Discover more from Oklahoma Columnist, by Clay Horning
Gentner Drummond's dispassionate administration of the law setting up a fight for Oklahoma Republicans' soul
On Thursday, state attorney general Gentner Drummond let state rep Terry O’Donnell (R-Catoosa) off the hook of a criminal indictment originally brought by then-attorney general Mike Hunter, an indictment accusing O’Donnell of engineering the change in state law that allowed his wife, Teresa, to operate Catoosa Tag Agency.
“After a thorough review of the matter, I have concluded that former Attorney General Mike Hunter referred you for investigation not in the interest of serving justice, but for the purpose of political retribution,” Drummond explained in a letter to O’Donnell. “This is not to say that I find you blameless or endorse your conduct. I question your judgement in authoring legislation that resulted in a benefit for your family.”
Good stuff, right?
“The fact that you were singularly referred for prosecution guides my decision to dismiss the charges against you. In so doing, I make clear that this law, and all others, will be fairly and fully enforced in the future against all members of the Legislature.”
Drummond’s tone is so perfectly forthright, dispassionate and above the fray, it’s dang near enough to make you worry about his aims. Are they political or the simple administration of the law, because who’s ever burnished their brand so spotlessly?
And would you believe it, it was just the second biggest piece of news Drummond delivered Thursday and just the third biggest this week.
Also Thursday, Drummond filed a motion to vacate the conviction of death row inmate Richard Glossip, a case originally recounted here, when Drummond chose Rex Duncan, previously district attorney of Osage and Pawnee counties, to independently review Glossip’s case.
A shaky enough conviction for Glossip to have already received three execution stays, not to mention inspire the advocacy of Virgin CEO Sir Richard Branson and actors Susan Sarandon and Mark Ruffalo, Duncan’s report came back Monday, it’s most basic finding, as a result of incomplete discovery from the prosecution, that Glossip did not receive a fair trial.
Again, with no apparent regard for politics — indeed, he just gave his next political opponent a soft-on-crime opening — Drummond has triangulated the two objectives he appears to believe his elected position solely entails: doing the right thing, administering the rule of law.
Perhaps they’re the same.
Two days earlier, Drummond ruined state superintendent of public instruction Ryan Walters’ day without being snarky once.
You may recall that three weeks ago Walters and the state board of education passed a host of regulations upon which a school district’s accreditation may ride.
One outlawed “pornography” and “sexualized content” without identifying any school districts in which such content resides.
Another dictated “any information known to the school district or its employees regarding material changes reasonably expected to be important to parent(s) regarding their child’s health, social, or psychological development, including identity information,” be given to parents, essentially forcing teachers to spy on their students, reveal their secrets and place them in danger.
Issuing a binding opinion, Drummond scrapped the new rules altogether.
In a statement of explanation, he said this:
“Whether I agree or disagree with any particular rule in question is irrelevant if the Board does not have the proper authority to issue those rules. The legislature is vested with policymaking authority. I will not allow any state agency, board or commission to usurp the Legislature’s rightful role, even if [it has] the best of intentions.”
Not the intent of this column to rip Walters a new one, nonetheless allow this bit of hopscotch to address the little man who wouldn’t know sound education policy if he hit it with his car on the way to another deranged and grammatically challenged whiteboard-lesson-with-Ryan.
Prior to the state board passing its new rules, Drummond issued a non-binding opinion warning the board it may soon take action beyond its statutory limits.
No, problem, thought Walters.
“We’ve had a great conversation with the attorney general’s office,” he said. “We haven’t seen any issues in the rules we’ve currently proposed or have been working on. We see no issues and have a great relationship.”
Just reading the words, you can sense the corruption in Walters’ tone … at no time explaining why the new rules would stick, just smugly announcing his and Drummond’s “great relationship” as though confederates, like the fix was in and isn’t that wonderful.
Walters is every kid you hated in high school.
That was Drummond’s week.
So substantively full, it makes you wonder what John O’Connor, his predecessor, did all day. You know, beyond getting marching orders from the governor and talking points from Carly Atchison.
That and you can feel something bigger afoot than Drummond’s dispassionately rational, sane and not-red-hot execution of his office.
By design, or just outcome, a day of reckoning is coming in his party and barring a Democrat upsetting the applecart — hope springs eternal — the four to eight years following the next election cycle in our state will follow one of two visions: that of the Kevin Stitt and Ryan Walters wing of the Republican party or that of the Gentner Drummond and labor commissioner Leslie Osborn wing of the Republican party … and maybe a few semi-courageous state legislators who find their voices between now and then.
Stitt can’t run again, but somebody equally corrupt, only in it for the power and enrichment of themselves, their donors and friends certainly can and will.
Over in the legislature, though they likely don’t realize it, thanks to the ongoing education debate, you can see sides beginning to be taken.
House Republicans came up with a $300 million annual education package offering private school refundable tax credits of $5,000 per student and a homeschool tax credit of $2,500 per student.
Not just that but speaker Charles McCall warned the senate that amending the house’s plan would kill it.
Spoiler, the senate amended it anyway, upping the private school tax credit to $7,500, reducing the homeschool credit to $1,000 per family rather than per student and limiting the availability of either credit to families with incomes less than $250,000.
Even giving teachers bigger raises than the house’s plan, the price tag of the senate’s is less than a third of the house’s: $98.7 million.
Here would be the real-world divide:
The house plan is nothing but a giveaway to wealthy families, many of whom are Republican voters and donors, whose children already attend private schools. It has nothing to do with increasing educational opportunity for the masses.
The senate plan, at a third of the cost, offers more financial aid to more students who’ve previously not had access to private education and expressly not to students whose families comfortably already do … and gives teachers $3,000 to $6,000 across-the-board raises, too.
Though Democrats may never approve of tax code carveouts designed to aid private education, period, a principled conservative plan designed to benefit the masses would, if we’re being intellectually honest, look a lot like the senate plan, not at all like the house plan and when’s the last time a Republican plan for anything was designed for the masses?
Somewhere, Jack Kemp is smiling.
Perhaps next time, the sane Republican caucus can give us red flag laws and universal background checks on guns, because pretty much everybody’s for them.
Perhaps next time, the sane Republican caucus can legalize abortion the first 15 weeks of pregnancy, and leave the fight to codify Roe nationally, or keep it dead, to the U.S. House and Senate.
I fear I’ve lost the thread.
Let’s get it back.
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Attorney general Gentner Drummond continues to do Gentner Drummond things and in a crazy age, in a state run by crazy people, he’s using his office and the law to make them accountable, doing the people’s work, which is overdue, hopeful and right.
And because he’s bound to have political ambitions beyond his current post — and foreshadowed them when he, as reported by the Oklahoman’s Ben Felder, said this:
“I don’t see that there is a political rivalry [between myself and the governor]. That we might in the future be political rivals has absolutely no bearing on my activity.”
— we’re now watching a power struggle bound to come to a head in the next election cycle.
Of course, wish for a Dem comeback, because we’ve been on the right side of things what seems like forever. But don’t miss the fun of watching some of the crazy getting kiboshed on the other side, nor forget to celebrate when all of it’s kicked to the curb.