Kristi Conatzer said the governor has created an unneeded public debate over keeping children safe based on comments she made opposing an initiative petition. Conatzer’s daughter, Emily, was one of the seven children who died at Plaza Towers Elementary School.
“There shouldn’t be an argument over this,” she said. “We lost something on May 20 that we can never get back.”
A battle over proposed ballot language has Take Shelter Oklahoma (TSO), a nonprofit group, and the attorney general at odds. TSO is seeking a statewide vote to fund $500 million in storm shelters by using the state’s franchise tax. The group needs 160,000 signatures by Dec. 16 to place the initiative petition on the November 2014 ballot.
A petition filed by TSO on Sept. 18 included ballot language that emphasized the construction of shelters and safe rooms at all public schools. However, Pruitt apparently did not agree with the wording and changed the focus to the franchise tax.
On Friday, David Slane and Richard Morrissette, attorneys for Conatzer and Take Shelter Oklahoma, asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to reject Pruitt’s amended ballot language because it was not changed within five business days, as required by law. Pruitt waited until Sept. 27 to give notice that he was changing the ballot language. The attorney general is responsible for ensuring initiative petitions comply with state law.
Diane Clay, spokeswoman for Pruitt, said in a statement the attorney general’s office changed the wording because of inconsistencies in the original petition. She did not provide specific examples.
“In this instance, the AG’s office fulfilled its statutory duty,” Clay said.
Slane said the petition filed by Take Shelter Oklahoma is legally correct and did run afoul of state law. The request to the Supreme Court states, “The proposal from the Attorney General is misleading, confusing and will not help the average voter when he or she votes.”
No date has been set for the Supreme Court to hear the case.
Slane (pictured, speaking) stopped short of directly accusing the governor and attorney general, both Republicans, of politicizing the storm shelter measure.
“They’re from the same political party. You connect the dots,” he said, during a press conference on the front steps of the Supreme Court building. “No parent should have to sit down with lawyers to protect their children.”
Danni Legg, whose son, Christopher, was killed at Plaza Towers, said parents like her have been forced to “fight the highest levels of government.”
Conatzer said she’s disappointed that Fallin opposes the initiative petition and that Pruitt arbitrarily rewrote the ballot language.
“She had to make it into a political battle,” Conatzer said. “[But] powerful people are defeated, and we’ll continue getting those signatures.”
Take Shelter Oklahoma Chairwoman Kathy Turner said petitions will be circulated at every Oklahoma high school football game Friday, Nov. 1.
Calls to the governor’s office were not immediately returned for comment Thursday evening.
Last month, Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz, said, “If this issue goes to a vote of the people, Oklahomans will vote their conscience and Gov. Fallin will respect their decision. It’s important for people to understand, however, that funding storm shelters or safe rooms in every school is an expensive proposition.”
Petition supporters estimate each storm shelter or safe room would cost about $1 million.
During the 2013 legislative session, a Republican lawmaker tried to eliminate the franchise tax, but the measure failed. The State Chamber of Commerce opposes the franchise tax, but officials there have not said publicly whether they will fight the storm shelter petition.