Last week I attended a session on gaming at the Sovereignty Symposium. When I walked into the room shortly before the session started, I looked around for a place to sit. I usually like to sit in an open row so that I have plenty of elbow room to take notes.
After a glance around the room at the Skirvin Hotel, I spotted former long-time state senator and Senate President Pro Tempore Cal Hobson sitting by himself in a fairly empty row. I strolled up to Hobson, introduced myself, for which he remembered me, and sat down next to him.
I asked Hobson how he was doing, spending the past legislative session as an outsider for the first time in more than two decades. He had one word - vindicated.
When I asked Hobson to explain, he gleefully reminded me of the battles he had in the Legislature convincing his fellow lawmakers what an economic tool gaming would be to the state. The new figures released during the symposium from the National Indian Gaming Association back up Hobson's argument. The casinos which have sprouted in Oklahoma during the past few years have been an economic boom for the state. Revenue to the state has continued to increase and set new records. By the end of this month, the state's take on Indian casinos through the compacts should top $100 million for the past year.
And this has come during one of the worst recessions America has experienced.
So Hobson sat through the session with a grin on his face, knowing the fights he put up to help bring gaming and casinos to Oklahoma were all worth it.
State Sen. Steve Russell, R-Oklahoma City, has no regrets about missing a day of Legislative session and failing to vote on a bill his leadership held over and therefore extending the current session. The Senate was set to adjourn for the year on Friday when House Bill 1170 came up for a final vote. The measure would create a new central intelligence officer to oversee most of the state's technology needs. But the bill was short of passage by one vote, leading the Republican-controlled Senate to hold the vote open for four hours trying to get that last vote. When it became apparent the bill was going to fail, Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee introduced a resolution to extend the session one more day, costing taxpayers nearly $12,000.
There were a few reasons the bill failed to get enough votes
According to a new poll, most of the Republican-sponsored ballot measures for 2010 get heavy statewide support.
A survey done by SoonerPoll.com shows massive support for state official term limits, making English the state's official language and implementing voter identification on election day. All three issues earned more than 80 percent favorable support in the survey. All three will be on the ballot come November of 2010.
The survey also found lukewarm support for the state lottery and school consolidation. Results of the lottery question found the respondents split, 45 percent to 45 percent. A majority favors school consolidation, 47 percent to 32 percent, but nearly 20 percent left the question unanswered.
While Barack Obama gets high praise on a national scale for the job he has been doing as president, a majority of Oklahomans still have problems with the new president.
In a poll out today by SoonerPoll.com, a slight majority of Oklahomans disapprove of the way Obama is doing his job, 48 percent to 47 percent. That is 20 points below the latest national poll by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal which has Obama's approval rating at 68 percent. The numbers are the same when asked how Obama is handling the economy.
On most of the poll's questions concerning the president, a majority of Oklahomans give unfavorable remarks on issues from cutting the deficit to reducing America's dependence on foreign oil. The one area a majority of the state does agree Obama has improved is the country's image around the world. A majority of 54 percent said Obama will likely improve the image while 43 said he will likely will not.
Gov. Brad Henry continues to get high marks from Oklahomans with 66 percent approving of Henry while 28 percent disapprove. Both of Oklahoma's United States senators also received favorable marks with Jim Inhofe getting a 62 percent approval and Tom Coburn earning a 60 percent.
A majority in the poll said Oklahoma's financial institutions should not receive federal bailout money, 50 percent to 35 percent.
Sixty-five percent of those polled considered themselves evangelical Christians.
Over the weekend, The Oklahoman published a story aimed at exposing the group behind an attack ad against the Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee. However, the story failed to mention one very important disclosure: its own.
The attack ad goes after Coffee's recent admittance of falling behind on paying his personal income taxes, which totaled about $28,000. Coffee paid the taxes last November after the IRS placed a lien on his house. Coffee took out a loan to pay the taxes. The ad encourages the public to contact their state senator and ask Coffee to do the right thing, implying Coffee should step down.
The Oklahoman story delved into the group which was funding the ad and reported it's a group with ties to Democratic lawmakers. The story goes on to say the recent fight over lawsuit reform, also known as tort reform, of which Coffee is the Senate's major sponsor, may also have something to do with the ads.
But what the story left out was its own ties to the tort reform effort. David Thompson is publisher of The Oklahoman and president of OPUBCO Communications, which operates the newspaper's Newsok.com Web site. Thompson also happens to be president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, which is a major backer of lawsuit reform.
This is not to suggest Thompson orchestrated the story. But Thompson's ties to the newspaper and the lawsuit reform effect could have been disclosed.
Here is an excerpt from an Oklahoman story on Dec. 12, 2008 when Thompson took over as chamber president:
"Thompson outlined several areas that he plans to focus on during 2009. But, even during an economic recession, the chambers priority will remain 'economic development, economic development and economic development,' he said.
First among his points of emphasis was continued development of the chambers planned $18 million headquarters at NW 4 and Broadway. Thompson also called for projects to position Oklahoma City as a competitive visitor destination, and development of a long-range plan for mass transit.
Thompson said efforts to create a business-friendly legislative and regulatory environment are top priority.
'And, yes, I mean lawsuit reform and, yes, I mean workers comp reform,' Thompson said in a line that drew applause."
It has been a quiet little secret for a few months, but today it came out in the open. Should Republican Sen. Harry Coates muster at least quarter of his caucus members to support his bid to be the next Senate President Pro Tempore, the Senate Democrats will push him over the top.
At a news conference to introduce Democratic candidates for open Senate districts, Democratic leader Sen. Charlie Laster said if his party is still in the minority after the 2010 elections, he would not be surprised if Coates gets 100 percent of the Senate Democrats to support his pro tempore bid.
"We want better decorum in the Senate and we believe Sen. Coates is the one to do that," Laster said.
Coates is not a favorite among some of his Republican brethren. Considered to be a more moderate GOPer, Coates has gone against his party at times over lawsuit reform and immigration.
The Democrats will have a tough fight to maintain the 22 seats they currently hold in the state Senate. With four Democrats term limited, their numbers could drop to 18 when looking at Oklahoma's political climate.
But still, that would mean Coats has to only come up with six fellow Republicans to win the top spot; a task not that difficult with between 26 and 30 senators to pick from.