35 Days to Election Day: Oklahoma
With no Senate or Governor’s race in Oklahoma, all attention will be on the race for President and their five representatives in the House. Regarding the Presidential sweepstakes, this is very red state and there is no doubt that Romney will carry the state by double digit margins. Thus, he picks up 7 electoral votes here.
Basically, two of the five districts are of interest. One is because a Republican incumbent was defeated in his primary while in the other, the lone Democrat- Dan Boren- is retiring leaving his district an open race. In that district- the 2nd- which comprises the eastern border of the state, Dan Boren was a rarity in that he was a Democrat representing a very Republican district. Both party’s eventual candidates had to endure a run-off to advance to the general election. For the Democrats, former assistant US attorney Rob Wallace will face businessman Markwayne Mullin. Mullin was considered the favorite entering this race. The fact is that this is a largely Republican district and Boren was an established rarity- something Wallace will be hard pressed to replicate. Although not a slam dunk, it is likely that Mullin will flip this district to the GOP column in November.
Meanwhile in the First District, which is anchored by Tulsa, this is an even more Republican district than the 2nd. This race is interesting because Republican incumbent John Sullivan lost the primary to Jim Bridenstine by around 4,000 votes. Sullivan was first elected in 2002 and was considered by some to be too moderate for this district. Sullivan’s loss can best be written off as incumbent arrogance since he thought he had the race wrapped up by virtue of his incumbency, but Bridenstine was leading an attack on Sullivan. Bridenstine accused Sullivan of being absent for 9% of roll call votes, considerably above the 2.4% average for House members. Sullivan countered by criticizing his opponent’s stewardship of the Tulsa Air Museum, a charge the museum characterized as “lies.” In short, Sullivan was caught sleeping in this campaign. Bridenstine’s Democratic opponent will be businessman John Olson who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary. Essentially, he is a run of the mill Democrat who basically stands little chance in this very conservative district. Meanwhile, the other three GOP incumbents- Frank Lucas, Tom Cole and James Lankford- face token opposition in their races and should cruise to victories.
There are six questions on the Oklahoma ballot. The first is in response to a lawsuit filed against the state by Southwestern Bell regarding an ad valorem tax assessment. This question would essentially eliminate the confusion from that Tax Court decision by abolishing the property tax altogether on intangible property. Currently, the state constitution specifies intangible property exempt from taxation. Although this seems like a trivial issue, the school administration of Norman notes that if abolished, it would cost the district $600,000 annually in revenue and $33 million statewide. That would have to be made up with either tax increases elsewhere, or substantial school budget cuts.
Which brings us to the second question- a 3% annual cap on property tax increases. Property taxes are used to fund local public services like police and fire protection, but mainly for public education. Recently, in response to escalating property taxes, states have begun to enact caps. New Jersey has a 3% “soft cap.” Here, voters can agree, by vote, to exceed the 3% cap. It is undetermined if Oklahoma’s proposal is a hard or soft cap. At the very least, they do serve to force local authorities to look for savings rather than merely raising additional revenue and it provides some consistency and constancy in budgeting affairs.
The third question would remove public welfare bureaucracy created and named specifically in the state constitution and replace it with legislatively approved counterparts if necessary. In essence, it provides the state legislature more leeway in funding and prioritizing public welfare programs. A fourth question would allow the Oklahoma Water Resource Board to raise money for a reserve fund dedicated to water and sewage treatment projects. They would be given the authority to raise this revenue through the issuance of bonds. Again, this sounds like a fine idea provided the funds are actually expended on their intended or stated purposes.
The fifth question would remove the Governor from parole and probation decisions for nonviolent offenders and give that duty strictly to the state’s Parole Board. This somewhat weakens the power of the Governor and is, no doubt, in response to the Haley Barbour incident in Mississippi.
Finally, a sixth question would eliminate affirmative action programs in the state. No contracts would be awarded based on sex, race or ethnic considerations. Naturally, this is not an attempt to institutionalize discrimination, but an attempt to eliminate minority set-asides in state contracting, education, etc. Nothing, however, prevents the state from using “true” affirmative action programs as they were originally intended- looking for qualified minority or female owned businesses with which to contract. They simply cannot show them any kind of preference in the decision making process.
In conclusion: Republicans can expect to actually pick up a House seat out of Oklahoma while Romney will take their 7 electoral votes.
Running totals thus far: Obama leads Romney in the electoral vote count 108-43. In the Senate, Republicans lead 18-14 in seats while Democrats control the House 65-54 seats.