Definitions Matter

Image of Picasso work

Is The Oklahoman editorial page endorsing Jari Askins for governor in 2010 this far away from the election?

In a Sunday editorial (“Growth of independents could play major role,” June 14, 2008) ostensibly about the growth of independent voters in Oklahoma and the nation, the newspaper makes this argument:

Democratic Gov. Brad Henry’s appeal to independent voters is reflected by his easy re-election in 2006 and in his continued popularity. Among announced candidates for governor, Democrat Drew Edmondson has at times issued blatant appeals to liberal Democrats, many of whom have been critical of Henry, while Republican Mary Fallin consistently appeals to conservative Republicans. The candidate most resembling Henry in terms of partisanship and "soft” ideology is Lt. Gov. Jari Askins, a Democrat.

Leave aside the validity of the Edmondson part of this comment for a moment. Isn’t it interesting the way the editorial frames Askins as the centrist candidate in the mold of Henry while framing Fallin to the right? The implicit argument is that Askins can be just as popular as Henry, a centrist Democrat. Does that not imply an endorsement of some sort from the ultra-conservative newspaper?

The problem here is the issue of political definitions. In most places outside this region of the country, both Lt. Gov. Askins and Attorney General Edmondson would be considered centrist-to-conservative Democrats. U.S. Rep. Fallin plays well to the extreme conservative wing of the Republican Party in the context of national politics, and, of course, it has worked for her in Oklahoma, and it could work again. This is the reality.

Edmondson is a Vietnam War veteran and former district attorney in Muskogee County. In Edmondson’s tenure as attorney general, Oklahoma continues to execute criminals under death penalty laws. He has consistently taken a tough stance on crime and criminals as a prosecutor. It's simply an illogical argument that Edmondson has been blatantly recruiting liberal votes.

In 2000, Edmondson did join an existing lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America for discriminating against gay people, but that decision now seems prescient given the growing cultural acceptance of same-sex marriages and gay rights in other states. Was Edmondson’s decision to join the suit one of the “blatant appeals to liberals”? Even former Vice President Dick Cheney has come out in favor of gay rights. What do Askins, Fallin and The Oklahoman editorial writers think about discrimination against gay people?

I’m undecided about the governor’s race at this point. Edmondson and Askins are excellent candidates and can win in November against Fallin, who appears to be a shoo-in for the Republican nomination. I think it’s important to hear what the candidates have to say as their campaigns get going. Anything could happen in the coming months to change the political dynamic of the 2010 governor’s race.

But The Oklahoman editorial raises this question:

Do the newspaper’s ultra-conservative editorial writers believe Askins would be the best governor or do they think she would be the weaker opponent against Fallin, whom they will endorse in the general election no matter who wins the Democratic primary?


Edmondson Enters Governor Race

Image of Jari AskinsImage of Drew Edmondson

(Gov. Brad Henry is an outstanding centrist governor in an extremely conservative state. Read DocHoc's commentary this week in the Oklahoma Gazette. Be sure to check out Brandon Dutcher's companion article, which calls Henry a "lefty.")

Oklahoma Democrats now have two excellent candidates for governor in 2010.

Attorney General Drew Edmondson announced his bid for governor Wednesday. He will face fellow Democrat Lt. Gov. Jari Askins in the primary. Both candidates have name recognition and a loyal following. Both candidates would be great Oklahoma governors.

On the Republican side, U.S. Rep Mary Fallin and state Sen. Randy Brogdon have announced their candidacies for governor.

At this point, the Democrats face these two issues:

(1) Could a contentious primary election weaken the winning candidate, who will likely face Mary Fallin in the general election? Will Edmondson and Askins have to spend more money than Fallin in the primary election and thus be at a financial disadvantage? Will Democratic supporters fracture and lose energy for the general election? Edmondson and Askins, in debates and in their campaign rhetoric, need to commit early to the idea that the losing candidate will unequivocally throw his/her support to the winning Democrat.

