By ANDREW W. GRIFFIN
Oklahoma Watchdog, editor
Posted: October 25, 2010
OKLAHOMA CITY – A discussion about transparency in the selection of the President pro tempore of the Oklahoma State Senate was one of the many topics discussed Monday night at the weekly Bricktown Rotary meeting at the Bricktown Brewery.
Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa and Sen. Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City, were the featured guests and both were first asked questions about the pro tempore selection process by moderator Dave Jordan, a local television anchor.
This discussion had been scheduled back in May but was canceled due to a storm. Sen. Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, had been asked to participate but he declined to do so citing a busy election schedule. This is the second time Bingman canceled appearing at the club.
In Oklahoma, the Senate picks a Senator, usually in the majority party, to serve as the pro tempore. They usually have a lot of political power and are in position right behind the Lt. Governor. The choice is normally made within a caucus.
And with the next legislative session just months away, questions have arisen about the selection process.
Jordan asked the two legislators “should we know more?” when it comes to being open and transparent.
“Absolutely, yes,” Crain responded, adding, “Historically there is too much power in the pro tempore to the exclusion of others with good ideas.”
Rice, if he wins re-election next week, has already been chosen as the Senate minority leader. He too was supportive of transparency in the selection process.
Crain went on to say that when it comes to full transparency he personally draws the line at e-mails, particularly since constituents have been known to write “heartfelt” e-mails to him.
Noting this reporter, Crain also said that in some Senate gatherings, some members are not as vocal when the press is present.
“We would be so concerned about what we say, we don’t say anything,” Crain said, adding that the “free flow of discussion” could be inhibited.
Rice and Crain, while on opposite sides of the aisle, agreed that conference committees, where members from each chamber works to resolve differences in a bill passed by both chambers, aren’t always pretty and effective. Rice even joked that he’s told constitutents that “If you knew what conference committees did you’d want to come and burn the Capitol down.”
Rep. Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, scheduled to be next House Speaker, has indicated that he has called for reform in conference committees, Rice said.
One Rotarian asked the Senate duo about whether or not they could make it so folks know “who put what into what.”
There was a sense from both men that it would be difficult to do so. Another Rotarian inquired about emphasizing “pressing issues” such as infrastructure rather than “feel good” or social issues that are best left to individuals.
Reluctantly, Rice admitted: “I think things are going to have to get bad” before citizens really stand up and pay attention to the state of things in government.
Rice and Crain disagreed on controversial HB 3393, a bill signed into law by Gov. Brad Henry last session that allows public dollars to follow students with disabilities to private schools.
“I have concerns,” Rice said. “I worried about money being directed from public schools to private schools.”
Crain, however, said he supported 3393 and was disappointed that schools in the Tulsa area, including Union High, in his district, were disregarding the law and saying that they were not going to implement it.
“How can you tell at 16, 17 or 18 years old kid that drunk driving is wrong and then you go out and do it yourself?” Crain asked. “Shame on Union school for ignoring 3393.”
And when the subject of term limits came up it was Rice who seemed on the fence but leaning more towards ending them if only because the Senate loses that knowledge and experience after a legislator has been in for awhile.
“You have a tremendous knowledge base,” Rice said, adding that well-liked and well-versed legislators are lost when their term is up.
The Bricktown Rotary meets every Monday at 5:30 p.m. For more information go to www.bricktownrotary.org.
Copyright 2010 Oklahoma Watchdog