Editor’s notebook: parole amendment, Karma arrives, political party events

From the editor’s notebook, an important state constitutional amendment heads to the state ballot, a veteran fundraiser heads to the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, and the two major political parties move into high gear on convention planning as the March 6 presidential primary nears. 

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The Oklahoma House of Representatives on Tuesday (February 14) gave 81-7 approval to Senate Joint Resolution 25, a constitutional amendment. The measure would remove the governor from the parole process for nonviolent offenses. The proposal now heads to the statewide November ballot for voter approval. 

Freshman Sen. John Brecheen, a Coalgate Republican, is primary Senate author of the measure, which passed the upper chamber unanimously during the 2011 session. 

Speaker Kris Steele, a Shawnee Republican, joined as Brecheen’s author in the House. Steele noted Oklahoma “is the only state in this country requiring the governor to approve every parole. It’s a costly, burdensome, ineffective requirement we think voters will be happy to change. Getting this constitutional amendment passed is another step in Oklahoma’s ongoing effort to make its criminal justice system more effective so we can increase public safety and produce better outcomes.”

Brecheen believes the measure will cut time from the state’s often-lengthy parole. In comments sent to CapitolBeatOK, Brecheen said, “I want to express my thanks to the House of Representatives for their support of S.J.R.  25. As we work together to create greater efficiency throughout state government, removing the governor from the parole process for nonviolent offenders could save the state more than $40 million in the next ten years. In addition, these nonviolent offenders can rejoin society sooner, helping support their families and contributing to our economy.”

The constitutional amendment, as proposed, would authorize the Pardon and Parole Board to review and decide parole requests for nonviolent offenders. Violent crimes will still be subject to the governor’s review.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections pegs annual incarceration costs at an average of $16,000 a year, per inmate. A 2007 audit found a 100 day delay in gubernatorial parole reviews, reaching a cost of $4,700 per inmate. 

Steele has pressed the reform as part of efforts deemed “justice reinvestment.” 

 He said, “This reform will save money and resources that can be redirected to strategies and programs that actually increase public safety and reduce crime.” Fallin has supported Steele’s reform push. 

The governor’s role in parole of nonviolent offenders was to be ended through enactment of House Bill 2131 last year, but a nonbinding attorney general’s opinion said that provision needed to be constitutional, rather than statutory.  

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Karma Robinson has become Vice President for Development at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA). She will oversee marketing and fundraising efforts the group, according to OCPA President Michael Carnuccio. 
Robinson has been a partner at Sagac Public affairs, finance director of Fallin for Governor, and a key player in U.S. Jim Inhofe’s campaigns. She was also finance director for the TRUST (Transportation Revenues Used Strictly for Transportation) Coalition, worked with the historic 2001 right-to-work campaign, and other capacities.  

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Republicans held precinct meetings early this month. The Oklahoma County convention will be March 3; Tulsa County Republicans will gather on March 24; other county convention dates vary widely.

Congressional district conventions are March 31 or April 14; the state Republican convention will be May 11 in Norman. The Republican National Convention will be August 27-30 in Tampa Bay, Florida. 

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Oklahoma County Republicans will host their annual Lincoln Day Dinner on Friday, February 17 at the Oklahoma City Marriott Hotel, 3233 Northwest Expressway. The evening begins at 6:30 p.m. and will feature a keynote address by Dick Morris.  
Presenting sponsors for the country GOP event are Josephine Freede, Oklahomans For Energy, Greg and Debra Wilson and Miles Hall.

A Silent Auction will be featured. According to organizer Carol Hefner, “the Live Auction is going to be beyond amazing, too.”

Governor Mary Fallin will speak, as well as Stuart Jolly of Americans for Prosperity. The evening’s Master of Ceremonies is Oklahoma County Chairman Matt Jackson.

For more information, contact Carol Hefner at 285.5465 or message her on Facebook.
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Democrats are organizing for their 2012 state convention on April 13 and 14. Activities will include the annual Carl Albert Dinner, named in honor of the late U.S. Speaker of the House.

Democrats wanting to vote for national convention delegates at the congressional level my complete certain information by February 17, party officials said. Information is available at 405-427-3366 of on the party’s website.

The Democratic National Convention will be September 3-6 in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

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Several hundred Oklahoma County Democrats celebrated a “Re-Union” at the annual Medallion Dinner Gala last weekend. Party faithful gathered at the Jim Thorpe Sports Hall of Fame on Lincoln Boulevard in Oklahoma City.  

Terry Thompson, chair of the 2012 dinner, turned M.C. duties over to Billy Coyle, the party’s standard-bearer in the 2010 Fifth District Congressional campaign.

According to Darla Shelden, reporting in The City Sentinel (www.city-sentinel.com), Coyle said, “The re-union event was not only about showing our support for unions, but to also get people together again and energized for the myriad of elections in 2012.  From the special election on Feb. 14, to the Presidential election in November, we want people in Oklahoma County to know the Democratic Party is alive and fighting hard to put quality candidates in office.”

Dinner sponsors included Bob Lemon, Al McAffrey for State Senate District 46, Unified Strategies & Associates, Teamsters Local 886, United Auto Workers, state Democrats, the Brennan Society/Guild for Congress, Gordon Melson, the state American Federation of Teachers, IBEW 1141, and UAW CAP.

The 2012 Opio Toure Human Rights Award recipient was the Oklahoma Federation of Democratic Women’s Club. The Bob Lemon Volunteer of the Year award went to Roger Rensvold for his work on the Qualitative Research Project. The Lecia Swain-Ross award was presented earlier to former state Senator Andrew Rice, who resigned his position in January. Participants in the evening included former state Sen. Bernest Cain.

Featured entertainment came from Roy Zimmerman, an American satirical singer-songwriter known for “left-slanted” commentary focused on social issues and politics.

Trena Byas, a legislative assistant to state Representative Anastasia Pittman, led the Pledge of Allegiance. Dr. George E. Young, Sr. gave the invocation and Rev. Christine Byrd delivered the closing benediction. 

More information is available here.