Oklahoma Politics: March 2007 Archives

More on Stipe

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Missed linking to this earlier:

See-Dubya's earlier entry about the Prince of Darkness, former State Sen. Gene Stipe, attracted a celebrity commenter. Mark Singer, who wrote the 1979 New Yorker profile of Stipe, responded to See-Dubya, who comments on Singer's comments.

It's interesting that Singer says he has "refrained from reprinting it in any of [his] books," because it's a terrific piece. He doesn't come right out and say he regrets writing the story, but he seems awfully apologetic about it, and even denies that the article is what it manifestly is -- a profile of Stipe.

Also on the Stipe beat, Jeff Shaw has an interesting theory about why Stipe would make illegal straw donations when he's already doing time for making illegal straw contributions. That same entry reviews an editorial by a Pottawatomie County paper on the straw contributor scandal, which involves the campaigns of three politicians from that part of the state.

The McCarville Report is the place to watch for further developments. McCarville links to today's Oklahoman story (free registration required) reporting that State Auditor Jeff McMahan went on three trips with Stipe business partner Steve Phipps, despite claims by McMahan that he barely knew the man. Phipps and Stipe were partners in abstracting companies, which are regulated by McMahan's office.

Last week, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed, by a vote of 82-14, HB 2595 (link opens a Microsoft Word-compatible Rich Text Format file), which would move Oklahoma's 2008 presidential preference primary from the first Tuesday in February to the last Tuesday in January. The bill was authored by State Rep. Trebor Worthen and State Sen. Todd Lamb, both Oklahoma City Republicans. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Rules Committee.

Oklahoma is already in a strategic position with its current primary date, which it shares with California, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Missouri, and Utah. (West Virginia has a state convention for delegate selection that day, and North Dakota has caucuses.) Although California will attract a lot of attention, it doesn't have the majority of delegates up for grabs that day. In fact, Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma have a combined total of 125 delegates. Add in Alabama's 45, and you have what amounts to a south central regional primary offering 170 delegates. (The numbers exclude the three uncommitted superdelegate seats allocated to each state's RNC representatives.)

Despite a much greater population, California has the same number of delegates, a consequence of the party's overall lack of success in statewide races there. California gets one bonus delegate (for winning the Governor's Mansion); Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma have a total of 55 bonus delegates.

(Arizona and Utah are inconsequential -- likely locks for McCain and Romney, respectively.)

While California was a winner-take-all state in years past, in 2008, there will be 54 separate elections. Three delegates will be allocated in each congressional district to the candidate with a plurality. The winner of the statewide tally will get an additional 11 seats. There's an incentive for an underfunded candidate to focus on winning in just one of California's media markets, while spending more time and money in the less expensive, more compact south central states.

So there are already plenty of strategic reasons for presidential hopefuls to spend plenty of time in Oklahoma. If HB 2095 passes the State Senate, Oklahoma would become even more important, leaping ahead of South Carolina by four days to become the second primary on the calendar, just a week after New Hampshire.

Of course, any other state might move its date, too, if there is still time for its legislature to act. In some states, legislatures have authorized the governor or the state's chief election official to move the date in response to the actions of other states, whether or not the legislature is in session.

LINKS: The Green Papers has a wealth of information about the 2008 primary process, including a chronological calendar of primaries, caucuses, and conventions, which in turn has links to details on each state's rules, delegate allocations for the Republicans and Democrats, showing the allocation formula used by each party. There is also a table showing who is eligible to participate in delegate selection and what allocation method is used for each state for both Republicans and Democrats. Each state page includes notes on legislation affecting the date of the primary.

The fact that the Green Papers got Oklahoma's legislative information wrong makes me wonder about the reliability of their other information, however. They have this:

Oklahoma HB 1790 was amended on 7 February 2007 to change the Presidentail Primary date from the first Tuesday in February (5 February 2008) to the first Saturday in February (2 February 2008).

HB 1790 is actually Rep. John Trebilcock's very sensible bill to reduce the number of permitted special election dates from 21 to 14 in every two-year cycle. Unfortunately HB 1790 didn't make it out of committee. I can't find any legislation that would move the primary to a Saturday.

The Daily Oklahoman has been covering the latest developments in the investigation of illegal campaign contributions involving former State Sen. Gene Stipe of McAlester and other powerful Democrats in state government. I don't have time to try to sort through the tangled mess tonight, but here are links to the Oklahoman's series. (Free registration is required:

March 7: "FBI agents Wednesday searched the offices of former state Sen. Gene Stipe and his accountant, apparently looking for evidence linking Stipe to a pet food plant that is under grand jury investigation." Computers from Stipe's offices were loaded into an FBI van. McAlester's National Pet Food Plant belonged to Stipe's business partner Steve Phipps. Phipps and Stipe were partners in an abstracting company in Antlers in southeastern Oklahoma.

