Gov. Brad Henry’s responsible, bipartisan leadership has checked a sometimes misguided, Republican-controlled Legislature, which has consistently presented him with bills that would do nothing to move the state forward.
Henry, one of the most popular governors in the state’s history, has done so with judicious vetoes and bill signings. He helped bring about political compromise on issues such as tort reform.
He sometimes angered those on the right and disappointed those on the left with his decisions, but he has always explained his actions with the calm demeanor reminiscent of the person he supported for president, Barack Obama.
By any reasonable measure, Henry proved himself again this year to be a bipartisan centrist, a governor who could sign a bill allowing a Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol even as he vetoed a bill that would have made stem cell research illegal. That political dichotomy is as reflective of Oklahoma as one can get these days.
When it came to the Ten Commandments monument bill, Henry probably realized the U.S. Supreme Count found a similar monument in Texas did not violate church and state separation. The Oklahoma Legislature voted overwhelmingly for the monument. Henry listened to social conservatives and signed the bill.
These same social conservatives were disappointed when Henry vetoed the bill making stem cell research illegal. But, the veto was hardly a gift to the left. The state Chamber of Commerce urged Henry to veto the bill because it might have hurt the state’s growing biomedical industry. Henry’s decision was bipartisan.
In all, the governor vetoed 21 bills from this session, the highest single session total in his tenure. But his vetoes were always measured, explained and logical. Henry’s rejection of a school deregulation bill that would have removed many state mandates from school districts is a good example.
This is what Henry said about his decision: “While local control is an important component of a successful public education system, it is also critical to have rigorous state standards in place to produce the highest quality graduates and ensure achievement and accountability throughout the system.”
That’s hardly the fighting talk of a diehard liberal. In fact, “rigorous state standards” could be in the lexicon of any proud Oklahoma conservative.
Henry’s veto of the bill requiring strict voter identification at precincts was another prudent action, and the House then voted to send the measure to the ballot in an upcoming election.
Here’s what Henry said about that decision: “The right to vote is one of our most precious freedoms, guaranteed to all eligible U.S. citizens regardless of their race, gender, religion, income level or social status, and policymakers must be especially careful when tinkering with this fundamental right.”
Note the word “careful.” Henry’s veto can be viewed the same way: careful.
Meanwhile, Henry signed a legal reform bill that caps damages in lawsuits. This follows a long push by state conservatives. His previous vetoes of related legislation helped to bring about the compromise bill. By signing the bill, Henry enabled conservatives to realize an important part of their political agenda.
Henry’s record as an outstanding, centrist governor is a part of the historical record in Oklahoma as true as a Sam Bradford pass and as inclusive as The Flaming Lips’ lyrics.
Hochenauer is an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and the author of the Okie Funk blog.