Sunday, August 06, 2006

More on the Oh Riley Factor

(This is from Jimmy Beene, Stephens County Democratic Party Chair. It was published in the Duncan Banner.)

A defection due to inequality
by Jimmy Beene

The defection of Oklahoma Senator Nancy Riley last week has created a great deal of commentary as to who will be the majority and in control of the Oklahoma Senate following the November elections.

It has resulted in inches and inches of news print which point out the importance of both major parties electing one of their own as lieutenant governor, so each can have the deciding vote if the next Oklahoma Senate finds itself with a tie vote.

Even though I am not well informed on how the Oklahoma Republican Party is organized, I think it probably is along the same lines as the Oklahoma Democratic Party operates. While researching for this week's column, I performed several web searches in hopes of finding equality having priority within the Republican Party like it does in the Democratic Party. Sadly, I could nothing that would give that indication.

Senator Riley's comments seem to indicate there is a shortage of equality for women within the ranks of the Republican legislative office holders. She described actions to her as abhorrent behavior and lack of respect she received from members of the party during both her time in the Senate and campaign for lieutenant governor.

During talks with Minority Floor Leader Glenn Coffee, Riley said she was given the pat on the head and go your way treatment. The Senator said she has had a growing concern with the narrowing view of the Republican Party. Describing herself as a moderate, she said the party is being pushed to the extreme right. Her decision to change party registration, as the Senator stated, was a long time coming.

Minority Leader Coffee took the blame for not being in better communication with Riley and doing more to resolve her complaints. Coffee then seemed to brush the defection aside and began campaigning for the election of Todd Hiett or Scott Pruitt in November, saying the lieutenant governor's race and outcome is now more critical than ever.

I searched for the Oklahoma Republican Party Constitution and By-laws. I even went to the RNC website, hoping to find how equality among gender, race, ethnicity, etc. is addressed. To my dismay, I couldn't find anything. However, I am sure the documents exist, somewhere.

The reason I bring this up is because to give the party's position on the Riley departure, out came the party's state vice chair, Dana Murphy. She wanted to make it very clear the Republican Party is very accepting of women.

She gave as examples Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin, Speaker Pro Tempore Susan Winchester, and herself as the party's vice chair. Of course, there were more examples, but these three will provide the information we seek for the time being.

Lt. Gov. Fallin was considering a run for governor four years ago. At her party's urging, she relented and continued her role as the Lt. Gov. Two years ago, she thought about making the race for the U.S. Senate seat eventually won by Tom Coburn. Once again, her party's leadership reigned Fallin back to the Lt. Gov. seat and told her that was the best place for her. The difference in those previous races and receiving the most votes in the Republican Primary for the Congressional District race is this time she didn't ask or even consider other opinions, she just did it. Good for you, Mary Fallin.

Susan Winchester as Speaker Pro Tempore was considered to be a front runner to become the Republican leader in the Oklahoma House of Representatives two years ago, if the Republicans gained control of the House. Yes, we could expect the first female speaker in Oklahoma, either Jari Askins or Susan Winchester. It all depended on which party held the most seats following the election. But, instead Todd Hiett emerged the majority party's leader. Winchester was allowed to remain Pro Tem.

We can remember the shake up a few months ago, and the near coup to unseat Hiett and replace him with another House member as the leader. When the dust settled, Hiett had a new floor leader and assistants, but Winchester's name was never mentioned. Even though her picture and bio is right next to Hiett's on the House website, that obviously doesn't mean anything about ranking the leadership.

Dana Murphy, the Republican Vice Chair, is next in line to assume leadership of the state party, right? Evidently not, if you recall the state chair, Mr. Gary Jones, stepped down a few months ago to prepare his campaign to replace Jeff McMahan as State Auditor and Inspector. If Murphy was the heir apparent, there would have been no need to select Tom Daxon as the new state chairman. The vice chair, in her own remarks, made comment that she has now been elected the vice chair twice.

If the Republican Party is truly wanting to show equality within its own ranks, then Mary Fallin wouldn't have to go against the party machine to run for Congress. If the party had true equality, Susan Winchester would be in position to assume the ultimate leadership role in the Oklahoma House. Dana Murphy would be the state chair, based upon succession.

Had the Democrats retained the Oklahoma House, there is no doubt Jari Askins would have been the first female Speaker. From the precinct level to the state level, the Democrats Constitution and By-laws ensure equality in all offices and committees. And, we didn't wait on succession to have a female state chair, we elected Lisa Pryor. Equality is a precious thing, when you can find it.

Jimmy Beene is Chair of the
Stephens County Democrats and a
Duncan Banner columnist. Contact him at

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