The rejection by the republican controlled Oklahoma Senate Rules Committee to even consider a hearing for approval of former Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner, Jim Roth’s appointment to the state election board is just another example of politics gone absurd. Rules Committee Chairman Rob Johnson, R-Kingfisher explained it wasn’t brought to a vote because a few members of his caucus had expressed “concern” that Roth, being a former statewide elected official, might not be impartial in certain situations regarding former political opponents. He claimed it had nothing to do with sexual orientation. Chairman Johnson went on to say that he doesn’t think sexual orientation should be considered; it’s a private matter. But he just didn’t believe he could get the votes to pass him out of committee.
Forget about the fact Roth replaced Susan Turpen, wife of former State Attorney General, Mike Turpen who is still active in the Democratic Party and known to be a big financial donor. Or what about former Election Board member Tom Prince, an active Republican Party member and big donor to that party. Add to that, the Rules Committee’s unanimous approval in the same meeting of the nomination of Gerald “Jerry” Buchanan, vice-chair of the 1st district of the Republican Party in Tulsa and another donor to the Republican Party. His nomination was later approved by the Senate to the Election Board. It would seem the Election Board has had people serve in the past and still has people serving presently that might have possible conflicts of interest in certain situations.
The Enid News and Eagle quoted Rules Committee member Sen. Patrick Anderson R-Enid as saying, “The main reason the nominee didn’t get out of committee is “because he’s gay.” Sen. Anderson’s answer as to why Roth’s nomination wasn’t permitted to go before a hearing, Anderson said, “That’s the chairman’s decision, and the chairman chose not to hear his nomination.” According to the Enid News and Eagle story Sen. Anderson was also reported to state that “he would have voted for his approval if he had been allowed.”
The Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus issued this statement following the decision to not bring the appointment of Roth to a vote for approval to the Oklahoma State Election Board: “We are disheartened by the Senate Rules Committee’s refusal to allow Gov. Mary Fallin’s nomination of Jim Roth to the State Election Board to be heard in committee. Committee Chair Sen. Rob Johnson’s statements that he did not have the votes to pass the nomination are insufficient to address his refusal to even give Roth a chance to receive an up or down vote.”
“Jim Roth, Oklahoma’s first openly gay statewide office holder, is imminently qualified. As an attorney he is well versed in the laws of this state. He has served as District 1 Oklahoma County Commissioner and as a Corporation Commissioner. The Governor appointed Roth to the State Election Board in October of 2011, where he has presided over several special legislative elections and the sign-up process for candidates for the 2012 election. This fact alone attests to his effectiveness regardless of his political affiliation.”
In an exclusive statement issued to the Gayly by Sen. Al McAffrey D-OKC, the first and only openly gay member of both the Oklahoma House and Senate he says, “Jim Roth is a dedicated public servant who has worked with equal distinction in the private sector. As Governor Mary Fallin recognized when she nominated him, Jim Roth is highly qualified to serve on the Oklahoma State Election Board, where he would no doubt have continued to represent all Oklahomans with fairness, impartiality, and the utmost dedication to his job. I am greatly dismayed that Senate leadership denied Jim Roth a hearing on his nomination because of his sexual orientation, thus allowing partisan pandering and fear-mongering to trump basic principles of fair dealing and good government.”
Even one of the state’s most conservative newspapers, The Oklahoman, in an opinion article stated: “Roth would bring to the election board a bright mind and great passion, just as he did as an Oklahoma County Commissioner and a member of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. We would argue that Roth was one of the best elected officials in the county’s history. Government needs more people like him, not fewer.”
Media, political, and business sources across the state both progressive and conservative who know and have worked with Jim Roth appear to agree that this decision makes no sense whatsoever. The additional excuse given by Rules Committee Chairman that he didn’t think he had the votes to pass Roth out of committee is hard to imagine. There are 18 members of the Senate Rules Committee; 6 democrats and 12 republicans. The Speaker of the House and the House Majority Leader each has a vote on any committee if they desire. Given the statements of Republicans Sen. Johnson and Sen. Anderson that sexual orientation was no issue for them that would be two (2) votes. The six (6) democrats would have voted to approve so that would come to a total of 8 of the 10 or 11 votes necessary to approve the nomination (depending on the whims of the House leadership). Now, out of the remaining 12 members left which are all republicans, is it that hard to imagine Sen. Johnson couldn’t get 2 or 3 additional votes given Jim Roth’s impressive track record as an elected official and a man respected by conservatives and progressives alike?
The truth is a senate committee chairperson has the discretion to bring something to a vote or not. In this case, at least one of the senators on this committee is facing a challenge from a person even conservative than himself. Sen. Clark Jolley R-Edmond is being challenged by Paul Blair, pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Edmond and a well-known anti-gay zealot. The Tulsa World quotes Sen. Al McAffrey as saying, “Senators do not want, during election time to vote on a gay person. That is what it comes down to.”
According to the article he said some senators are facing difficult re-election campaigns and do not want to vote for a gay person because they are afraid to be labeled a liberal.
So here it comes down to the real reason Jim Roth was not even given a hearing for approval of his nomination: He is openly gay.
This is political pandering at its worst.