POSTED ON JULY 17, 2013:
Gov. Mary Fallin, Empire Builder?
The constant quest for increased power
The question is anything but idle cocktail musing. It's actually quite serious after three years in which Fallin's gubernatorial powers expanded significantly.
News to you?
Consider: Her first year in office, she worked with the Republican legislative majority to gain the power to essentially hire and fire state Board of Education members.
Consider: Her second year in office, GOP colleagues engineered a constitutional amendment -- approved by voters -- that abolished the Oklahoma Human Services Commission, placing administrative control in the hands of a governor-appointed agency director.
Consider: Her third year in office, she's asked the state auditor to review the state corrections department's structure, including possibly abolishing its board and recreating it as a cabinet-level agency whose director is appointed by the governor.
Consider: The governor also recently issued an executive order appointing a 15-member task force to review the Grand River Dam Authority, the first step toward what could be an overhaul of the state-owned utility -- increasing the governor's influence.
About the only time Fallin lost power was in 2012 when voters took her out of the pardon and parole process -- a long-overdue constitutional change that will save the state money and reduce the political influences that often cloud inmate releases.
Fallin's pursuit of power may be business-as-usual in American politics, but it's worth taking stock of because it runs counter to Oklahoma's populist tradition.
Oklahomans long have been suspicious of too much power in too few hands as evidenced by a state Constitution that was clearly designed to spread authority around -- to the Legislature and boards and commissions.
One of Fallin's fellow Republicans, state Rep. Doug Cox of Grove, publicly lashed out at the governor over the GRDA power play -- a sure sign that even her political teammates are becoming uncomfortable with the never-ending quest to amass more authority.
Her backers, of course, will argue that it is her duty to be involved and deal with critical issues as they unfold. True enough. But isn't it interesting that when Fallin gets involved, she ends up with more power?
The governor might be well served to consider two points as she seeks to quench this thirst:
First, the pursuit of power often leads to politically risky overreach. This often seems to happen when one party controls all levers of government -- as Republicans do now in Oklahoma.
If there's one thing Oklahomans don't like, at least historically, it's when they sense an elected officials have gotten too big for their britches. High poll numbers today can evaporate tomorrow in this era of ever-shorter attention spans.
Second, Republicans may control all statewide offices and both houses of the Legislature today, but it won't always be that way. The pendulum will swing back.
And when it does -- when a Democrat again is elected governor -- Republicans may well wish they hadn't allowed Fallin to consolidate so much power in the governor's office.
Remember "Don't Be Evil"?
Here's an enigma for you: Why is the world's best-known online search engine all Google-eyed over Oklahoma's senior U.S. senator?
Last week, Google hosted a fund-raising luncheon in Washington for the Senate's most strident climate change denier, Sen. Jim Inhofe.
Yes, the same Google known for the slogan A better web. Better for the environment. The same Google known for its investments in climate research and renewable energy, including an Oklahoma wind-farm that powers Google's data center in Pryor.
And the same Inhofe who, the day before the fund-raising luncheon, took to the Senate floor to assert -- presumably with a straight face -- that President Obama's climate plan is designed "not to protect the American people" but rather to "control them."
There are strange political bedfellows. And then there is Google and Inhofe.
"It's embarrassing that a company that prides itself on innovation and technology is associating itself with the extreme views of Sen. Inhofe, who is unabashedly dismissive of climate science," the League of Conservation Voters' Jeff Gohringer told the Washington Post.
While we're considering enigmas, here's another: The fund-raiser -- contribution levels ranged between $250 and $2,500 -- attracted media coverage worldwide, but scant attention in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma TV news, of course, rarely covers anything that doesn't include visuals of crime scene tape and flashing lights and Sweet Brown. And many of Oklahoma's daily newspapers -- particularly Oklahoma City's Oklahoman -- long have treated Inhofe as nothing short of a deity.
The World didn't mention the fund-raising controversy, either. But in fairness, Tulsa's daily over the years has -- editorially, at least -- called out Inhofe in ways that other state papers wouldn't dare.
If you read the Washington Post, the Guardian, or the Nation, however, you'd have learned that Google is just like so many other corporations, its pro-environment sloganeering notwithstanding: It plays both sides of the political aisle and works studiously to influence public policy, greasing the skids with big money.
According to a written response from a Google spokesperson, reprinted in various media: "We regularly host fundraisers for candidates, on both sides of the aisle, but that doesn't mean we endorse all of their positions. And while we disagree on climate change policy, we share an interest with Sen. Inhofe in the employees and data center we have in Oklahoma."
The Post reported that Google's corporate donations are pretty evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.
But it also noted that Google was the largest donor to last-month's annual fund-raising event for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank backed by the energy industry and known for pushing back against global warming concerns.
In fact, Google spent $18.2 million on lobbying last year -- eighth most in Washington. Even more than defense giant Lockheed Martin.
"They're a force to be reckoned with in terms of lobbying influence," Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, told The Nation.
Like so many pols, Inhofe clearly is more than happy to take Google's money even if they couldn't disagree more on climate change. After all, Google's cash fills the coffers just as easily as the Koch Brothers'.
But that's the problem. Big money dominates the American political system. Let's face it, Lou the Barber or Sharon the Shop-owner can't quickly, if ever, get face time with a member of Congress or a state legislator. But well-heeled lobbyists can, especially if their clients also write sizeable campaign checks -- which they routinely do.
Google and Inhofe can claim they're just playing the game, by the rules. And they are. But the game and the rules are rigged. And that encourages an environmentally conscious firm like Google to get into bed, politically speaking, with a dim bulb like Inhofe.
Helluva system, eh?
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