Just prior to my first hiatus from my newspaper calling, a chamber of commerce president denounced me at the annual banquet for being a know-it-all expert on any subject. He – and his cronies – were unhappy that the paper I edited questioned local governmental irregularities. In that plantation-modeled community, discussion meant damnable dissent. Go along to get along – or get out.
These 40 years later, I am happy to report that my instant expertise is now valued – as demonstrated by Gov. Kevin Stitt. Not only am I better qualified to serve with the State Regents for Higher Education than Stitt’s latest nominee, but now my specialness makes me imminently qualified in the eyes of Oklahoma Republicans to serve as the State Health Commissioner.
Stitt surveyed the state for a new regent and opted for college dropout Dustin Hilliary. I have two college degrees. While picking up the second one, I taught three classes of freshman English.
Heck, I later served a semester as the advisor to the student newspaper at another university. I have seen college politics from the inside – as well as demonstrating that I value the academic experience, which some might think a minimum standard to oversee such activities.
But, now, it turns out that my M.A. in English – English, mind you – would qualify me to serve as State Health Commissioner under SB 709, which the governor signed prior to giving that governmental plum to his previously unqualified choice – Keith Reed, who was serving as interim commissioner despite not being qualified under former rules.
The old regulations included one of the following:
1. Possession of a Doctor of Medicine Degree and a license to practice medicine in this state;
2. Possession of an Osteopathic Medicine Degree and a license to practice medicine in this state;
3. Possession of a Doctoral degree in Public Health or Public Health Administration;
4. Possession of a Master of Science Degree and a minimum of five (5) years of supervisory experience in the administration of health services.
Under the new palsy-walsy standards, “The Commissioner shall be exempt from all qualifications enumerated in subsection A of this section if the Commissioner possesses at least a master’s degree and has experience in management of state agencies or large projects.”
Since “large projects” are not specified as large state projects, my tenures running newsrooms and later as a full-fledged publisher make me a “legitimate” candidate to oversee the state’s health issues – if I were the crony of a governor who has demonstrated a total disregard for the health of his constituents. .
Reporting on Stitt’s appointment last week for KFOR – apparently the only Cap City TV station covering state politics – Hicham Raache noted:
“But opponents said the bill was politically driven. The State Senate shot down Stitt’s appointment of Gary Cox as Health Commissioner in 2020 because Cox didn’t meet listed requirements.”
Raache also reported the reaction of Democratic Rep. Andy Fugate:
“The Governor should cast a vision that people can get on board with instead of having a governor go around and put their own hand-picked people in to do his or her bidding.”
Unfortunately for my political appointee aspirations, doing the bidding of others is trait I’ve never embraced. And, since Democrats prefer qualified people running the government to the betterment of all instead of gutting its oversight capabilities, my chances for elevation are slim. (Ever notice that a slim chance and a fat chance are the same chance?)
Stitt’s preference for unqualified candidates conjures memories of Nebraska Sen. Roman Hruska (another Republican) when advocating G. Harrold Carswell as a Supreme Court Justice back in 1970.
“Even if he [Carswell] were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they?”
Mediocrity is the Stitt Standard.
(Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democratic Party. Longer versions of his columns can be found at scdpok.us or facebook.com/SCDPOK/.)