Senator Rice jabs at Republican rhetoric, agenda items; Barresi aide defended

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published 13-Jan-2011

In a commentary published today in an Oklahoma City newspaper Senate Minority Leader Andrew Rice has taken a jab at Republican priorities outlined thus far for the 2011 legislative session. In a separate development, a Democratic state representative questioned the qualifications of one of Schools Superintendent Janet Barresi’s top aides.

In his essay for The City Sentinel, a weekly, Rice observed, “Even though Oklahoma Republicans gained full control of the Legislature in 2008, and had a compliant Democratic Governor on the 2nd floor, the 2 years that ensued produced very few Republican policies, yet lots of toothless resolutions critical of the federal government and President Obama.”

Looking back at the election, the Democratic leader observed, “The red wave we saw was obviously also national and the aftermath gave Congress a balance of power. This new reality of shared responsibility in Washington, with complete GOP control of Oklahoma State government, has confronted Oklahoma-elected Republicans with a new challenge: the responsibility of actually governing, rather than simply ginning up anger and opposing.”

With John Boehner now running the U.S., Rice said Republicans “must now deliver on tackling some of our state’s problems. Being in charge means dealing with a stubborn budget crisis. It means also trying to deal with an emboldened cadre of elected “tea party” politicians who can be more hostile to traditional, pro-business Republican ideas, and more than willing to try and accommodate every far-right reactive ideological impulse concerning undocumented immigrants, misperceptions about Islam, and unwanted pregnancies.”

Rice, who is in charge of the upper chamber’s 16 Democrats, cast a critical eye on efforts to “right-size” state government: “I can assure you that many Oklahomans hear these simplistic visions and swoon because they assume the Oklahoma budget is chock full of wasteful earmarks and special projects, much like the deficit exploding federal budget. But the reality is very different. The Oklahoma constitution does not allow the budget to carry debt, nor can individual legislators dole out money for special projects or frivolous museums.

“The overwhelming majority of the money in the Oklahoma budget goes to ‘core services’ (education, healthcare, public safety and transportation). These are basic functions of government that even the most conservative Oklahoma voter supports. So how do you cut government and yet still keep people happy who expect their Sooner Care (Medicaid) coverage to stay the same, or for their local Career Tech Center to not absorb any major cuts? Ideology will now have to face reality– and one will have to give.”

Rice asserted in his opinion piece (printed Thursday, January 13, 2011), “I am not claiming there are easy answers to the problems that beset Oklahoma. But the one thing my party does know from years of being in the majority in State government is how difficult it is to actually govern. Perhaps my friends across the aisle will make this transition effortlessly. If so, it will not be done by ratcheting up manufactured and hysterical alarms against our president, rather it can only be accomplished by a pragmatic move to the political center. We’ll see if that happens.”

In other news from the stateCapitol, state Rep. Wes Hilliard, an assistant Minority Floor Leader and a Democrat from Sulphur, today declared that Jennifer Carter, chief of staff to new Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi, is not qualified for her post. Hilliard says that according to administrative rules for the agency, the chief of staff must have a master’s degree in education, a valid state administrator’s certificate and eight years of full-time public school employment.

In response to a request for comment from CapitolBeatOK, Superintendent Barresi’s communications director rebuffed Hilliard’s criticism. Damon Gardenhire said, “The previous job description for the chief of staff position was tailored specifically to match one individual, former chief of staff Lealon Taylor. If Rep. Hilliard had bothered to carefully examine the facts, rather than issuing a half-baked attack press release, he would have realized that the ‘code’ he is referring to is the job code for budget identification purposes and nothing more. The chief of staff job description is not a matter of code or rules, but rather of personal preference of the previous Superintendent.

Gardenhire asserted, “In fact, Mrs. Carter’s credentials are impeccable. She has a doctorate degree, which ranks above a master’s. The chief of staff role is one that the Superintendent relies on heavily, and one that is involved in legislative and policy decision-making and development. A Juris Doctorate degree is invaluable in that role. Mrs. Carter’s years of experience in this area are second to none.