Shopping for votes: Republican contenders for A.G. slam each other

Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 18-Jul-2010

In the immediate wake of new television advertisements from one contender, campaign representatives of the two Republican contenders for attorney general are exchanging biting criticisms.

Sharply contrasting press releases were issued this weekend after the start of a television advertising sortie for Ryan Leonard, an Oklahoma City lawyer. Leonard’s ad provoked a strong response from the manager for former state Senator Scott Pruitt of Broken Arrow, then a counter from Leonard’s manager.

As the two men and their surrogates contend and the campaign enters its final stages, the last week before the July 27 primary could be contentious.

Leonard’s “Pruitt shopping” ad asserted the former state Senator from Broken Arrow is ‘shopping for another political job. He tried for Congress and Lieutenant Governor. Now Attorney General?”  Leonard’s campaign also assailed Pruitt’s constitutional law credentials.

Pruitt’s manager fired back in a press release sent to CapitolBeatOK on Saturday evening (July 17). The defense tagged Leonard’s spot as “the first negative advertisement of the campaign.” The Pruitt campaign “indicated it expects to send a ‘cease and desist’ letter to television stations airing the advertisement due to it containing factual errors.”

Tyler Laughlin, Pruitt’s campaign manager, said Leonard’s campaign had “spread half-truths” and committed “lies of omission.”

In defense of Pruitt’s constitutional advocacy, Laughlin pointed to Pruitt’s speeches before the Southern Baptist Convention and in several cities, his authorship of a Religious Freedom Act, and his role “on numerous cases protecting the constitutional rights of individuals.” Laughlin highlighted Pruitt’s role as an ally of the Rutherford Institute, a leading litigator for religious liberty.

Laughlin also cited Pruitt’s involvement in a First Amendment case in the western district of Oklahoma (federal court) and a Tulsa County case involving ballot access and suffrage.

Pruitt himself issued a Saturday statement sent to CapitolBeatOK: ““The simple fact is, we need an Attorney General that knows how to fight the reach of the federal government. I’ve been doing that since the first day I got out of law school and initially opened Christian Legal Services, Inc. I have successfully defended the rights of individuals to practice their faith when government tries to tell them ‘no’. I have advised teachers, public school students and homeschoolers when they have been under attack. I’ve helped teens ‘rally around the flagpole’ and pray at school when others have said they can’t, and I want to fight that same fight for the people of Oklahoma.”

In a “fact check” release an hour later, Leonard’s campaign manager, Jonathan Buxton, critiqued past comments by Pruitt about his role in constitutional litigation, and noted Pruitt has been a partner in the Oklahoma RedHawks baseball operation since 2002.

Leonard’s manager attacked Pruitt for voting to give in-state tuition to “illegal aliens” in 2003. And, Buxton said, “Pruitt has not entered an appearance as an attorney in any case since 2004. Buxton also said a database search showed Pruitt had “never” tried a constitutional case.

Pruitt’s campaign countered the latter point by saying the search had not included his full name: Edward Scott Pruitt or E. Scott Pruitt.

Contacted by CapitolBeatOK on Sunday evening, both campaigns refused to expand on comments made in their dueling press releases of the day before.