Oklahoma’s Think Tanks (The Slice)

By John Parker, The Slice

In the battle for Oklahoma’s political hearts and minds, David Blatt and Michael Carnuccio helm the rival political think tanks commonly portrayed as liberal versus conservative juggernauts … they both really hate that.

Carnuccio, who heads the shrink-government, free-market Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, grates at the label. It too easily equates with Republican partisanship. After all, this is a state where blank campaign signs could be pre-printed with the slogan, “the conservative candidate – (insert name here)” and sell wildly.

They’re both right to complain about the ready-mix media label.

In Carnuccio’s case, consider the council’s October “hit piece” on Republican Gov. Mary Fallin. At least, that’s how the governor described it. She winged off a two-page email to the council’s board members – Carnuccio’s bosses – complaining about it. The scrap was over Fallin’s pending chairmanship of the National Governors Association. She serves on the executive committee in the company of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a national political light with presidential candidate prospects.

“Unfortunately,” she wrote, “OCPA staff seems intent on continuing to demagogue the NGA (National Governors Association) and my leadership within the organization as a ‘big-government lobbying organization’ without presenting the real facts that it serves as an effective advocacy group on behalf of our nation’s governors and state primacy.”

For the council to oppose a self-described conservative Republican governor belies its casual classification as a front group for the party. Despite Fallin’s influential attempt, the council’s board didn’t back off its judgment: The governors association and others like it are “trade associations” to grow the size of government and Oklahoma elected officials should drop out of all of them, Carnuccio says. The council’s mission runs deeper than party lines.

Blatt’s Oklahoma Policy Institute emerged only five years ago, but quickly earned its “liberal” sticker. Its positions against income tax cuts, pro more funding for education and a wide range of government services did that. But in 2010, OK Policy joined Republicans in opposing a big-government, pro-education state question. The proposal would have forced legislators to match the regional funding average of K-12 schools of surrounding states in three years. Despite OK Policy’s strong support for more education spending, the $1.7 billion that the measure would have added to schools would have starved other vital programs.

Blatt’s explanation of setting up OK Policy as an informational, independent policy group applies equally well to the council. “We work really hard to avoid being labeled and to show how our positions are rooted in some core principles and values, not rooted in an ideology or party platform,” he said.



Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

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