POSTED ON APRIL 18, 2007:
Of Bromides and Broadsides
Quippy state legislator finds success in spite of the oddsState Sen. Randy Brogdon wields power with self confidence, self deprecation and salesmanship
Foreshadowing? "If I was governor, I would set a level playing field and set up a free market," said Brogden, though he's not announcing his candidacy just yet.
Thomas Jefferson once wrote, "An honest man can feel no pleasure in the exercise of power over his fellow citizens."
With that said, if Sen. Randy Brogdon's efforts in the state Legislature are any measure, the Republican from Owasso is indeed an honest man.
Although he enjoys a position of considerable power and influence as a state lawmaker, Brogdon has earned both accolades and aspersion during his relatively short career for his ongoing and uncompromising efforts to ensure that more power remains in the hands of constituents than in those of lawmakers.
If Jefferson's quote doesn't do justice in summing up his philosophy of government, though, Brogdon has coined several of his own. Indeed, if intrepid reporters of future generations need pithy quotes with which to open articles about their own political leaders, they'll have plenty of "Brogdonisms" from which to choose:
"Only competition will breed success," the lawmaker has often said in explanation of policy proposals.
"There's nothing government can do better than the free market."
"Excess revenue is over-taxation."
"My goal is to make sure we fund the proper function of government at the proper level and then let the people spend their own money the way they want to."
"The government should not be involved in economic development."
"I'm conservative and I won't apologize for it."
Since guilelessness and politics are two words that rarely go together in the public consciousness, Brogdon's characteristic forthrightness is a quality many of his constituents in Senate District 34 likely find refreshing.
Or, they would if his brand of leadership were anything new to them. They elected Brogdon to the Owasso City Council in 1998, where he apparently distinguished himself well enough that his fellow councilors eventually elected him as the city's mayor.
After a short stint as mayor, though, a door opened for him to possibly accomplish his larger goals for the betterment of his constituents.
Term limits enacted in the 1990s were about to kick in, and his district's state Sen. Grover Campbell was stepping down in 2002 (he could have run one more time, but would have only been able to serve half his term before his allotted 12 years were up).
"Everything just kind of fell into place and I had an opportunity to serve and give back at a greater level than I had before," said Brogdon.
And "giving back" was something he felt a certain obligation to do. Life had been, not necessarily easy, but good to Randy Brogdon.
He had been happily married for 30 years (now 35 and counting) to his high school sweetheart, Donna, with whom he had proudly raised two sons, Chris and Bryan (now 32 and 30 years old, respectively).
He was a well-respected pillar in his community and a leader within his church, of which he is a third-generation member.
He also owned his own air conditioning wholesale business--a vocation he learned under the guiding hand of his father as a young child and as a young man.
Probably to no one's surprise who knows him, Brogdon credits the above-quoted Jefferson and the late Pres. Ronald Reagan as his political heroes. From such come his political philosophies and the principles by which he governs.
Life Father, Like Son
The inner man, though--the beating heart that provides lifeblood to all the muscles and faculties of a person's talents and principles--that usually has to be inspired. And that inspiration can usually only come from a living person within one's own life. For Brogdon, that person was Calvin Brogdon, his father.
"Dad was probably the biggest influence on my life," he said. "He was quiet and humble, and he was an incredible, hard-working, godly man."
Due largely to his father's guidance and upbringing, Brogdon is an unwaveringly committed member of his church, he said.
"I've been a Christian all my life and I've never doubted my faith--I've never doubted that God had my life under his control," said Brogdon.
"Obviously, my Christian life has a dramatic impact on my worldview," he continued. "I believe my Christian views have a lot to do with every aspect of my life--it's where I get my strength and my values and my belief. I don't see how some people make it, just being human, without that."
Along with his spiritual discipleship, Calvin Brogdon also provided his son with training in a lucrative vocation as well by taking him along on service calls for his air-conditioning business when Randy wasn't in school.
His experiences of watching his father at work had a lifelong impression on the future senator. After graduating from McClain High School, Brogdon went to what was then Oklahoma State Tech, where he studied air conditioning like his father had before him.
After graduating, Brogdon then went into business with his father.
"Dad provided me with a great opportunity to own my own company; Dad made me a full partner," he recounted.
The Brogdons spent the next 17 years in business together, until Calvin passed away in 1990 at the age of 60.
Through the process of coping with the sudden loss of his father, the junior Brogdon sold the company and went to work for a major air-conditioning wholesale distributor for the next five years.
He eventually went back into business for himself in 1995, specializing in the lesser known, but up-and-coming geothermal AC units, where he successfully carved out his own niche in the industry.
After enjoying a few years of success in his business, Brogdon then started to evaluate his life.
"There are things that change in your life that cause you to look at things differently," he said. "The older I'm getting, the more I'd like to accomplish, and serving, in church and other areas, is something I've always been good at."
His introspection soon led to action, which put him on the path that passed through the city council and the mayor's office and on to the state Capitol.
After winning election to the Senate and beginning his run as a state lawmaker, Brogdon soon found that answering his call to public service would be an uphill struggle, and not without sacrifice.
As a Republican in a Democrat-dominated Senate, he found that getting legislation heard, much less passed, was a Herculean feat. Especially the kind of legislation he proposed.
For those who keep abreast of what goes on at the state Capitol, the name of Randy Brogdon is almost synonymous with TABOR. The lawmaker has been the target of no small amount of criticism from both sides of the aisle for his ongoing efforts to enact in Oklahoma a Colorado-style "Taxpayers' Bill Of Rights."
The controversial proposal would limit the growth of the state government to the rate of inflation and population growth.
