Cleta Deatherage Mitchell: Everyone should run, and why smaller districts are better

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Earlier this week, in my entry about the passing of Twyla Mason Gray, I mentioned the fascinating collection of interviews from 2007 that makes up the OSU Women of the Oklahoma Legislature oral history project.

Cleta Deatherage Mitchell represented Norman in the State House of Representatives as a Democrat from 1976 to 1984, during which time she rose to the chairmanship of the appropriations and budget committee. Nowadays she's a Washington, D. C., attorney, a member of the National Rifle Association board, chairman of the American Conservative Union Foundation, and president of the National Republican Lawyers Association. She began working on national issues with her advocacy and legal defense of term limits. Her law practice focuses on election law and lobbying and ethics laws.

As you can see in the following quotes, Mitchell believes that politics should not be run by a professional class, but by ordinary citizens, taking time out to serve their fellow citizens.

In the interview, Mitchell also explains why smaller districts are a good thing, a timely reminder as some of our legislators are toying with the idea of fewer legislators and as Tulsa voters face a ballot initiative that would add three members elected at-large (citywide) to our City Council. (Emphasis added.)

I recommend everybody run for office. I really think everybody ought to serve. I really think it is a bad thing that we've come to this professionalization of politics because that isn't what this country was founded on. This idea--to have a really representative government, you have to have a system that allows people to take turns and go and spend a tour of duty in a legislative body or a city council or a planning commission or a school board. Those are the people who, in my view, really deserve the credit because those are generally volunteer positions. I decided I didn't want any part of people trying to get me to run for the Norman City Council. I said, "Do I want people calling me in the middle of the night because there's a dead dog in their street? No, I don't think so."

Frankly my remedy for the cost of congressional campaigns is that one of the things we ought to do is to triple the size of the U.S. House of Representatives. It's not written in the Constitution that we have 435. They used to increase them. Cut the district sizes by two-thirds so people can get to know and do those grass roots door-to-door campaigns. I mean, that was such an important part of my learning process to become a legislator was the campaign. I would bring home zinnia seeds and watermelons and people would give me money--twenty bucks and, I mean--"Come back and get some of this squash from my garden," and I talked to people. My, campaign staff, my volunteers would say, "You are the slowest canvasser." Well, that's true because I really talked to people, and I really learned from them and listened to them. It's not easy for candidates to do that, running for Congress or the U.S. Senate now because it's all television. It's fundraising and television and they don't re-draw the state boundaries every ten years so Senators actually do have to maintain the boundaries. But for House members I really think that we've lost something in the retail politics that I think we could get back if we changed the system some.

I think everybody ought to do it, and I think people who think they're not qualified--women always say they're not qualified. That's the first thing they always say. They're not qualified. And I say, "Well, if you don't think you're qualified, then you just need to do what I did. Go sit in the gallery. Go listen. Turn on C-SPAN. You know, watch the local access channel. Watch your city council, and if you think you're not qualified, you are just not paying attention."...

Women always think, "Well, I need to go get another degree or I need to get another course." And I always say, "One more piece of paper is not what you need. You just need to know that you know what you know and you bring what you know to the table. And in a representative government, that's what we're supposed to have....

Listen more than you talk. Take care of the home folks. And work, work, work.

As you'll read in the transcript of the interview, Mitchell was instrumental in the Open Meetings Act, the restoration of the State Capitol building, an end to unrecorded votes in the legislature (the "Committee of the Whole"), the computerization of voter records, the redirection of state sales tax receipts from being earmarked for Lloyd Rader's welfare empire to the general fund under the legislature's control, and "displaced homemaker" training programs at the state's VoTech schools.

MORE:

Cleta Mitchell in the Daily Caller: Setting the record straight on voter ID laws

Back in February, RedState's Erick Erickson defended Mitchell for her devotion to the conservative cause, contrasted with her detractors' in GOProud and their support for left-wing groups and causes.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 7, 2011 11:49 PM.

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