Friday, June 22, 2018

Disgraced OK County Sheriff trying to reinsert into county politics?

It looks like disgraced former Democratic Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel is trying to get back into a position of influence in Oklahoma County politics, as he's publicly declaring his support for candidates in several key races for county offices.

Whetsel resigned from office under a cloud of scandal and the threat of indictment over mismanagement and departmental blunders during his tenure. His misdoings ended up costing Oklahoma County taxpayers over $3,300,000 in higher property taxes to pay for medical bills that Whetsel simply ignored rather than deal with. A scathing audit by State Auditor Gary Jones found repeated examples of financial wrongdoing and actions taken without approval of county commissioners.

Oklahoma County is on the verge of electing a conservative reformist majority to county offices, tilting the County Budget Board in a new direction.

The budget board is comprised of the county elected officials. From conversations I've had with individuals with closer knowledge of the situation, the conservative/reform side includes County Commissioner Brian Maughan (R), County Clerk David Hooten (R), Court Clerk Rick Warren (R), and Assessor Leonard Sullivan (R).  The status-quo group is made up of  Sheriff PD Taylor (R; Whetsel's former chief deputy and successor), County Treasurer Butch Freeman (R), County Commissioner Ray Vaughan (R), and Democrat Commissioner Willa Johnson (D).

Of those officials, several are either retiring or facing contested races this year. Commissioner Johnson (D) is retiring, and will most likely be replaced by former State Senator Al McAffrey (D). Commissioner Vaughan (R) is also retiring, and term-limited State Rep. Kevin Calvey (R) is favored to defeat Vaughan's chief deputy, Rick Buchanan, in the primary and defeat the Democrat candidate in the general election. Treasurer Butch Freeman is being challenged by Oklahoma County GOP Chairman Daren Ward, with Freeman -- Freeman has held the office since 1993 and is likely to hold on.

With Calvey favored to win his race and pick that seat up for the conservatives/reformists, that makes the primary for County Assessor the swing seat. Incumbent Republican Leonard Sullivan is retiring, and there is a contested GOP primary race between his conservative chief deputy, Larry Stein, and former State Rep. Gary Banz.

Stein is endorsed by outgoing Assessor Sullivan, as well as the rest of the conservative/reform gang on the County Budget Board. Under Sullivan and Stein, the Oklahoma County Assessor's office has hit a record-low number of property value appeals (0.0007% as opposed to the typical county average of 6%-12%), among other accomplishments.

Whetsel, a Democrat, has endorsed Banz for County Assessor, Buchanan for County Commissioner, and Freeman for Treasurer, all of whom are Republicans, in addition to Democrat McAffrey for Commissioner.

Now, why is a disgraced longtime Democrat elected official weighing in on Republican primaries? Could it be that he would prefer to keep the status quo than to see conservative reforms sweep through Oklahoma County?

Oklahoma County voters have an opportunity to bring serious change to county government. It's important that they choose wisely, especially given that voting trends in Oklahoma County may be beginning to swing back in the Democrats' direction.


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