News: Oklahoma House speaker wants to consider term limits for appellate judges, including state Supreme Court justices.
Comment: Didn't state lawmakers just approve a new anti-bullying statute?
Yes, but apparently what's necessary and prudent when it comes to Oklahoma's public school children doesn't apply when you're an adult who wields a big gavel.
House Speaker T.W. Shannon's suggestion that legislators take a good, hard look at extending term limits to appellate judges is state government's equivalent of schoolyard bullying.
He delivered an unmistakable warning that high court justices better shape up and bend to the Legislature's will or lawmakers will find ways to torpedo the jurists' careers.
So much for the notion of separation of powers -- or of checks and balances.
Shannon's knickers are in a knot because the state Supreme Court recently tossed the Republican majority's pet 2009 lawsuit reform package, declaring it violated the state Constitution's ban on "logrolling"-- multiple subjects rolled into a single piece of legislation.
This is not the first time the high court has been forced to remind legislators of the single-subject rule.
Yet our elected folk persist in disregarding our constitution's clear language, displaying either breathtaking hubris or willful ignorance.
The casual observer of state politics may be tempted to dismiss this as just so much inside baseball. But actually, this is a showdown that warrants your undivided attention.
It's a nothing less than a showdown over the future of a fair and independent judiciary.
Across America, corporate interests have begun pouring huge sums of money into appellate court races, hoping to tip the scales of justice permanently in their favor.
Many states, including Oklahoma, require their appellate judges to appear on the ballot periodically so voters can decide whether to retain them. Unlike partisan races for other offices, there is little electioneering and thus little need for jurists to raise money for campaign advertising.
Barring obvious corruption or unseemly personal conduct, most appellate judges are retained without much discussion.
But in another sign of big money's corrupting influence in the American political and judicial systems, corporate interests now are taking aim at jurists whose rulings displease them. Just look at what happened last year in Iowa, Florida, Michigan and North Carolina, where big money rolled into judicial races. Or read Laurence Leamer's chilling new book The Price of Justice, detailing how the head of Massey Energy sought to control the West Virginia Supreme Court.
Even if the vested interests aren't able to unseat any incumbent judges, the mere threat posed by such deep pockets is surely enough to affect some jurists' decision-making.
Let's say an oil or gas outfit is careless with the toxic chemicals it uses in the drilling process, fouling your drinking water. Or a trucking company is overworking its drivers, one of whom plows into your car, leaving you a quadriplegic.
Do you really want your case being decided by judges who can't afford to buck big trucking or big oil?
Shannon has proven himself a reliable toady of the State Chamber and other special interests who want nothing more than to permanently tilt the scales of justice in their favor.
Don't buy the bunk about so-called activist judges.
The bigger problem is corporate activists who want to dominate the judiciary as they do the state's lawmaking bodies.
Shannon's proposal flies in the face of a century of Oklahoma populism that -- as reflected in the state Constitution -- guarantees powerful, well-heeled vested interests can't run over the Average Joe with impunity.
Frankly, it's beneath the dignity of the House Speaker to stomp his feet and threaten the state's most prominent jurists simply because they're enforcing the Constitution.
The problem isn't the judiciary, it's a speaker and his comrades who think the rules apply to everyone but themselves.
News: U.S. Supreme Court gives Oklahoma a major victory, denying Texas' claims it has authority under a multi-state agreement to cross the Red River and harvest Kiamichi River water.
Comment: The Great 21st Century Oklahoma-Texas Water War may be over, but the future of southern Oklahoma water is far from decided -- and that has significant implications for the entire state.
You see, Oklahoma could generate billions of dollars for under-financed schools, roads and other essential state services if it ever decided to sell water to over-populated, seriously thirsty North Texas.
The problem is, there is so much money at stake that it's nearly impossible to strike a deal that would please a majority of the groups claiming rights to the water.
The state has a clear interest. So do southern Oklahoma cities and counties that depend on water for such things as tourism, recreation and economic development.
Tribes have treaty rights with the federal government that remain in effect. Private landowners, too, have claims.
Every past attempt to balance Oklahoma's long-term water needs with a desire to monetize surplus water has collapsed because of an all-too-familiar human malady: greed.
The state isn't going to leave it up to the locals, the tribes aren't going to leave it up to the state, the landowners aren't going to leave it up to the urban Powers-That-Be or the tribes.
There are excellent reasons the various groups are suspicious of each other.
You need look no further than Oklahoma City's commandeering of Sardis Lake, a shady deal greased by state officials that ignored the wishes of Oklahoma residents and tribal leaders.
Moving forward, the number one priority must be Oklahoma's long-term water needs.
The comprehensive statewide water plan was supposed to provide independent, scientific analysis that would make it easier for all southern Oklahoma water stakeholders to decide how much, if any, could be sold to out-of-state interests.
Unfortunately, the plan raised as many questions as it answered, largely because -- as critics asserted -- its scientific analysis all-too-often appeared to be of dubious quality.
You can bet the state's big money interests will have a seat at the bargaining table. So will the tribes, flush with the cash necessary to legally protect their claims.
The ones in danger of getting screwed are the little guys.
Water is to the 21st century what oil was to the last. And it belongs to all Oklahomans -- not just the few who can afford to fight over it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Oklahoma's stewardship of this most precious natural resource will determine the state's fate, for better or for worse.
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