In the November election, the GOP extended their majorities in the Oklahoma House and Senate, captured the governor’s office and swept every single statewide office. Coalescing around anti-President Barack Obama and anti-Washington hysteria, Republicans swarmed into office, often with landslide votes.
It was a time for Republicans to celebrate. But that was so November. Republican legislators are now showing signs they are fracturing along classic lines between social and fiscal conservatives. This at least partially parallels a national GOP split between establishment Republicans and Tea Party-type politicians, but it has its unique Okie flavor.
On one side of this battle stands political leaders, such as state Rep. Kris Steele, a Shawnee Republican, who was elected by the GOP Caucus as the incoming House
Speaker. He wants to focus the next legislative session on the economy and budget issues, including lawsuit and workers’ compensation reform, according to media reports. Steele, according to one report, said he wants to “create a positive business environment in Oklahoma.”
On the other side of this battle stands political leaders, such as state Rep. Randy Terrill, a Moore Republican, who took issue with Steele’s focus. Terrill wants to focus on social issues, such as Second Amendment rights, more illegal immigration legislation and pro-family issues, according to media reports. Terrill, of course, sponsored House Bill 1804, Oklahoma’s draconian anti-illegal immigration law passed in 2007.
The fracture became even more apparent when some social conservatives actually protested at a recent Republican House caucus meeting in Bartlesville. These so-called ultra-conservatives argued they have a mandate from voters to push their social agenda.
The idea that Oklahoma conservatives can become even more conservative will seem ludicrous to many Democrats. Oklahoma is considered one of the most conservative states in the nation these days. Even many Democratic politicians, such as U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, are considered staunchly conservative.
But Republicans for the first time now control all aspects of state government. They know massive legislative victories await them next session. The winners are arguing how to divide the spoils after their annihilation of Democrats.
But the silver lining here for Democrats is that intra-party fighting among Republicans could lead to a weakened GOP over the next two years. Meanwhile, Democrats have nothing to lose. If the GOP blows their chance at single-party governing in a bitter, divisive atmosphere, voters may respond to Democrats more favorably in 2012.
There’s also the off chance voters will grow tired with divisive, social
legislation. Oklahoma already has strict anti-illegal immigration and anti-abortion laws. If the Legislature passes “open carry” and “carry on campus” gun legislation next session and Gov.-elect Mary Fallin signs it into law, what more will there be left to do? Everything else, such as prohibiting courts from using Shariah law, will seem like nonsense and fear mongering. In 2012, Democrats could benefit from voter fatigue when it comes to overwrought and unnecessary social legislation.
With the state facing a $400 million budget hole next fiscal year, this is hardly the time to run off businesses and slow economic development by passing legislation that makes the state seem like the Wild West and its residents seem intolerant, but don’t expect social conservatives to back down.
Hochenauer is an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and the author of the Okie Funk blog.