By Dr. Tom Guild, Professor Emeritus University of Central Oklahoma
Governor Fallin announced the appointment of former Oklahoma State Senator Glenn Coffee to serve as Oklahoma’s Secretary of State. This is unfortunate on many levels.
Coffee is the immediate past Oklahoma Senate Leader. Lawmakers cannot take state jobs within two years after leaving office if the salary is paid with money appropriated by the state legislature. The Secretary of State’s Office is funded from fees. The Attorney General’s office released an opinion in the past determining that money collected from fees instead of taxes is not a legal exemption from the two-year ban. The Oklahoma State Constitution prohibits a legislator from working for a state agency within two years after leaving office unless the salary comes from private or federal funds. Oklahoma public agencies should be legally required to enforce a two-year moratorium, without exception, on hiring lawmakers after their legislative term.
With the Coffee appointment and similar recent appointments, term limits are being circumvented. The Oklahoma Constitution is being ignored. Oklahoma is in danger of becoming a state with a perpetual political class. Although politicians may be term limited or defeated at the polls, a political job at state expense is waiting in the wings. We need public servants, not career politicians, who as citizen legislators, do their public duties, then return to the private life to live under the laws that they created.
The Coffee appointment is also disappointing because we need someone who can work with members of both parties and with independents in this sensitive public office. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Now that the Republicans absolutely control Oklahoma state government, they need to be able to work with and for the 60+% of Oklahomans who are either registered Democrats or Independents. Regrettably, Sen. Coffee has a track record which indicates that this will be difficult for him.
Our country and our state are extremely polarized. Along with majority rule our system also honors minority rights. This appointment is divisive and sends the wrong message. Governor Fallin is the first female governor in Oklahoma History. She has had an extremely successful public career. For the sake of our state and our citizens’ well being, we wish the new governor the best. We hope that the Coffee appointment is retracted and is the end and not the beginning of a troubling trend. Our state and nation need to come together and we hope that this process begins immediately.