Oklahoma Politics: May 2006 Archives

An edited version of this piece was published on May 31, 2006, in Urban Tulsa Weekly. The archived version is no longer online. Posted on the web, with hyperlinks to related articles, on August 18, 2010.

"No man's property is safe while the legislature is in session." So goes the old saying, and it very nearly held true this year, as two bills at the State Capitol, SB 1324 and HB 2559, threatened property values by trying to undermine local control of zoning and historic preservation.

But HB 2559 died in conference committee, and SB 1324 emerged last Tuesday only to be blown out of the water by a humiliating vote of 42 to 3 in the full State Senate.

We've been following these bills for about six weeks, ever since historic preservation groups sounded the alarm. We've learned several lessons in the process.

The first lesson is that if you care about your city, the State Legislature deserves every bit as much scrutiny as City Hall. In Oklahoma, municipalities are creatures of the state, limited to the authority granted them by the Oklahoma Constitution and Statutes. A lot of good work locally could be undone at the state level.

Lesson two: It's very hard to get a clear idea of where a bill stands. Striking the title, shell bills, committee substitutes, riders -- there are so many different ways to derail or completely change a piece of legislation. We've only begun to get an education in the legislative process as it is practiced in Oklahoma City. Don't assume that you get it just because you watch C-SPAN as your daily soap opera; Oklahoma's procedures and traditions are very different from those of Congress.

Lesson three: Legislators are forced to consider an incredible amount of legislation each year - thousands of bills and resolutions are introduced, and hundreds make it to the floor for debate and a vote. They can't possibly give each bill the attention it deserves.

Consequently, they put a lot of trust in their colleagues and in lobbyists to decide whether a bill deserves scrutiny. In the case of HB 2559 and SB 1324, the bill's sponsors - Sen. Brian Crain and Reps. Ron Peters and Jeannie McDaniel, all from Tulsa - told their colleagues that the provisions weren't controversial at all.

The same message was carried by lobbyists Karl Ahlgren and Russ Roach, representing the interests of "Utica Partners". Roach used to live in Swan Lake, a zoned historic preservation neighborhood in midtown Tulsa. Nowadays Roach lives south of Southern Hills Country Club, living large and milking his connections to his former colleagues for all their worth. He seems to have forgotten the challenges faced by homeowners in older parts of Tulsa.

Until preservationists got wind of the bill, and word spread to neighborhood associations, city councilors, and others concerned about urban planning and zoning policy, legislators weren't hearing any message to the contrary. SB 1324 passed unanimously the first time through in both houses.

How did ordinary Oklahomans turn a unanimous vote in favor to a nearly unanimous vote against? We became aware of the legislation and understood its implications, and then we expressed our concerns to our representatives. Once we educated the members of the House and Senate about the problems with the bill, that tipped the balance in the right direction.

While I'd hope that our legislators would be inclined to vote against any measure they haven't had time to study, it's our job to keep an eye on the bills that are introduced and to lobby just as hard as hired guns like Russ Roach.

One more lesson to learn: There are elected officials that desperately need to be replaced, but it's likely that most of them will get free rides to re-election when the filing period closes on June 7.

Ron Peters, who represents House District 70 in midtown, is one of those who need to go. Off the record, his Republican colleagues will tell you that he is one of the least cooperative, least trustworthy, least principled members of their caucus. They'd be happy to see him go.

Peters was one of a half-dozen Republicans who broke with the party to support the lottery and the introduction of full-fledged casino gambling, with all their accompanying social ills.

SB 1324 and HB 2559 are not his first assaults on homeowners' rights and local control of land use issues. In 2005, Peters and Crain co-authored HB 1911.

In addition to the Board of Adjustment provisions that made their way into SB 1324, the earlier bill would have removed notice requirements for property owners within a redevelopment (i.e., urban renewal) district. Owners would not have had to be notified about public hearings regarding redevelopment plans affecting their property. It also would have removed a requirement for redevelopment plans to be approved by the City Council.

Peters hasn't had a challenger since he first won the seat in the 2000 Republican primary. A conservative Republican challenger could unseat him, if only one would step forward.