March 8: A more detailed version of the initial report, including more of an explanation about the activities of Phipps that are under investigation:

An FBI agent's affidavit used to obtain that search warrant alleged Phipps made three ex-legislators — Mike Mass, Randall Erwin and Jerry Hefner — partners in a gambling machine company, Indian Nation Entertainment. The FBI claims that partnership was in return for the legislators' help in obtaining state money for Phipps' other interests, including a not-for-profit foundation called Rural Development Foundation.

The dog food plant ultimately got $1.1 million of money earmarked for Rural Development Foundation, in addition to $419,000 in state money that Mass directed through the quasi-private McAlester Foundation, records show.

The Oklahoman previously reported Stipe profited from the sale of property on which the plant was built.

Records show Oklahoma taxpayer money was used in 2002 to buy property from Stipe, which allowed him to repay a $50,000 loan that had been illegally funneled into the congressional campaign of Walt Roberts.

The property in question was essentially a warehouse that Stipe and Roberts bought in 2001 for about $75,000 as a possible auction house for Roberts. A year later, the McAlester Foundation, using city and state tax money, bought the property from Stipe for $190,000, records show.

The article goes on to remind readers that Mass, who is also a former chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, admitted to being a straw donor for Stipe, passing along money contributed by Stipe in a way that avoided public scrutiny and campaign contribution limits.

Looks like everyone got their back scratched with the help of taxpayer funds.

March 9: "Former state Sen. Gene Stipe continued to illegally fund congressional campaigns through straw donors as recently as 2004, even while on house arrest for the same thing in a 1998 campaign, an FBI agent said in an affidavit that was unsealed Thursday in Muskogee." One of the recipients of straw donations was Congressman Dan Boren. Another was State Auditor and Inspector Jeff McMahan. This article features quotes from some of the straw donors used to hide illegal contributions from Stipe.

March 9: State Reps. Mass, Hefner, and Erwin earmarked nearly $2.3 million in Rural Development Foundation money for Steve Phipps for construction of the National Pet Foods Plant. Looks an awful lot like a quid pro quo -- they get government money for Phipps; Phipps sets them up to make a living when they are term-limited out of office.

March 10: Straw donors also funneled money from Stipe to Gov. Brad Henry, State Rep. Mike Mass, and McMahan.

Some state employees served as straw donors to Boren's campaign, including the head of the department in the State Auditor's office that oversees abstracting companies (recall that Stipe and Phipps were partners in an abstracting company) and an employee of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board.

March 12: State Republican Chairman Tom Daxon, himself a former State Auditor and Inspector, called on State Auditor Jeff McMahan and his deputy, Tim Arbaugh, to resign. McMahan was the beneficiary of illegal contributions from Stipe, and Arbaugh was used to pass illegal Stipe contributions to Congressman Boren.

Keep an eye on the Daily Oklahoman's local news page and Mike McCarville's blog for further developments. (Here's McCarville's article on the "smoking gun" affidavit tying Stipe and Phipps to Boren and McMahan.) Jeff Shaw of Bounded Rationality has some commentary here.

UPDATE: See-Dubya, a native son of Stipeland, has a terrific description of Gene Stipe:

If you could see the guy and hear him speak for a minute--taking in the flapping jowls, the sanctimonious drone, the Yosemite Sam diction--you couldn't help but size up former Oklahoma State Senator Gene Stipe accurately. He's Boss Hogg and Kingfish and every caricatured stereotypical Southern machine politician you've seen rolled up into one smarmy package. And despite retiring from Oklahoma's State Senate and a subsequent campaign finance conviction, Stipe's still making himself felt in Oklahoma politics.

He's also got a quote from Mark Singer, who wrote the definitive profile of Stipe in the April 2, 1979, edition of the New Yorker.

Singer continues, "'Let's say I pick up a Smith & Wesson double-action .22-calibre revolver on a .32 frame with a four-inch barrel and plant one right between your eyes,' a man in Latimer County once said to me, in what I decided to regard as an utterly speculative and friendly tone of voice. 'Now, if I've got a brain in my head, all I need to do is drop the gun and borrow a dime and call Gene Stipe. And I'm pretty sure he can find me a jury of my peers that believes in the good old "Judge not, that ye be not judged." ' "

If that can be believed, Gene Stipe, like his fellow Oklahoma lawyer Moman Pruiett did decades earlier, "made it safe to murder."

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Oklahoma Politics category from March 2007.

Oklahoma Politics: February 2007 is the previous archive.

Oklahoma Politics: April 2007 is the next archive.

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