In The Know: Congressman John Sullivan loses GOP primary

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that Jim Bridenstine upset five-term incumbent John Sullivan in Tuesday’s 1st Congressional District Republican primary. Bridenstine will now face Democrat John Olson in the general election. The 2nd District primary to replace incumbent Dan Boren, who is not running for re-election, will go to a run-off between Markwayne Mullin and George Faught on the Republican side and Rob Wallace and Wayne Herriman on the Democratic side.

Tea party-backed candidates for state House and Senate seats struggled in their quest to shift the Oklahoma Legislature further to the right. Sen. Clark Jolley won a hotly contested primary race against Paul Blair. The only incumbent to lose in the primary was Rep. Guy Liebmann, R-Oklahoma City.

Chesapeake Energy Corp.’s stock plummeted nearly 9 percent Monday after Reuters reported on emails that detailed possible collusion with another oil and natural gas company to suppress prices in a Michigan land auction. Reuters profiled one of the landowners who was affected. NewsOK profiled the new Chesapeake board chair.

The OK Policy Blog discussed controversies in Norman and Tulsa that demonstrate the risk of too much Chamber of Commerce-driven policy. Government Health IT examines Oklahoma’s online Medicaid enrollment system, a national leader that may be emulated by other states trying to overhaul their systems to prepare for the streamlined enrollment of millions of individuals in 2014 under health reform. Thousands of Oklahoma Medicare clients have already received more than $35.1 million in prescription drug discounts under the Affordable Care Act.

With many officers forced to work double shifts, Oklahoma prisons are struggling to maintain adequate staffing. The OK Policy Blog previously shared data on the shrinking state workforce. Okie Funk writes that Oklahoma needs more state workers and teachers to protect quality of life. The Oklahoma City School Board discussed whether to change a policy that bans volunteers convicted of felonies and certain misdemeanors. State Superintendent Janet Barresi wrote a NewsOK op-ed on her agenda for education reform. Urban Tulsa Weekly discusses the importance of the non-profit sector for creating jobs.

The Number of the Day is how many people with a disability in Oklahoma receive Social Security income. In today’s Policy Note, a Princeton economist and former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve examines what a pro-growth agenda based on logic and facts rather than partisan ideology would look like.

In The News

Bridenstine upsets incumbent Congressman John Sullivan in GOP primary

Jim Bridenstine upset five-term incumbent John Sullivan in Tuesday’s 1st Congressional District Republican primary late Tuesday, taking the lead with the first returns and slowly building on it as returns trickled in. Bridenstine defeated Sullivan by slightly less than 4,000 votes out of 52,083 cast – about 25 percent of the registered Republicans in the 1st District. A 37-year-old lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve, Bridenstine successfully focused Republican voters’ general frustration with Congress into a direct dissatisfaction with Sullivan, who Bridenstine said had done nothing to distinguish himself in 10 years in office. Bridenstine also emphasized his academic credentials – degrees from Rice and Cornell universities – and his career as a Navy pilot, and he cultivated older voters with a series of patriotic music concerts and other events. He hammered at what he said were Sullivan’s excessive missed votes and lack of leadership. Although he catered to disaffected conservatives and tea party Republicans, Bridenstine’s actual policy positions were not much different from Sullivan’s on most issues.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

See also: 2nd District primaries headed to runoffs from The Tulsa World

Tea Party struggles in Okla. legislative primaries

Tea party-backed candidates for House and Senate seats struggled Tuesday in their quest to shift the Oklahoma Legislature further to the right, as the movement did throughout the country two years ago. Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, faced a hard-fought campaign against an Edmond pastor who sued him and a political action committee for defamation last week. Jolley easily won the GOP’s nomination. Republican Rep. Gary Banz of Midwest City defeated GOP challenger A.J. Bailey and will face Democrat Stephen E. Covert in the general election, and incumbent Republican Rep. Elise Hall of Oklahoma City beat GOP challenger Jeff Renner and was re-elected for another two-year term. Rep. Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, was re-elected to his with 95 percent of the votes cast over GOP challenger Rodney Hiebert of Taloga. Hiebert raised eyebrows prior to the primary election after a photo of him wearing a swastika-adorned Iron Cross medallion around his neck appeared on his Facebook page. But not every Republican state lawmaker defeated primary election challengers. In District 82, Rep. Guy Liebmann, R-Oklahoma City, was defeated by GOP challenger Mike Turner of Edmond.

Read more from The Associated Press.

See also: Crain turns back tea-party effort from The Tulsa World; Sen. Clark Jolley wins primary race against Paul Blair from NewsOK; Political newbie outs incumbent Guy Liebmann from The Edmond Sun;

Chesapeake stock plummets after report of land plot

Chesapeake Energy Corp.’s stock plummeted nearly 9 percent Monday after Reuters reported on a series of emails that detailed possible collusion with another oil and natural gas company ahead of a 2010 land auction in Michigan. “The allegations expose both companies to potential fines and claims for damages in the hundreds of millions of dollars and put Chesapeake’s beleaguered CEO Aubrey McClendon at the forefront of yet another corporate scandal,” Morningstar analyst Mark Hanson wrote in a note to clients. The Reuters report indicates McClendon directed Chesapeake to work with rival Canadian company Encana Corp. to reduce the cost of land in Michigan’s developing Collingwood play two years ago. Officials from the two companies allegedly discussed ways to avoid bidding against each other in a public auction and negotiations with at least nine landowners.

