Someone call the waaaahh-mbulance!

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State Sen. Nancy Riley, who represents District 37, announced yesterday that she is leaving the Republican Party and becoming a Democrat. Her stated reasons, according to the Daily Oklahoman:

Riley, who finished third in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor but received enough votes to force a runoff election, said she received little respect from the Senate Republican Caucus and felt her concerns about the party were met with a "pat on the head." ...

She said she received no support from the party during her campaign for lieutenant governor. She was not invited to a debate of Republican candidates for lieutenant governor, she said.

In 1988, I was living in Brookside, which was then in SD 37. The State Senate seat was open -- David Riggs was stepping down -- and no Republican had announced. I actually considered filing, but was I relieved to learn that a former pastor and insurance broker named Jerry Riley had decided to enter the race. I called him and volunteered my help, and he named me the precinct coordinator. I knocked doors for Jerry in Maple Ridge, in Brookside, and on the west side.

It was during that campaign that I got to know Nancy. Nancy and Jerry had just been married a couple of years -- the second marriage for both of them. Nancy had been widowed at a young age. At the time of the campaign, she was not even 30. Jerry ran a good race, but lost to Democrat Lewis Long of Glenpool.

The Rileys and I had limited contact over the next few years -- although I remember visiting their church, then Sandusky Ave. Christian Church in '89 or '90 when my wife and I were looking for a new church home. (Doctrinal differences aside, I couldn't forgive that church for tearing down the Will Rogers Theater for a parking lot.)

In 2000 Nancy Riley decided to run for the same seat against Lewis Long, still firmly ensconced in what was still a majority Democrat seat, although it was swinging to the GOP. (Long had won re-election against Tim Plinsky in 1996 with 54% of the vote.) Jerry managed the campaign. I was happy to be a part of the campaign team. Despite Long's incumbency and deep pockets, Nancy won by 265 votes. After district lines were redrawn, she won re-election in 2004 with 65% of the vote.

In 2002, I hired Jerry to be campaign manager for my second run for City Council. He did a great job, and we got very close, but lost by 700 votes. Nancy helped stamp a last minute mailer, and she knocked doors for me in the area around Hoover Elementary School, where she had been a teacher.

All that history is to explain why Nancy's decision to leave the Republican Party saddens and surprises me for more than merely partisan political reasons.

Still, the political implications can't be ignored. Nancy's defection means the Senate is split 26-22 in the Democrats' favor, undoing the Republican gain in the southwest Oklahoma special election earlier this year. This raises the bar for a Republican takeover, which would be the first time in state history for the GOP to control the Senate and to hold one of the most powerful offices in the state: Senate President Pro Tempore. Nancy's defection makes it more likely that key committees will continue to be controlled by liberal Democratic committee chairman. In the most recent legislature, key leaders and committee heads like Cal Hobson and Bernest Cain were well to the left of even most Democratic legislators and they blocked conservative and moderate legislation that had majority support in both houses. If the Ds keep their hold on the Senate, we can expect more of the same.

It's usual in situations like this that the potential defector is offered a committee chairmanship or some other plum as an inducement to convert. Both parties have done this, especially when gaining or losing a majority is at stake.

Nancy's reasons for switching seem petty and prideful to me, and that's a side of her I hadn't seen before. She seems to think that just because she was female and Republican, female Republican activists owed her their support in her race for Lt. Governor. That's not the way it works. A politician doesn't even have the right to presume that those who backed her for a lower office will support her when she seeks to move up the ladder.

In seeking to be the Republican nominee for Lt. Governor, Nancy Riley put herself up against two formidable, credible opponents. It was her job to persuade individual Republican volunteers and donors to help her make phone calls and raise money. These people are not owned by a party organization, and the party can't parcel them out to ensure that every candidate gets a fair share. If she failed to persuade these grassroots volunteers to help her, she has only herself to blame.

One more thing that surprised me was Nancy's description of herself as a moderate. I had always assumed she was conservative, but now that I look back at her campaign website, I notice that the word isn't present. If she was known not to be a conservative, it's no wonder that Republican activists weren't enthusiastic about helping her, as most of the ones I know get the greatest motivation in helping principled and consistent conservative candidates like Tom Coburn.

