Oklahoma's political system could use a makeover. Voter turnout continues to decline in the primary, runoffs and general elections. Party politics are changing as the Republicans gain membership and the Democrats lose. All too many candidates are more concerned about their parties gaining control of the House or Senate than compromising to accomplish something rather than nothing.
Oklahoma election cycles are growing increasingly expensive. House and Senate races in rural parts of Oklahoma can now cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Rather amazing when you consider the offices pay about $38,000 a year. Campaigns continue to grow more negative. More and more candidates run against someone rather than for an office. The difference is noticeable. Candidates running for an office propose new ideas, solutions and a willingness to work with the opposition. Candidates running against someone run their competitors down with smear tactics, innuendoes, and robocalls that attack and even go so far as to outright lie.
The end result is a campaign that has voters selecting candidates by voting against rather than for someone. Most of these types of campaigns involve social issues and result in the "anyone but X"-type campaign. Republicans have begun to eat their own with campaigns labeled "RINO" " "Republican In Name Only." This usually implies a candidate is not conservative " or worse, not conservative enough. The Daniel Keating-Howard Barnett race for state treasurer was a great example.
Neocons in Washington are now accusing the president of not being conservative enough. The Democrats have recently done the same thing in Connecticut with Sen. Joe Lieberman, who apparently wasn't "liberal" enough.
In Oklahoma, the runoff usually brings out the worst in candidates. Primary winners got there by giving voters something for which to vote. Candidates finishing second aren't likely to do better in the runoff without a change of strategy. Typically the change is to attack the leaders: Label them as liberals, attack their businesses, criticize their voting records, find fault with their behavior and the people with whom they might have associated, or simply just misrepresent their records or past.
The lieutenant governor's race was nasty on both sides. Todd Hiett and Scott Pruitt bloodied up each other as both tried to out-conservative the other. Democrat Pete Regan tried to paint Jari Askins as a self-serving, cold-hearted, lifelong politician. Askins called his hand by essentially dressing him down for misrepresenting her, and she probably came out of the race as the biggest winner among all four candidates.
Turnout for the runoff was a pathetic 17 percent, down about a third from the primary. Candidates for local and statewide races spent hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars on all too many negative commercials and ads. Come November, we will elect a governor, lieutenant governor and members of the House and Senate, and vote in a host of other races across the state. It is not uncommon for the winners of those races to win without a majority because of third party independent candidates. Notice there is no runoff in November.
We would do well to dispose of the post-primary runoff. Whoever wins the primary goes to the general election. It would save a lot of money, a lot of reputations, a lot of ill will, and make it easier for voters to focus on issues rather than bloody unproductive middle campaigns. It's time to run off the runoff! - Vince Orza
Orza, chairman and CEO of Eateries Inc., is dean of the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University.