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OKG Newsletter


Topic: Scoop

Learning about democracy at the Capitol

in general are frequently called upon and recognized to speak on behalf or in opposition to a bill during a committee meeting.

 

Feeling he had no other choice, Smith started yelling from the back of the room, proclaiming his right to be heard. Liebmann told the chief either shut up or the chair's posse would move in.

 

See kids, it's just the noise of democracy, when you can hear it.

 

But the biggest noise of the day came two floors down as more than a thousand true believers turned the Capitol into a tent revival.  It was the "Rally for Sally" where the masses crammed the second floor to hail their hero, Sally Kern. They sang songs, including the only song anyone ever remembers Lee Greenwood for, "Proud to be an American." Then it was the national anthem. One fervent Kern supporter kept yelling "stand up" as the chorus grew to the upper levels of the building.

 

After a prayer, an entourage of Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers parted the crowd and allowed the queen of anti-gay crusaders to adore her fans.

 

"Sally

by Scott Cooper 04.03.2008 6 years ago
at 11:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
 

Looking at Oklahoma's Quality Jobs Act

A careful review of the state's Quality Jobs Act database provides interesting fodder for those questioning the effort to make the Sonics basketball team eligible for the program.

As stated in Gazette today, QJA has doled out more than half a billion dollars since its inception in 1993. More than 500 companies have taken advantage of the program, some to the tunes of tens of millions of dollars.

The Air Logistics Center at Tinker Air Force has benefited the most, earning $36.9 million in rebate checks. Should the Sonics move to Oklahoma City, the Legislature approves amending QJA, the franchise could earn up to $60 million.

When broken down on a per job basis, Level 3 Communications in Tulsa has fared the best getting $192,614 for every job the company created. Again, the Sonics would far surpass that figure with $352,941 per job by bringing 170 jobs to Oklahoma, according to figures provided by the Legislature.

But some questions pop up when looking at the data, questions I am still waiting on the state Department of Commerce to answer.

Several companies are listed more than once. Commercial Financial Services first entered the program in 1996 and earned $8.3 million in rebates within three years. The company based in Tulsa qualified for the program a second time in 1997, picked up another $1.3 million rebate by 1999.

The reason the company got out of the program after only a few years was because it came to resemble the Enron of Oklahoma. The debt collecting company was playing fast and loose with its financial statements and filed for bankruptcy. At the time, CFS had nearly 4,000 employees.

IBM has been in the program three times. The first time came in 1995 and the last time was 2006. So far, IBM has received $11.8 million from QJA.

How a company can qualify for the program more than once, occasionally at the same time, has yet to be answered by the Commerce department.

The list of companies in the program reads like a who's who of American business. American Airlines, America Online, The Boeing Company, ConocoPhillips, Dell computers, General Mills, OfficeMax, Southwest Airlines, Tyson (foods), Whirlpool and everybody's favorite company in war time - Halliburton.

One other note of interest, many companies get into the program and are out within three years. One reason is the $2.5 million payroll threshold companies must meet. They have three years to meet the threshold or be kicked out of the program. Fifteen companies specifically failed to meet the threshold and were removed. But another 60 companies were ousted for unknown reasons other than failing to meet the terms of the QJA contract with the state.

The Oklahoma Tax Commission reviews the company's compliance with the contract, and has full discretion to kick a company out if the terms are not met. But the company gets to keep the money they were rebated.

The question is has QJA more benefited the state or the companies? If you view the situation as the state lost money that was owed, then the answer would be the companies. If you see bringing jobs to Oklahoma, regardless of pay, as the important factor, then the answer is the state.

The debate will continue as the Sonics inch closer to Oklahoma City. - Scott Cooper

by Scott Cooper 04.09.2008 6 years ago
at 11:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
 

Those pesky e-mails

It's amazing how e-mails can ruin your day. Some friendly e-mail between the owners of the Seattle SuperSonics has not only been the cause for embarrassment, but landed the ownership group into a dogfight with the former Sonics owner.

Last week, The Seattle Times first reported the e-mail exchange between the Sonics owners which indicated talks of moving the team from Seattle to Oklahoma City had been in the works nearly from the time the team was sold. A group of wealthy Oklahoma City businessmen, led by Clay Bennett, formed Professional Basketball Club LLC and purchased the Sonics for $350 million in July 2006. At the time, Bennett made it clear he wanted to keep the team in Seattle and would give the city until October 2007 to come up with a plan to build a new arena. But by April 2007, the owners were already talking about moving.

