Oklahoma’s top political story of 2009 was Republicans winning control of the State Senate for the first time in history and naming Oklahoma City Senator Glenn Coffee as President Pro Tempore. The top story with political implications was/is the budget shortfall. Without that distinction, it’s a tie, my estimation.
A close third: The Tea Party movement, which produced huge crowds at Oklahoma rallies and could signal the birth of a new political party…or the rejuvenation of an existing one.
Arguments can be made that I’ve got it backwards; some would argue the budget shortfall is the top event, GOP Senate control second. And some likely would argue the Tea Party movement is the second top story right behind GOP Senate control. In fact, that’s how our online poll turned out: About 32 percent picked GOP Senate control as No. 1, with the Tea Party movement second at 26 percent and the budget shortfall at 23 percent.
Among political insiders and consultants, there’s disagreement on the top two stories as well. Here are some of their comments:
ANONYMOUS REPUBLICAN: 1 – Historic seating of First GOP Senate Majority; 2 – Historic passage of comprehensive Tort Reform; 3 – Early maneuverings for governor, Congress seats, the Fallin Dominoes; 4 – Budget crisis/revenue shortfalls; 5 – Death of Henry Bellmon.
ANONYMOUS REPUBLICAN ~ 1 – The state’s first GOP majority officially took control of the Senate in January on the Legislature’s “organizational” day. This included the first Republicans elected by the Senate to serve as President Pro Tempore (Glenn Coffee) and Majority Floor Leader (Todd Lamb); 2 – Major lawsuit reform was passed by the Legislature (and signed by the governor). This was a major issue for many years at the State Capitol. The difference from past sessions: A pro reform Pro Tem and majority in the State Senate; 3 – Todd Russ’s election to the State House of Representatives in a special election pushed the GOP majority to 62 seats — and put the House Democrats below 40 seats for the first time in state history; 4 – Dewey Bartlett Jr.’s win over State Senator Tom Adelson in the Tulsa’s mayor’s race — a rematch of the 2004 State Senate race that Adelson narrowly won.
REPUBLICAN POLLSTER/PUNDIT/CONSULTANT PAT McFERRON: 1 – Democrats abandoning statewide secondary offices will leave open seats in what looks to be a GOP year. With both Jari Askins and Drew Edmondson opting for Governor, Scott Meacham and Sandy Garrett not seeking reelection, and Lloyd Fields apparently having a significant Democrat primary, opportunities abound for Republicans on a statewide level. 2 – Rejuvenation of the conservative base, as seen through the Tea Party movements. The question becomes if they sustain themselves, or become a vehicle for someone else. How significant will this movement be in Republican primaries across the state.
3 – And the prize is you have to be mayor of Tulsa. He won the campaign, but did Dewey Bartlett really win a prize? 4 – OKC may be the only conservative place in America still trusting any level of government. By passing MAPS 3 tax, city went against anti-tax sentiment and decided to invest in itself once again, either in spite of, or because of, the down economy. 5 – Kris Steele named Speaker-Elect. 6 – Angela Monson rides African-American euphoria post Obama’s election to win School Board Chair.
7 -Where oh where are the Democrat candidates for 2010? No congressional opponents, no opposition to Coburn, no relevant 5th district candidate, very few tier one statewide candidates. 8 – The fall of (the blog) OKPNS. Not updated, no longer considered a credible source.
ANONYMOUS DEMOCRAT: Disintegration of Democratic Party; it’s now leaderless and will be of no help at all in securing candidates for 2010 elections. Loss of Senate control by Democrats. Likelihood either Jari Askins or Drew Edmondson will be the next (Democratic) governor.
TALK SHOW HOST/BLOGGER MARK SHANNON: Conducted a poll on his site asking viewers to vote for the top story. No. 1 selection was the Tea Party Movement at 37 percent.
It’s likely that when the political history of 2009 is written, the first mention will be of Republican control of the Senate, just as election of the state’s first Republican governor dominates the political history of 1964.
The budget crisis will have its place and may well turn out to be the top story with political implications for 2010; it’s an ongoing event and the consequences of it will truly be felt this year and next.
About the author: For 30 years, Mike McCarville has covered Oklahoma politics and government with The McCarville Report Online, located here.