Oklahoma candidates’ focus on ethics, transparency deserves attention

The Oklahoman Editorial Board, December 5, 2017

ONE benefit of open-seat races in statewide elections is that candidates of all parties are more likely to address existing shortcomings in government. That’s proving the case in the governor’s race, where candidates have unveiled reform proposals that merit attention.

Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, a Republican candidate for governor, recently offered a series of proposed ethics reforms. One idea that may have broad public appeal is his call to penalize lawmakers who abruptly resign from office and force taxpayers to foot the bill for special elections.

Lamb wants to require that legislators who resign before the end of their term lose state retirement until the cost of the special election (with interest) is repaid to the state. Any existing campaign funds held by the resigning lawmaker would be automatically transferred to the state Election Board to help pay for the resulting special election. The proposal would exempt those who resign due to a family or health crisis, are called to military service, or have been elected to another office.

Oklahomans have been forced to pay the tab for numerous special elections this year that were caused not by outside factors, but by the actions of incumbent lawmakers.

Rep. Tom Newell, R-Seminole, Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman, and Sen. Dan Newberry, R-Tulsa, all resigned to take private-sector jobs, sometimes within months of winning re-election. If they didn’t plan to serve the full term, why did they run again?

Rep. Dan Kirby, R-Tulsa, Sen. Ralph Shortey, R-Oklahoma City, and Sen. Bryce Marlatt, R-Woodward, all resigned due to sex scandals of varying severity. Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City, resigned due to campaign ethics violations.

Rep. Scott Inman, D-Del City, recently announced he is resigning mid-term, citing a desire to spend time with family. Logistical challenges may prevent a special election in that seat, leaving the people of Del City without representation next session.

Of all the special elections Oklahoma taxpayers have had to pay for this year, the only one where no one is to blame occurred in House District 76, which came open upon the death of Rep. David Brumbaugh, R-Broken Arrow.

No doubt, Oklahoma voters want to know where the next governor stands on many issues, and will cast their votes on far more than the aforementioned proposals. But it’s a welcome development that politicians feel the need to advocate for ethics reform and greater government transparency.

Admittedly, talk is cheap. The real test is not whether candidates propose such measures, but if they actively work to implement them upon election. Nonetheless, these are important issues and worthwhile debates. Oklahoma voters should take note.

Team Lamb

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