(2) Who will run best against Fallin? This is a difficult question to answer at this point. Edmondson has probably made more political enemies than Askins in his career just because of the nature of his job as attorney general. In political parlance, it means he probably has more “negatives” than Askins. But he also has widespread name recognition, and he comes from a well-known Oklahoma family. There’s no question he will be able to raise the campaign money to challenge Fallin, who will be heavily funded in the general election. Askins has few negatives, but doesn’t have the same long-term name recognition as Edmondson. Can she raise as much money as Edmondson? That might be the main question. As of May 1, Edmondson had $472,774 in campaign money on hand compared to Askins’s $90,052. Another important question is this: Will fellow Democrat Gov. Brad Henry support one of the candidates in the primary or stay neutral?

The governor’s race in 2010 is vitally important for Democrats. Republicans now hold majorities in the Oklahoma House and Senate. Gov. Brad Henry has been able to check the right-wing agenda through his veto pen and bipartisan approach to governing. If Fallin becomes the next governor and Republicans maintain their majority status, then Oklahoma will tilt even further right. This could isolate the state even further from the current national political dynamic.


Thou Shall Not

Image of theocracy versus constitutional democracy

A court has ruled that a Ten Commandments monument on the Haskell County Courthouse grounds in Stigler violates the U.S. Constitution and that it must be removed.

State Rep. Mike Ritze was quick to point out the decision would not affect the Ten Commandments monument that will soon be installed at the Oklahoma Capitol in Oklahoma City, but the fact remains clear such monuments here and elsewhere will continue to draw legal challenges.

Ritze, a Broken Arrow Republican and an ordained Southern Baptist Church deacon, sponsored the bill last legislative session allowing a privately funded Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol. Gov. Brad Henry signed the bill into law.

In the Stigler case, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Ten Commandments monument violated the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The monument has been on the courthouse grounds since 2004.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Haskell County resident John W. Green brought the lawsuit challenging the legality of the monument.

The ruling dealt with what it saw as the “religious motivation” of Michael Bush, who pushed to erect the monument, which has the Ten Commandments on one side and The Mayflower Compact on the other. (You can read the full ruling here.) The ruling stated:

…the reasonable observer in this case would be aware of the nature and history of the Haskell County community, the circumstances surrounding the Monument’s placement on the courthouse lawn, its precise location on the lawn and its spatial relationship to the other courthouse monuments, and also the Haskell County community’s response to the Monument. In particular, the reasonable observer would be aware of Mr. Bush’s religious motivation for seeking the erection of the Monument. After learning of these motivations, the Board swiftly approved its erection and allowed the project to go forward, despite being aware that there might be adverse legal consequences. And, when those adverse legal consequences did in fact materialize in the form of Mr. Green’s lawsuit, the Board seemingly did not hesitate to stay the course, electing to maintain the Monument without clarifying its purposes in doing so. Further, although the Monument ultimately also was inscribed with the Mayflower Compact, the Board approved the Monument with the understanding that it would be inscribed only with the Ten Commandments.

Here is the Mayflower Compact as it reads on the monument, according to the ruling:

In the name of God, Amen.

We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord, King James by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland king, defender of the faith, ect. [sic], having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northernparts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the 11 of November, in the year of the reign of our sovereign lord, King James, of England, France, and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini 1620.

Supporters of the Ten Commandments monument slated for the capitol have been adamant that it doesn’t represent religious intrusion. They say the monument deals with historical aspects of the law and will be patterned after a similar monument displayed at the Texas Capitol in Austin. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Texas monument doesn’t violate the Constitution.

But the Texas monument was installed in 1961 and is just one of several monuments and historical displays throughout the capitol. Will Oklahoma’s new monument fall under the narrow confines of the 2005 court ruling? Will the ACLU file a lawsuit? Should taxpayer money be used to defend the monument?