Ryan Walters appears to be surrounded
Subpoena the first step to what could become state superintendent's ouster
If they have the stomach for it, maybe they’re finally coming for Ryan Walters.
Beyond embarrassing the state at every conceivable turn, championing actual indoctrinators like PragerU and Moms for Liberty and crisscrossing the nation in furtherance of his political ambitions being far more important to him than the job he was elected to perform, our state’s superintendent of public instruction has also made sport of rebuffing the legislature as though unaccountable to it and, at last, it’s had enough.
On Tuesday, house speaker Charles McCall, rep. Mark McBride (R-Moore) and rep. Rhonda Baker (R-Yukon), all leaders of committees or sub-committees that oversee education, signed and sent a subpoena to Walters requiring documents and information no later than 3 p.m. Jan. 5.
Perhaps you missed it, but one of those people is the speaker of the whole damn house.
What’s the legislature looking for? Well, according to the reporting of The Oklahoman’s Scott Carter and Murray Evans, pretty much this:
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Headlining the subpoena is a demand [for] additional information from Walters about an interview … with an Oklahoma City television station. The House wants details about Walters' statement that 950 out-of-state teachers applied for Oklahoma teaching jobs, what the Education Department's teacher recruitment process was and how many of the teachers referenced by Walters have applied for Oklahoma jobs since his television interview.
The subpoena also demands copies of the applications from the 950 teachers Walters spoke about, directs Walters to identify which states the teachers were coming from, how many of the teachers were certified or not certified in their original state, the average number of years those teachers have taught, what subjects the teachers taught and what Oklahoma school districts hired the teachers.
The subpoena also seeks “details of the school districts that fall into the 95% not performing at grade level” and what, specifically, Walters and the Education Department was doing to bring the low-performing school district into a “performing at grade level” status.
In addition, Walters is to provide an update on the $2 million purchase of Metrics Software and how “it is or is not being utilized by SDE and/or schools.”
Wait, there’s more.
The House also wants Walters to explain how he and his senior adviser [Matt] Langston communicate with Rep. McBride, asking “did you directly or indirectly authorize Mr. Langston to use the letterhead of your office and and state resources for those responses” and whether or not Walters “has any sort of policy in place to either allow or prohibit this type of communication between your employees and elected officials” …
McBride and Baker also doubled down on previous information requests sent to Walters, including copies of all emails from Walters' Every Kids Count email address, beginning Sept. 10, 2020, to the present day “which discuss, compliment, condone or [relate] in any way to the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability.”
You get the gist.
In fact, the gist may be more important than the specifics.
Walters runs, if you can call it that, his office and the state board of education — selected by the governor, not him — as though it operates in a vacuum, accountable to nothing but his own whims.
It’s an unsustainable state of play given Walters and the state board would have no job to perform without appropriation from the legislature (in fact, they’d have no office to perform it from, nor furniture, nor snacks in the break room; you get the idea), which, in turn, demands oversight from the legislature.
“I don’t know what’s going on over there,” McBride has said. “Nobody does.”
Which cannot be.
Here, now, is another quote, the quote everybody should be paying attention to.
“The Legislature is vested with oversight authority that requires state officials to comply with lawful requests.”
Who said it?
Or wrote it?
That would be attorney general Gentner Drummond, who with nothing better to do, or possibly many things better to do, either way, saw fit to issue just that statement Wednesday.
If you’re keeping score, six different people have been mentioned in this column: Walters, McBride, McCall, Baker, Drummond and, not quite by name, governor Kevin Stitt.
Each one a Republican.
But they are not together.
Walters is on an island.
McCall, McBride and Baker have had enough. Drummond’s made it clear they need not take what they’ve been taking. And even Stitt, when he last spoke about education, took the side opposite Walters, essentially telling him to take a chill pill and let new Tulsa schools superintendent Ebony Johnson do her job.
Though Drummond’s statement comes off fairly innocuous, it’s timing is undeniable and it’s bigger message — this is the legislature’s game, not Walters’ or anybody else’s — is a runway seemingly begging the legislature to take flight and do what must be done.
Because the chances of Walters complying with the subpoena are slim and none. Not because he won’t, yet because he almost surely can’t.
What’s the possibility he knows diddly-doo about 950 out-of-state teachers wanting to come to Oklahoma?
It was probably something he made up in the moment, and even if it wasn’t, in a department enduring an employee exodus because he’s so impossible to work with and for, what are the chances the true believers still there are running a remotely effective ship, capable of tracking what the legislature’s demanding?
Less than zero?
As Walters both fails to perform his job and answer questions, too, an investigation would appear inevitable unless, come to think of it, the house goes straight to impeachment.
Because it’s their game.
The state constitution is clear. The courts don’t have a role. Only the folks who sign the checks.
If the state house and senate want Ryan Walters to go away, they can send him away.
Impeachment being a political process disguised as a legal one, they can convict him for being the offensive, infuriating, do-nothing, headline-seeking, wackadoodle nut job everybody knows him to be and still say it was about corruption, because he’s all about that, too.
They can dismiss him for any reason they choose and claim they did it for any reason they choose.
See ya later, alligator.
Oh, to be one who’s burned every bridge out from under the same folks holding the keys to his job.
If they have the stomach for it.