Gov. Kevin Stitt energized a political foe in May, 2021. Attorney General Mike Hunter resigned to avoid a “distraction” after word leaked of his affair with a state employee.

          At the time, Gentner Drummond, who had lost to Hunter in the 2018 GOP primary runoff by 271 votes, thought himself the best choice to replace Hunter.

          Stitt chose John O’Connor to fill the vacancy.

          Drummond, who had run as an “outsider,” commented before O’Connor’s appointment:  

          “I have seen the results of political cronyism and we have suffered the consequences”

          So, Drummond was never a Stitt crony, and, when he defeated O’Connor in last year’s Republican primary, he was not beholden to Stitt.

          Shortly after taking office, Drummond told the governor that his appointment to fill a seat vacant on the state’s Veterans Committee (because Stitt fired the officeholder who did not support his reelection) was out of order, not authorized.

          Drummond also nixed Stitt’s plan to have State Supt. Ryan Walters also get paid as Secretary of Education, a cabinet position. Talk about cronyism! (Walters’s replacement resigned last month, after three months, citing the politicization of the department.

          At about the same time, Drummond reversed O’Connor’s rubber stamping of Stitt’s ploy to state-fund religious indoctrination, saying his predecessor’s opinion, “misuses the concept of religious liberty by employing it as a means to justify state-funded religion.”

          A little disunity in the Republican ranks offers a modicum of the checks and balances that a stronger Democratic presence could provide.

          Democrats had no AG candidate last year, which is not surprising since their last AG candidate found many prominent state Dems proudly and loudly endorsing the now-disgraced Hunter.

          Many of those same folks were quick to endorse Republican Joy Hofmeister for governor when she switched party, but not ideology. (And, yes, I wrote supporting her all fall, but one of the cats lurking near my birdbath every morning would be better that Stitt.)

          Drummond even took aim at another Oklahoma sacred cow, asking State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd in March to perform a detailed audit of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.

          His letter to Byrd read in part:

          “I have had many conversations over the past few months with legislators, community leaders, private citizens and state employees who have expressed a wide array of concerns with the financial conduct of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority….These concerns include but are not limited to improper transfers between the OTA and the Department of Transportation; improper contracting and purchasing practices; and inadequate internal financial controls.”

          (If Drummond is looking for another target to endear himself to Oklahomans, he could address my daily robocalls from Mina and Amber of the Medicare Department of Health Care Providers, Amy from Senior Citizen Care and Becky from Senior Services Health Care Benefits along with the gals and guys with the Desi accents who just flat out lie and say they’re calling from Medicare.)

          In May of last year, two state Supreme Court justices excoriated O’Connor for failing to protect consumer interests concerning skyrocketing natural gas prices resulting from the state’s 2021 February deep freeze – and Stitt’s ski trip.

          “The utility consumers that the Attorney General should be representing have effectively been left without representation,” wrote Justice Douglas L. Combs. “Their access to counsel lies with the Attorney General. Yet he has failed them.”

          Oklahoma consumers were “failed” by Stitt’s hand-picked man to the tune of about $1.4 billion in rate hikes to be spread across decades. Oklahoma Watch characterized the result as: “‘Once-in-a-generation storm has Oklahoma customers paying for a generation.”

          The justices concluded:

           “The lack of meaningful participation at the settlement stage, the failure to file an appeal of the Corporation Commission’s financing order, and the decision not to intervene in this proceeding leaves this Court with no input from the utility consumers’ statutorily appointed counsel and with few options when it comes to reviewing the (the Oklahoma Development Finance Authority) application to approve the bonds.”

          That was the Stitt appointee in inaction.

          In mid-July Drummond said he will investigate whether there was illegal manipulating of the gas market during that storm.

          “As a result of the careful and diligent review of conduct during Winter Storm Uri, I discovered that several companies reaped billions of dollars at the expense of businesses and individuals who were suffering from the crippling effects of the storm,” Drummond said. “The magnitude of this scheme is staggering and unconscionable. Oklahomans can rest assured that I will do everything in my power as Attorney General to return what was taken and hold accountable those responsible.”

          In February, Oklahoma Watch’s Paul Monies reported, “During the 2021 winter storm, the price of natural gas on the spot market spiked to more than 600 times pre-storm prices in the regional trading hub that serves Oklahoma. Other regional gas trading hubs, including those in Texas and Kansas, saw significant spikes during the storm. But not on Oklahoma’s scale.”

          Kansas filed suit against one of those providers in February.

          If Drummond can recoup any of the money gouged out of Oklahoma consumers, it will be  a distinctive change from the lazy unfair treatment they’ve received from Stitt and his circle.

          Whether Drummond is acting with an eye on the governor’s mansion in 2026 is irrelevant. (His resume is sufficiently flawed to provide plenty of flak if he tries to fly higher.)

          Auditor Byrd has also shown her independence streak.

          Her scathing report on mismanaged pandemic emergency funds only echoed what a joint investigation by Oklahoma Watch and The Frontier had uncovered more than a year ago – and which voters chose to ignore last November.

          Still, it put an official governmental seal on the overriding incompetence of Stitt’s handpicked State School Supt. and public education foe Ryan Walters.

          Steve Fair, Republican CD-4 vice chair, dissected the audit in mid-July and concluded:

          “The blame for the non-compliance belongs at the feet of the governor. In a press release, Oklahoma Speaker of the House Charles McCall said as much.  The Speaker didn’t name the governor in the presser, but the inference is there.  Attorney General Drummond weighed in on the audit, saying the people empowered to administer the GEER money did not have the qualifications or knowledge to do the job.”

          As a result, Fair said, “Taxpayers sent tax dollars to Washington for Washington to send back to Oklahoma to be misused. Taxpayers then have to pay back the misused money to Washington.”

          So, combine Drummond’s anti-cronyism and Byrd’s independence with state legislators consistently overriding the vetoes of their increasingly lame duck governor and we could have some interesting times ahead.

           (Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democratic Party.)

GOP disunity – good for state

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