It must have surprised some of her constituents that Jeannie McDaniel, a Democrat who represents House District 78 in the northern part of midtown, would have supported a bill undermining historic preservation zoning. After all, she was head of the Mayor's Office for Neighborhoods under Mayor Susan Savage, and she did a great deal to help neighborhood associations organize and help them deal with City Hall bureaucracy.

But residents of central Maple Ridge will remember how, in 1999 and 2000, McDaniel and the Savage administration worked to undermine their efforts to get historic preservation zoning for their neighborhood, which is arguably Tulsa's most historic neighborhood without that protection.

McDaniel was not only out of step with this land use bill, she was one of only five state reps to oppose SB 1742, the pro-life legislation which makes crucial information available to women in crisis pregnancies. The bill takes concrete actions toward the stated goal of making abortion rare (as in Bill Clinton's phrase "safe, legal, and rare"), by giving women solid alternatives to killing their unborn children.

McDaniel represents quite a turn to the left from her predecessor, pro-life Democrat Mary Easley, who voted for SB 1742 in the State Senate.

McDaniel won by only 24 votes over Republican David Schaffer, and she faces a tough challenger in Tulsa police officer and Republican Jesse Guardiola. Guardiola has been campaigning hard for over six months.
The only other Tulsa state representative to oppose this year's landmark pro-life legislation was Democrat Darrell Gilbert, who represents District 72 in north-central Tulsa. Gilbert, a former Republican, hasn't had a general election opponent since his first race in 1996, and hasn't had a primary election opponent since 1998.

Our list of elected officials who deserve a strong challenge would not be complete without mentioning Tulsa County Commissioners Bob Dick and Wilbert Collins, both up for re-election this year. In previous columns, we've documented their aversion to competitive bidding and their disdain for the concerns of Tulsa homeowners.

Collins has a challenger, Owasso State Rep. John Smaligo. Both of Democrat Collins's previous wins have been very narrow, and his district, which includes north Tulsa County and east Tulsa, is becoming increasingly Republican.

Bob Dick got a free ride four years ago, and so far he has not drawn a challenger. City Councilor Bill Christiansen has been rumored as a candidate, but it hasn't been clear whether he would oppose Dick or whether Dick would retire and anoint him as his successor. Christiansen would be better on the south Tulsa bridge issue, but otherwise he wouldn't be much of an improvement.

Christiansen may be waiting to see how much damage there is from the FAA investigation into allegations of anti-competitive practices at Jones Riverside Airport, practices that are alleged to have helped his Christiansen Aviation at the expense of competing fixed-base operator Roadhouse Aviation. The FAA report was due out at press time.

Whatever Christiansen decides to do, Tulsa County needs someone to run for Commission District 3 who will work to make county government more open and efficient, someone who will give deference to city government, rather than engaging in empire-building at the County Courthouse.

You may be used to waiting until Election Day to pay attention to these races. But if you want a real choice to available to you on the ballot, you need to do some homework between now and June 7.

If you're reading this, you're obviously intelligent and concerned about good government. Take a close look at your elected representatives, and consider whether you should step forward and challenge them. Or perhaps someone you know would be the perfect candidate.

Competition is a good thing. It gives us a chance to replace those officials who need replacing and helps those who survive a challenge to get back on the straight and narrow.

Someone needs to provide that competition. That someone could be you.

MORE ON SB 1324 and HB 2559:

This practice seems to be on the rise: When a seat in the state legislature is about to open up, potential candidates move into the district. They don't have any particular attachment to the area. They just have aspirations of serving in the legislature, and they will move wherever they need to move to have a shot at winning.

In Britain, there's no requirement for a Member of Parliament to live in the constituency he represents, but in America there is a strong tradition of geographical representation. We want our representatives to be "one of us" -- someone who has lived among us, shops where we shop, drives the same streets, and knows how the laws he considers affect our neighborhoods.

While Oklahoma law only requires six-month residency before filing for state legislature, most voters would prefer to see a longer commitment to the district before entrusting someone with representing them in Oklahoma City.

It's been clear since June 2004, when District 69 State Rep. Fred Perry drew no opposition for re-election, that District 69 would be an open seat in 2006. Perry would reach his term limit and would be ineligible to run for re-election.

