It's amateur hour in Oklahoma as long these folks are in charge
Bad weather, destruction, shines light on one party's continued inability to govern
Everybody’s looking for an honest politician and, Tuesday, Oklahoma’s senate president pro tempore, Greg Treat, was exactly that.
“I saw lines of people trying to get ice just to make sure their food didn’t spoil. And so, I was of the heart that I wanted to do something and do something yesterday when I first saw it firsthand myself,” he said. “But I didn’t know that I was acting governor, and I don’t think I was yesterday. I don’t think I became acting governor until either late last night or this morning. I honestly don’t know.”
A little background.
Between last Saturday night and Sunday morning, more than 200,000 Oklahomans, primarily in the Tulsa area and eastern Oklahoma, lost power.
Many still don’t have it.
They lost power because straight-line winds at tornadic velocities accompanied storms that night and morning that brought down trees and power lines, destroyed property and scared the bejesus out of pretty much everybody.
Yet, not Sunday, nor Monday, as food spoiled and gasoline became unavailable because power was unavailable, and so many Oklahomans became legit concerned wondering how they might manage the next few days or weeks without power, nobody declared the typical “state of emergency” that tends to accompany such calamity.
Until Treat finally did.
“I personally witnessed the damage and devastation of the storms as I drove back to Oklahoma City from Catoosa yesterday,” he also said Tuesday. “It was clear that people in eastern Oklahoma are struggling and need all the support the state can give them during this time. Impacted Oklahomans are still without power and heat indexes are exceeding triple digits.”
Oklahoman reporter Dale Denwalt, writing on Tuesday a story all should read, explained what an emergency declaration effectively means.
“A state of emergency … would be relaxing laws and regulations on heavy transport, out of state businesses and employees, and the authority of state agencies,” he wrote, “making it easier for affected areas to receive the help they need.”
Though difficult to quantify additional suffering created by a tardy emergency declaration, none other than state attorney general Gentner Drummond, a Republican like everybody else involved in the mess, believes it’s necessary.
“We have seen unnecessary delay and confusion this creates, all at the expense of Oklahomans struggling to cope with emergency circumstances,” he said Tuesday.
But that’s just a part of the story: weather hit, hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans lost power, it took three days for an emergency declaration to be declared and it was Treat who declared it, not Governor Kevin Stitt, nor Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell.
If there’s two words to describe this fiasco, you likely know them already:
Of course, when the dominant political party in your state generally has no interest in governing, not surprisingly it tends to suck at it, and Oklahoma Republicans, with just a few notable exceptions, suck at it.
Let us count the ways.
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• Piling on Treat feels a touch gratuitous because it’s the men above him who’ve failed more dramatically. But you know who ought to know more than anybody the state senate president pro tem assumes gubernatorial duties when the actual governor and lieutenant governor are out of state?
The state senate pro tem, that’s who.
• Meanwhile, Stitt and Pinnell remain out of state, Stitt at the Paris Air Show — France, not Texas — in the name of drumming up state business, while Pinnell is also out of state, though nobody appears to know where.
The air show began Monday, the storms hit Saturday night, yet Stitt did not make it clear to Treat the emergency declaration was his to make until 1 p.m. Tuesday.
Nor is it like Stitt couldn’t have gotten right back on a second transatlantic flight and returned to the state on Sunday, played the role of concerned governor, spent a day appearing to care about Oklahomans, declare the emergency himself and still return to Paris for most of the air show.
You know, big boy governor stuff.
• Next, though nobody appears too concerned about it — what’s a lieutenant governor do, anyway? — Pinnell remains the big mystery.
Here’s a small piece of that story Denwalt wrote on Tuesday.
“Pinnell is also out of state. His communications coordinator confirmed Tuesday morning that Pinnell is not acting governor because he is at a previously scheduled work conference.
“His office did not respond to follow-up questions about where exactly Pinnell was or when he would return. Pinnell was still in Oklahoma as of Monday morning when he chaired a meeting of the State Board of Equalization.”
So, before leaving the state, Pinnell had two whole days to make the emergency declaration any flyover of the affected areas would have demonstrated to be necessary AND, according to “his communications director” he’s at a “previously scheduled work conference” that remains unreported in terms of location, purpose and duration.
What do you want to bet the lieutenant governor’s office will stonewall each and every freedom of information request bound to come its way asking where the hell, for how long and for what purpose Pinnell left the state this week.
What’s he hiding?
Hiding, though, does not appear out of character for Pinnell.
Despite being in Paris, Stitt has been a busy Tweeter since the storms hit, offering the appearance, at least, he’s monitoring the situation.
Additionally, he issued a long press release Tuesday, full of concerned quotes, while calling upon Treat to step into the governor’s role and declare the emergency.
Treat, meanwhile, has been all over the place, sending out a statement, touring the hit areas, becoming a willing source for written media, even calling for a formal process to snap into place, avoiding confusion, when the governor exits the state, not to mention showing up on television with progress reports like real governors not named Stitt do.
He’s tweeted a bit
Most notably to explain a process must take place before an emergency declaration can be made, an asinine cover-your-ass take given the plain-as-day, in-full-view damage beginning sunrise Sunday.
Yet, generally, Pinnell would rather not make news.
The last issued statement from his office, an op-ed under the headline “This travel and tourism week, let’s move Oklahoma forward,” arrived May 9.
The one before that, “Lt. Governor Pinnell to host 35th annual turkey hunt,” arrived April 18.
Since Jan. 10 — “Pinnell sworn in for second term as Lt. Governor” — only four releases, total, have come out of his office.
Has any politician ever played defense as proactively as Matt Pinnell?
Hard to believe.
Of course, Oklahomans are hearty folks. Everywhere but the ballot box, the Oklahoma Standard remains a thing. This too — weather, destruction, cleanup — shall pass.
But the political and governmental boneheadedness?
As long as these jokers are in power, it stays.