Tulsa goes to vote next Tuesday, April 1. The main event is a District 3 rematch between Roscoe Turner, Absolute Best of Tulsa 2007 winner for "Tulsa's Most Believable Councilor," and his perennial opponent.
There are no citywide candidates, but every polling place in Tulsa will be open because there are two election-related charter amendments on the ballot, both deserve a resounding "FOR" vote.
Proposition No. 1 moves Tulsa city elections from the spring of even-numbered years to the fall of odd-numbered years. If it passes, the next city general election will occur in November 2009 and then every two years thereafter. Filing for office would happen in July, and the primary would be held in September. Newly-elected officers would be sworn in on the first Monday in December.
(The exact date of the election will be whichever Tuesday state law specifies for the given month. Currently 26 O.S. 3-101 designates the second Tuesday for both September and November in odd-numbered years.)
The change would solve a number of problems. The city's fiscal year runs from July to June, and elected officials take office with just two months to find their feet before the deadline for a new budget. Effectively, the newly elected mayor and councilors have to live with financial decisions made by their predecessors. A November election and a December swearing-in would give new officials plenty of time to get oriented before the budget-creation cycle begins.
Early spring elections mean that most of the campaign occurs during standard time, when the sun sets shortly after people get home for work. It limits the opportunities for potential city officials to meet and listen to the voters. Candidates are more dependent on phone calls and mailers to get their message out, and that gives an advantage to those with access to special interest dollars over those with strong volunteer support.
A fall election helps both voters and candidates by putting most of the campaign during Daylight Savings Time and during better weather. There's a better chance you'll have the chance to ask direct questions of each of the candidates seeking your vote.
City elections in the fall of odd-numbered years would be far enough away from state elections that the two sets of candidates wouldn't be competing head-to-head for support from donors and volunteers.
Changing to the fall would also avoid any possible conflict between city election dates and the presidential preference primary. Late last year, Shelley Boggs of the Tulsa County Election Board implored the City Council to move the 2008 city primary date, because it would have coincided with the presidential vote. The Council complied, even though the current date had been approved by voters just two years ago.
Ms. Boggs feared a repeat of the confusion in 2004, when more votes were cast than voters who signed the register in 50 precincts across the city. In one District 3 precinct, about 50 Republicans who came to vote in the presidential primary were given Democratic city primary ballots. That was more than the margin of victory, so the election results were mathematically indeterminate.
A revote was held two months later, reversing the invalid result.
Proposition No. 2 brings the Tulsa City Charter in line with state law regarding who is eligible to vote in a given district. The differences between the current charter language and state law are slight, but enough to give election board officials some headaches.
After you've voted FOR both charter changes, you might have a City Council race to decide.
In the Running
Four of the nine Tulsa City Councilors have already been returned to office--Rick Westcott (Republican, District 2), Bill Martinson (Republican, District 5), and John Eagleton (Republican, District 8), by failing to draw an opponent, and Jack Henderson (Democrat, District 1) by failing to draw a non-Democratic opponent and then winning the Democratic primary. City Auditor Phil Wood drew no opposition to his serving a tenth straight two-year term.
That leaves five districts with City Council races still to be settled. Three-term District 8 Republican incumbent Bill Christiansen should easily see off a recent arrival in the far-south district, perennial candidate and frequent party-switcher Austin Hansen, a Democrat (this year, anyway).
In District 9, newcomer Republican G. T. Bynum has over $40,000 in his campaign fund and is running in a Midtown district that has never come close to electing a Democrat to the City Council. We hope that Democrat Phil Kates and Paul Tay, running as an independent, can add some ideas to the debate, but neither is likely to beat Bynum.
District 6 Republican challenger Kevin Boggs could pose a threat to first-term Democrat incumbent Dennis Troyer. The district has majority Republican registration, and Troyer has failed to do much more than keep the seat warm. East Tulsa, too often overlooked by City Hall, needs a councilor with more energy and persistence than Troyer has displayed. (We miss former Councilor Jim Mautino.)
The two most interesting races are in Districts 3 and 4. We covered the District 4 race, between incumbent Democrat Maria Barnes and challenger Eric Gomez, last week.
The names on the District 3 ballot are a familiar sight: Council Chairman Roscoe Turner has shared a ballot with David Patrick every two years since 1996. The series is tied 3-3. All of the previous head-to-head matches were decided by Democratic voters.
This year, the rules are different. Patrick filed for office as an independent, forcing the race into the general election. Although Democratic voters (about 60 percent of the district's electorate) will still dominate the vote, this will be the first time in nearly a decade that Republicans and independents will have a chance to choose between Turner and a Patrick.
In the November 1998 free-for-all special election, Turner defeated Patrick's sister Synna to win his first term on the Council. On the same day, David Patrick was trounced by Republican State Rep. Mark Liotta.
This year, Patrick evidently thought that moving the battle to the general election would work to his advantage.
Perhaps Patrick was confusing the middle-class, blue collar, grassroots Republicans who actually live in District 3 with the wealthy Republican donors from outside the district who have funded Patrick's campaign as a reward for his constant devotion to powerful special interest groups like the development lobby.
Looking at Patrick's donor lists from campaigns past, it's apparent that special interests from outside District 3 see David Patrick as someone who will carry their water, even when it means betraying the best interests of his own constituents.
David Patrick's 2004 donor list was dominated by board members of F&M Bank; Patrick had been instrumental in getting the bank a controversial zoning change it sought.
In 2006, Patrick's campaign accounts were filled by supporters of reducing the number of council districts and electing three councilors at-large, a change that would have diluted north Tulsa's representation on the City Council. Bank of Oklahoma Chairman George Kaiser and BOk Financial Corp. PAC gave Patrick a combined $2,500. Realtor PAC gave him $3,000, as did midtown developer John Bumgarner.
The daily paper's editorial board, the voice of Tulsa's well-heeled special interests, desperately wants what they no longer have--a City Council they could control. They can't stand a man like Roscoe Turner, who puts the interests of ordinary Tulsans ahead of special interests. They'd love to get rid of Turner, who considers basic government priorities a higher priority than frills and non-essentials.
Roscoe Turner's detractors have called him a ward-heeler, too narrowly focused on his district's priorities. But look at the record and you'll see that it's Turner's stands on citywide issues that really give the daily paper fits.
For example, the county sales tax increase for river projects. Turner opposed it, pointing out that when Tulsa County increases its sales tax rate, it reduces the City of Tulsa's options for funding basics like streets and police.
On zoning issues, Turner has been a friend to homeowners across the city, giving them a respectful hearing and working to ensure that they're treated fairly when a controversial zoning issue comes before the Council. That's made him a top target of the "build anything I want, anywhere I want" developers' lobby.
On regional issues, like the proposed Bixby toll bridge, Turner has always put Tulsa's best interests ahead of the suburbs. While the toll bridge wouldn't directly affect District 3, Turner understands that building the south Tulsa road improvements to support the bridge will divert money that could be rebuilding streets in the rest of the city.
Roscoe Turner's citywide focus hasn't prevented him from looking out for his own district's special needs. His attention to constituent concerns throughout the district has allowed him to win avid supporters in what once was Patrick's base east of Yale Ave. For example, Turner has worked with neighborhoods near the airport to address problems with the noise abatement program, an issue that residents feel Patrick ignored.
Turner's aim is to do what is right by the people of District 3 and the whole city of Tulsa. His integrity has won the confidence of Urban Tulsa Weekly readers, who have twice voted him Tulsa's Most Believable Councilor in the annual Absolute Best of Tulsa awards.
Let's hope the voters in District 3 believe share our belief that Roscoe Turner deserves another term on the Council.
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