Bobby at Tulsa Topics did some research at the Tulsa County Election Board and discovered that of the five declared candidates to succeed Perry, three of them have moved into the district since that time.

Going back through my voter registration CDs from the state election board, I was able to find a few more specifics.

Sydney Fred Jordan, Jr., first registered to vote in Tulsa County on June 17, 2004. His wife, Kyndra Brooke Jordan, registered to vote in Tulsa County on the same day. Prior to that he was registered to vote in Osage County, at the same address as his father. Records from March 2004 show him registered Republican, but "inactive", which means he had not voted in the previous four years.

Jordan had registered to vote in Osage County in February 1992, shortly after his 18th birthday. Some time between September 1999 and April 2000, he changed parties from Democrat to Republican. I have voter history records going back to May 1994, and he is not credited with having voted at all from that time through his move to Tulsa County. Since registering in Tulsa County, Jordan has been a fairly regular voter.

Darrell Lee Gwartney first registered to vote in Tulsa County on July 15, 2005. His wife, Deborah Lanelle Gwartney, registered to vote in Tulsa County on the same day. Prior to that they had been registered to vote in Rogers County, east of Owasso, since August 1994.

Jeff A. Applekamp has been registered to vote in Tulsa County since 2000, but he changed his registration to 7402 S. Lewis Ave. in November 2005. That address appears to be an apartment complex. Prior to that he was registered (as Jeffrey A. Applekamp) at 2712 W. 66th Pl., which is in House District 68. His wife, Laurie Renee Applekamp, was still registered at 2712 W. 66th Pl. as of May 8.

Bobby also checked land records and noticed that Applekamp closed on property in the Wind River subdivision near 121st and Riverside on January 27, 2006. He still owns the home at 2712 W. 66th Pl. Bobby didn't mention whether that home still has a homestead exemption.

It would appear that Applekamp rented an apartment in the District just in time to make the six-months deadline, but that he and his wife still live in District 68.

The other two candidates? The earliest registration records I have go back to May 1998. Christopher Scott Medlock was already resident and registered at his current address. Lisa Renee DeBolt was registered at 121st Street in Jenks at that time.

(Added retroactively on June 3, 2006, to complete the column archive.)

This week's Urban Tulsa Weekly column is about corporate welfare, connecting the dots between news that the Great Plains Airlines tax credits are being repaid with money that should be repairing roads and bridges, an effort to extend similar tax credits for the restoration of Shangri-La resort on Grand Lake, former Mayor Bill LaFortune's favorable concessions deals for the Tulsa Talons and Tulsa Oilers, and the biggest example of corporate welfare around -- the $200 million BOk Center.

Good news! Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry has signed SB 1742, a pro-life bill which passed the legislature overwhelmingly. Here is the way Oklahomans for Life describes the bill:

The bill contains funding for alternatives to abortion, provides information about where a woman could get a free ultrasound, tells her about the pain a baby 20 weeks or older might feel during an abortion, provides for the consent of a parent before a minorís abortion, and makes it a crime to kill an unborn child in contexts other than legal abortion.

According to the Tulsa Whirled's website, Gov. Henry said, "Senate Bill 1742 includes measured restrictions on abortion.... This legislation strikes a reasonable balance on a contentious issue."

The bill does nothing to hinder women who want to get an abortion, but it does ensure that they get information about what is going to be done to them and their unborn child when it can still make a difference. The time to face the ugly realities of abortion is before the irrevocable choice is made, not years later, when nothing can be done but weep over what was destroyed.

The bill passed overwhelmingly in both houses of the legislature: 84-5 in the State House, 38-8 in the State Senate. Nearly all of Tulsa Countyís legislative delegation voted for the bill, Democrats and Republicans alike. The only exceptions: Democratic State Sens. Judy Eason-McIntyre and Tom Adelson, and Democratic State Reps. Jeannie McDaniel and Darrell Gilbert.

Eason-McIntyre and Adelson wonít face the voters until 2008.

