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E.Z. Quixote


Keith Gaddie November 5th, 2009

There is an old Southern tradition that says you should have your opponents speak at your funeral, because they know you better than anyone, and they will try to do you justice in your passing. I come...

There is an old Southern tradition that says you should have your opponents speak at your funeral, because they know you better than anyone, and they will try to do you justice in your passing. I come to speak for E.Z. Million.

E.Z. hunted me down 10 years ago, when the media first started contacting me about Oklahoma politics. When I ran soonerpolitics.com, E.Z. learned my cell phone number and would call me to persistently talk about the OU-Texas game, his conspiracy theories about David Boren, the problems with large government or some "star" he had located. When his stories grew too repetitive, I actually had to change my cell phone number to get some peace.  

He tried to call me about three weeks ago. I ducked the call. I shouldn't have, because I missed one last chance to hear one of the great characters of Oklahoma, one last time. 

 For most readers, E.Z. " Elmer Zen, named for his daddy and momma " was the gadfly Norman activist who waged an annual battle to get the OU-Texas game moved from Dallas to Norman. His argument was economically rational: Giving up a major home game every year cost Norman tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue. There was no room for tradition, romance or sentiment in his analysis. For E.Z., it was always about the bottom line.

 No one should be surprised that E.Z. was dedicated to his vision of rationality, because in his heart he was an old-school programmer and engineer. E.Z. was part of the first generation of computing engineers, taking the first-ever computer science class at OU. He worked in the industry, taught as a statistician and industrial engineer and did a couple of stints in government.   

Back in the 1960s, E.Z. was also something rare in Oklahoma: an actual, living, breathing Republican. For E.Z., Republicans at the time represented reform. He ran for several offices over the years: lieutenant governor, state House, state Senate and mayor of Norman.  

E.Z. never won, but he did embody that peculiar breed of candidate, the tilter at the windmill who refused to let anyone win office without addressing his issues. In his last campaign, for mayor of Norman, I watched E.Z. doggedly debate my friend Cindy Rosenthal and my neighbor Trey Bates. It wasn't a pleasant encounter for the other candidates, whom E.Z. dogged for their ties to corporate, development and university interests.

E.Z. was not fun to argue with. But, his opponents had to deal with his issues, and the voters came away with a fuller understanding of their mayoral choices. E.Z. received 307 ballots of 15,035 cast, but his presence loomed larger than his ballots.

As an engineer, he had to be frustrated by any policy that was governed by sentiment rather than sense. He once told Oklahoma Gazette in a 2004 article that "in public policy, the problems don't change, the solutions are never quite implemented and everybody just stirs the pot, and when they leave, someone else just takes over and stirs the pot some more."

Engineers like rational systems, they like efficiency, and politics is inefficient. I can understand why E.Z. Million tilted at his political and economic windmills: They just didn't make sense to him.

Gaddie is professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma.

 
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