Two leading state House Democrats ponder post-election changes

By Patrick B. McGuigan and Stacy Martin

Published: 22-Nov-2010

State Rep. Joe Dorman of Rush Springs wants Democrats included in a new drive by incoming House Speaker Kris Steele to promote transparency in operations within the lower chamber of the state Legislature. 

In other news from the minority caucus, state Rep. Al McAffrey, after the election, thanked constituents for his overwhelming reelection victory in the midst of a Republican surge. He also expressed concern about the direction policy might take during the new era of Republican dominance of state government. 

In a recent statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, Rep. Dorman was carefully critical of Steele after the new House leader announced a four-member team of Republicans to study several potential reforms that appear to have broad support in both parties. 

However, Dorman said the new working group needs to get input from both the majority and minority caucus.
He said: “To paraphrase the old line, I am worried what we have here is failure to communicate. I am concerned that no Democrats were named to the working group, as well as other majority party members who have expressed concern. I hope that the group will approach other members for ideas and input as they consider procedural reforms and transparency.”

In his announcement, Steele said he wanted the quartet to consider ways to open the conference committee process, including actual meetings and public votes on conference reports. He also wants to end the use of “shell” bills without budget numbers. Last summer, Rep. Dorman expressed support for the envisioned content of Steele’s proposed reforms in House rules and procedures.

In a post-election interview, Dorman reflected on the dramatic shift of power toward the Republicans, with particularly sweeping impacts in Oklahoma. He told CapitolBeatOK, “It [November 2] could have been a better night. It’s pretty much going along trends of what we’re seeing nationally and elevated by conservatism of Oklahoma.”

Dorman said he and other Democrats — conservative, moderate and liberal – needed to “regroup and figure out where things went wrong. We’re going to look at the races and see how the Democrats underperformed in some of the elections. Then we’ll try to talk to constituents to find out why they did not get good information.”

Dorman contends that to a large extent the results, however broad, were not too surprising: “Obviously, we know the national policies passed in the past two years haven’t helped. Oklahoma Democrats are much more conservative than their national counterparts. Just because it’s the same registration doesn’t mean it’s the same view.”

In the Legislature, he said, “Over the next two years, we’re going to see a major change in policies. I fully suspect the income tax cut is going to stay on the books. We’re going to see major downsizing in health care and education funding.  As far as administration, we’re going to see rural schools impacted significantly.”

He continued, “There’ll be some changes just by virtue of redistricting. It’s going to change from a majority of rural seats to a majority of urban seats.”

Dorman has worked with Republicans on many issues, and was among those legislators who did not draw an opponent in the 2010 election. He has had a busy “interim” period, guiding several studies on a range of health care and other issues.

Rep. McAffrey, who represents much of the MidCity area near the state Capitol, was expected to win and so overwhelmingly. In his post-election interview with CapitolBeatOK, he expressed both appreciation to voters and apprehension about the future:

“I appreciate the voters so much. This feels wonderful. Many of my friends did not win in this tough election. I am very proud of my voters in District 88. I think they understand we’re there for them and worked hard for them over these last several years. I plan to do that for the next 2 years.”

Looking at the Legislature, McAffrey said, “It’s going to be a pretty tough session for Democrats; we’re going be even fewer in numbers than we were before. I hope to pass some bills to help mental health, do something for the women-in-prison population, to help some of these people become productive members of society again.

“That would puts more money into the economy. I’m hard on crime, don’t get me wrong. If someone commits rape, murder, child molestation, they shouldn’t see the light of day. But a lot of these people [in prisons] have drug problems and need help. They need mental health care. A lot of women get caught up with people involved in it, but they’re not in the cartels. Then they get stuck, their children are taken away and eventually it just doesn’t make sense.”

Looking to the coming session, Rep. McAffrey said he intends to take on ‘Common sense” issues like Corrections, mental health, protecting women’s rights and protecting the rights of all people. He reflected, “I believe that’s the right thing for District 88 and the right thing for the state of Oklahoma.”

Despite the overwhelming tide against many Democrats in the Sooner State, Rep. McAffrey crushed black Republican Dominique DeMon Block, Sr., gathered only 1,826 votes (30.44% of the total) to the Democratic incumbent’s 4,173 (69.56%).

In past interviews with CapitolBeatOK, McAffrey expressed cautious optimism of better relations with the majority caucus, saying he respected Rep. Steele.

Note: Stacy Martin, editor of The City Sentinel, a weekly newspaper in Oklahoma City, also reports for CapitolBeatOK, where Pat McGuigan is editor.