Patrick B. McGuigan
Four strong conservatives are working consistently in an alliance with state Rep. Randy Terrill of Oklahoma City. They have established in voting patterns a bloc that is effectively denying fast-tracked enactment of several conservative policy priorities.
The ability of the group of these five members to work in tandem with a frequently unified caucus of House Democrats is slowing the progress of a cluster of conservative policy objectives, and could impact the ability of the governor and legislative leader to deliver a balanced budget in the remaining weeks of the legislative session. Although budget bills do not require super-majorities, changes to agency responsibilities and/or consolidations do.
Understanding the significance of several roll call votes in the House of Representatives over recent weeks requires a sketch of the chamber’s legislative process.
All votes are equal, but some are more equal than others
In the Oklahoma state House of Representatives, substantive laws require 51 votes for passage. If enough members are absent or do not vote on a roll call, a measure will fail if it does not get the constitutional majority needed for passage.
Procedural or disciplinary motions of certain kinds can prevail with fewer than 51 votes.
An "emergency" clause allows a bill to become law as soon as the governor signs it. It requires the support of two-thirds of lawmakers in each chamber to pass an emergency clause.
If a bill passes and is signed into law but its emergency clause fails in either chamber, the bill will not take effect until 90 days after the end of session.
By killing an emergency clause on bills designed to save money or implement reforms, including agency consolidation or in some cases redefinition of functions, lawmakers are effectively allowing spending to continue at existing levels in affected agencies.
Not voting on an emergency provision for any reason is the equivalent of a no vote.
At the Capitol, the term “walk the vote” is used to describe instances when members are known to be in the building, but miss a vote widely considered important. The practice can be viewed negatively or positively, but in this report is used to describe instances of missed votes shortly before or after another roll call vote was cast by the member whose votes are being examined.
Democrats “lock up” to defeat emergency clauses
Early in this legislative session, House Democrats established a pattern of opposing Republican priorities, staying “locked up” (voting in lock-step) through emergency clause votes.
However, with only 31 members, Democrats would never be in a position to prevent passage of emergency clauses without the help of Republicans.
From the start of the 2011 legislative session on February 7 through yesterday Tuesday, April 19, there were 79 votes taken in the House on enacting emergency clauses. Only 11 emergency clause motions were successful, while 68 were defeated.
The measures with defeated emergency clauses include nine identified as House Republican caucus agenda items in a March 18 release issued by Speaker Kris Steele of Shawnee.
The Kern-servative Test
Examples of strongly conservative Republicans supporting the GOP leadership position abound. One well-known multi-issue conservative, state Rep. Sally Kern of Oklahoma City, is among those members of the Grand Old Party who have demonstrated by a consistent voting pattern they support House Republican caucus positions.
Known for her use of the term “Kern-servative” in past campaign literature, Rep. Kern has supported the caucus position on the merits of every measure considered in this report, and on every emergency clause vote. The use of Rep. Kern as a “control factor” in this report was a journalistic decision made without her advance approval or consent.
The identified group of five Republicans often “walked the vote,” joined unified Democrats in opposition on emergency clauses or on some earlier votes on the merits. On some caucus priority votes, a few other members of the GOP House caucus split from the leadership, but on a scattered and infrequent basis.
Five guys with a different test, and how they voted on nine bills
The group of five House members more or less consistently opposing inclusion of emergency clauses on caucus priority bills (and often opposing the same bills on the merits) has included Representatives Randy Terrill, Mike Reynolds, and Mike Christian of Oklahoma City, state Rep. Mike Ritze of Broken Arrow, and state Rep. John Bennett of Salisaw.
Occasional exceptions to pattern among this group can be found. One was the vote on the emergency clause for House Bill 1380, the “trial de novo” reform ending automatic access to district courts for fired public school teachers.
The vote on the merits was 69-31, with only one member not voting. On the first vote, the emergency clause gained 67 votes (one short of the required 68), with 33 opposed. The next morning (March 9) in a second vote the emergency prevailed 68-28 with five members (including Terrill) not voting.
On the merits, each of the five voted yes. On the first emergency clause vote, Bennett, Christian and Terrill voted yes. However, Reynolds and Ritze opposed the emergency. On the second emergency clause vote, Bennett, Christian, and Ritze voted yes. Reynolds voted no. Terrill "walked the vote."
Below are other Republican caucus agenda items where the group voted mostly or entirely against emergency clauses, “walked a vote,” or otherwise missed the roll call.
In several cases, they voted for the bill before voting against the emergency.
House Bill 2038 is legislation that authorizes the Workers’ Compensation Court Administrator to compile annual reports relating to characteristics of cases including amount of surgeries, length of temporary total disability, permanent partial disability, and other medical treatments and therapies.
