In an OK election: Law and life, secrecy and privacy, politics and wisdom

OKLAHOMA CITY — The great Solomon prayed not for wealth or power or even the defeat of his enemies, but for wisdom. And it was granted unto him (1 Kings 3: 7-12) 

As I grow older, this seems the better part of valor.

On the surface, the mayoral race unfolding in Oklahoma City looks like a classic liberal vs. conservative slugfest. This being Oklahoma, the conservative incumbent should have an edge. But the race has some nuances, starting with the fact that both candidates are divorced.

As this important contest nears, memory takes me back to a U.S. Supreme Court confirmation fight in 1987. I supported Judge Robert Bork, and organized activists who backed him. Lessons I drew from that were both political and practical – and not entirely ideological. 

In a summer of infamy, Bork’s film rentals were made public. Foes hoped for something salacious, but the only thing of broad interest was his proclivity to view powerfully violent western films. 

Under public pressure, laws were quickly enacted to afford new protections for film consumers.

After the Senate defeated his nomination, Bork often joked (including in a memorable speech here in Oklahoma City) that one good thing to come from his rejection was a range of new statutes respecting privacy, of the sort that most people had assumed were already in place.

I am a transparency advocate in matters of governance. Dr. Ed Shadid, the liberal or progressive challenger in our city’s 2014 mayor race, is a believer in government transparency – more so, in fact, than some conservatives now in public office. 

I respect him for that and other things, but quarrel with some of his policy prescriptions.

On the flip side, I have few policy quarrels with incumbent Mayor Mick Cornett’s record, or practices on government transparency. No secret: I fall near (but not identical) to views Cornett has advocated throughout his time in public life. 

One wrinkle, policy-wise, in all of this is that Dr. Shadid falls closer than Cornett to the purer libertarian/conservative view on broad questions touching the use of public (taxpayer) resources for business development.

So, although the race is shaping up as an ideological donnybrook, the truth is that neither guy is a caricature for one side or the other.

Shadid is under pressure from Oklahoma’s largest newspaper to release records from his divorce proceedings nearly a decade ago. 

Shadid and his ex-wife Dina (friends again, they work cooperatively raising their three children) say there are matters in those files that ought, for the sake of their kids, to stay private. In this, they appeal to arenas (Bork called them “zones”) of privacy most Americans embrace. 

Americans draw, inconsistently perhaps, distinctions between secrecy in public policy and privacy in personal matters.

No doubt of interest to many is Dr. Shadid’s admitted use of marijuana, and his invocation of the Fifth Amendment during depositions made in early stages of his divorce process. It is fair to note that events apparently referenced in that process took place in 2004 and before.

Shadid was then at the start of his road to sobriety (now approaching a decade with no drug use, something to laud and not disdain). Presumably he invoked protection against self-incrimination to avoid legal exposure, a constitutional right for all Americans. He asks now for some things from the divorce to remain private (sealed under judicial order, as both he and Dina supported). 

The March 4 election in Oklahoma City should be about different visions for our city’s future, but we may be about to learn a lot of things not central to governance ideas from either man.

Mayor Cornett is also divorced. That process took place largely between the divorcing parties and/or their attorneys. That is a distinction of legal importance, but is it a bright line of morality? 

Cornett’s divorce is his business, as Shadid’s is his. Like other citizens, I am deeply interested in the vision each man holds for our future, but less interested in their familial relations. 

Mayor Cornett has a public record of many years. From his tenure in office and a prior career in broadcast journalism, he is a familiar figure. A vibrant local economy bolsters his case for reelection.

Dr. Shadid has a briefer record. His advocacy of broader representation in mayoral appointments is clear-cut, as is that critical eye he casts toward some economic development policies. 

The election should be about these and other policies, but instead discussion in the next few months could evolve on matters which any one of us — even a Mother Teresa or a Robert Bork – want kept for pondering within our hearts, or in our families.

Before we go there, let’s all take a deep breath.

Prayers for the wisdom of Solomon might even be in order.

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