Colorado adopted the policy in 1992, and Brogdon said it was "a screaming success" for them.
"Their Gross Domestic Product is No. 2 in the country for the last 10 years running, they're No. 1 in growth for per capita income for the last 10 years running, tax growth expanded every year, they've rebated $3.2 billion back to taxpayers and they've lowered the state income tax," said Brogdon.
The benefits enjoyed in Colorado as a result of TABOR are a perfect illustration of the "magic" that occurs when the government steps out of the way and lets the free market run its course, Brogdon has often said.
"A low... a fair tax base gives great opportunities for businesses and economic expansion," he said.
As opposed to the Sooner State, he pointed out.
"Oklahoma scrapes the bottom of the barrel for every economic indicator," lamented Brogdon. "We have an above average tax structure and a below average economy," he added.
TABOR naysayers say that Oklahoma doesn't need such a policy because the state's balanced budget amendment already caps the government's growth, but Brogdon couldn't disagree more.
"That just makes sure we don't deficit spend, which means the Legislature adds up the amount of money we have and we spend it," he said. "If we have surplus revenue, though, that's over-taxation."
Critics of TABOR, Republican and Democrat alike, point to the fact that Colorado residents voted to suspend TABOR in 2005 as proof that it's a flawed concept, as well as pointing to the budget cuts the state had to make during the recession of the early 2000s.
"All bogus" is Brogdon's response to such arguments.
Colorado's TABOR repeal "had nothing to do with a failing economy," he said. "We had a recession everywhere, but they had baby-sized cuts they had to make compared with the rest of the country."
Rather than hurting Colorado, Brogdon argued that TABOR actually saved them from having to cut back more than they did.
And the repeal, he said, was driven more by Democrats' taking power in the state government than with any lack of success on the part of TABOR.
What's more, he explained, the version of TABOR he's proposing contains features not included in Colorado's, such as a budget stabilization fund and a provision to prevent the "ratchet down effect."
The ratchet down effect is how economists refer to the scenario that ensued in Colorado with the collision of TABOR with an economic recession. By tying the government's growth rate to the inflation rate, TABOR caused Colorado's budget to have to "ratchet down" to match the declining economy of the recession.
Brogdon explained that his version of TABOR would enable Oklahoma to remain stable in the event of a recession by basing its budget on the inflation rate of the year prior to the economic downturn, thereby avoiding the "ratchet down effect," and then resuming its tie to the current inflation rate when the economy recovers.
While Brogdon's lonely and vocal advocacy for TABOR might not have greatly helped his popularity, that doesn't mean he's suffering from any shortage of clout.
Along with earning a highly coveted spot (No. 13) in the Urban Tulsa Weekly's annual "Hot 100" list of "movers and shakers" for this year, Brogdon was named by the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee the "Legislative New Comer of the Year" in 2003 and "Legislator of the Year" for 2004 and 2005. He's also been recognized by OCPAC as consistently having a near perfect voting record and having the highest conservative voting record in the Senate.
Brogdon's peers in the Legislature have also recognized his quality, appointing him as assistant co-floor leader and as co-chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government and Transportation.
Along with adding his voice, or leading the charge for numerous Republican tax cuts and conservative social policies, Brogdon was also a driving force behind last year's passage the Ultrasound Act, which was a major component of the GOP pro-life package, requiring that a woman considering an abortion be given the option of seeing her baby through an ultrasound first.
Brogdon's success as a state lawmaker hasn't come without exacting a price, though.
Along with taking its toll on his family life by keeping him away from his wife for extended periods of time, Brogdon's legislative career has also cost him his business. He was forced to liquidate his A/C wholesale company midway through his first term.
"It was extremely difficult to run my own company, maintain a profit structure, and be gone for four months out of the year," said Brogdon.
He still makes contract sales, but has only in the last year reached a level of success comparable to his pre-Legislative career when he owned his own company.
Now that the first session of his second term is under way, and Republicans are evenly tied with Democrats for control of the Senate, Brogdon's efforts to reshape Oklahoma are much less of an uphill struggle.
The lawmaker recently enjoyed a major victory with the passage through the Legislature of one of his major policy proposals for this year: The Taxpayer Transparency Act.
The bill is modeled after a new federal law authored by Oklahoma's Republican Sen. Tom Coburn and Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama: the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006.
Brogdon's bill would accomplish on the state level what Coburn and Obama's law does on the national, which is to mandate the creation of a publicly accessible website by which citizens can easily monitor all government expenditures.
The measure enjoyed unanimous bi-partisan support and its passage into law was one of the key agenda items mentioned in Gov. Brad Henry's State of the State address in January.
Brogdon thinks it will go a long way toward eliminating government waste, and possibly removing obstacles of public opinion to the eventual passage of TABOR by exposing fiscal irresponsibility within the state government.
"If I could pick one issue or one policy change, it would be slowing the growth of government," he said. "I want to bring fiscal responsibility to state government. It's not there--it's just not there."
So, where is the government spending irresponsibly?
"Corporate welfare," answered Brogdon as an immediate example.
The governor's Opportunity Fund and EDGE Fund were specific examples he cited.
"It's not right for the state government to spend money to handpick which companies are going to prosper," he said. "If was governor and I was going to make that decision, I would set a level playing field and set up a free market."
Senator, are you announcing your candidacy for governor in 2010?
"Not today," answered Brogdon in mid-laugh.
While the notion has been raised to him by numerous colleagues, friends and family members, he said, "I believe God has put me here where I am for this hour, and I would never make a decision like that on my own, in a vacuum. I would definitely have to be moved."
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