February 17, 2014

Let My Bills Be Heard!

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CAPITOL WATCH
Feb. 17: Let My Bills Be Heard!
State Capitol - Jan 2014 - 2

Cheryl Williams and Dan McKenzie were fuming. They had sat through an hour-long session of the Senate Education Committee, where all sorts of things were talked about. But not the one thing they really cared about—Common Core.

“I’m just a Republican who happened to off work today so I came down here because I was fed up,” said Williams, who does contract work for the Federal Aviation Adminitration.

WilliamsMcKenzieCrop

Cheryl Williams and Dan McKenzie get a practical lesson in the legislative process.

Williams and McKenzie, both of Edmond, were among more than 100 people who thronged the Capitol to demand passage of legislation that would eliminate, suspend or scale back the controversial educational standards adopted in 2010.

A raft of bills have been introduced to do just that. But in the Senate, seven of them have been assigned to the Education Committee. And none of them has been scheduled for a hearing by Chairman John Ford, a Common Core supporter.

Unless Ford budges by the end of next week, all seven bills will die in his committee.

“I think the standards are good,” said Ford, a Bartlesville Republican whose wife is a former public school teacher.

Common Core is a set of defined standards for English language and mathematics instruction in K-12 schools. It was designed by the National Governors Association, and implemented by state legislatures across the country. But it is under attack by conservatives who consider it a stalking horse for “federalization” of public schools.

Ford says the critics are misinformed, and believes it would be wrong to derail the initiative before it has an opportunity to prove itself.

“Common Core somehow has been defined as something much different than what it really is,” he said, shortly before finding himself surrounded in a hallway by a knot of opponents who were still demanding a hearing.

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Ford is confronted by Common Core opponents.

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Ford is confronted by Common Core opponents.” credit=” 

Williams and McKenzie said it was fine with them if Ford defended Common Core and voted to keep it in place. But they were outraged that he could use his unilateral power as committee chairman to prevent it from even being discussed.

“You get one guy like Sen. Ford, and he can just stop things,” said McKenzie, who teaches welding at Moore-Norman Vocational Technical School. “It eliminates representative government.”

Williams and McKenzie will have another opportunity to push for a hearing next week before a committee passage deadline arrives.

“If you have something assigned to your committee, at least have the courtesy to let it be heard,” implored Williams. “At least let the process work.”

-Warren Vieth

Feb. 14: Errors in Campaign Finance Filings

The Oklahoma Ethics Commission’s website offers citizens a chance to see who is donating how much to what candidate. But errors can occur and may not be detected.

In December, while searching campaign donation records filed with the commission, an Oklahoma Watch reporter noted two donations recorded by the political action committee for The Geo Group Inc., a private prison company. Geo Group’s PAC had written two $5,000 checks to then-House Speaker T.W. Shannon’s 2014 campaign, one on Jan. 30, 2013, and the other on July 17, 2013. Shannon stepped down as speaker on Tuesday to run for U.S. Senate.

State law limits donations from a single source to a candidate’s committee to $5,000. A violation of that law could bring civil and criminal penalties.

Shannon’s candidate-committee records, filed in late 2013, showed that only one $5,000 donation was accepted in September. Neither Shannon’s committee nor Geo Group’s PAC reported that one of the $5,000 checks had been returned.

It was the same in Jan. 31 filings covering the final quarter of 2013. Neither committee reported a return of one of the $5,000 checks. In addition, Geo Group’s PAC showed a $2,500 donation made in November to the campaign of state Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville. That was on top of two Geo Group PAC donations to Cleveland earlier in the year, bringing the total to $7,500, above the $5,000 maximum.

Oklahoma Watch called the treasurers for Geo Group and Shannon, but neither immediately returned calls.

A few days later, Geo Group filed two amended PAC statements. The first showed that the first $5,000 check to Shannon had been lost and a stop-payment order had been issued. The second showed that the Cleveland campaign had returned the third $2,500 donation.

The amended filings and documents indicate there was no breach of ethics laws or rules.  Click here to see the filed documents.

-Clifton Adcock

Clifton Adcock can be reached at cadcock@Oklahomawatch.org