Oklahoma Politics: January 2008 Archives

You know that uneasy feeling when you've got a stomach virus? When your stomach is churning and you hope if you lie quietly it'll go away and be spared a disgusting and messy situation?

You know that feeling of relief when you finally expel what's been troubling you? That's the way many Oklahoma Republican insiders feel today at the news that State Rep. Lance Cargill has resigned as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Better out than in.

The direct cause of the resignation was revelations this week about Cargill's failure to file income taxes and pay property taxes in a timely fashion. This latest scandal was on top of alleged "pay for play" practices that began during his tenure as House Majority Leader, an investigation into the apparent movement of money between campaign funds to skirt fundraising limits, and rumors of immoral behavior at the State Capitol.

While many in the House Republican caucus have long had the desire to oust Cargill, it took a tax violation, just as it did with Al Capone, to force him out.

The honorable Republicans who went to Oklahoma City to change our political culture and help our state move forward saw Cargill endangering that project with his fundraising practices, which served his ambitions more than state government reform.

Last fall we learned that Cargill had raised $250,000 for his re-election campaign in the first six months of 2007. Here's how he did it, an example of the pay-for-play process at work:

Last legislative session, Cargill sponsored an ethics bill to outlaw campaign money from being given to lawmakers inside the state Capitol.

At the same time Cargill was proposing reforms, he was calling lobbyists at 15- minute intervals to the Oklahoma City office of Fount Holland, who conducts numerous Republican political campaigns. Cargill was asking lobbyists how much they would contribute to the House PAC, his own campaign and two other GOP-related entities.

The speaker said at the time that the meetings involved "potential contributors who we meet with all the time to try and raise financial support for our political efforts."

Something I wrote after the 2006 election, about the struggle in the Republican Party between fair-dealers and wheeler-dealers is worth revisiting today:

But there are worrisome signs that Republicans in the Oklahoma legislature are about to travel the same perilous path as their congressional counterparts.

Last Thursday the newly-elected House Republican Caucus reaffirmed Lance Cargill of Harrah as their nominee for Speaker of the House, choosing Cargill over Oklahoma City Rep. Mike Reynolds. Some Republican capitol insiders are worried about the result, seeing the potential for an Oklahoma version of the corrupt "favor factory" that brought down the Republican majority in Congress.

A series of articles in our sister publication, the Oklahoma Gazette, Ok City's alternative newsweekly, earlier this year explored lobbyist complaints that Cargill was running a "pay for play" system via his leadership PAC, Republican PAC to the Future.

Cargill, as House majority leader, controlled the flow of legislation, and the message came through loud and clear that if a lobbyist wanted his client's bill heard, he'd have to bring in some contributions to Cargill's PAC.

Cargill was dumped as majority leader in March. Behind the scenes, it's said that his abrasive leadership style and fundraising tactics were the reasons for the ouster.

Once freed from leadership responsibilities, Cargill, I am told, worked on using his accumulated PAC cash to win friends in the caucus. In June he won an election for speaker-designate, an election marked by irregularities and arm-twisting. Legislators feared losing important committee assignments or drawing a primary opponent in the next election if they openly opposed Cargill.

Already in the last legislature we saw questionable bills--special deals for special people, not sound policy--find their way through the process. There was the attempt to craft tax credits like those used for Great Plains Airlines to benefit someone who wants to redevelop Shangri-La resort. There were attempts by developers to use state law to override local zoning and planning ordinances.

These dodgy bills made it through most of the legislative process before they were discovered by citizens and stopped. They got as far as they did, winning cosponsors and floor votes, because legislators believed their colleagues, who told them, "Don't worry, this is nothing controversial."

It took a last-minute bipartisan public outcry to stop the bills.

Good riddance to Lance Cargill. Let's hope the Republican Caucus chooses a replacement with no ties to Cargill's machine.

MORE: Stay tuned to the McCarville Report for more developments from the State Capitol.

The Oklahoman is reporting that State Auditor and Inspector Jeff McMahan and his wife Lori McMahan have been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges which include racketeering, conspiracy, and fraud.

The nine-count indictment alleges Jeff and Lori McMahan received jewelry, trips and excessive contributions to Jeff McMahan's first campaign in 2002.

In return, the auditor granted special favors to former abstract company owner Steve Phipps, according to the indictment.

McMahan's office regulated the abstract industry until Jan. 1. The Legislature last year created a separate agency for that purpose amid reports of McMahan's ties to Phipps.

It's interesting: The Oklahoman story notes that McMahan is the second statewide official to be indicted on corruption charges in recent years -- Insurance Commissioner Carroll Fisher was indicted in 2004 and is now doing time. I find it strange that the Oklahoman doesn't also mention that both of these officials are Democrats.

UPDATE: The Tulsa Whirled didn't name that party either.

While doing some research for my next column, I came across links to the platforms adopted by the Oklahoma Democratic and Republican parties at their 2007 state conventions. Both are in PDF format.

Oklahoma Republican Party Grassroots Platform 2007
Resolutions Committee Report to the 2007 Oklahoma Democratic Party State Convention

The Republican platform is almost twice as long as the Democratic document. Republicans will consider a new platform at their 2008 state convention in Tulsa. Democrats will not act on a platform again until 2009.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Oklahoma Politics category from January 2008.

Oklahoma Politics: December 2007 is the previous archive.

Oklahoma Politics: March 2008 is the next archive.

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