Fallin’s first choices: Conservative Republicans, for the most part

(Editor’s Note: This is the third story in a three-part series on Gov. Mary Fallin’s executive appointments from her inauguration on Feb. 7 through May 31.)  
OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Mary Fallin has nominated 90 new executive appointees, out of a total of 120, a move that could buck the “good-ol’ boy cycle” of traditional rural Democrats and drive change in the Sooner State.  

According to its state director, Stuart Jolly, Americans for Prosperity “continues to encourage Fallin’s office to develop the theme of ‘real change’ — and real change requires appointing ‘change-makers’ to these boards. Let’s break the good-ol’ boy cycle in this state and select real changers in their place.” 

Americans for Prosperity is a national activist organization that works for limited government and free markets.

“It is refreshing to see many board members replaced who had been on them for 10 or even 15 years. This, in itself, will be a breath of fresh air to many boards (and) positions that had been stagnant for years,” said Jolly. He added that many nominees are experts in their fields and have run businesses or worked on similar boards. 
With the exception of his critique of Pete Regan, Jolly did not comment specifically on most of the governor’s non-Republican nominees. 

Pointing to several conservative Republicans, whom he considers representative of the majority of Gov. Fallin’s nominees, Jolly said, “There were a few great appointments. Let’s start with Secretary of Education Phyllis Hudecki, or Ginger Tinney and Bob Ross to the Teacher Leader & Effectiveness Commission or Bob Sullivan from Tulsa as one of Fallin’s (economic) advisers, or General Rita Aragon for Veteran Affairs. These are just a few individuals who will truly reform and move Oklahoma forward.” 
A critical view of the Fallin choices came from Wallace Collins, the new state chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party and a former state representative from Norman. 

Collins said in an interview that the move of former state Senate President Glenn Coffee of Oklahoma City into the Secretary of State’s post, “smacks of cronyism.”

“I’m not questioning her authority to do it, I just wonder if he’s really the best choice,” Collins said. 

Coffee was Fallin’s first formal appointment after she took the oath of office Feb. 7.
Collins said Gary Ridley at the Transportation Department was “not a good choice. I am for returning (the) passenger rail to the state, and I felt, in my dealings with Mr. Ridley, that he didn’t really address the concerns of passenger-rail advocates.” 
Collins expressed regret at the departure of former legislative colleagues who had served on boards or commissions, whose terms ended or who resigned. 

Collins leavened critical reflections with compliments for a few Fallin Cabinet members, such as Secretary of Health and Human Services Terry Cline, Adjutant General Myles Deering, and Gen. Rita Aragon as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. 
Cline and Deering were re-appointments, while Aragon is new to state government. 
In the end, nominations requiring Senate confirmation did not encounter opposition during the spring session. 

Oklahoma, which became a state in 1907, is known for its highly Populist tradition. That includes a plethora of commissions, boards and other entities with powers of governance, resulting in the diminishment of direct executive powers. 

However, in a single four-year term, an Oklahoma governor is likely to make a few thousand appointments, although the exact number is more than a function of the calendar and attrition. In eight years, the total can reach several thousand. 

On the sheer volume of boards and commissions, Jolly pressed to “sunset many of the 520+ boards and commissions Oklahoma currently has on its books. I don’t care who you are, there is no way anyone can digest effectively any advice from 520 boards or commissions. Until that happens … we must remain vigilant in eliminating waste, abuse, redundancy, and boards and commissions that are outdated or useless.”

Despite constitutional strictures diffusing executive powers, governors of the Sooner State have significant cumulative effect through appointments. And Fallin is just getting started.