The bill passed 62-21, with 18 members excused. The emergency clause then failed on a vote of 60-20, with 21 members excused.
Terrill supported the bill itself, then opposed the emergency clause. Reps. Reynolds, Ritze and Bennett opposed the emergency clause. Rep. Christian was absent for both votes.
House Bill 2132 is a key element of Republican pension reform proposals. It would require the Legislature to provide a funding source when a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) is offered for any of Oklahoma’s troubled public employee pension funds. The bill passed 62-28, with six members excused and five taking constitutional privilege. The emergency then failed on a vote of 61-30.
Rep. Bennett supported both the bill and the emergency clause. Rep. Terrill took constitutional privilege on both votes; Reps. Reynolds and Christian opposed both the bill and the emergency; Rep. Ritze opposed on the merits and then "walked the vote" on the emergency.
House Bill 1007 modifies the method by which dedicated state revenues are transferred to the Teachers’ Retirement System of Oklahoma (OTRS). Known as the Pension Funding Accountability Act, this is another important proposal in the Republican package of reforms, and one of the identified caucus priorities.
The measure passed 69-27 on the merits; with five members excused. The emergency then failed on a 62-36 vote, with three excused.
Rep. Terrill supported this one on the merits and the emergency; Christian, Reynolds and Ritze supported the bill but opposed the emergency; Bennett walked the vote on the merits, but opposed the emergency.
House Bill 2139 reformed the Board of Education to give the Superintendent of Public Instruction hiring power in her or his own agency.
The bill passed 64-25 on the merits; with 12 members not voting. The emergency clause failed due to a 63-33 vote, with five members missing.
On the merits, Reps. Bennett, Christian, Reynolds, Ritze and Terrill missed the vote. Other Republicans missing this vote the merits were Gus Blackwell of Goodwell, Ann Coody of Lawton, Charlie Joyner of Midwest City, and Charles Key of Midwest City. On the emergency clause, Reps. Key and Terrill were in opposition. Missing for that vote were Reps. Bennett, Christian, Reynolds, Ritze, and David Derby of Owasso.
Bennett, Christian, Reynolds and Ritze apparently “walked the vote” on both roll calls.
House Bill 1550 is state Rep. Sally Kern’s proposal to end “social promotion” in Oklahoma public schools, allowing for retention of third-grade students who do not meet reading requirements.
The measure carried 67-26 on the merits, with eight members absent. The emergency clause provision failed on a 61-27 vote. In the band of five, each supported the bill on the merits.
On the emergency, Terrill and Ritze walked the vote; Bennett, Christian, and Reynolds voted against it.
Under House Bill 1456, Oklahoma’s public schools would “earn” annual letter grades of “A” to “F” based on student performance on standardized tests.
The measure carried easily, 65-32. The emergency then lost 49-41.
Supporting on the merits were Bennett, Christian, Reynolds, Ritze and Terrill. Terrill walked the vote on the emergency; Bennett, Christian, Reynolds and Ritze voted against it. In this instance, state Rep. Charles Key backed the bill itself, but opposed the emergency.
House Bill 1541 is a proposal designed to consolidate several state agencies. It transfers responsibilities of the Human Rights Commission to the Attorney General’s office; transfers responsibilities of the Oklahoma Mining Commission to the Department of Environmental Quality; merges the Oklahoma Center for Advancement of Sciences and Technology into the Department of Commerce; and merges the Scenic Rivers Commission into the Oklahoma Conservation Commission.
The measure was particularly strong on the merits, passing 74-18, with nine members excused. It then fell short on the emergency clause despite a 64-32 advantage (with five missing).
Reps. Bennett, Christian, Reynolds, Ritze and Terrill backed passage of the bill; each voted no on the emergency.
House Bill 2140 would create the State Government Administrative Process Consolidation and Reorganization Reform Act of 2011. The measure consolidates the following agencies into the Office of State Finance (OSF): Department of Central Services, Office of Personnel Management, Oklahoma Merit Protection Commission, Oklahoma State Employees Benefits Council, and Oklahoma State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board. The bill directs the Director of OSF to consolidate all of the agencies’ administrative functions by December 31, 2011, and to demonstrate a 15% overall cost reduction as a result.
The measure carried 65-28 with eight members not voting, then the emergency failed despite the 53-28 affirmative margin. The “excused” number reached 20 in this case.
Reps. Terrill, Bennett, and Reynolds voted for the bill itself, then walked the vote on emergency. (Ritze and Christian may have been absent from the state Capitol; they missed both votes.)