151 Band

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Thursday Already?

The last week has been hectic, rapid-fire action and opportunities to write have just not availed themselves...until now.  Here's a thumbnail sketch of some of the news and issues coming through my email box:

OCPAC ENDORSES SCOTT PRUITT FOR ATTORNEY GENERAL:  What probably didn't come as much of a surprise to most, the members of the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee voted this week to endorse former State Senator Scott Pruitt for Attorney General.  The vote was pretty substantial in favor of Pruitt, though his opponent Ryan Leonard had a very good showing.  Leonard, son-in-law of former Governor Frank Keating has been campaigning for over 14 months at least and has experienced a significant groundswell of support and his advertisements on local talk radio as well as the McCarville Report Online, have provided increased name identification for him.  Pruitt immediately drew support once he entered the race, being a very known commodity in Oklahoma. 

BP LOSES BILLIONS, RIPE FOR TAKE-OVER:  A story that not many are paying attention to, though we should, is not just the environmental impact of the oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, but the fact that BP has lost billions of dollars since it began.  Why is this important?  Well, it makes BP ripe for take-over.  And don't think that BP is simply "too big."  Remember the RJR Nabisco take-over?  They even made a movie about it. 

RESPONSES FROM HB2465:  I was fortunate enough to receive an email from someone this week who appears to have the "inside scoop" on the flap over the HB2465.  I appreciate Regina's feedback and have posted it here for your review.
I am writing to hopefully illuminate a subject that has been grossly misinterpreted on your blog - the legislative proposal to put the state’s cadre of lawyers under the direction of the state Attorney General. You posted a very one-sided and factually flawed tirade from someone who attended law school with your wife. You then added commentary to the effect that there must be some political or self-serving motivation for the proposal.

I am disappointed that you did not take the time to either read the legislation or talk to anyone but a lawyer or spouse of a lawyer.

I won’t bore you with the details, but the proposal essentially requires all the state's lawyers (approximately 320 total) to pitch in and help with legal services in agencies other than their own, under the direction of the state’s top lawyer. Currently, some agencies have highly specialized attorneys with light caseloads while other agencies are so overwhelmed with legal work that they have to hire outside counsel to carry some of the load. Pooling the time and expertise of all the state’s lawyers is projected to cut contracts for outside counsel in half – a savings of approximately $4.5 million each year. It also applies the pay scale currently in place for assistant AGs to all state attorneys (another $1.7 million in savings). For some of the highest paid lawyers in state government, this would have meant a reduction in pay. For some perspective, the state’s Attorney General earns $132,825 while the highest paid agency lawyer in state government makes an annual salary exceeding $174,000.

Did you once consider the objectivity of the arguments, made by lawyers, against a proposal that would cap the salaries of taxpayer-financed attorneys, while requiring them to pitch in with legal services for the good of the state, not just for the good of their individual agency?
I am dismayed that it is so easy for you to infer that the lawmakers advancing this measure must have something to gain while not questioning the motive of those against it. What do you think the more likely scenario is – that state-employed lawyers don’t want their relatively cushy status threatened or that legislators stand to gain favor?
If you had stepped foot within the Capital anytime in the 36 hours after the bill was passed out of committee, it would have been abundantly clear to you that the legislators advancing this bill were taking a huge political risk. The “reward” for their efforts was an assault of lobbying and pressure the likes of which I have never before seen. At the end of the day, the agencies won out and the taxpayers lost, and that is a shame, especially considering the many more worthwhile needs that could have been met with the savings generated.
This was not a drafted-in-the-dark proposal, (the current AG has been talking about the need for this for the past three years), nor was it politically motivated. The fact that the current AG would be leaving the office actually made this year the perfect time for the proposal to be considered, as it would not be seen as an opportunity to expand a politician’s domain.
You characterized the bill as giving more power to the Attorney General. Perhaps true, but that is a far better consequence than perpetuating the current system where each agency pits their own needs against those of the state as a whole. Twenty other states have a similar model and government continues to function. Oklahoma used to have this model until agencies obtained authority to hire their own legal counsel. Critics have also threatened that the salary adjustments would lead to some lawyers leaving the state’s employ. Again, true, but the state is lawyer-heavy. For comparison, Texas, with eight times the population, has only a hundred more state-funded attorneys than Oklahoma.
In full disclosure, I worked on this legislation as a staff member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. You might be surprised to learn that there are people serving in office who are honestly trying to make a difference and put the taxpayer first.
I have read on this blog many times your calls for prioritizing state spending and lamenting that more funds aren’t available for public health, human services and education. That’s why I find it especially ironic that you chose to pillory legislators who showed the political courage you so often bemoan is lacking in government.

At the Capitol, every group has a special interest – their own. Teachers are interested in issues that affect them. The same for health care workers, businesses, and yes, even lawyers. Did a special interest win out? Unfortunately so. After the pressure that was exerted on those advocating change, and the scarce support given to them, it’s little wonder.
I have discussed the issue with a couple people who are attorneys in both a regulatory and non-regulatory capacity and they still have grave concerns over potential conflict of interest cases - particularly where the Oklahoma Corporation Commission is concerned.  While the bill exempts attorneys involved in rate cases (i.e., utilities), it doesn't address other issues such as mineral owners, intents to drill, DEQ issues and the like.  And as for my commentary regarding "drafted in the dark proposal," well, here is what the Oklahoman said and quoted the bill's author:
The measure was kept secret until Wednesday’s House budget committee meeting because Miller said he expected most state agencies would be against the idea and would contact committee members before they could see the bill, which is about 250 pages. Most of the bill’s length is updating statutory references that authorized state entities to hire their own attorneys.

"Status quo is much easier, but is it right?” Miller asked committee members. "This is kind of a perfect storm because you have turnover in the AG’s office. ... There’s also a budget crisis where we need cost savings.”
Regina's input is very much appreciated and I suppose the jury is still out on this bill.  We will know within a couple years how this will impact Oklahoma taxpayers.

MIKE MCCARVILLE CHASING DOWN SPY CAMERA STORIES:  If you're in politics in Oklahoma, you know that no one can chase down a story like Mike McCarville.  The big story that continues to perplex most politicos is the Spy Camera debacle that seems to continue to snowball into something bigger than we could have ever expected.  You have to follow the story here.

WILL GARY JONES RUN FOR AUDITOR?  There have been numerous blogs and stories on the Internet about whether or not Gary Jones, Oklahoma GOP Chair, will run once again for State Auditor.  At a recent OCPAC meeting, there was quite a stir created and it was reported that Representative Mike Reynolds became so enraged, he stormed out of the meeting after chastising the members of OCPAC for their criticism of the State Chair.  Reynolds and Jones have been friends for a very long time and have even worked together in bringing to light the problems in the Auditor's office years ago, resulting in the trial of former State Auditor Jeff McMahan. 

The chatter now is whether or not Jones will run and retain his post as the State Party Chair.  Rumors have been flying about a possible replacement including Matt Pinnell - someone familiar with the fund raising aspects of the party and someone well known in the Republican Party as committed to the "cause."  As of today, no one has announced a run against the incumbent Democrat who has been appointed by Governor Henry.