Kaye Beach

“Two-year rule” for legislators being largely ignored

In Oklahoma State Government on January 11, 2011 at 10:10 pm

By Andrew W. Griffin

Red Dirt Report, editor

Posted: January 7, 2011

reddirtreporter@gmail.com

OKLAHOMA CITY – While Governor-elect Mary Fallin has named former State Sen. Glenn Coffee as her choice for Secretary of State, some current legislators, political observers and constitutionalists are wondering if that was such a wise idea.

Coffee, who was the State Senate Pro Tempore, up until last session, appears to have found a loophole so he could legally land a job working for the state, in his case – Secretary of State.

And one source close to Red Dirt Report said Coffee had been campaigning for the Secretary of State job as early as last spring.

Apparently, the incoming Fallin administration felt Coffee, who was part of Fallin’s “transition team,” was qualified enough for the job despite his shaky time in the Senate, a time which found him addressing tax problems, dealing with unpaid traffic tickets and giving his staff hefty raises despite a budget shortfall.

And the Fallin team had hailed Coffee, noting his ability to help with “fiscal discipline.”

As noted in an Oklahoma Watchdog article from last November headlined “Troubled Coffee to be part of Fallin transition team,” it notes a questionable Canada trip made by Coffee and his successor Brian Bingman which involved the use of limousines on the taxpayer’s dime.

Hmmm. With all these issue it makes one wonder about why Coffee was Fallin’s top choice.

Red Dirt Report called Fallin’s spokesman Alex Weintz for further comment on the Coffee appointment but that call was not returned by the time this article was scheduled to be published.

And now with Coffee transitioning himself, this time into the office of the Secretary of State, the issue of a legislator taking a state job immediately after leaving office rears its ugly head once again.

Ron Black, writing at his Gorilla Rants blog, wrote this week: “The issue of whether or not Coffee can take the job because of the Constitutional referendum on legislators taking a state job may be a moot point because the statute is specific to positions created by the legislature. The Secretary of State is a Constitutional post – but it sure as hell may be time to revisit that law and have it include a two-year moratorium on ALL state jobs for a period of two years. Of course, the legislature probably wouldn’t go for that because the vast majority of our elected officials are chomping at the bits to trade-up, to get better, more lucrative government paychecks.”

According to the Oklahoma Constitution, “No member of the Legislature shall, during the term for which he was elected, be appointed or elected to any office or commission in the State, which shall have been created, or the emoluments of which shall have been increased, during his term of office, nor shall any member receive any appointment from the Governor, the Governor and Senate, or from the Legislature, during the term for which he shall have been elected, nor shall any member, during the term for which he shall have been elected, or within two years thereafter, be interested, directly or indirectly, in any contract with the State, or any county or other subdivision thereof, authorized by law passed during the term for which he shall have been elected.”

“Pretty plain,” said Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, a critic of those who bend the rules to land state jobs.

“My reading of the Constitution and the Attorney General’s opinion has persuaded me not to accept a job in the executive branch two years after leaving the legislature,” Reynolds told Red Dirt Report.

And as noted in a July 2010 News 9 report, Attorney General Drew Edmondson addressed the two-year rule in an opinion noting that as long as former legislators are not paid with state appropriated dollars and the legislature did not create the position, then lawmakers do not have to wait two years.

That doesn’t fly with legislators like Reynolds who want the law followed as it was intended.

Said Reynolds: “I took an oath to uphold the constitution of Oklahoma. That is an oath to uphold the constitution as we understand it, not as someone else understands it.”

Referring to the aforementioned News 9 report, it quotes then-State Auditor and Inspector Steve Burrage as saying that “Personally, I don’t think they should be able to be employed for two years after they leave office, regardless of where the money comes from.”

Burrage also said in the News 9 report that legislators should not be employed with the state for two years after they leave office, “regardless of where the money comes from.”

Reynolds also noted that he “toyed” with the idea of writing a constitutional amendment to clarify the law but figured since it says it clearly he didn’t feel it warranted any further time.

Reynolds suggested that an “independently wealthy person” may want to spend the money to take the issue to court but understands why most taxpayers aren’t willing to do it, considering the daunting court costs.

Reynolds said colleagues, like former State Sen. Randy Brogdon (R-Owasso), who took a state job at the Oklahoma Insurance Department, are being told that they can move into state jobs despite the law.

Still, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth of some folks, like a legislative source who spoke to Red Dirt Report Thursday on condition of anonymity.

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