Putting the losers in charge


There's change in the air down at the Oklahoma State Capitol, with the realization that this may be the year that the voters elect a Republican majority to the Oklahoma House of Representatives. The outcome of a handful of races will have momentous consequences -- who will be Speaker, who will chair the committees and thus control what legislation is heard and what is ignored. In turn, the Speaker has power to appoint members of state boards and commissions. In a sense you're casting two votes when you vote for a state legislator -- who will represent you locally, and which party will set the agenda and run Oklahoma. It's reasonable that the majority party, representing the majority sentiment of the voters, should have that kind of power, with due consideration for the rights of legislators in the minority party, who after all represent the same number of constituents as the legislators in the majority.

There's change in the air, too, at Tulsa's City Hall, the result of the ouster of an incumbent in District 6, the near defeat of an incumbent in District 4, and the uncertain result in District 3. Add to that the resounding reelection of a couple of councilors who were labeled by the downtown elite as troublemakers and targeted for defeat. The result is very different from that of two years ago. But that difference may not be reflected in the leadership of the incoming Council.

If the Council follows tradition, two Councilors who were on the losing side of this election will be chosen as Chairman and Vice Chairman next Monday, at a meeting following the new Council's swearing-in. The tradition alternates between parties each year, moves the Vice Chairman up to the Chairmanship and takes the most senior member in a party who hasn't yet been the Chairman as the new Vice Chairman. This year that means District 7 Republican Councilor Randy Sullivan would become Chairman and District 4 Democrat Councilor Tom Baker would become Vice Chairman.

Although the Chairman of the City Council isn't as powerful as, say, Speaker of the House, he presides over the meetings, sets the agenda, and makes appointments to special task forces and committees. For example, the Tulsa City Council was given two places on the Dialog / Visioning leadership team, and then-Chairman Bill Christiansen appointed himself and Susan Neal. A chairman who is philosophically at odds with the majority of the Council would make life miserable for everyone, particularly if he were inclined to use his power to inflict misery on those who disagree with him. At the least, we need our Council leaders to treat every member with fairness and respect, and to be in tune with the concerns of ordinary Tulsans.

So by what measure do I define Sullivan and Baker as both being on the losing side? I'm not talking about the fact that the Republicans increased their majority from five to six. As I've written before, the issues that really matter in Tulsa politics don't line up well with national party divisions. So which side won the 2004 city elections?

The Class of 2002 -- the Tulsa Whirled's handpicked candidates who came into office (or back into office) in the last election -- has gone from six seats to four, from a majority to just shy, pending the outcome of next week's revote in District 3. The Tulsa Whirled editorial board has its hidden agenda, a plan for running our city that doesn't respect the rights or concerns of ordinary Tulsans.

There were eight races -- four primaries and four general elections -- in which the Whirled endorsed one candidate and I (and the Tulsa Beacon) endorsed another. Three of their guys won and four of my guys won -- the eighth race will be decided next Tuesday. If you add up the votes cast in those races, my choices received 59% of the vote, their choices received 41% of the vote.

Or take a key vote from the F&M Bank rezoning hearing. Regardless of your view of the development proposal itself, four of the councilors (Baker, Patrick, Sullivan, and Justis) showed contempt for the homeowners who came to speak about the abuse of their protest petition rights. This gang of four voted to shut the neighbors up and proceed to a vote before they homeowners could set out their case. Only two of those four councilors -- Sullivan and Baker -- are safely back in office, and one of them just barely. (Patrick and Justis are the other two.) And I have to wonder whether Sullivan would have won, if it had been known before the election that he received over half his campaign funds from F&M Bank board members, who spread a lot of money around in this election. Should we take the two Councilors who showed the most contempt for public involvement in the process and put them in charge for the next two years?

Randy Sullivan, heir presumptive to the chairmanship, considers homeowners extremists when they attempt to defend their rights under the law. Here's what he had to say to the Whirled when he won re-election:

“What I think this is is a sign that extreme politics — extreme individuals with extreme issues — just doesn’t cut the mustard with the voters,” Sullivan said.

“They want a moderate, someone who looks at all issues and looks out for everyone.”

(Here's a profile of the man Sullivan considered an extreme individual with extreme views.)

In other settings, Randy Sullivan has likened homeowners who protest rezonings to ecoterrorists. Do you think you're going to be given a fair opportunity to express your concerns to the Council, when the man with the gavel regards you as morally equivalent to the Unabomber?

We've detailed in these pages some of Sullivan's bizarre behavior, such as his inexplicable effort to prevent a private school from purchasing and locating in the old Children's Medical Center, a plan that had the enthusiastic support of the seller, the potential buyer, and neighboring homeowners. And in his interaction with people who disagree with him, he seems incapable of tact, instead trying to get under the other person's skin and provoke an angry response.

There are enough honorable folks on the incoming council to prevent Sullivan and Baker from being elected, if they will stick together. At the very least, they should postpone the decision for one more week, until the winner in District 3 has been chosen by the voters and certified by the election board.

As a conservative, I have deep appreciation for tradition, but I hope our newly-sworn-in councilors will look beyond tradition, display some statesmanlike courage, and select leaders who are in tune with the public and temperamentally suited to leadership.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 1, 2004 11:50 PM.

Radio signal maps was the previous entry in this blog.

Will Patrick have a vote? is the next entry in this blog.

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