In recent days, a firestorm erupted over comments made by Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, on the Oklahoma House of Representatives floor. And while Kern’s sincere apology should put the matter to rest, what shouldn’t be lost on the public is the name of a small group of conservatives meeting at an OKC gun range that I believe will continue to play an influential role in Oklahoma politics: the High Noon Club.
During the 2010 primary election cycle, I witnessed one of the most malicious attacks on a politician in some time against then-candidate Republican state Treasurer Ken Miller. With the blind viciousness of a rabid dog, Miller’s opponents distorted his legislative record. When the source of the “Ken Miller lied” campaign was identified, it was traced to tea party leaders.
The campaign against Miller continued into the general election. The “conservative activists” campaigned against Miller, suggesting a Democratic candidate would be better. Miller went on to win in a landslide victory in November, despite the baseless efforts against him.
Negative attacks are back in the news, and the comments of righteousness coming out of these ranks are disturbing.
In the April 27 Oklahoma Gazette cover story, “Fractured family,” Clifton Adcock quoted Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee leader Charlie Meadows as stating that his group plans on actively targeting Republicans not upholding conservative principles. “We’re going to change our strategy,” Meadows said. “We’re probably going to devote much more of our resources to taking out these moderate and liberal Republicans.” So much for Ronald Reagan’s so-called 11th Commandment: Thou shall not speak ill of any fellow Republican.
Meadows, Sooner Tea Party leader Al Gerhart and others associated with the “tea party” or “right of right” movement appear to be poised to shape the Republican Party in an image deemed acceptable to them, and them alone.
Those who question whether such a small group could actually possess this kind of influence should look at the recent decision by GOP Gov. Mary Fallin and House Speaker Kris Steele to change their own positions and return $54 million in federal funding for a health insurance exchange for fear that tea party adherents would create a firestorm.
The firestorm is here regardless of whether we send the money back. It’s here for any Republican who thinks discussing economic development issues rather than Shariah law is a better use of time. Or for anyone who doesn’t think carrying guns around schools is a good idea. Or anyone who likes to think for themselves, for that matter.
The idea that a group such as OCPAC or the Sooner Tea Party would actively divide the Republican Party is disturbing on its face. To advocate for voting for a Democrat in a general election is a childish approach to building a better state.
Are those associated with the tea party movement more concerned with building a state that people want to live in, or more interested in a scorched-earth ideology that leaves more people on the sideline than in the game? Members of Oklahoma’s political elite are taking note of these groups. It’s probably time the rest of us did the same.
Smith is an attorney living in Oklahoma City.