Editor’s Notebook: Russell runs, Guild’s grit, McCall’s budget boss, and Small slams Bar brass

OKLAHOMA CITY – From an editor’s notebook, a GOP incumbent runs again but at least three Democrats (including an effective low-budget campaigner) want to stop him, the Legislature gets a new education budget boss, and the powerful state bar association faces strong conservative criticism.

Incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Russell announced the start of his reelection campaign on Wednesday (August 2). (http://newsok.com/article/5558700).

Russell could face well-funded opponent in the 2018 general election from Kendra Horn, who launched her campaign in July. Horn told CapitolBeatOK she hopes to raise as much as $1 million for her race to secure the Democratic nomination and then beat Russell in November (http://www.www.capitolbeatok.com/reports/at-oklahoma-city-event-kendra-horn-launches-campaign-for-democratic-nomination-in-the-fifth-congress). Horn has made it clear she needs and will seek Republican support if she secures the party nod.

However, standing in her path is the first candidate to announce for this cycle. He is a seasoned veteran of campaign politics – Tom Guild of Edmond, a retired University of Central Oklahoma professor who has run six times (starting in 2010). He was the party nominee in 2012. That year, he challenged one-term incumbent (and now U.S. Sen.) James Lankford, getting 37 percent (97,504 voters).

Guild lost the 2014 nomination to state Sen. Al McAffrey, whom Russell readily dispatched in the general election. Guild then lost the 2016 nomination to McAffrey by only 44 votes. McAffrey went on to get just over 103,000 votes in November, good for 37 percent against Russell’s 57 percent (a libertarian garnered 6 percent backing).

For 2018, Guild will run, as in each of his races, as an unabashed multi-issue liberal (“Progressive”). (http://newsok.com/article/5557142)

Guild has an ability to gain supporters while raising and spending only modest money for his campaigns. This week he was, as in all his prior campaigns, knocking on doors in the Fifth District, taking his message directly to front porches. The district consists of most of Oklahoma County, and all of Pottawatomie and Seminole counties.

Building on past races, Guild has an active online presence. He will stress his traditional themes, including preservation of social security, building public education resources, a minimum wage hike, more funding for college costs, stronger programs for military veterans and infrastructure spending. Guild has frequently circulated press releases highly critical of the Republican incumbent.

Despite Oklahoma’s “Red State” status, Guild and his fans make a direct case that political lighting could strike in 2018. They point out that Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (whom Guild backed last year) garnered 32,368 primary voters in Oklahoma County (home of the vast majority of Fifth District voters), on his way to a surprising primary win over Hillary Clinton, the eventual party nominee.

On that same primary day in 2016, eventual GOP nominee Donald Trump garnered 22,117 primary votes in the county, which he lost to Marco Rubio, the U.S. Senator from Florida. In the general election last year, Trump won comfortably in Oklahoma County, but his margin over Clinton was far less dominant than in most of the rest of the Sooner State.

Guild focuses a lot of critical attention on the economic system, which he asserts is stacked in favor of the wealthy. He is a passionate critic of the current Republican president, and says that Rep. Russell is little more than a lackey for that incumbent. He messages support for the President Barack Obama’s primary legacy, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) popularly known as “ObamaCare.” The emeritus professor says he will appeal to district voters with a promise to “repeal and replace” Russell.

Bolstering Democratic hopes to give Russell a real race are recent special elections favoring Democrats (http://www.www.capitolbeatok.com/reports/in-special-election-to-fill-seat-of-former-senator-ralph-shortey-democratic-candidate-prevails), and displeasure with the the Republican-dominated state Legislature (http://www.www.capitolbeatok.com/reports/commentary-oklahomas-leaders-failed-us)

Also seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge the Russell is Ed Porter, a political newcomer who has worked in Corrections (http://newsok.com/article/5557142).

Oklahoma Speaker of the House Charles McCall, R-Atoka, on Friday (August 4) named state Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell, to run the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Education. He replaces former state Rep. Scott Martin of Norman, who resigned from the House at the end of the legislative session.

McCall said his pick for the school funding job “is thoughtful, smart and determined, and I believe he will do a great job for our citizens and our schools on this committee. Rep. Russ has long been a champion for our public schools, and he will help us develop policies that work for our students, teachers and taxpayers.”

A banker, the new education spending boss has, in the words of a legislative staff release, “several family members who are educators, including his wife, Khristy, who has taught for more than 20 years.”

In the release, Russ asserted he understands “the needs of our students and teachers and I know how important our public schools are to our rural communities. We have to find a way to fund our school system and pay our teachers more while streamlining our costs and improving our education outcomes for our students. There are no easy answers, but I am looking forward to working with the Department of Education, Speaker McCall and Education Committee Chairman Michael Rogers, R-Broken Arrow, to develop real solutions during the upcoming session.”

Rep. Russ has served on the House Appropriations and Budget Committee.

The Oklahoma Bar Association (OBA) criticized the state’s largest free market “think-tank” (the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs OCPA) after the conservative group asserted the legal guild is biased against Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, the state’s former attorney general.
OBA Executive Director John Morris Williams said OCPA President Jonathan Small was “incorrect in stating the Oklahoma Bar Association licensed lawyers and was a private political organization.” Williams said the OBA was not behaving politically in an OBA investigation triggered after a complaint that Pruitt was not truthful in testimony during his EPA confirmation process.

Small said, in a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK and other news organizations, It’s ludicrous and ironic for … John Morris Williams to accuse anyone else of politicizing the situation regarding EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. The OBA should take a look in the mirror.

Mr. Williams runs an organization where leadership has exposed their bias via vicious public attacks on Mr. Pruitt in national left-wing outlets,” including The New Yorker, Rolling Stone and Huffington Post.

It’s entirely misleading for the Bar to assert that investigations are private when OBA Board Members continue publicly attacking Mr. Pruitt. If this investigation truly is private, then OBA staff and its leadership, including Mr. Williams and OBA Board Member and Past President Garvin Isaacs, should stop commenting about Mr. Pruitt if the public is to believe the OBA won’t be biased against him. (http://www.www.capitolbeatok.com/reports/editor-s-notebook-ocpa-analyst-decries-oba-attack-on-pruitt-mayor-mick-meets-president-elect-trump-f) These complaints are supposed to be handled confidentially by the OBA.”

Small said, This isn’t the first time the OBA has entered the political fray. Oklahomans have noticed that the OBA has allowed itself to be listed as endorsing a candidate in a legislative race last year. The OBA also seems to have a history of looking the other way for left-leaning lawyers like Oklahoma State Senator Gene Stipe — a convicted felon.

It’s also misleading for Mr. Williams to deflect that the Oklahoma Supreme Court is ultimately responsible for attorney licensure and discipline. His own organization’s website says: ‘The Oklahoma Supreme Court gives the Oklahoma Bar Association, Office of the General Counsel, the authority to investigate complaints against lawyers.’

The OBA also controls a whopping 40 percent of the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) and is the only group that can appoint lawyers to the JNC, which exclusively selects candidates for the Oklahoma Supreme Court. This would be similar to allowing a private bankers association exclusive power to regulate banking.

Private organizations have the right to be involved in politics, but it is simply wrong to allow a private political organization to exercise government power. This incident is just one more example of why the OBA should not get special powers under Oklahoma law.”