This coming Tuesday, July 29, Republicans and Democrats will choose their parties' standard-bearers for the November 4 election, or at the very least, narrow the field for an August 26 runoff.
There aren't any state questions, and the streets package isn't yet ready for the voters, so there isn't any reason for independent voters to show up.
Tulsa area Republicans will have at least three decisions to make: Whether to nominate U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe for his third full term and U.S. Rep. John Sullivan for his fourth, and whether Dana Murphy or Rob Johnson will have the chance to unseat Jim Roth, the Democrat appointed by Gov. Brad Henry to fill Republican Denise Bode's unexpired term on the Corporation Commission.
Republicans in midtown and west Tulsa, Sand Springs, Jenks and Glenpool will decide whether to give controversial County Commissioner Randi Miller another term or to start fresh with businesswoman Sally Bell. The winner will face the lone Democratic candidate, former TV reporter Karen Keith.
Tulsa Democrats will pick challengers to try to beat Inhofe and Sullivan. State Sen. Andrew Rice is the favorite against perennial candidate Jim Rogers.
Too often, the choice we face at the polling place is between candidates who fall far short of the ideal. We'd hope to be able to vote for someone who is experienced, honorable, wise, courageous, humble, and compassionate.
Usually, we're happy to get just a couple of those characteristics. Usually, we find ourselves with choices like courageous and honorable but inexperienced versus experienced but venal and cowardly.
Once in a while, we get the thrill of voting for someone who embodies all those positive characteristics--matching strong character with the perfect background for the office.
Republicans have that chance this year in the race for Corporation Commissioner.
In case you missed that day in civics class, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) oversees public utilities (like PSO and ONG), intrastate trucking, railroad crossings, oil and gas drilling and production, and the accuracy of gasoline pumps, among many other things.
The OCC has three members, each serving a six-year term, staggered so that we vote on one every two years.
Because of Commissioner Denise Bode's mid-term resignation, two seats are on the ballot this year. Republican one-term incumbent Jeff Cloud is up for re-election to a full term. Cloud will face former State Rep. Charles Gray, a Democrat, in November. Neither man has a primary.
Democrat Jim Roth, an Oklahoma County commissioner appointed by Gov. Brad Henry to fill Denise Bode's unexpired term, has drawn two Republican opponents for the right to finish the remaining two years of Bode's term: Kingfisher State Rep. Rob Johnson and Edmond attorney Dana Murphy.
Dana Murphy (danamurphy.com) served for five years as an administrative law judge for the OCC, presiding over more than 5,000 cases, weighing evidence and testimony and making judgments, and acting as a gatekeeper over the issues that would be decided by the three commissioners. If elected, Murphy would have no need for on-the-job training.
In addition to her time at the OCC, Murphy has worked as a petroleum geologist and an oil and gas attorney. She did her undergraduate work in geology at OSU then went on to get a law degree at Oklahoma City University.
In 2002, Murphy pursued an open seat on the OCC with the urging and support of Commissioner Bob Anthony.
She finished first in the primary, but fell short of a majority. Jeff Cloud passed her in the runoff and went on to win in the fall.
I first got to know Dana Murphy during the 2002 campaign. Impressed by her credentials, I was glad to have the chance to serve in a very minor role on her team. I became even more impressed by her character, as I saw how graciously she dealt with slimy attack ads and a slim runoff defeat.
I'm proud to call Dana a friend, and in the intervening years, I've come to have an even greater appreciation for her character.
As she returned to private practice as a geologist and attorney, Dana Murphy was drafted to serve as Republican Party vice chairman, a volunteer post she filled for four years.
It's not the sort of smoke-filled room job you might think. Dana's role was to organize and accomplish party conventions, fundraisers, and other major events. I watched her go above and beyond the call of duty time after time to make sure events went smoothly, handling setbacks with calmness and confidence.
Done right, vice chairman is not a glamorous job. Dana demonstrated what it means to lead by serving, putting the interests of others ahead of her own convenience or self-promotion.
How is this relevant to being a Corporation Commissioner, you ask? Experience and job knowledge are important, but character is the core issue. In the early 1990s, a former corporation commissioner went to jail for bribes taken from regulated businesses.
A great deal of money is at stake in their decisions, and it's not surprising that a regulated business might try to buy influence. So it's important to have commissioners who are truly running for the sake of public service, commissioners like Bob Anthony who can't be bought.
I am expecting some last minute smears. Someone with Dana Murphy's integrity, intelligence, and independence won't be appreciated by certain businesses regulated by the OCC. They succeeded in stopping her in 2002, and I expect them to try again this year.
Her primary opponent, State Rep. Rob Johnson of Kingfisher (voterobjohnson.com), strikes me as ambition in search of an office. His list of campaign contributors includes a long list of Capitol Hill lobbyists. Johnson was a majority whip, a capo in the inner circle of disgraced former Speaker Lance Cargill.
According to Oklahoma City journalist Pat McGuigan, Johnson has complained that Murphy would be "too judicial" as a commissioner. Murphy's response is that the job is quasi-judicial--making decisions based on facts and law.
Dana Murphy has a successful oil and gas law practice. She is willing to set that aside to put her experience at the service of the citizens of Oklahoma. Oklahoma Republicans would be wise to take her up on that offer.
A couple of weeks ago, I gave you my long list of reasons why Tulsa County Commissioner Randi Miller should be retired by District 2 Republican voters and why Sally Bell should replace her.
The news since then has only reinforced that opinion.
Ousted Expo Square CEO Rick Bjorklund says--and he's willing to back up his statement with a polygraph test--that Miller directed him to keep Big Splash's financial troubles "off the radar," which led him not to do anything about the water park's failure to pay its rent in a timely fashion. Big Splash owner Loretta Murphy made maximum $5,000 contributions to Miller's last county commission race (according to KOTV's News on 6) and her 2006 run for Tulsa mayor.
KOTV examined Miller's attendance record and found her truant far more often than her colleagues. (You read it here first that Miller missed 29 of 33 TMAPC meetings when she was the County Commission's representative on that board.)
Miller refused to be interviewed by KOTV, instead going on Joe Kelley's show on 740 KRMG to complain that KOTV is "deceptive and unbalanced on county affairs and me particularly." She argued that her attendance wasn't news because only KOTV covered it.
As Kelley rightly points out on his blog, that's "more a statement about the shortcomings of other media than it is KOTV...."
Kelley writes, "When you chair the County Commission, the Fair Board and other important positions in our community, you should have expectations of being held accountable (for better or worse) for your actions. The media (TV, radio, print, web) have a duty to let the public know when public officials fall short of that mark."
This is my last column before the primary. Keep an eye on batesline.com, my award-winning blog--thanks, UTW readers, for a second nod as Tulsa's favorite blogger in this year's "Absolute Best of Tulsa" competition--for last-minute developments, including analysis of the Bell vs. Miller debates at the After Five Republican Women's Club and on Pat Campbell's show on 1170 KFAQ and of the pre-primary ethics reports--just who is funding Miller's expensive media campaign?
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