Monday, May 26, 2014

Drama In Tulsa's D. A. Race: Will Kunzweiler Be Declared Winner Without An Election?

Senator Brian Crain demonstrated exceptional regard for the rule of law, this past week.

Oklahoma Constitution- Section V-23: 
Ineligibility to appointment to office 
Interest in contracts.
 No member of the Legislature shall, during the term for which he was elected, be appointed or elected to any office or commission in the State, which shall have been created, or the emoluments of which shall have been increased, during his term of office, nor shall any member receive any appointment from the Governor, the Governor and Senate, or from the Legislature, during the term for which he shall have been elected, nor shall any member, during the term for which he shall have been elected, or within two years thereafter, be interested, directly or indirectly, in any contract with the State, or any county or other subdivision thereof, authorized by law passed during the term for which he shall have been elected.
  With the effects of the Oklahoma Term Limit Initiative being fully implemented and impacting upon the elected legislative body, There has begun a massive new interest in county government by many former legislators.
   So much so that some new interest in constitutional stipulations is now in the political discussions of the day.
   Perhaps Senator Brian Crain (R-Tulsa) is not the first person to publicly disqualify himself from office, but he may have made it impossible for any other legislator to skirt the Oklahoma Constitution, in the foreseeable future.
   Senator Crain was and is very passionate about the Tulsa District Attorney position. He is a former prosecutor and currently a practicing attorney while serving his final term in the senate.
   Senator Crain, in his withdrawal statement, said he felt he could successfully challenge the restriction in state court, but he said he would likely be temporarily harming the cause of criminal justice during that litigation process.  He demonstrated a good deal of class and leadership by stepping aside for the sake of Tulsa's more pressing courthouse needs.
   But Rep. Fred Jordan insists that he is not restricted at all by Section V-23 of the Oklahoma Constitution, since he is not going to be in legislative office when he would become the Tulsa District Attorney.
Crain, Jordan, and Kunzweiler all filed for the Tulsa District
Attorney office. Tim Harris did not seek re-election.
   Several students of Oklahoma's Constitutional law have pointed out that no legislator can be elected to an office which was created or had an increase in pay or benefits, which he was a part of granting (regardless of his votes in that legislation).
  If it is true that the District Attorney's term of office starts on January 1st, 2015, Then Fred Jordan's best argument will be that his legislative term ends in late November, but his would-be D.A. term won't start until a month later.  Crain, however; would still be 2 years away from completing his current term.
  The question was asked; "Why can't Brian Crain just resign his senate seat now, so that he is also 'out of office'?" But a careful reading of the constitution says that the restriction is in place "during the term for which he shall have been elected".
   This brings yet another argument for allowing Jordan to be elected. Jordan would like an interpretation which says that eligibility is based upon his status on the moment he takes his next oath of office. But the wording of the constitution clearly focuses upon the date of his election, including primary elections, because the election board (and the Secretary of State) need to certify that an eligible person was selected to the new term.
   This interpretation is further supported by other eligibility requirements if the constitution, such as the age of the candidate. A Senator must be 25 'on the date of his election', according to the Oklahoma Constitution.
   Now, for  more delicate issues...
If a legislative body votes for a pay raise, to go into effect in the next legislative session, are they all disqualified from seeking re-election? It would seem so. Perhaps this is why pay raises are usually scheduled years in advance, so as to avoid an inconvenient response from the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
   How many other former legislators got by with violating the Oklahoma Constitution? I'm hesitant to believe this was the first time that this matter ever applied to a county or statewide election?
  Then there's the issue of former legislators doing business with the state. It happens in some very subtle ways and often the state agency's procurement systems don't always know who owns the company they are awarding contracts to. Will there be a new effort to hunt down violators? It will be very interesting to see how this provision is enforced.
   Is it fair to only restrict legislators in this matter? I say 'yes & no'. It is a needed protection against corruption, but it should also apply to the executive branch because the governor not only signs the legislation, and plays a powerful role in negotiating the language of the bills that get to the executive desk.

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