Cargill’s Petty Politics

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Lance’s Lege Begins

Oklahoma House Speaker Lance Cargill’s petty move to ban a Norman legislator from serving on an important committee that is vital to his district shows again how Republicans consistently put politics above people in the state.

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Cargill (R-Harrah) has denied a request by state Rep. Wallace Collins (D-Norman) to serve on the mental health subcommittee. Collins’ House District 45 is home to Griffin Memorial Hospital, a mental health facility. Traditionally, legislators from the district serve on mental health committees, according to Collins, who has complained publicly about Cargill's action.

But this doesn’t matter to Cargill, of course. Collins beat Thad Balkman, a religious extremist who wants to force Oklahomans to live under his narrow-minded views, for the House seat last November.

So here’s the kicker: Cargill and Balkman, two slick buddies, are operating the mysterious 100 Ideas initiative, which will not reveal its funding because government is secret in Oklahoma these days. The initiative seems designed to further Cargill’s and Balkman’s political careers and bolster the GOP chances to further dominate the Lege in years to come.

So Cargill and the Oklahoma power structure reward the religious fanatic and election loser Balkman but won’t even let Collins serve on a significant committee for his district. Collins won the election. Balkman lost. Essentially, it means secret individuals or corporations operate the political landscape here, not voters in Norman or elsewhere. What else is new?

Here’s an idea for your secret He-Man Woman Haters Club and its 100 big shot ideers, Cargill: Give Democracy a chance. Put Collins on the committee.

What’s The Secret Handshake, Lance?

Speaking of the He-Man Woman Haters Club, the 100 Ideas initiative announced its advisory board recently.

Its public relations firm, The Daily Oklahoman, said this about the secret funding issue in its release about the big event: “Funding for the project is still unknown, as private donations made to the initiative have not been made public” (“Advisors selected to sift 100 ideas for legislation,” February 10, 2007).

What a joke. People and organizations throughout the state, including the Muskogee Phoenix newspaper, have called on the initiative to reveal its funding, but The Oklahoman declines to recognize this reality because it’s a biased, right-wing, propagandistic tool of big corporations and religious fanatics.

(Update: According to a Feb. 14 story in The Daily Oklahoman, Balkman says he will start to release donor information at the end of March in the form of a quarterly report. But this is just more politics. Why wait? And why are the people funding this organization so reticent to step forward and identify themselves?)


Can Cargill, Balkman Use Secret Money?

Oklahoma’s election and legal officials should determine whether the GOP-backed 100 Ideas initiative can continue to hide its money sponsors.

Image of Lance Cargill

At issue is whether the initiative is government sponsored or not and whether it violates campaign contribution laws. Oklahoma House Speaker Lance Cargill, R-Harrah), pictured right, and former Norman Republican legislator Thad Balkman, who recently announced the initiative, said private citizens of Oklahoma were funding the venture but would not give the names.

Yet the initiative’s Web site (as of February 6, 2007) clearly states Cargill, in his role as an elected official, formed the initiative:

“Beginning in February of 2007, Speaker Lance Cargill will travel across the state to change Oklahoma’s mindset to look ahead to the long-term future of our state. Through a series of town hall meetings and interaction with the state’s citizens called IdeaRaisers, the 100 Ideas Initiative will develop a comprehensive vision” . . . blah, blah, blah.

Perhaps, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson or some other state legal official should consider these questions: Is this a political action committee supporting Cargill and the GOP? Should we look at the group’s funding as campaign donations? If so, then shouldn’t the funding be open to public scrutiny? Can any politician in Oklahoma now get secret money in this way?

The 100 Ideas initiative is a complete steal from the 100 Innovative Ideas For Florida’s Future. It’s a political gimmick to help the Republican Party on the state level. The cover story is the initiative will canvas Oklahoma and come up with 100 ideas to help the state prosper. These ideas will be published in a book and on the initiative’s Web site.

University of Oklahoma President David Boren, another public servant, and former Governors George Nigh and Frank Keating are board advisors for the initiative and have apparently signed off on the secret funding. Are they getting money, too? Expenses? Stipends? Trips? How much? Did the centrist Democrats Boren and Nigh realize the funding sources were secret? If so, what does that tell you about the state of the Democratic Party in Oklahoma these days?

As Austin-based songwriter James McMurtry sings about this area, “Out here in middle, where the center’s on the right.”

According to a recent article in the Oklahoma Gazette, the initiative doesn’t want any ideas that go against standard GOP operating procedure. “…we hope that all the ideas would not necessarily expand the role of government,” said Balkman, who as a legislator once endorsed the teaching of Intelligent Design, or creationism, in Oklahoma’s science classrooms.

Well, there goes improving educational systems, there goes decent health care for the state’s middle class people, there goes better roads for poor old Oklahoma. But you can bet all those tiresome cultural wedge issues the GOP and even some Democrats exploit for votes here will become great ideas.

The venture shows an interesting snapshot of how political power has always worked in Oklahoma. Behind the scenes, the rich power structure here pulls the strings of political puppets. Rock the boat in any fashion, and you’re out on your sorry ass.

Mike Hermes, who operates the popular Oklahoma blog, Okiedoke, has come up with his own Okie 100 initiative. It’s truly politically independent and provides full disclosure of anyone remotely involved in the project. This is where the people can speak freely these days, not in the latest conservative think tank created by the suits.