Sunday, February 11, 2024

Oklahoma Voice: GOP political fight brewing over who will be the next OK Senate leader

The below article from Oklahoma Voice is a good synopsis of the battle to be the next leader of the Oklahoma State Senate going on this week. The three Republican candidates are moderate Sen. Greg McCortney (one of the leaders who has killed measures to abolish abortion), conservative Sen. David Bullard, and Sen. Casey Murdock (somewhat in the middle of the two).

As a sign of how very concerned big corporate money and dark political money interests are about McCortney losing this race, they sent out mass text messages Saturday urging people to "thank" McCortney for being "conservative to the core" (he's clearly not). A Bullard win would be a huge deal for Oklahoma conservatives.

From my understanding, since they decide on this race so early, outgoing Senators get to vote in this caucus election, despite the fact that they won't be in office for the term of the new leader. Doesn't seem quite appropriate, but hey, what is in politics these days?

State Senators Bullard, McCortney, and Murdock

GOP political fight brewing over who will be the next Oklahoma Senate leader
by Carmen Forman, Oklahoma Voice

OKLAHOMA CITY (February 9, 2024) — Senate Republicans will elect their next leader Monday in a three-way race that has caught the attention of party members and grassroots activists across the state.

Although closed-door legislative caucus elections are typically a quiet affair, the election for a new Senate leader has drawn scrutiny from some Republicans outside the Capitol who have criticized the chamber’s current leadership amid disputes over high-profile legislation.

Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, will be term-limited out of office in November. While he will continue serving as the Senate’s leader through the current legislative session, Monday’s election within the 40-person GOP caucus will determine his successor.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Greg McCortney, R-Ada, is running against senators David Bullard, R-Durant, and Casey Murdock, R-Felt.

As a key member of Senate leadership, McCortney is the likely front-runner in the race. But he’s also facing a barrage of opposition from the conservative wing of his party, including the Oklahoma County GOP chairman and the leaders of some vocal advocacy groups.

Outside groups get involved in election

Influential conservative groups like the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association and Oklahomans for Health and Parental Rights have criticized McCortney for some of the bills he’s assigned to committees — decisions that effectively killed legislation they support and gave life to bills they oppose.

As floor leader, McCortney assigns bills to committees and decides what legislation gets a full Senate vote. Hundreds of bills never get heard each year due to the sheer flood of legislation that’s filed.

The groups that are planning an advocacy day at the Capitol on Monday to talk to senators about the leadership race have called McCortney a RINO, an acronym for Republican in name only, and criticized him for the Senate not voting on the income tax cuts sought by Gov. Kevin Stitt.

McCortney, who is viewed by some as more of a moderate Republican, dismissed the criticism by noting conservative groups have recognized him for advancing their policy priorities.

“Any claim that I am not a conservative is pretty hard to take with a straight face,” he said in an interview.

Oklahoma County Republican Party Chairman Ken Warner urged members in a January email to ask their senators to support Bullard in an effort to “DRAIN THE CURRENT OKLAHOMA STATE SENATE LEADERSHIP SWAMP!” Warner did not respond to a call seeking comment.

“The groups that are attacking me are not the groups that have been successfully electing Republicans over the last few (election) cycles,” McCortney said. “They’re a very loud, very small minority of the Republicans in the state of Oklahoma, and I’m confident that the members of this chamber will represent their districts well in this vote.”

McCortney said his governing style would differ from Treat’s. While Treat’s background is in politics, McCortney, the owner of an in-home care service and former Ada mayor, said he’s focused on “organizational leadership” that can improve how the Senate crafts policy.

He said he aims to listen to all the members of the Republican caucus and help them be successful.

GOP senators mount challenges

Bullard and Murdock, who are challenging McCortney from the right, took issue with the Senate’s frayed relationship with the House. Legislative leaders in the House and Senate have clashed in recent years on some major policy issues, including tax cuts.

The House has passed a variety of tax cut bills that have not been heard in the Senate.

“We have an opportunity to have brand-new leadership in the Senate,” said Murdock, the Senate’s majority whip. “We have a good opportunity to start off with a clean slate and put all the bitterness and hard feelings that we’ve had the last few years behind us and move forward.”

Bullard, majority caucus vice chair, said he aims to create a strong Senate that doesn’t silence some members — and the roughly 80,000 Oklahomans they represent — due to personality conflicts or ideological disagreements.

“I think that we don’t have a fair system in the Senate right now,” Bullard said. “It’s very, very lopsided. Some (senators) get nothing. Some get everything they want. There’s a balance that we need to strike within the Senate.”

Oklahomans and their elected senators are becoming more conservative on social issues, and caucus decisions should reflect that shift, Bullard said.

Asked about putting tax cut legislation up for a vote in the Senate, McCortney, Bullard and Murdock agreed they would follow the will of their caucus.

Could new senators swing the vote?

More conservatives have been elected to the Senate in recent years.

In December, Lawton-area voters elected far-right conservative Dusty Deevers to fill a vacant Senate seat previously held by a moderate Republican.

In 2022, Sen. Dana Prieto, R-Tulsa, successfully flipped a Senate seat previously held by a Democrat.

Freshmen senators could play a key role in Monday’s election, said Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman.

Standridge said when he challenged Treat in the 2022 leadership race the caucus vote was nearly tied. He said he thinks grassroots groups have been more vocal about the upcoming election because the last leadership race was so close.

Oklahoma Second Amendment Association President Don Spencer said he got involved in the last Senate pro tempore election and at least one House speaker race, but his efforts this year are far more overt.

Spencer alleged Senate leadership supports a Democratic bill that would allow undocumented immigrants who pay taxes to get driver’s licenses. Previous versions of the proposal have garnered bipartisan support. Spencer also said he has 21 bills assigned to the Senate Public Safety Committee that haven’t been heard.

In 2021, Spencer called for Treat to be ousted from Senate leadership because he refused to hear a bill backed by Spencer’s group. The Oklahoma Second Amendment Association is supporting Bullard in the election.

Spencer said he hopes lawmakers will eventually make their leadership elections public.

“Our long-term goal is that they can go caucus and do whatever they want in private, but then they come out and do a public vote so we know who our state senator voted for,” he said.

Former Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said it’s unfortunate outside interests are getting involved in the election because senators, who should be focused on representing their constituents, can work out their own issues.

And what happens in caucus should stay in caucus, he said.

Bingman urged senators not to take the outcome of the leadership race personally.

“You just kind of shake hands and move on,” he said.

Senate Democrats already elected Sen. Julia Kirt, of Oklahoma City, to be the chamber’s next minority leader.

House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, also is in his final year in the Oklahoma Legislature. The House will hold leadership elections later this legislative session.

Oklahoma Voice is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oklahoma Voice maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Janelle Stecklein for questions: Follow Oklahoma Voice on Facebook and Twitter.


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