"Is there any way to move here (Oklahoma City) for next season or are we doomed to have another lame duck season in Seattle?" wrote PBC member Tom Ward to Bennett.

"I am a man possessed! Will do everything we can," was Bennett's response.

The e-mails were revealed in court documents concerning a lawsuit the city of Seattle has filed against the Sonics to keep the team in Seattle through 2010. The revelation has extended the pointing finger Seattle fans have waved at team owners, probably backed with chants of "told you so."

Now, the man who sold the team to PBC wants the team back. A news story out of Seattle reports Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks, intends to sue PBC to prevent any move out of Seattle, Schultz's attorney said. Shultz claims the new owners failed to make a good-faith effort to keep the team in Seattle as promised at the time of the sale. Shultz does not want any money, just the team.

All of this because of e-mail.

Two years ago, Oklahoma Gazette did a story about how the deal was made to temporarily relocate the New Orleans Hornets to Oklahoma City in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. One of the key elements of the story were e-mails exchanged between Oklahoma City officials, the NBA and the Hornets. What I found curious were only a few of the e-mails came from Bennett, even though he was a key player in bringing the Hornets to town.

I had a chance to talk to Bennett about his lack of e-mails at a Hornets came shortly after the story ran. He told me he doesn't like to use electronic mail that much because you never know where it might end up.

Like a court document that makes it way to a newspaper?  -Scott Cooper



by Scott Cooper 04.16.2008 6 years ago
at 11:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
 

Tax that

For Oklahomans who hate paying taxes, and legislators who love cutting taxes, here is a bit of news: Oklahoma has the lowest tax rate in the country.

To some this may come as a shock, but others have known about this for years. However, just to confirm it as a fact, here is a new analysis done by Microsoft News (MSN).

When state, local and federal taxes are combined, Oklahoma residents have the lowest rate per capita at 27.8 percent. Alabama is next at 28 percent and Alaska third at 28.1 percent. The three highest states were Connecticut with 38.3 percent, New York at 37.1 percent and New Jersey at 35.6 percent.

The next time an Oklahoma resident complains about how much they pay in taxes, dare them to move to another state. -Scott Cooper

by Scott Cooper 04.16.2008 6 years ago
at 11:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
 

He did what?

Gov. Brad Henry's endorsement of presidential candidate Barak Obama is both shocking and important.

First the shock. The endorsement is out of character for the governor. In 2004, Henry stayed away from the bickering candidates who were cris-crossing the state. At the time, Oklahoma was a very competitive state on the Democratic side with several candidates in the mix to win Oklahoma's delegates. Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt was familiar with the state and had the backing of the labor unions. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut was supported by some of the heavy Democratic hitters like Attorney General Drew Edmondson.

It took hours after the voting ended in Oklahoma on that Super Tuesday night in March of 2004 before Gen. Wes Clark eked out a win over North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

It was one of the best presidential primary elections Oklahoma ever witnessed. It seemed like a candidate was flying into the state on an hourly basis in the weeks leading up to the vote. And Oklahoma was the last state out of dozen to declare a winner that election night which meant the cable news networks were focused on Oklahoma for a few hours.

But through all of that, Henry stayed out of the mix.

He was on track to do the same this year, refusing at first to endorse any candidate before the national party convention in August. When asked about his preference, Henry just stuck to the old faithful line politicians use when none of the candidates appeals to them: "I will support the nominee."

That changed Wednesday morning. Henry's out-of-political-body experience is hard to figure out. It goes against the conventional wisdom for Oklahoma politics. Hillary Clinton has strong support in Oklahoma. Her biggest fan, former state Attorney General and political pundit, Mike Turpen, has also been a strong surrogate for Henry.

It goes against the political grain in Oklahoma to endorse Obama. Clinton easily won the state's primary back in February.

So what caused Henry to shed his usual political savvy intellect and gamble with an early endorsement of the candidate who has now lost three primaries in a row? Only those closest to Henry know. It is interesting to note Henry's support for Obama comes days after the governor's political Jedi master David Boren endorsed Obama.

Henry also has three daughters who might have influenced his decision as well. Several Obama backers have said it was their children who talked them into backing Obama.