Read more from NewsOK.

A land owner caught between energy giants

A Michigan land owner who alleges he was jilted by two of North America’s largest energy companies says emails made public Monday by Reuters prove that the two companies colluded to kill deals that could have earned him more than $54 million. Walter Zaremba, who is locked in litigation with Encana Corp, Canada’s largest natural gas producer, said he has long suspected that Encana and Chesapeake Energy Corp had been working together, which would be a possible violation of state and federal antitrust laws. Encana and Chesapeake, the second-largest natural gas producer in the United States, withdrew offers for Zaremba’s land in quick succession in 2010. That came after they had engaged in a bidding war for his property in the weeks prior, according to the documents reviewed by Reuters. Emails and other documents show that executives of the two companies discussed detailed plans for preventing Zaremba from getting the price he wanted for about 20,000 acres of land where both sought to drill for gas and oil.

Read more from Reuters.

New Chesapeake chairman familiar with challenges

New Chesapeake Energy Corp. Chairman Archie Dunham has no fear of challenging situations. When he became a director of deepwater drilling company Pride International in 1994, Dunham stepped into a massive cleanup and overhaul as the company found itself deep in debt and embattled with federal violations for allegedly bribing foreign government officials. “It took a number of years, a totally reconstituted board and a new CEO to make Pride back into an outstanding company,” Dunham said. Dunham, an Ada native, once again is taking on a challenge as he leads a reconstructed board at Chesapeake, which has seen its stock price tumble on falling natural gas prices and heavy debt. The company also is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and faces at least 17 shareholder lawsuits.

Read more from NewsOK.

It matters who guards the henhouse

No one would argue that Oklahoma’s business community does not have a major influence on public policy. They benefit from a significant lobbying infrastructure through Chambers of Commerce, extensive personal connections between business leaders and elected officials, and a state political culture that holds business in high esteem. The business community is a positive influence in many ways. They create jobs, wealth, and opportunities that benefit millions of Oklahomans. However, precisely because this sector has so many natural advantages, we should be wary of going too far in giving one segment of the community control over decisions that affect all of us. Recent debates in two Oklahoma municipalities offer prime examples.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Oklahoma’s 5 steps to online Medicaid enrollment

Oklahoma has modernized its Medicaid eligibility and enrollment system so that applicants can apply online anytime and receive a determination immediately. Few states, if any, are as far along as Oklahoma – which went live with its system in 2010. Most states are still plotting how they will overhaul their systems and procedures to prepare for the streamlined enrollment of millions of individuals in 2014 under health reform. State Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Programs (CHIP) must be able to integrate with health insurance exchanges. For Oklahoma Medicaid, 70 percent of the applications are now performed online, said Tracy Turner, applications and operations manager for online enrollment for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. “We want people to be able to apply whenever they want, like at night and at home,” she said, adding that 20 percent of the online applications come in between 5 p.m. to 12 midnight, so the site has to be available 24/7. “We do real-time eligibility decision and enrollment. The decision comes back in less than half a second from the time they submit. Then they can hand that print out of eligibility to a pharmacist or a doctor to have a claim paid at that time,” Turner said.

Read more from GovernmentHealthIT.

Affordable Care Act already helping Oklahoma seniors

Thousands of Oklahoma Medicare clients have received more than $35.1 million in prescription drug discounts with the Affordable Care Act, according to a report released Monday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and distributed by the White House. As the much-anticipated U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the law’s constitutionality draws near, advocates are emphasizing the benefits people are already receiving. The latest target: drug discounts to narrow the “doughnut hole” for Medicare Part D prescription drug patients. During the George W. Bush administration, Congress passed a Medicare prescription drug benefit, but the benefit left a coverage gap between where initial coverage limits ended and when catastrophic benefits began – the so-called doughnut hole. The Affordable Care Act – “Obamacare” to its opponents – gives Medicare prescription drug clients discounts in the doughnut hole to gradually eliminate its impact. In Oklahoma, some 56,526 beneficiaries received $30.3 million in discounts in 2011, and 10,595 beneficiaries have received $4.8 million in discounts so far this year.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Oklahoma prisons struggle to maintain staffing

To fill several dozen open jobs providing security at the Dick Conner Correctional Center this past year, administrators interviewed 46 candidates. Twenty-eight were hired, but 33 have since left – many for jobs in other industries. “It’s hard to make much headway,” Department of Corrections spokesman Jerry Massie said. There are jobs for the taking in corrections – if you pass the background check and don’t mind working lots of overtime in remote locales, surrounded by convicted criminals and a backdrop of razor wire and locked corridors. Officers who stick around often get stuck working double shifts, because a minimum of 19 fixed security posts must be staffed for each shift. “That’s what’s really driving morale down now is the number of doubles,” he said. “It’s a rough life.” There are frequent moments where an employee will be the only officer on duty in a dining hall of 160 inmates – armed only with pepper spray.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Previously: The shrinking state employee workforce from OK Policy Blog

