Musings about Oklahoma’s Dan and Dana, Jim and Josh – Political Players, Past, Present, Future
Oklahoma City – Some reflections on political players who have real, not merely perceived, power (if they choose to exercise it): Dan Boren, Dana Murphy, Jim Roth and Josh Brecheen.
The late U.S. House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill had an apt saying: “All politics is local.” That used to be true in the nation’s capital, but the pressures to make every election a surrogate for current national divisions is eroding the wisdom inherent in O’Neill’s insight.
Each of these four people are Oklahomans who could have fashioned their achievements somewhere else. They stayed here, and have thrived here. They’ve won some and lost some. They’ve survived.
Should either major party evolve into a broader sense of the public interest, these four successful Oklahomans could be people to watch, for years to come.
In a past incarnation, Dan Boren was the Democratic U.S. Representative from Oklahoma’s Second Congressional District, holding the job from 2005-2013.
After leaving that job voluntarily he became the head of corporate development for the Chickasaw Nation, a post he held until 2020 when he was named chief banking officer for First United Bank, a powerhouse financial player in Oklahoma and Texas.
He rejoined the Chickasaw as Secretary of Commerce in May 2022.
In Congress, Boren was deemed a conservative Democrat, back when that was not the political equivalent of an endangered species. He voted mostly “pro-life” and was dubious about (and avowedly opposed to) President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
In his last campaign 12 years ago, he was challenged in the Democratic primary by a likable liberal, state Senator Jim Wilson. Wilson expressed admiration for socialized medicine as practiced in France. Boren deployed that – and Wilson’s push to limit Second Amendment gun rights – into a television advertisement.
Boren even went so far as to cite this reporter’s work in a television advertisement. Perhaps it helped: Boren garnered 75 percent of the primary vote against Wilson.
He gained 56.52 percent of the vote against the Republican nominee in the November 2010 general election, and 18 months later decided to move into the Chickasaw economic development post.
Without Boren running and in the wake of the 2010 reapportionment, Republican Jim Bridenstine garnered more than 63 percent of the vote to take the seat back for the GOP.
Boren possesses more than a famous last name.
In the 1990s, we served together on the board of directors at The Education and Employment Ministry (TEEM), supporting efforts to empower powerless and/or formerly-imprisoned people with skills to find work, build their dignity and become part of the economic mainstream.
Two months ago, Boren attended the Oklahoma “Sister Cities” event. As he left that gathering, he ran into an old friend, Corporation Commissioner Dana Murphy.
The pair chatted with this reporter. Boren referenced recent commentaries touching on Republican U.S. Representative Tom Cole. Boren grinned as he said he had read my latest.
I replied, “I’m still at it.”
Boren was the dominant presence in a page one story in The Oklahoman recently, the focus of which was the Chicksaw chocolates (Bedre) as part of an expansion beyond casino-dominated revenue streams. Boren does not appear directly involved in various Chickasaw tribal maneuvers to keep smaller tribes from increasing their economic footprints.
His diplomatic manner seems suited to a growing leadership role in the state, as the U.S. Supreme Court trims some of the clout the Big Tribes initially secured after the controversial ‘McGirt v. Oklahoma’ case which re-established pre-statehood reservations.
A Republican not in possession of legacy name recognition, Murphy lost her first run for the Commissioner’s job, in 2002.
That race featured a three-way joust for the Republican nomination. Although Murphy secured 39.54 percent backing in the GOP primary, Republican Jeff Cloud – the person Tom Cole and his consulting firm preferred – snagged 40.19 percent of the primary vote.
Cloud dispatched Murphy in the runoff and went on to serve two terms on the Commission, arguably the most important regulatory body in the state. The three commissioners possess not only policy powers but quasi-judicial authority.
In the course of human events, Murphy won a special election for a shortened two-year term in 2008, defeating Jim Roth (the appointed incumbent) 52.26% to 47.74 percent.
She then went on to easy re-election for a six-year hitch in 2010 (with almost 70 percent of the primary vote, and no Democratic opponent).
In 2016, her Democratic opponent withdrew and she won a final term without opposition.
In 2018, Murphy rolled the dice for lieutenant governor. Many of her past foes gathered behind GOP political mechanic Matt Pinnell. In a three-way race, she led the primary with nearly 46 percent of the vote, but Pinnell’s 35.7 percent put him in the runoff.
In a hard-hitting campaign, Pinnell accused Murphy of being too favorable to regulated interests. He won the low turnout runoff easily, with just over 58 percent.
Pinnell then gained nearly 62 percent in that general election – and cruised comfortably to a second term in this year’s elections.
Boren and Murphy are different in many obvious ways, but they have remained relevant by staying in the game, avoiding any real scandals and overcoming powerful opponents in economic and political arenas.
Each has at times had my support (wearing my commentary or opinion hat).
Each has behaved like an adult, not requiring agreement on every particular as a prerequisite for communication.
When her Democratic opponent withdrew back in 2016, Murphy was of course relieved. She was also capable of amazing grace in her response.
Before she got the news of a free pass to reelection, Commissioner Murphy was attending a board meeting of the Salvation Army. She had turned off her cell phone.
In a closing prayer for that meeting, a major with the group said “someone present was wondering or questioning or confused.” He said “not to worry because God has a good plan coming for them,” Murphy related.
Murphy told the major she felt as if the prayer was intended for her.
She shared “details of the surgeries and issues that had arisen in my family since my brother died; about the campaign” and her varied concerns.
After the meeting concluded, she climbed into her truck, checked her cell phone and “looked at all the texts that were on my phone and I burst into tears.” She went back to the meeting room to share the news of her opponent’s withdrawal with the major.