Whatever the case, Henry's declaration is huge. With the race between Obama and Clinton as tight as any in American history, every super delegate is precious. The support of a governor in a red state weighs heavy in the primary season. Obama's weakness has been rural white support. But now, Oklahoma's two biggest Democrat party names, Henry and Boren, two white men from rural parts of the state who became governors, are supporting a black candidate for president.

This is shocking and important in so many ways. - Scott Cooper

by Scott Cooper 04.24.2008 6 years ago
at 11:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
 

Hell of a week

Oklahoma Gazette Editor Rob Collins didn't want me to use this phrase in my story coming out on Wednesday about NBA basketball heading to Oklahoma City. But okgazette.com's editor said I could blog about it so here goes - it was a hell of week.

Think about it. On April 14, nothing had been signed, approved or even voted on concerning the Sonics' move to Oklahoma City. But four days later, three bodies of government and a national board of directors paved the way for the move. No time for gridlock.

The first domino fell on April 15 when the Oklahoma City Council approved a lease agreement between the city and the Sonics for use of the Ford Center. The City agreed to let the Sonics use the Ford Center to play basketball for the next 15 years, while the team agreed to give the city some of its money. A wise idea on the part of the Sonics since taxpayers are handing over $120 million plus letting the team bail out of $60 million in potential payroll taxes.

Twenty-four hours after the City Council's action, the state Senate barely passed a bill letting the Sonics apply for the Oklahoma Quality Jobs Act. The program provides tax rebates on payroll taxes. The bill was sent over to the state House of Representatives where after more than an hour of heated debate, the bill made it through to the governor who took  less than two hours to sign the bill into law.

The following morning, Friday April 18 to be exact, all owners of the NBA's 30 teams met in New York City and gave the final clearance for the move.

Signed, sealed, delivered. Stevie Wonder couldn't have sung it better.

It was a hell of week. - Scott Cooper

by Scott Cooper 04.22.2008 6 years ago
at 11:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
 

The givers

In what might be the most contested of the high-profile elections this year in Oklahoma, campaign reports for all three corporation commissioner candidates were posted. The seat, currently held by Democrat Jim Roth, is up for grabs this year since Roth was appointed to the position nearly a year ago.

Roth is the only Democrat in the race, but two Republicans are vying for the spot.

While knowing how much each candidate raised, I'm more interested in who gave. I like to see which well-known and well-connected Oklahomans decided to write a check for an office seeker.

Roth has some pretty big names in his bank account. Two names that jump out are Barry Switzer and Clay Bennett. Switzer has become a regular to state politics since hanging up his football coaching career. Bennett, the most hated man in Seattle, brings his personal wealth and celebrity status as owner of the SuperSonics basketball team to Roth's campaign.

Other Roth supporters of note: Tulsa mayor Kathy Taylor, former governor George Nigh and FOX 23 KOKH weatherman Scott Padgett. Roth also has two publishing families in his camp. Journal Record publisher Mary Melon and James Everest, husband to The Oklahoman publisher Christy Gaylord Everest. That's very interesting.

On the Republican side, state Rep. Rob Johnson of Kingfisher has former governor Henry Bellmon, former Oklahoma City mayor Kirk Humphreys and Love's Stores CEO Tom Love backing his candidacy.

The other Republican candidate, Dana Murphy, can tout a former Miss America and popular local television news anchor Jane Jayroe as a supporter.

This race might get the most attention come the fall. Very few statewide offices are on the ballot. U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe is up for re-election, but he has won landslide victories in his three previous election battles. -Scott Cooper

by Scott Cooper 05.03.2008 6 years ago
at 11:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
 

Today I announce

Frequent observers of the Oklahoma Legislature probably had a peculiar look on their face when studying the candidates who recently filed for election in House District 41.

I know I certainly did.

At the bottom of a list of five candidates was a name too familiar for me: Mine.

Yes, Scott Cooper has filed as an Independent candidate for the district.

I laughed so hard the autographed frame photo of former Oklahoma City news anchor Jack Bowen fell off editor Rob Collins' wall (it's one of his prized possessions).

I don't know what is funnier, the thought of some legislators who have not been under a favorable light in some of my articles seeing my name on the ballot; or imagining if Mr. Cooper actually won, the reception he would receive his first day in office. It is probably a safe bet Mr. Cooper would not get a good parking space assignment.

Making matters more complicated is the fact that Scott Cooper of Lahoma, the actual candidate, and Scott Cooper of the Gazette are both registered independents. But the riddle was solved when looking at the age difference Cooper of Lahoma is 26 while I am 40 (AND I'M A MAN!).

