Thursday, January 8, 2009

Cold Coffee

By Bailey Dabney, Publisher

January 8, 2009 —

New Republican President Pro Tem of the Oklahoma State Senate, Glenn Coffee has changed the rules of the Senate to protect insurance companies so that before voting on any law mandating insurance coverage changes for state employees including teachers, the chairman of the appropriate committee must first request and receive an impact study from the state insurance board that provides coverage for employees and teachers. There is no requirement for a timely or accurate compliance.

What's so bad about that? The reality is that it can be a way to kill legislation without a vote. This rule change effectively gives veto power to unelected bureaucrats thereby allowing elected officials to escape the accountability of their voting record on matters in which their constituents might show interest. For example, if the committee chairman either refuses to make the request or drags his feet making the request, a response might not occur until after the legislative session is out or even at all. The agency could be encouraged to slow down any findings and playing politics takes on another layer.

Sen. Coffee and the Republicans didn't stop there. In 1981, Rogers County native and then Oklahoma City resident, Marvin York, as President Pro Tem of the Senate created a more bipartisan atmosphere in the Senate by allowing the minority leader, then the Republicans, to appoint their own members to committees rather than by the President Pro Tem, who would be of the majority party.

The rationale was that the minority party ought to have some insight into the qualifications of its members to serve.

Sen. Coffee has thrown that bipartisan cooperation out the door in a bold power grab where he took control by changing the rules so that he makes all of the appointments for both parties.

Local Sen. Sean Burrage attempted to amend Coffee's new rules and return them to the bipartisan oriented rules of Marvin York. It failed on a party line vote.

This is a harsh start for the Republicans who hold control of the Senate for the first time in the history of the state. Protecting special interest groups like insurance companies by creating
loopholes that keep our elected officials from voting on proposed legislation and seizing power in order to gain more partisan control is nasty self-serving politics.

Let's hope Coffee rethinks some of what he's doing, otherwise it's going to be a rocky ride for our state, and a brief turn at the helm for the conservatives.

This is not a state where the Democrats and the Republicans are miles apart philosophically.

Voters don't appreciate partisanship nearly as much as they appreciate cooperation on achieving common goals.

Leadership is a skill honed with practice and guidance. Sen. Coffee needs to reach across the aisle and work with his duly elected peers, allowing the voting process to do what it was intended to do: produce the best possible outcome for the good of his constituents.

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