyer. Briefs in the matter are due just before the June 26 primary.

Speaking of that primary, Prater – an Edmond businessman – will debate Cindy Byrd, presently the Assistant state Auditor and Inspector, and John Uzzo, who is getting some heat for being a Democrat until 2016, and whose eligibility for the job is a matter of dispute. The debate is set for Wednesday evening, June 20, 6:30 pm. at the Trolley Stop Record Shop, at 1212 N. Pennsylvania Avenue in Oklahoma City.  
In the midst of some confusion about his relationship to Oklahoma County David Prater, I asked the county’s highest ranking elected Democratic official (David) if he and Charlie were kin. I asked him to respond “for the record.” The D.A., a man not known for frequent outbursts of humor (and who rarely blathers), replied, “For the record. I’ve never met him. I couldn’t ID him in a one person lineup.”
Byrd is the front-runner, but the secondary state races are often “sleeper” election where low turnout can create surprises. 
And: A tip of the hat to William W. Savage III, editor of Non-Doc, who has been the central player in next week’s encounter and a series of live-and-in-person debates for a wide range of elective jobs in this election cycle (https://nondoc.com/2018/06/13/gop-debate-state-auditor/). Good work, Tres!


In 2012, one of the state’s hard-working (and big-time) attorneys crafted a prescient essay about politics, policies and problems surrounding Oklahoma water policies and precedents. What makes the piece so impressive is that even after several intervening events, it remains spot-on as a thumbnail sketch of the turmoil and controversy that will evolve in the Sooner State – particularly should the state government (unlikely) or major Native American tribes (possible) decide to sell water to the Lone Star State. 
Miles Tobert wrote in the essay for “This Land Press” these words: “In Oklahoma we give water away. That’s just the kind of people we are, or, maybe, were. Surface water in Oklahoma is public water, and the policy of Oklahoma has long been to make that water available at no charge to any member of the public who will put it to use. Thus, when Tarrant County, Texas, concluded that its efforts to convince Oklahoma to sell it water were not likely to bear fruit, it simply applied for a permit to get the water for free.
“Tarrant’s application, backed by a lawsuit, to force the granting of a permit for 150 billion gallons of water was ultimately unsuccessful. It has nevertheless profoundly altered the way in which we view water. The possibility of selling water to North Texas has transformed questions of water policy from ‘Who gets to use the water?’ to ‘Who gets paid for the water?’ ”
Another lawsuit against the state of Oklahoma, from the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations, was this way described in Tolbert’s essay in the present tense (while the suit remained active), : 
“That suit seeks, in essence, a determination that the two tribes own all of the surface water in southeastern Oklahoma. Many understand this litigation and, indeed, all of the southeastern water issues as essentially binary. Urban versus rural. State versus tribal. Recreational use versus consumptive use. This is a mistake. There would be no dispute, or at most a much less significant one, if the conflict were just between urban central Oklahoma and its cities and rural southeastern Oklahoma and its tribes.”

As Tolbert understood, any real battle over water (and sales thereof) will not likely “be contained to a single region.” Ultimately, the Oklahoma Supreme Court asserted (in 2013) that control over southeast Oklahoma was a matter of Oklahoma jurisdiction (https://capitolbeatok.worldsecuresystems.com/reports/water-rights-victory-historic-setting-stage-for-state-tribal-case), rebuffing the ambitions of Texas. Still, the meaning of that jurisdiction remained to be defined.
The apportion of water rights within Oklahoma remained (https://capitolbeatok.worldsecuresystems.com/reports/xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx) in play. Tolbert recalled  (before the aforementioned legal decision) almost wistfully our shared “once upon a time” fairy tale:

“In an era when the choices were between using the water yourself or not using it, there was no real conflict between southeastern Oklahoma and central Oklahoma. There was no fight between Arbuckle ranchers and those who relied on the flow from the springs. There was no battle, on this point at least, between the State and the tribes.
“But that innocent age is past. We now see that all water is used, and that what I pump from my well can dry up your stream. Most importantly, we know that water is money. This is the nature of water policy in Oklahoma’s second century—it is zero sum and dollar based. That is why we will not stop fighting about water.” ((http://thislandpress.com/2012/10/02/why-we-wont-stop-fighting-about-water/)

Ultimately, a water deal was crafted affording the two large tribes rights (including potential sales), with a 25 percent share of water in the Kiamichi Basin of southeast Oklahoma.
That decision ignored the aboriginal rights of the Caddo Tribe (https://capitolbeatok.worldsecuresystems.com/reports/fallin-says-caddo-will-play-an-important-role-in-water-discussions-she-is-committed-to-working-with-), which was pushed to western Oklahoma when the two larger Native tribes arrived before the Civil War to take control of what used to be called “Little Dixie.” 
And therein lies another story 


Jack Werner, an Oklahoma City businessman who is a regular columnist in The City Sentinel, was recognized recently for an innovative and practical curriculum he developed with another of our regulars at the community newspaper, Todd Feehan (https://capitolbeatok.worldsecuresystems.com/reports/oklahoma-city-businessmen-feehan-and-werner-honored-for-trades-training-curricula). 
Oral Roberts University’s Global Learning Center hosts a program the two men invented, aimed at trades professionals and focused on “augmented reality and virtual reality.” As Werner, who runs A to Z Inspections, explained, shortages of workers in the skilled trades have sparked a need for down-to-earth training (https://capitolbeatok.worldsecuresystems.com/reports/analysis-skilled-trades-will-name-their-own-wages-in-the-future).
Everyone seems to know that, but Werner and Feehan, a specialist who runs Dad’s Plumbing, did something about it. The user-friendly curriiculum programs based at ORU, Werner says, “can have individuals earning double the minimum wage on their first job within a matter of months, followed by steady increases and the opportunity to own their own businesses.”
“Study after study shows that through augmented reality training, students can learn much more, much faster at far less cost,” said Feehan.
Werner, by the way, says of the Tulsa faith-based university, “No place holds a candle to what ORU has created and willingly shares from their Global Learning Center regarding augmented reality and virtual reality.”


A new study from the 1889 Institute, getting favorable editorial mention in the state’s largest newspaper, The Oklahoman, contends “Legislatures must stop creating governance structures where conflicts of interest, self-dealing, and groupthink are to be expected.” 
The group based in Oklahoma City highlights Sooner State agencies, but touches on government operations across the nation. An overview of the study can be read here 

The Institute’s Bryon Schlomach points out (in the analysis itself) (http://nebula.wsimg.com/76f30048e43fb4a50446392504566d0b?AccessKeyId=CB55D82B5028ABD8BF94&disposition=0&alloworigin=1) “many state regulatory agencies are “captured” by law in Oklahoma and other states. Agency capture occurs when an agency is largely under the influence of the very interest groups that agency is supposed to regulate. Instead of acting in the public interest, the agency acts in the interest of those it regulates.”
The study makes the point that many agencies in Oklahoma (and in other states) “have the dice effectively loaded in favor of the regulated industry because their oversight commissions and boards are automatically packed with representatives of that regulated industry.” 
It seems logical to have knowledgeable people, actually familiar with the regulated area, serving on board and commisiosns, but Schlomach cautions that “Groupthink is an outgrowth of capture.” 

The late, great Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn remarked more than once — observing developments both in his native land (Russia, part of the communist Soviet Union until less than two decades ago), and in the United States where he lived for two decades — that when everyone thinks alike, there is no need for a conspiracy.