McDaniel, who represents House District 78, is the successor to Mary Easley, a staunchly pro-life Democrat who moved up to the State Senate. In 2004, McDaniel won her first term in the closely-divided district by 24 votes.

Police officer Jesse Guardiola, a Republican, is challenging McDaniel this year. Not only will he be helped by McDanielís out-of-step vote on SB 1742, but also by her co-authorship of HB 2559, one of the bills that would have interfered with local control of zoning. Guardiola has been actively campaigning for about six months; he came by our house during this last weekend's unseasonably hot weather.

Gilbert hasnít faced a Republican challenger since his first election in 1996 and hasnít been on the ballot at all since the 1998 Democratic primary.

Here's a link to the Senate vote. In addition to Adelson and Eason-McIntyre, Bernest Cain, J. Berry Harrison, Cal Hobson, Mike Morgan, Jeff Rabon, and Jim Wilson, all Democrats, voted no. Connie Johnson (D) and Stratton Taylor (D) were not present. Everyone else voted yes.

Here's a link to the House vote. In addition to McDaniel and Gilbert, Debbie Blackburn, Mike Shelton, and Barbara Staggs, all Democrats, voted no. Absent were Bill Case (R), Ryan Kiesel (D), Ray Miller (D), Paul Roan (D), Joe Eddins (D), Al Lindley (D), Bill Nations (D), Opio Toure (D), Chris Hastings (R), Mike Mass (D), Greg Piatt (R), and Ray Young (R). Everyone else voted yes.

More thoughts on this tomorrow.

Some sad news from Sooner psephologist R. Keith Gaddie:

SoonerPolitics.com Shutdown

Iíve been having service provider problems with SoonerPolitics.com, and have decided to shut down the website. Professional demands at the University and in my other research and consulting leave insufficient time to maintain the site.

Iíll still be writing from time to time for SouthernPoliticalReport.com and the Oklahoma Gazette, and bugging the activists on their discussion boards, but the time has come to commit to the "next project," which means another book.

My thanks to the 150,000 people who made almost two million visits to the site in two years. For the reporters and consultants who used the site, you can still reach me through the university (405-325-2061 or rkgaddie at ou dot edu). Everyone else, keep working hard for a politically transparent, informed Sooner Politics.

Keith Gaddie
Webmaster, SoonerPolitics.com
Professor, Department of Political Science
The University of Oklahoma

Keith's site was a great resource for news during the 2004 campaign, and it will be greatly missed. As he comments elsewhere on the web about Oklahoma politics, I'll be sure to let you know.

Former City Councilor Chris Medlock announced today that he will be a candidate for State House District 69, a seat currently held by Fred Perry, who has reached his term limit. The district overlaps with the eastern portion of the City Council district he represented, and extends west of the river to include Jenks and Glenpool.

Lest you think this is a whim, Chris has aspired to serve in the legislature for a long time. His first run for public office was for this very seat, in a special election in 1994. This is the first time the seat has been open since that time. When he first ran for City Council in 2003, he had in mind serving the remainder of that term, one additional term, and then running for House 69 when Fred Perry hit his term limit.

His plans took a detour last year. He successfully turned back the recall attempt, then was urged to challenge Bill LaFortune for Mayor.

After four elections in a little over three years, it would be understandable if he and his family chose to take a break from electoral politics. But it's likely that whoever wins the primary in this heavily Republican district will go one to win the seat and serve 12 years. That's a long time to wait for another chance.

I think Chris would make an excellent legislator. The Republican caucus needs more members who will keep it committed to conservative and free-market principles.

Chris Medlock understands that being pro-business means providing an environment in which all businesses can thrive, not making special deals for special interests. The fact that Republican leaders haven't declared the plan to give $30 million in tax credits to redevelop a lakefront resort (Shangri-La) dead on arrival tells you that we need more Republican legislators who can recognize, expose, and block deals like that.

The fact that SB 1324 and HB 2559 have gone as far as they have is an indication that we need legislators with city government experience, who will protect cities from the impositions of state government. And even during his mayoral campaign, Chris was talking about the importance of Tulsa and Oklahoma City legislators working together to develop an urban policy for the state, to better serve the needs of our largest cities.

