The political Silly Season is upon us.
Never heard of it? Or assumed (cynically) Silly Season and politics goes without saying?
Actually, Silly Season, in the political world, is the run-up to when the filing period for state office opens -- a time when the gossip mill often churns overtime.
Who's in? Who's out? Who's running for what? Against whom? Oklahoma's filing period is only eight months away.
So, what's trending in Campaign 2014?
The big question is who will seek the Democratic nomination for governor.
Of course, merely posing the question implies it's a fool's errand.
After all, the conventional wisdom holds that Gov. Mary Fallin is a re-election lock.
Poll numbers off the charts. All the campaign cash she'll need? Available at the snap of her fingers. Nice, new title as chair of the National Governors Association.
Daunting resume, indeed.
But what if the all-Republican, statewide general election line-up in 2014 isn't just incumbents seeking re-election?
Now that's the kind of speculation that makes the Silly Season so damn much fun!
In an after-dinner conversation the other evening, a longtime political insider sketched a wild-and-crazy scenario that would breathe life into next year's electioneering.
How about this: What if Sen. Jim Inhofe, at the last minute, reverses field and announces he will not seek re-election?
And Fallin suddenly shifts gears and files for Inhofe's soon-to-be-open seat?
And Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb enters the governor's race?
And Attorney General Scott Pruitt concludes he could beat Lamb and become the state's chief executive?
And Labor Commissioner Mark Costello and Insurance Commish John Doak conclude nothing could be finer than a Tea Party devotee as lieutenant governor ... so they battle each other?
Suddenly, the Democratic nomination for governor may not be as invaluable as some lamestream media -- and Republican leaders -- suggest.
The point is, politics is often about being in the right place at the right time. What looks like windmill-tilting in August 2013 can be a real horse race in fall 2014.
Even if, as expected, Fallin seeks re-election, the political landscape could look far different -- and less Republican rosy red -- a year from now.
What if the state's economy is in a serious downturn? What if voters perceive that ObamaCare is actually working and helping them? What if scandal engulfs some top elected officials?
Somebody will take the Democratic gubernatorial bait. Probably several somebodies. It may appear to be a Powerball-style long shot now, but -- like the lottery -- somebody eventually ends up with the jackpot.
Amid all the handwringing over the dearth of high-profile Democratic candidates already knocking doors and raising money, it is easy to forget that Democrat Brad Henry entered the 2002 governor's race less than a year before the general election (no sweat, though: the affable Henry was notoriously late for everything).
By the way, I'm not going to identify the fertile mind that conjured up the mad GOP scramble. At least, not now. If it comes to pass, however, I'll give credit where credit is due.
I know it seems crazy, but the fact is, this sort of thing has happened before in American politics. One domino falls, egos inflate, and an intra-party free-for-all ensues.
Campaign 2014 might not be so boring, after all.
Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary
As long as we have the crystal ball out and polished, let's also consider a public policy scenario that might seem implausible in August 2013 but not so alien after April 11 -- when the 2014 candidate filing period ends -- or perhaps even after June 24, the date of the state's primary elections.
Fallin's steadfast refusal to accept ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion has been well-chronicled in this column. She can assert until she runs out of air that the state can't afford it (despite serious, unbiased research that suggests otherwise). But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know her stubbornness is all about politics: She's scared witless of a primary challenge from the GOP's extremist teabagger wing.
The filing deadline and the primary election are two dates to watch because Fallin is, above all, a creature of Oklahoma's corporate elite. And many of them -- Chambers of Commerce and the big hospital interests, to name two -- think the Medicaid expansion is a splendid idea.
In fact, they know it likely would help save many rural hospitals from extinction, collapsing beneath the weight of uncompensated care.
The Silk Suits, though, are all about winning elections and maintaining power. They know that if Fallin were to reverse course now, she would unleash the Tea Party beast that wields outsize influence in the GOP primary.
So, they exercise patience. If Fallin ends up with no credible primary challenger from her right flank, she would be free to change her mind after the April 9-11 filing period with few political repercussions.
The same would be true after June 24, if she survived a primary challenge.
What many people don't know is that Fallin could accept Medicaid expansion whenever she wants, extending coverage to about a quarter of million of Oklahoma's working poor.
Just because she's said no -- and won't even consider including it in a possible special session, even though Insure Oklahoma is in jeopardy -- doesn't prohibit her from taking the feds up on their offer when the time is right ... politically.
Of course, Fallin may simply dig her heels in deeper and forever refuse to do the right thing. She'd no doubt pay the consequence, historically, for such shortsightedness and, yes, mean-spiritedness.
It wouldn't be the first time politics trumps what's best for Oklahoma's have-nots. Nor, sadly, will it be the last. Human nature.
It would be a wonderful thing, however, if Fallin were to change her mind, even if it takes until after next June's primary (which may mean it will be the 2015 legislative session before the expansion could be officially approved).
But that would be small consolation to all those hard-working, too-poor-to-afford-health-insurance Oklahomans who would go uncovered for another half a year or so -- with little choice but to ignore festering health problems until they get bad enough to seek treatment at the most expensive facility clinic: the emergency room.
Isn't that a sad commentary on 21st-century Oklahoma politics?
Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer; www.okobserver.net
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