Anatomy: a study of the structure or internal workings of something. Upset: an unexpected result or situation.
In the 75 days from the filing deadline of April 11th to the June 24th primary election day, Jason Carini, a 31-year-old Catoosa small business owner, went from having zero chance of being elected to becoming Rogers County treasurer-elect, unseating a likable 23-year incumbent twice his age, Cathy Pinkerton-Baker.
How did this happen? There are these factors in political change: an idea, a personality, and events. In this remarkable election, all came into play.
The idea was that Rogers County (one of the fastest growing counties in the state) should be run efficiently; the personality was the ambition of Jason Carini; the events were the two reports from State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones that the incumbent treasurer was a part of the problems in county government and what happened during a candidates’ debate.
By Memorial Day, any observer could have written Jason Carini off. He had no signs at all while his popular opponent had her blue and pink signs placed throughout the county with less than a month before voters went to the polls. I asked a knowledgeable friend of Carini’s about this and was told he was busy raising money to mount a decent campaign so that he could put signs and other things out.
On the evening of May 29th, there was a candidates’ debate hosted by the Catoosa Chamber of Commerce in the meeting hall across from the town library. In front of the building were signs for Cathy Pinkerton-Baker and, for the first time, signs for Jason Carini.
The room was packed with several hundred people. The real draws of that evening were the candidates for district attorney and district three county commissioner. The treasurer’s race was not of much interest. Ms. Pinkerton-Baker had a cheering section consisting of two rows of t-shirted supporters. Jason Carini had only one or two supporters in attendance, but something remarkable happened: the moderator asked what the treasurer can do to increase revenue for the county. Pinkerton-Baker’s answer was that she is well familiar with the job that she had held for 23 years. Then Carini got up and asked the treasurer a question:
“I’m glad you are taking the initiative now to send out those tax warrants. [This is the first year she started sending out tax warrants for delinquent taxes in 23 years.] But as I understand it – please correct me if I’m wrong – but those haven’t been sent out in 23 years?” Pinkerton-Baker responded, “That’s correct.”
Carini went on to say that in the past seven years records have been maintained, the county missed out on 1.5 million dollars in lost revenue due to her inaction. It turned out from the auditor’s second report, which came out two weeks later, that Carini was way off in that dollar amount.
After the debate, the Pinkerton-Baker cheering section filed out of the building, handing out fliers as people exited. Carini had no cheering section to do the same.
In early June the Value News, a monthly paper consisting of ads and promotional news stories about local advertisers and events (VN), arrived with an ad and article about Carini. VN is mailed to all residence in the county whether they want it or not. In other words, it was an effective way for Carini to get the word out about his candidacy.
His ad mentioned citations from the first auditor’s report that came out in April that Pinkerton-Baker used a county lap top and that she sent a $480 Internet bill to the county for her after hours’ use. It is worth noting that after the first audit report came out, Pinkerton-Baker sent a deputy from her office to the county commission meeting with a check to reimburse the county for her use of the Internet accompanied by an apology. Of course she got caught by the auditor’s report. Had her personal use of the county-owned lap top and subsequent Internet use not been disclosed, would she have been so forthcoming?
Ms. Pinkerton-Baker did not purchase an ad in VN for June and as a result missed her opportunity to reach voters before the primary. But why would she? Carini’s campaign was nowhere to be seen in the first six weeks since filing. In 2002, she won re-election to a fourth term, defeating a local Republican businesswoman with a sour disposition. I overheard that woman years later comment that people had asked her to run again against, Pinkerton-Baker, and she responded by saying, “Do I look like I have stupid written all over my face?” Again, I note she has a sour disposition.
A week later, Carini sent out his first of three mailers to Republican voters in the county. The first mailer had a message about his background as the owner of a mowing service and a photo of him, his wife, and two young children. The mailer contained some information about his opponent’s poor performance as treasurer according to the state audit.
On June 18th the second report by the state auditor came out about Rogers County government. Most of the report was damning information about District Two Commissioner Mike Helm’s having misused money given to the county by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). But this new report also had a stunning revelation about the treasurer’s office: she hadn’t been issuing tax warrants on delinquent properties in her 23 years in office. The Claremore Daily Progress had the story on its front page and above the fold:
The auditors [sic] reported Rogers County Treasurer Cathy Pinkerton-Baker did not comply with state law when she failed to issue tax warrants to collect $663,418.60 in uncollected personal property taxes.
– $4.2M in FEMA funds used for wrong purpose
The Claremore Daily Progress, June 18, 2014
The night before the Progress story came out, Tulsa’s KOTV Channel 6 began its 10 p.m. newscast about the latest report on Rogers County including the failure of the treasurer to collect delinquent taxes.
This proved devastating to the incumbent treasurer as voters were already well aware of troubles with the commissioners, the district attorney, and the county clerk, and now the treasurer was included in this mess that was swirling around the courthouse and not just for use of a county laptop.
Had this piece of information not come out when it did, it is unlikely that Carini would have won. Early voting began the next day. Carini got 154 more votes than Pinkerton-Baker in those first three days (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) of early voting.
Thursday June 19th, Carini’s second mailer came out on the first day of early voting. This mailer alleged that Ms. Pinkerton-Baker purchased expensive, new furniture for her office in the new courthouse the previous year. The mailer alleged the other county offices simply moved the old furniture they already had from the old courthouse, and it also mentioned her failure to go after delinquent taxes.
On Saturday, June 21st, the final mailer came out in which Carini displayed his bona fides with Republican voters in a closed party primary. It had a photo of Carini from 10 years ago with Dr. Tom Couburn in his first bid for the U.S. Senate. Carini was a staffer with that campaign. He mentioned in it that Cathy Pinkerton-Baker had always been a registered Democrat until 2013.
If Treasurer Pinkerton-Baker had taken Jason Carini seriously, she might have been able to hold on despite the bad publicity from those two auditor’s reports. The margin of victory for the challengers to the incumbent district attorney and district three commissioner were much wider. She never sent out a mailer. She did, however place ads in all of the counties’ local papers including in the Progress the day the news broke of her failure to collect delinquent taxes. Her ad read: “Keep Honesty and Integrity working for Rogers County.”
She must have believed she would win because she always had. But Carini had been involved in politics for many years including five years as vice chair of the Rogers County Republican party, and he had run and lost a bid for the state house in the Catoosa area two years earlier.
This election indicates a shift in Rogers County politics, the county that has been my home all my life. This shift is from Democrat to Republican and, sadly, from rural to suburban.
No Democrat filed for this office.
About the author: Theodore (Ted) J. King currently writes for The Inola and Catoosa Independents and Tulsa Today. King is a native of Oklahoma who graduated from Northeastern State University in 1996. He spent a summer at the Republican National Committee in 1994, worked at the National Right to Work Committee, and spent time working on the Hill in Washington D.C. In 1999, he was a temporary employee with Congressman Kevin Brady of Texas and later worked for the Media Research Center in Alexandria, Virginia.
King authored a book, The War on Smokers and the Rise of the Nanny State, which is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books a Million and iUniverse. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previous news coverage by this author of this race may be found at the following link: Scorching political debate in Rogers County