Okie Funk: Oklahoma needs more state workers, teachers

In my last post, I wrote about Oklahoma’s low per pupil spending rate when compared to other states and argued against the old conservative claim that the state’s low cost of living means schools here are actually funded adequately. Another conservative argument, especially in relation to the recent and no doubt future tax-cut proposals, is that we, in the words of Gov. Mary Fallin, need to “right-size government.” The claim assumes that state government here is bloated, a common conservative complaint, which is not based on empirical evidence. The anti-government rhetoric here is more often than not met with stoic silence by state workers, many of whom are paid low salaries and do some of society’s most challenging jobs, such as guarding prison inmates or helping abused children. But the “right-size” mantra is political sloganeering. The reality is that Oklahoma government has shrunk considerably in recent years, calling into question whether the state can offer adequate services and function effectively.

Read more from Okie Funk.

Oklahoma City School Board considers change to volunteer policy

The Oklahoma City School Board discussed Monday whether to change a policy that bans volunteers convicted of felonies and certain misdemeanors. The volunteer services policy requires background checks on all volunteers. Anyone “convicted of a felony or crime involving moral turpitude” cannot serve as a volunteer. The proposed change would only prohibit felons. Examples of crimes of moral turpitude include petty theft and marijuana possession, said Tammy Carter, the district’s general counsel. “I’ve been in the unenviable position of having to talk to parents who cannot volunteer with their kids because of something that may have happened 10 years ago, 20 years ago,” Carter said. “Right now, this is not working because we are telling far too many people no. It’s our goal — or at least I thought it was our goal — to encourage parents to work with their kids,” she said.

Read more from NewsOK.

Janet Barresi: A year of reform for state education

“Failure to implement is the graveyard of good reform,” Indiana state schools Superintendent Tony Bennett once told me. Those words have become a guiding principle for work at the Oklahoma Department of Education. We can pass bold reforms, but they are meaningless unless they’re implemented with fidelity. 2012 is a turning point for education in Oklahoma. We can move confidently into the future, or we can fall back into old patterns, relying on a status quo that’s placed Oklahoma students consistently at the back of the pack. We must shift our focus — from the needs of adults to helping students be successful; from an education system that obscures information to a system focused on transparency and accountability; from a system that crams information into a student’s head (what to think) to a system that equips students with critical thinking skills (how to think); and from a system based on an outmoded industrial model to a system focused on choice.

Read more from NewsOK.

When it comes to job creation, the nonprofit sector is no slouch

When talk turns to job creation, rarely does the nonprofit sector get mentioned. But, in Oklahoma, nonprofits added more jobs recently than the for-profit sector, according to researchers with the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies. From 2007 through 2009, nonprofit jobs increased by 2.1 percent; in contrast, jobs in the for-profit sector declined by 2.1 percent. Sarah Chancy, director for the Oklahoma Alliance of Nonprofits, noted that museums, universities and hospitals can be nonprofits, as well as food pantries, after-school programs and animal shelters, among other types of nonprofits. “Even though we’re known for oil and gas here, nonprofits actually employ more people,” Chancy said. According to the center’s report, which was based on special access to government employment statistics, Oklahoma in 2010 had 76,100 nonprofit jobs.

Read more from Urban Tulsa Weekly.

Quote of the Day

I’ve been in the unenviable position of having to talk to parents who cannot volunteer with their kids because of something that may have happened 10 years ago, 20 years ago… It’s our goal — or at least I thought it was our goal — to encourage parents to work with their kids.
-Tammy Carter, general counsel for Oklahoma City Public Schools, on a move to change the district’s policy so that parents who were convicted of a “crime involving moral turpitude” such as petty theft or marijuana possession are no longer barred from volunteering at the school.

Number of the Day

120, 235

Number of people with a disability in Oklahoma who receive Social Security income, 2010

Source: AARP

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Alan Blinder: Stimulus isn’t a dirty word

A debate now rages in Europe over whether fiscal austerity—that is, higher taxes and less spending—helps or hinders growth. That’s progress of sorts. Not long ago, European policy makers seemed stuck on the notion that austerity promotes growth. Yes, we were supposed to believe that countries grow faster when their governments spend less and tax more. Events in Europe seem to have dashed that idea. But a similar debate rages here in the U.S.—with the lone exception that our pro-austerity crowd abhors tax increases. It’s a highly partisan debate, too, the sort that an election should decide. Many Democrats, including President Obama, want to help state and local governments maintain their spending, which has now dropped 6.4% since its 2008 peak—and is still falling. Most Republicans reject that idea, even when it saves the jobs of teachers, fire fighters and police officers. Politics aside, suppose we actually got serious about a pro-growth agenda based on logic and facts rather than on partisan ideology. What would it look like?

Read more from The Wall Street Journal.

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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