Scan­dals noth­ing new at Capi­tol

Re­cent flurry of up­heaval in Ok­la­homa Leg­is­la­ture con­tin­ues long his­tory

Tulsa World - - Front Page - By Randy Kre­hbiel

On May 22, 1921, a 20-yearold stenog­ra­pher at the Ok­la­homa Capi­tol put a gun to her head and pulled the trig­ger. The state rep­re­sen­ta­tive with whom she'd been liv­ing for two months had turned out not to be sin­gle after all.

So if you think the re­cent spate of leg­isla­tive mis­be­hav­ior en­ters new ter­ri­tory, you're wrong. Greed, cor­rup­tion and sins of the flesh have tainted state politics from the start.

Ok­la­homa's first gov­er­nor, Charles Haskell, was in­dicted while in of­fice by a fed­eral grand jury in Tulsa and only through a tech­ni­cal­ity avoided trial on charges that he stole land from the Creek Nation.

Bob Burke, an Ok­la­homa City at­tor­ney who has writ­ten dozens of books on Ok­la­homa his­tory and once cov­ered the Capi­tol, said the big­gest change is not the over­all level of sex­ual ex­ploits and gen­eral shenani­gans but how much more dif­fi­cult it is now to keep such things quiet.

“Fifty years ago, I was a state Capi­tol re­porter and re­mem­ber one July 4 week­end three state se­na­tors and one House mem­ber were ar­rested on (driv­ing

while in­tox­i­cated) charges,” Burk re­called. “None of the sto­ries were ever re­ported be­cause it was ac­cept­able be­hav­ior for re­porters, in­clud­ing me, to as­sess the sit­u­a­tion as a per­sonal be­hav­ior that did not nec­es­sar­ily have any­thing to do with the pub­lic of­fi­cial's per­for­mance on the job.

“Thank­fully, that is no longer the stan­dard for jour­nal­is­tic re­port­ing,” Burke said. “The peo­ple have a right to know what their pub­lic of­fi­cials stand for and when they fail to obey the law or live by a rea­son­able stan­dard of moral­ity.”

The late Marty Huaun re­vealed the seamier side of mid20th-cen­tury Ok­la­homa politics in three mem­o­rable books ti­tled “He Buys Or­gans for Churches, Pi­anos for Bawdy Houses,” “How to Win Elec­tions With­out Hardly Cheatin' At All,” and “Ok­la­homa's Le­gal Graft, Il­le­gal Graft and Just Plain Stealin'.”

Still, the pace at which law­mak­ers have been ten­der­ing res­ig­na­tions, whether from scan­dal or be­cause they just want to go do some­thing else, is close to un­prece­dented.

Seven leg­is­la­tors have re­signed since the Novem­ber gen­eral elec­tion, and an eighth has died. The only time some­thing like that has hap­pened was nearly 100 years ago, when nine House mem­bers re­signed dur­ing the Ninth Leg­is­la­ture, which was in of­fice from 192224.

It isn't clear why all of those House mem­bers packed it in. No one from the Se­nate seems to have left.

Those were peak years for the Ku Klux Klan in Ok­la­homa, and they in­cluded a messy im­peach­ment trial and re­moval of Gov. J.C. Wal­ton. Many Klans­men were un­masked in the process.

One of those re­sign­ing, Dr. G.S. Long of Tulsa, was a Klans­man and also came un­der scru­tiny for al­leged bal­lot-box stuff­ing. Rather than an­swer ques­tions about the in­ci­dent, Long quit.

Long, by the way, was the brother of one Huey P. Long, who would later be­come the po­lit­i­cal strong­man of Louisiana.

The cur­rent string of res­ig­na­tions ac­tu­ally goes back to Jan­uary 2015, when Sen. Jabar Shu­mate, D-Tulsa, left to be­come a lob­by­ist for a school voucher group and then wound up an ad­min­is­tra­tor at the Univer­sity of Ok­la­homa.

Later that year, Sen. Rick Brink­ley, R-Owasso, left of­fice after ad­mit­ting that he'd been em­bez­zling from his em­ployer, the Bet­ter Busi­ness Bureau, for years.

The cost of re­plac­ing law­mak­ers who leave in the mid­dle of their terms is two-fold — the ex­pense of spe­cial elec­tions, when those are called for un­der the law, and con­stituents' lost rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

Ev­ery open­ing since last Novem­ber has ne­ces­si­tated spe­cial elec­tions, at a to­tal cost es­ti­mated in ex­cess of $200,000. Not a huge amount, in the big scheme of things, but not in­signif­i­cant, ei­ther, given the state's bud­get trends.

The loss of rep­re­sen­ta­tion is in­cal­cu­la­ble, but un­der cur­rent elec­tion laws it is not un­usual for a dis­trict to be with­out rep­re­sen­ta­tion for an en­tire ses­sion. This year the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives has never had a full com­ple­ment of 101 mem­bers.

“This cur­rent se­ries of scan­dals is hor­ri­ble for our im­age, but it is not the first time our pub­lic of­fi­cials, as hu­mans and sub­ject to temp­ta­tion, have be­trayed the trust of the elec­torate,” Burke said.

“Our his­tory, like the his­tory of all other states,” he said, “is filled with scan­dal.”

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