The 2005 recall: Five years later

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Five years ago tonight, on July 12, 2005, I was at The Embers, a wonderful steakhouse at 81st and Harvard (now gone, sadly), celebrating the overwhelming defeat of the attempt to recall two Tulsa City Councilors, Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock. The recall effort dominated the local political scene for over a year, a battle that pitted the traditional Money Belt rulers of Tulsa and the suburban development industry against a group of five councilors from the neglected periphery of the city who were working for open and responsive city government which would put the needs of Tulsa residents and the city's own development and fiscal health first.

Supporters of Mautino and Medlock had to overcome the substantial financial advantage of the pro-recall forces, whose supporters included the ownership of the daily paper. The old guard still had the backing of a once-dominant morning host in his waning days; the anti-recall forces were boosted by the new morning talk champion, who rallied listeners to "stand up for what's right," to show up at council meetings and rallies and to go door-to-door to defeat the recall.

The defeated establishment forces regrouped, formed Tulsans for Better Government, and began circulating a petition to change the composition of the council, turning nine districts into six and adding three seats elected citywide. That effort was rebuffed by the Citizens' Commission for City Government, and prospective mayoral candidates like Randi Miller, Kathy Taylor, and Dewey Bartlett Jr were anxious to disassociate themselves from the unpopular plan.

But now the at-large idea is back, with Bartlett Jr making sympathetic noises about electing the entire council citywide and the Keating Twins (former governor Frank and his brother Dan) on KFAQ Monday morning promoting at-large councilors.

(I'm not sure why Frank Keating is involving himself in Tulsa politics. Although he is still registered to vote here, as far as I can tell he hasn't actually lived here -- in the sense that most people talk about their primary place of residence -- since Tom Foley was Speaker of the U. S. House. His voter registration record lists a condo owned by his mother-in-law as his residence, and the Governor's Mansion in Oklahoma City as his mailing address, despite the fact that the Henry family has lived there since 2003. The Keatings own a home in McLean, Va., which he purchased in 2003. On Pat Campbell's show Monday morning, Frank Keating seemed to be advocating that the Tulsa Metro Chamber draft us a new city charter, which shows a very 1990s understanding of the power and role of the Chamber, which recently fought unsuccessfully just to get a special mention in Tulsa's new comprehensive plan.)

Today as five years ago a lot of fingers, particularly those belonging to Tulsa's fading establishment, are pointing at the City Council as the source of all the contention at City Hall. If only they could be muzzled or restrained, the thinking goes, the Mayor could really get things done.

But it's that very mode of thinking that is the real hindrance to cooperation at City Hall. The nine elected representatives of the people of Tulsa have never been treated as partners by this mayor or any of his predecessors, going back at least as far as Susan Savage. Councilors were either to be manipulated, given pork barrel in exchange for faithful service as the mayor's rubber stamp, or bulldozed, with the assistance of the establishment's media outlets.

In the past, the mayor could count on a few loyal supporters on the council to help her undermine her opponents on the council. That is no longer the case. Whatever their differences on specific issues, the nine councilors have developed an institutional self-respect that was once lacking. They are united in insisting that the mayor respect the council's role under the charter as a co-equal branch of government, and they are right to do so. The assertiveness and solidarity of today's council owes much to the groundwork laid by the "Gang of Five" and their willingness to endure harsh, unending criticism.

The preeminent lesson of the failed 2005 recall attempt is that we must respect the verdict of the voters. They want checks and balances. They want independent-minded councilors, not rubber stamps.

Before we start messing with the form of government, how about we have a mayor who respects the council, seeks to understand their concerns, and works for solutions that earn their support?

MORE:

BatesLine archive on the Mautino and Medlock recall election.

BatesLine archive from July 2005.

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1 Comments

recyclemichael said:

...councilors from the neglected periphery of the city?

Doesn't Ex-councilor Medlock live near 81st and Lewis?

That area of town doesn't seem very neglected nor near the periphery to me...

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on July 12, 2010 11:22 PM.

Bartlett Jr showing his TfBG loyalties? was the previous entry in this blog.

Gary Ezzo comes to Tulsa is the next entry in this blog.

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