Will Rogers observed that “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.” To watch our own state government in action of late, I expect that Gov. Brad Henry is thinking a lesser-known Rogers aphorism: “There ought to be one day ” just one ” when there is open season on senators.” For, if the Senate continues to hang together, the governor may wish to declare a herd-thinning on the august body up there at 2300 N. Lincoln.
Let’s cut to the chase: Henry, formerly of the state Senate, made one political booty call too many on his former colleagues. The governor used the Senate Democrats ” especially suburban and urban liberals ” as an effective shield to keep controversial legislation off his desk in his first term. But when budgetary matters arose, he would go and play footsie with the Republicans ” remember the “historic Henry-Hiett budget” ” and the result was two significant tax cuts and an expansion of discretionary government spending while long-term needs in corrections and teacher retirement remained unaddressed.
Arranged marriages often don’t work, and shotgun weddings are especially prone to fail. So, after last fall’s elections, when the twin barrels of a tied chamber were leveled, senators concluded they’d best find a way to work together, for the baby. The surprise is that the power-sharing agreement in the state Senate continues to flourish. Born out of the necessity of managing a chamber where Republicans and Democrats have the same number of seats, the compromise that placed Co-Presidents Pro Tem Mike Morgan and Glenn Coffee at the head of the chamber endures under the most trying of circumstances: a budget fight with the governor.
No one thought it would last. House members rushed a budget through. What was the hurry? To meet obligations before someone in the Senate sobered up and realized that they didn’t want to be married anymore. So, in March, we found ourselves with an early, status quo budget of the sort one gets when no one had a winning political hand to play.
“Caramba!” cried the executive (staff), “this is not our budget! And we were not consulted! And here, meet our veto.” Evidently, the governor had a card to play ” a left bower for you players of euchre and whist.
Senate Democrats got the governor’s back for four years, and ended up taking a lot of electoral knives in the process. Democratic seats continued to get picked off in the Senate while the governor built his personal popularity on the spirit of bipartisanship. Democrats are down six seats since 2001, and there are quiet voices that wonder if a small sacrifice of gubernatorial popularity could have saved a seat or two in the process.
Now the Senate Democrats are not putting out for the governor. Senate Republicans gladly accepted the jilted lover, and together they’ve found a common foe. In response, the governor decided he wouldn’t play sugar daddy, ditching the fund-raiser he co-hosted recently. And, now the governor makes rounds with House Democrats, trying out the veto playbook of Frank Keating in an effort to force a break in the relationship he helped forge in the Senate.
Lo, a rocky relationship finds strength in external adversity! Like Romeo and Juliet, they decide that it is less important to be a Montague or a Capulet than to be part of what they have created. So, Senate Democrats find motivation when their ex comes around to meddle in the marriage. And now they threaten to throw the other bower, the trump Jack, and hang together against their old squeeze.
But I hope the esteemed senators recall what happened to Shakespeare’s lovers.
Gaddie is a professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma and partner in TvPoll.com.