Five years ago in the monthly magazine I edit, I made the case that Gov. Brad Henry was decidedly left of center.
Henry “cast a lot of votes during his 10 years in the Legislature, and he emerged with a lifetime conservative index rating of 17 percent,” I wrote. “That’s better than hardcore leftists Cal Hobson (10 percent) and Bernest Cain (10 percent) ” but not much better.”
Notwithstanding his endorsements of John Kerry and Barack Obama, Henry has developed a reputation as a moderate. But in 2009, his true colors are on display.
Sure, Henry still knows when to hold his nose and sign bills he has to sign (sorry, Wayne Coyne, but only the politically suicidal would veto a Ten Commandments monument in this state). But it’s no coincidence that Henry’s highest-ever veto tally came in the same year the Republicans first controlled the Legislature, sending to his desk a steady stream of center-right legislation.
Take voter ID, for example. The left argued that such a law was unnecessary in Oklahoma because there’s no evidence of voter fraud here. Apparently, people have forgotten former Gov. George Nigh’s quip that when he dies he wants to be buried in McAlester so he can continue voting. There’s a reason that’s funny.
One wishes Henry would acknowledge publicly, as did state Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, that he opposes voter ID because “it is going to help Republicans and it is going to hurt Democrats.”
Or consider lawsuit reform: In a May 23 editorial (“Oklahoma’s Tort Secrets”), The Wall Street Journal criticized Henry for “turning down a bill that would have shed light on the state’s pay-to-sue racket.”
The Journal pointed out that Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson “has become a player in the growing national scandal of attorneys general who retain private plaintiffs lawyers on a contingency fee basis to prosecute cases on the state’s behalf. Then these lawyers make campaign donations for the AG’s re-election.”
Henry signed a different tort reform bill. But as Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs adjunct scholar Andrew Spiropoulos argued May 24 in The Oklahoman (“State still awaits real lawsuit reform”), there’s less to that bill than meets the eye.
Concluded The Journal editorial: “It’s a start, but he (Henry) still owes the state a better explanation for pulling the shades around the AG-tort bar condominium.”
On the education front, Henry vetoed a bill that would have removed many of the state mandates from local school districts. He vetoed a bill allowing tribes to authorize charter schools.
And, despite U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s admission that some states have been “lying to children and families” about the quality of education they’re providing, Henry vetoed a bill bringing truth in advertising to student achievement data. (He later signed a watered-down version.)
Henry did sign some good bills in 2009, including a law protecting unborn girls from the most odious possible form of discrimination. He’s to the right of Obama. He would never wear a hammer and sickle T-shirt.
But he is a lefty, and conservatives know the good stuff doesn’t come until the governor moves on.
Dutcher is vice president for policy at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), a conservative think tank.