Chris Medlock would be a great choice, and he has my support.

An edited version of this piece was published on May 10, 2006, in Urban Tulsa Weekly. The archived version is no longer online. Posted on the web, with hyperlinks to related articles, on August 18, 2010.

We're now a month past the city election, and it's time to follow up on a few stories that we've been watching.

* * *

First, let's look to the State Legislature, where Tulsa's development lobby has taken its battle to regain total control of zoning and land use planning. HB 2559 has been sent to conference committee. The bill, sponsored by three Tulsa legislators (State Reps. Ron Peters and Jeannie McDaniel, and State Sen. Brian Crain), would interfere with local control of the zoning process, requiring appeals to Board of Adjustment (BoA) decisions to go directly to District Court and making it easier to remove lots from historic preservation districts (and ensuring the eventual erosion of these districts to non-existence).

The companion Senate bill, SB 1324, is awaiting the Senate's consideration of House amendments, but it appears to be on hold while HB 2559 is in conference. SB 1324 includes a section that would give the BoA oversight of design guidelines, which would affect historic preservation districts and Oklahoma City's neighborhood conservation districts. Combined with the BoA appeal requirement, it would make it tougher to enforce these zoning provisions which aim to preserve the character of a neighborhood. It's likely that this provision will be included in the conference negotiations over HB 2559.

Legislators have gotten an earful about these bills from neighborhood association leaders and historic preservation activists over the last two weeks. We'll see if the voice of the people is enough to overcome the loud voice of campaign contributions from builders' PACs and individual developers. One encouraging sign: State Sen. Randy Brogdon, a former Mayor of Owasso, and one of the most principled members of the State Legislature, has come out in opposition to the bill.

The local monopoly daily weighed in with an editorial on the bill, predictably siding against local control of land use decisions. The editorial set forth a false alternative: Do you want zoning decisions made by professionals or by politicians?

In fact, the BoA is not made up of professionals. It consists of five private citizens, nominated to the board by the Mayor for three-year terms and confirmed by the City Council.

And although much of what the Board does is cut-and-dried, there is a strong subjective element to the approval of special exceptions, where the Board's role is more legislative, rather than "quasi-judicial." Neighborhood compatibility is involved in special exceptions, and it would be reasonable to provide a level of review that doesn't require the expense of hiring an attorney.

Whatever the merits of changing the BoA appeals process or changing historic preservation rules, the issue should be debated and decided locally - a point the World's editorial avoids. The bottom line is that the World and the development lobby don't want land-use decisions made by a body that they don't control.
Keep calling the State Capitol. Our legislators need to get the message - keep local issues under local control.

* * *

Mayor Kathy Taylor is being lauded for reaching across partisan lines to hire former City Councilor Susan Neal, a Republican, to serve on her staff as a legislative and education liaison. Neal and former Council colleague Tom Baker were Taylor's first two permanent hires.

The reality is that, when it comes to local political factions, Neal's hiring doesn't cross any ideological boundaries at all. Neal is very much a part of the Midtown Money Belt faction that crosses national party lines and includes Taylor, Baker, and former Mayor Susan Savage. She and Baker were the Tulsa World editorial board's favorite councilors. The pair was nicknamed Bakerneal by their colleagues for voting in lockstep.

Although she worked for a Republican congressman a decade and a half ago, Neal is considered a RINO (Republican In Name Only) by most local activists. As a councilor, she would show up at the annual Tulsa County Republican Convention just long enough to wave when the elected officials were introduced.

I'm only aware of one occasion where Neal took a discernibly Republican position on an issue: She voted twice against allowing more city employees to unionize. Then again, that's a position many Money Belt Democrats share, including Mayor Taylor and former Mayor Savage.

Her appointment as a legislative liaison is ironic. In choosing a liaison, you want someone who has the respect of those you're going to be lobbying.

Neal's ties to Tulsa's mostly-Republican legislative delegation are rather tenuous. When Republican elected officials gathered in late 2004 to announce their opposition to the recall of two Republican city councilors, Neal was nowhere in sight. Of the local delegation, she's known to have a good rapport with only Ron Peters and Jeannie McDaniel, both of whom sponsored the aforementioned HB 2559, working to keep a reform-minded City Council from exercising local control over zoning.

