OK: Republicans delivered the ‘coup de grace’ – and voters were in a “YES” mood

OKLAHOMA CITY — Republicans gained four Senate seats in Tuesday’s election. In the Oklahoma State Senate, that is, where Republicans now have a 36-12 advantage. And, for the cycle, the Grand Old Party gained two seats in the state House, reaching an unprecedented 72-29 edge.

Wait, that’s not all: In the Second Congressional District, Republican businessman Markwayne Mullin prevailed handily over a credible Democratic nominee, former prosecutor Rob Wallace. The resignation of popular incumbent Democrat Dan Boren created the open seat in the sprawling district stretching across 22 counties in eastern Oklahoma. National Democratic Party leaders never delivered on promises they would fight to keep the district on their side of the aisle.  

In Tulsa, Jim Bridenstine held the First Congressional District for Republicans, while incumbents James Lankford, Tom Cole and Frank Lucas won comfortably. Now, all five U.S. representatives, both U.S. Senators, both Houses of the Legislature and every statewide elected official is a registered Republican for the first time in Oklahoma history.

The party easily gained two state Senate seats held until this year by Democrats – snagging them when only members of the GOP filed in districts reconfigured during reapportionment in 2011. In other contests, Republicans prevailed in the general election, yielding the net gain of four.

In the House, Republicans gained two seats over the election cycle. After hitting 70 in 2010, Republicans lost incumbents to death or retirement during the last two years, but regained ground with to rebuild to 72, overall.

The Republican House caucus met Thursday (November 8) to affirm as Speaker-elect state Rep. T.W. Shannon of Lawton, a legislator of black and American Indian descent.

The state Democratic Party, dominant political force for the first century in Oklahoma history, has never been weaker. Party faithful took comfort in scattered good news, largely incumbents who weathered general election challenges, including some at the county level.

While Democrats still hold a plurality advantage in registration, Mitt Romney’s strong victory in the presidential race was ratification of the slow motion collapse of the party of Jefferson that began in the state during the 1960s and accelerated in the Reagan years. In final but unofficial returns, Romney had 889,710 votes (66.8 percent) to President Barack Obama’s 442,787 (33.2 percent).

In other news from Tuesday’s election, despite a clear and consistent conservative pattern in the results on political races, Oklahoma voters were “conservative” in another sense of the word, refusing to toss out four State Supreme Court justices who had been subjected to unprecedented critical attention.

The justices – Yvonne Kauger, Doug Combs, James Edmondson and Noma Gurich – gained comfortable “YES” margins in the retention votes. Ranging from a low of 65.6  percent (Kauger) to a high of 66.9 percent (Edmondson).

The state Chamber of Commerce — which sponsored an analysis that listed each of the jurists as voting to limit the growth of tort liability less than one-third of the time – never explicitly asked for “NO” votes. However, the group engaged in a first-ever educational campaign pointing to the critical analysis.

Trial lawyers organized to support “YES” votes for the justices, purchasing some newspaper advertisements beginning last month. Then, as election day neared, retired University of Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer, former Democratic Governor Brad Henry and conservative attorney James Dunn (the Republican nominee for attorney general in 2006) all appeared in television advertisements supporting the justices.

In the end, voters backed all the High Court members, despite controversy that arose after John Miley, an attorney working in state government, circulated through his state email system a missive calling on fellow attorneys to support all the justices.That included his wife, Justice Gurich.

Also retained in office were five judges on the court of criminal appeals, and three members of the court of civil appeals. The State Chamber ignored the criminal court judges, but had taken a critical look at two of the three civil judges, in a study similar to the one focused on the High Court.

The six state questions on Tuesday’s ballot were all constitutional amendments.

State Question 758 limits the annual increase in property taxes to a maximum of 3 percent, rather than the 5 percent annual increase cap now in place. The proposal crafted by state Rep. David Dank, a conservative Republican from Oklahoma City, was the most popular ballot proposition of the year, getting 856,711 votes (67.7 percent).

S.Q. 759 bans affirmative action in government employment, education and contracting with limited exceptions. It gained 744,554 yes votes (59.2 percent).

S.Q. 762 removes the governor from the parole process for nonviolent offenders, leaving that function to the pardon and parole board. Despite late opposition, the measure was boosted through a range of late advertising, and gained 743,965 yes votes (59.2 percent).

S.Q. 764 was the least popular of the statewide measures, but still gathered in a comfortable 56.7 percent in support, with 705,036 votes. As a result, the Oklahoma Water Resources Bard will be able to issue water infrastructure bonds, and maintain a limited reserve fund.

S.Q. 765 abolished the constitutional requirement for a commission to govern the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. Leadership for the agency will, in the future, be gubernatorial nominees. 750,558 voted yes, 59.9 percent of the total.

The proposition with the most notoriety this year as S.Q. 766, which puts in place a strict ban on taxation of “intangible” property. The three-year drive for the change in the constitution came after a 2009 state Supreme Court decision took a limited view of existing strictures against levies on intangible property. That case drew a distinction between locally assessed and “centrally-assessed” property, with the latter consisting of some of the Sooner State’s most important businesses.

The State Chamber organized a drive to make explicit the ban on intangible taxation. While opposition to the amendment emerged, the Chamber dominated the airwaves and also placed a large number of newspaper advertisements touting the proposal. 824,742 voters (65 percent) backed the proposition, while 444,637 (35 percent) were opposed.

Contact the author: Patrick B. McGuigan at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.