After a lifetime of study, I am fascinated (and edified) by contrasting approaches to translation of Sacred Scriptures. Near the end of her 2016 missive, Commissioner Murphy cited the letter of St. Paul to the Galatians, Chapter 6:9.
In the New American Bible, I customarily use, the verse Murphy cited reads this way: “Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up.” (NAB, Revised) In this instance, there is little variance among the dozens of English translations of the letter.
In each rendering, Paul’s reflections counsel for wisdom, gently suggesting virtues of patience, fortitude and fidelity. In another place, he observes “that all things work for good for those who love God. …” (Romans 8:28 NAB Revised)
In the memorable motion picture, “Gladiator,” the lead character tells Roman soldiers preparing for battle that their deeds in this life will follow them into eternity. That is, what we do while living endures after death.
The sentiment is variously attributed to the philosopher and emperor Marcus Aurelius, or to Maximus Decimus Meridius. It is most often rendered this way: “What we do in life echoes in eternity.” The point echoes Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles.
In an age of cynicism, dark division and even despair, I find comfort in ancient words feeding discernment and prudence.
I garner strength in the examples of those who, in each stage of life, live in such a way that they give to explicit meaning to the sentiments of the holy Apostle and the ancient philosophers.
Noble souls live in such ways to make themselves, and all of us, reach for the most worthy of aspirations – here and now, and in Eternity.
For some years, Jim Roth was a neighbor in the heart of Oklahoma City where I live.
He is sometimes referenced as Oklahoma County’s “first openly gay elected official.”
I know him as the fellow who, after a devastating snowstorm, joined me and two other guys in helping neighbors get their cars running on a day of bitter cold and ice.
And, to be sure, as the person I endorsed for reelection as county commissioner, then did not endorse for state Corporation Commissioner when Murphy was his opponent.
Along the way, I wrote about a misguided push by Republican legislators that kept him off the State Ethics Commission that monitors campaign finance and reporting. (I defended Roth as qualified for the post.)
In the course of human events, in May 2018, Roth was chosen to lead the Oklahoma City University School of Law, as dean.
Since then, in my journalistic endeavors, I have prepared for publication a range of news stories about his work.
Without much fanfare in early November 2022, the OCU campus newspaper carried the news that he would leave the dean’s job at the end of June 2023. “I will be returning to the practice of law full-time,” he said.
Roth has been devoting some of his considerable skill and energy to alternative means for electrical power generation, and no doubt will continue to do so. He has a better understanding of economics and markets than a lot of his fellow Democrats, and he is not defined as the aforementioned “first.”
Keep an eye on Jim Roth, whether as an attorney or a leader in some other capacity.*
This week, new Republican U.S. Rep. Brecheen’s opposition to the elevation of Kevin McCarthy to the U.S. Speaker of the House position in three votes wasn’t the first time he went against GOP orthodoxy.
During last year’s successful 2022 campaign for Oklahoma’s Second Congressional District seat, Brecheen had the support of what some call the “Cultural Choctaws.”
A member of the Choctaw Nation, Brecheen defeated state Rep. Avery Frix, the preferred candidate of the “Casino Choctaws.”
In their GOP runoff debate, Brecheen outlined the corrupting nature of ways in which some tribal businesses operate to send “consultant” pay to elected officials, without ever expecting work in return.
Brecheen also assailed the current realities of life in southeastern Oklahoma, where in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s “McGirt v. Oklahoma” – restoring pre-statehood reservations in the state – laws have been enforced differently for tribal members than for other Oklahomans.
Brecheen won a clear but not overwhelming victory in that GOP runoff, then cruised to a comfortable edge in the general election. He kept his promise to join the House Republican Freedom Caucus, winning over the explicit or subtle opposition of much of the state and national GOP establishment.
When he stayed off the McCarthy bandwagon these past few days Brecheen no doubt disappointed the powerful pro-McCarthy Club for Growth, which financed a lot of independent expenditures for him and against Frix.
But when a man or woman survives a real primary with real competing candidates and has to appeal to real voters, she or he might be inclined to remain independent, even of his or her dark money allies.
Brecheen has stood alone in the state congressional delegation in opposing McCarthy, who had secured former President Donald Trump’s endorsement for two Oklahoma Congressmen – Tom Cole and Frank Lucas. They have been what many observers consider key players in what Trump used to call “The Swamp”.
McCarthy maneuvered to get those coveted endorsements for both Lucas and Cole, even though each faced true-blue multi-issue conservative primary opponents who were critical of McGirt and of the massive federal dollar spending support that has come to define the careers of both Lucas and Cole.
This week, Lucas and Cole have backed McCarthy through seven or eight votes, while Breecheen has been opposed.
The Tulsa Republican Congressman Kevin Hern (not Herd, as some national reporters wrote on Tuesday) has like, like Lucas and Cole, stayed with McCarthy.
But Hern has a real in-Congress constituency due to his long leadership of the Republican Study Committee.
At mid-week, the national press corps began including two Oklahomans – Cole and Hern – in listings of five, six, seven, or eight members of Congress whose names keep popping up as a McCarthy alternative.
Appreciative of Trump’s positive achievements but no sycophant of the 45th president, Brecheen has good relations with the now-sworn-in U.S. Senator – Mullin — another Trump endorsee.
Josh Brecheen gets something other members of Congress seem to be missing.
All politics is local, even when all politics is national.
Smearing every single opponent of McCarthy’s ascension as House Speaker with words like “Taliban,” “Terrorist” and “Insurrectionist,” is absurd and rhetorically obscene, even as the phrases catch on in the present, dreadful, not-so-civil American discourse.
As he threads the needle in the increasingly confusing Washington power game, Brecheen is a man to admire.
A member of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, McGuigan’s news stories and commentaries on local, state, tribal, national and international issues have won awards from the Associated Press, the Society of Professional Journalists and other recognition. He began covering politics when he was in high school.