One of my favorite Will Rogers' quotes is, "I'm not a member of any organized party. I'm a Democrat."
For most of the 20th Century, Democrats dominated state elective offices -- but the "D" next to their names rarely translated into solidarity.
They frequently engaged instead in intra-party warfare that would make those filling the Roman Colosseum blush.
Now, in the early years of the 21st Century, Republicans control every lever of state power, their rise to power fueled in part by devotion to party unity and to Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment: Thou shall not speak ill of another Republican.
So how's that being-in-charge-thing working for ya'?
It's almost cliché to suggest a battle for the GOP's soul is being waged at the state Capitol, but the facts are, well, the facts: Republicans are acting like the Democrats of old with hard-line factions refusing to budge.
You see, the GOP coalition sweeps across the socioeconomic spectrum -- from silk-stocking corporatists to hard-scrabble blue collar workers, from social moderates to religious zealots.
Last week's meltdown over the so-called Personhood Act (SB 1433) may prove to be a breach from which the Republican majority -- at least as it's currently constituted -- never fully heals.
This is the GOP's worst nightmare: a single-issue cabal that refuses to play the political game. Personhood backers view the state's formal declaration that life begins at fertilization as a life-or-death, all-or-nothing matter, not something to be negotiated.
The Republican powers-that-be were all-too-happy to have the Personhood zealots on board when it came to turning out voters on election day.
And they've been all-too-happy to throw the single-issue crowd a few scraps along the way (think: mandated pre-abortion ultra-sounds), figuring the craziest stuff will get overturned in court anyway.
When the Personhood devotees, for example, demand that party leaders keep their promises ... look out! Hell hath no fury like a Personhood disciple scorned or betrayed.
The House's refusal to even allow a floor vote on SB 1433 offers a classic example.
There is no question -- no question -- that the Personhood Act would have passed the House easily if it had come up for a vote (the Senate approved it 34-8 and the House Public Health Committee OK'd it 7-4).
And there is little doubt that Gov. Mary Fallin would have signed it into law -- another example of the powers-that-be washing their hands of a thorny issue, leaving it to the courts to decide (and believe me, it would have been challenged in court).
Those committed to the Personhood Act were enraged when House Speaker Kris Steele announced the "GOP Caucus" had decided behind closed doors not to take up the issue.
"That bill could have sent a vital moral message that human life in the womb is not a blob of tissue but a living person created in the image of God," said state Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore.
SB 1433 may be on ice, but an initiative petition aimed at slipping Personhood into the Oklahoma Constitution is still being circulated. Supporters must collect 155,000 valid signatures by the end of May and withstand legal challenges to ensure the proposition a place on the statewide ballot.
The ACLU of Oklahoma and the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights already have challenged the petition in the state Supreme Court.
Just because the Legislature won't deal with SB 1433 doesn't mean the legislative leadership and Fallin won't have to.
When word first leaked last week that House leaders might not permit a vote on SB 1433, supporters of the measure initiated a robo-call with a none-too-subtle message to GOP leaders if they chose to double-cross Personhood supporters.
"We have been lied to," the message said flatly. "As Republicans, we have elected representatives that told us they are pro-life but they have betrayed us.
"Speaker Steele, Gov. Fallin and the entire the GOP must stop stalling and vote on SB 1433, the Personhood Act. If they won't vote pro-life, why should we vote for them?
"Visit Personhoodok.com to contact your representative. Tell them they must vote on SB 1433."
"Lied to." "Betrayed."
The kind of terminology that portends a series of primary challengers for those who are deemed to have carried out the betrayal.
Steele, of course, is term-limited, so he will not be affected. But several of those GOP leadership insiders -- Tulsa Reps. Weldon Watson and Glen Mulready, for example -- already are facing primary opponents who don't believe the incumbents are sufficiently conservative.
There probably would have been more primary challenges had the decision to kill SB 1433 been announced before the April 13 candidate filing deadline.
Consider the timing: The measure was approved by the House committee March 27 and was eligible for consideration by the full House long before the filing period opened April 11.
The irony, of course, is that it took real courage for the speaker and other GOP House leaders to stare down the noisy Personhood crowd and say, "Enough."
Personhood is such a preposterous notion that even Mississippi voters -- arguably more pro-life, more theocratic and more socially conservative than fire-engine-red Oklahoma -- rejected the proposal.
The hard right's obsession with Personhood has given Oklahoma more than its share of unwanted and unflattering national and international publicity.
You may bow your (red) neck and say you don't care. But your spite has a consequence: it really hurts Oklahoma when it comes to attracting new business, costing us sorely needed jobs -- especially higher-paying jobs.
None of this matters, of course, to those whose lives revolve around controlling a woman's uterus and force-feeding a male-dominated religious agenda on the wider public.
But it sure as hell matters in the give-and-take of Oklahoma politics, particularly inside the walls of the oft-clubby Legislature.
Stay tuned. The final weeks of the 2012 session could get bumpy -- especially if Personhood backers decide not to play ball with their GOP leaders.
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