Okla. House of Representatives: Dysfunction Junction

OKLAHOMA CITY (26 May 2017) – Today I announced my resignation from the Oklahoma House of Representatives after 19 years of service at the State Capitol.

The timing could not have been more appropriate.

On two separate occasions today, during House consideration of Senate Bill 860, the Fiscal Year 2018 General Appropriations Bill, Rep. Regina T. Goodwin, D-Tulsa, stood to ask questions about the measure. Both times, as Ms. Goodwin started to speak, an unidentified Republican Representative shouted “debate!”

That was demonstrably rude.

Similarly, about three years ago former Rep. Mike Shelton, D-OKC, arrived late at the Capitol for a daily floor session; he had been on a business trip and had just arrived at the Capitol from Will Rogers Airport. Mr. Shelton was wearing dress slacks, dress shoes, a dress shirt, a bow tie, and a clean, bright yellow sweater rather than a suit jacket.

An ill-mannered Republican former Representative lodged a complaint with the House presiding officer, arguing that Representative Shelton was dressed improperly. Fortunately, the complaint was dismissed, but not before Representative Shelton had been publicly embarrassed.

Also this morning, Rep. Johnny Tadlock, D-Idabel, made a motion that he wanted the House Journal to reflect that he tried unsuccessfully to be recognized by the presiding officer so that he could ask one or more questions about the budget bill. However, the presiding officer, Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman, denied Representative Tadlock’s request.

House Democrats challenged the ruling, which was referred to a House floor vote; to no one’s surprise, Martin’s ruling against Tadlock was upheld on a 32-47 vote. The 26 House Democrats were supported by six Republicans, while every vote in support of the presiding officer’s ruling was cast by a Republican.

In the 19 years I have worked for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, NOT ONE TIME – until today – had a Representative’s motion to include a statement in the House Journal EVER been denied. NOT ONCE. If you doubt me, look it up yourself. Be my guest.

Representative Martin said the decision whether to incorporate a Representative’s statement in the Journal is the presiding officer’s prerogative, not a member’s right.

Two weeks ago I circulated to all House members (Republicans and Democrats alike) and all staffers an email about dire warnings that home care providers were mailing to their clients in re the ADvantage waiver program, urging them to apply pressure on their legislators. In my email message I included some advice I received from a House staff division director about this matter.

Within minutes I received a ‘phone call from a House official, advising me that a Republican Representative had complained because the House division director I quoted was “helping the Democrats.”

These five incidents illustrate a principal reason why I am retiring from the legislative staff.

Twelve-year term limits has been a two-edged sword. On a positive note, it has resulted in a regular infusion of fresh ideas from new lawmakers. On the flip side, though, the House of Representatives is now afflicted with a distinct lack of civility and collegiality.

Partisan politics has poisoned the House. The Oklahoma Capitol has become “Dysfunction Junction”.