Of course, every election year, there are candidates whose name matches some ordinary citizen who would just assume dump all politicians in a lake. Capitol reporter Michael McNutt of The Oklahoma chided me about the ballot name. I told him my first thought when seeing my name on the ballot: "Quick, call Lance Cargill. I need some campaign contributions." "Scott Cooper

by Scott Cooper 06.14.2008 5 years ago
at 11:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
 

All quiet at the state capitol

It's very quiet at the state capitol right now.

No legislative session keeping lobbyists and staffers scurrying around.

No gavel banging debates between representatives over important issues like whether the toaster oven or the crock pot should be the state's official cooking ware.

Even the computer keyboards in the press room have fewer clicks with several reporters taking vacations.

But don't be fooled. Behind some doors, important work is being done.

This week, the state Senate released their approved request for legislative studies. They may be deemed as fact-finding assignments, but the requests are simply a routine matter for a legislator to push forward a proposal in the next session. They just need a study to back it up.

Senate leaders approved 33 studies, ranging from plastic surgery in ambulances to what makes a judge.

Some of the studies will continue heated dialog which took place during the previous session.

Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, D-Atoka, requested a study on health insurance coverage for autism. This became a hot item towards the end of the last session. Rep. Ron Peterson, R-Broken Arrow, chairman of the House Economic Development & Financial Services Committee, held up a bill mandating insurance companies provide coverage to parents with autistic children. Gumm led a vocal group of parents around the capitol for days trying to convince Peterson to let the bill get through for vote. The bill died but Peterson took a hit. He decided not to run for re-election. Several news stories pointed out Peterson's campaign fund was heavily stocked with insurance company contributions who opposed the bill.

Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, will get to study expanding passenger rail transit while fellow Oklahoma City Democrat legislator in the House Rep. Mike Shelton will be studying Oklahoma's railroad system. The two lawmakers are hammering at better mass transit options in the metro area from both ends of the track.

Sen. Mike Shultz, R-Altus, was given permission to look into termite prevention while Sen. Charles Wyrick, D-Fairland, will be next door studying termiticide. Two studies of termites? That has to be a first. I guess the Republican view is to possibly provide tax credits to termites, while the Democrat take is to stop legislation preventing termites from suing exterminators.

Should be a lively session in 2009.

by Scott Cooper 07.23.2008 5 years ago
at 11:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
 

All quiet at the state capitol

It's very quiet at the state capitol right now.

No legislative session keeping lobbyists and staffers scurrying around.

No gavel banging debates between representatives over important issues like whether the toaster oven or the crock pot should be the state's official cooking ware.

Even the computer keyboards in the press room have fewer clicks with several reporters taking vacations.

But don't be fooled. Behind some doors, important work is being done.

This week, the state Senate released their approved request for legislative studies. They may be deemed as fact-finding assignments, but the requests are simply a routine matter for a legislator to push forward a proposal in the next session. They just need a study to back it up.

Senate leaders approved 33 studies, ranging from plastic surgery in ambulances to what makes a judge.

Some of the studies will continue heated dialog which took place during the previous session.

Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, D-Atoka, requested a study on health insurance coverage for autism. This became a hot item towards the end of the last session. Rep. Ron Peterson, R-Broken Arrow, chairman of the House Economic Development & Financial Services Committee, held up a bill mandating insurance companies provide coverage to parents with autistic children. Gumm led a vocal group of parents around the capitol for days trying to convince Peterson to let the bill get through for vote. The bill died but Peterson took a hit. He decided not to run for re-election. Several news stories pointed out Peterson's campaign fund was heavily stocked with insurance company contributions who opposed the bill.

Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, will get to study expanding passenger rail transit while fellow Oklahoma City Democrat legislator in the House Rep. Mike Shelton will be studying Oklahoma's railroad system. The two lawmakers are hammering at better mass transit options in the metro area from both ends of the track.

Sen. Mike Shultz, R-Altus, was given permission to look into termite prevention while Sen. Charles Wyrick, D-Fairland, will be next door studying termiticide. Two studies of termites? That has to be a first. I guess the Republican view is to possibly provide tax credits to termites, while the Democrat take is to stop legislation preventing termites from suing exterminators.

Should be a lively session in 2009.

by Scott Cooper 07.23.2008 5 years ago
at 11:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
 
 
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