Neal isn't Taylor's worst choice for a liaison to the City Council - that would have been Baker - but she comes close. She wasn't highly regarded by the reformers on the Council, a perspective that now holds a solid majority on that body. During Council debates, Neal would try her colleagues' patience with her lengthy soliloquies on the agony of decision-making, complete with sighs and anguished facial expressions. Her wilderness wanderings invariably led her to whatever position the Tulsa World editorial board favored.

I received a good deal of flack for endorsing Bill LaFortune against Taylor in the general, after working for his defeat in the Republican primary. I was accused (ironically, by someone married to a member of Taylor's campaign staff and transition team) of selling out for a chance at an unpaid appointment to the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC); others said I was acting out of pure Republican partisanship.

I wrote at the time that a chastened LaFortune was Tulsa's best chance for City Hall reform. The primary result opened LaFortune's eyes. The voices he had dismissed as a fringe group turned out to represent a broad, bipartisan, and geographically diverse coalition that prevailed in most of the contested council seats and, if it hadn't been for Randi Miller's spoiler role, would have taken him out in the primary.

Taylor obviously hasn't had that wake-up call yet. Taylor's choice of Baker and Neal confirms my suspicion that she will do nothing to challenge the City Hall status quo. If you were a Medlock or McCorkell voter, if you're from north, east, or west Tulsa, she won't be listening to you. She appears to be encasing herself in a Money Belt bubble, where she can remain uncontaminated by the concerns and opinions of the rest of Tulsa.

I'd be happy to be proven wrong. Taylor's appointments to expired terms on the TMAPC, the BoA, and Tulsa Airport Authority will be very telling.

* * *

Speaking of partisanship and city government, this Friday I will be speaking about non-partisan municipal elections to the Citizens' Commission on City Government, a body appointed by former Mayor LaFortune to study changing the City Charter. I'll be presenting the alternative of multi-partisan elections, which I described in this space back in April, and advocating for instant runoff voting, which I wrote about in March.

The Commission is meeting at the TCC West Campus (a strange venue - it's not within Tulsa's City Limits) on Friday at 1:30pm.

I've been hearing that the two recommendations most likely to emerge from the commission are non-partisan elections and appointment of the City Auditor. The commission has been told in no uncertain terms that the addition of any number of at-large or supercouncilor seats would provoke a Federal Voting Rights Act case because of the diluting effect such a move would have on minority representation. (Attorney Greg Bledsoe, representing the group opposing at-large councilors, set out the legal issues in great detail. You can read his testimony in detail at tulsansdefendingdemocracy.com.)

Non-partisan elections would deprive voters of useful information in the voting booth. My alternative, spelled out in full in my April 6th column, would put all candidates on a single ballot, giving every voter a choice of every candidate. But rather than concealing the reality of factions and interest groups by stripping the ballot of any partisan labels, my idea would allow both national party labels and the names of locally-based political action committees to appear on the ballot, so that voters would know how the candidates line up on local issues.

Instead of pretending that these divisions don't exist, let's make them apparent.

One issue the commission should examine, but hasn't: Moving city elections to the fall of odd-numbered years. It would give candidates more daylight hours and better campaigning weather, and it would give new officials a full six months to find their way around City Hall before the next budget cycle begins.

The City Auditor's post has worked well for decades as an elected post. If it must be changed to an appointed position, let the Council make the appointment, not the Mayor. Above all, the Auditor should act as a check and a watchdog over the executive branch of government, which the Mayor heads. Many Tulsans were uneasy enough with the idea of a mayoral staffer running for City Auditor this year; imagine if Bill LaFortune had been able to appoint Michael Willis directly to the post.

The commission will wrap up work and issue their recommendations in June. I doubt the new Council will do anything with them right away, given the other issues on their plate. At the earliest, the commission's ideas may be given a hearing as part of the usual charter review cycle which will begin in the summer of 2007.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Oklahoma Politics category from May 2006.

Oklahoma Politics: April 2006 is the previous archive.

Oklahoma Politics: June 2006 is the next archive.

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