The Daily Oklahoman mentioned one issue-based reason for Riley's conversion:

She said there is a movement in the Republican Party to undermine public education with such things as blaming teachers for school problems and pushing for charter schools and vouchers.

I don't hear a lot of blaming of teachers from Republican critics of public education. Most of the blame goes to the curriculum experts, the teacher training process, and the school administrators.

I do hear talk about offering parents real choice in education (and there needs to be less talk and more action). For Riley to complain about charter schools and vouchers means she's more interested in protecting school administrative bureaucracies and less interested in meeting the needs of the students.

Regarding her complaint about debates: She was a full participant in the only Lt. Governor's debate I saw, the one sponsored by the Tulsa County Republican Men's Club.

The Oklahoman item quotes Senate Democratic Leader Mike Morgan as saying Riley approached him in June about switching. So she was campaigning for the Republican nomination for Lt. Governor under false pretenses. At the very least, she should have suspended her campaign.

And she owes her constituents an apology as well. She can't know how many of them voted for her in 2004 because she was the Republican nominee and how many voted for her regardless of party. The honorable thing to do would be to follow Phil Gramm's example:

In 1978 and 1980, he had been elected as a Democrat to Congress. In 1981, he decided to change parties, so he resigned his seat, then ran as a Republican in the special election, letting the people decide whether they wanted him back in Congress as a member of the GOP caucus.

Phil Gramm didn't have to take that step, but it was the honest thing to do. Nancy Riley should give the voters of south and west Tulsa County the right to decide whether they want her back as a Democrat more than they want to help the Republicans win the State Senate.


Paul Tay said:

Yep. She's entitled. Princess Nancy. If I complained about every stinkin' dog-n-pony debate to which I have NOT been invited and have actually been banned, not allowed to speak, even though I even bothered to show up, I'd certainly be yellin' R A C I S M. But, Noooooooooo. They probably all think I am just a kook and/or don't like my politics, whatever dat is.

But, who needs a debate invite, if ya got da loudest, most bodacious, most effective advertising platform in like the WHOLE English-speaking, car-centric WORLD.

I shoulda been the genius demanding the $10,000 speaking fee. But, noooooooooooooooooooo. NOT little old gracious me! I really should leave the sour grapes to the pros.

bob said:

Not knowing Sen. Riley personally, I have only an outsider's view of her actions.

Personally, I'm offended that she has been living a lie as a state Senator, a RINO professing to be a Republican, pressing the flesh at GOP functions, taking money from GOP donors, yet living a secret life as a: Democrat.

When she ran for Lt. Governor just a few short months ago, she should have run as a Democrat. She's obviously been thinking about this for a long time.

Look for a big payoff to her by Sen. Mike Morgan if the Demo's hang on to the State Senate.

Benedict Arnold: Say Hello to Senator Jumpin' Jim Jeffords AND Oklahoma State Senator Nancy Riley.

Dan Paden said:

Well, I was going to comment on Mrs. Riley, but now--thanks to you, Mr. Tay--I can't remember what I was going to say.

BTW, I wasn't convinced you were a kook until I saw you bicycling on the highway, in the summer heat, dressed as Santa Claus. I didn't even have to wait for the news report. There's only one Tulsan who would do that, I said to myself.

Paul Tay said:

Well, my dear friend Mr. Paden, you have completely missed Santa's message...AGAIN. What does he have to do next time, sir? Wear signs saying: HOMELESS NEED BEER GLOBAL WARMING BITES???

Son, you need to let yer inner Buddha come out.

S.A. said:

This is how our kids say it:

Would you like a waaaahh-mburger with those cries or should we get you a waaaahh-mbulance.

Glad she didn't get elected. Imagine the greasy waaahh-mburger joint she would have turned that office into.

She needs to pray.

Paul Tay said:

It seems the Princess is claiming the 23 percent who voted for her are a strong sign of moderate Repugs. Guess what, genius? You just DUMPED yer base. The Demo bigshots think they can whip the grassroots in line. If ya think grassroots will go for you, think again.

There's already a party for moderates of BOTH Repug and Demo ilk. It's called the Green Party. Get use to it.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 4, 2006 7:58 PM.

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