Monday, Feb. 28, 2022

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe’s surprise announcement he is retiring the Senate seat he’s held for three and half decades adds fuel to a very interesting election year.

Oklahomans will now be selecting a new U.S. senator this fall in addition to a full slate of other key races including another U.S. Senate race, all five U.S. House seats, most of the state Legislature, governor and other top statewide offices.

This week I’m looking at issues — rather than candidates — that might be on the ballot in coming elections.

Oklahoma is among 28 states that have an initiative process that allows citizens to put issues on the ballot, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

As I reported in my most recent piece for Oklahoma Watch, there are efforts afoot to add challenges for citizen-led voter initiatives to get on the ballot or increase the threshold for state questions to pass.

I decided to start look into the issue after Gov. Kevin Stitt during his State of the Speech took aim at Oklahoma’s initiative process by saying the 2016 proposal that legalized medical marijuana was “misleading” and that voters were sold a “bill of goods.”

The governor went on to connect out-of-state interests to problems with current state question laws. Stitt said medical marijuana’s State Question 788 campaign was a “perfect example why we need to make sure initiative petitions represent Oklahomans, not out-of-state special interest groups.”

His comments come after the passage of several high-profile state questions opposed by the governor and many GOP legislators. 

In the past six years, citizen-led initiatives have expanded Medicaid to more than 200,000 low-income Oklahomans, changed several drug and non-violent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and made Oklahoma one of the nation’s largest and most accessible medical marijuana markets.

Oklahoma Watch‘s Paul Monies took note of the governor’s statement in our annual annotation of the governor’s speech, saying it was odd that he used medical marijuana as his example since hardly any out-of-state money was used on the campaign.

So I decided to run the numbers for that race, along with every other state question since 2016. I found that the governor’s claim didn’t quite add up, at least not how he put it in his State of the State.

Although there have been some state questions — including the failed 2016 proposal to allow optometrists to practice in retail locations and the successful passage of criminal justice sentencing reforms —  largely funded by out-of-state groups, several hot-button races saw little out-of-state money.

Oklahoma residents or groups funded the vast majority of the 2018 medical marijuana and 2020 Medicaid expansion campaigns. More than 97% of the pro-medical marijuana funding came from state residents or groups, and 86% of the pro-Medicaid expansion funding.

With the governor’s comments and the number of bills dealing with the state question process that are eligible to be heard this year, it will be interesting to see what the Legislature decides to do.

Do you think Oklahoma’s initiative petition laws need to be tightened, loosened or left along. Let me know your thoughts by emailing me at tbrown@oklahomawatch.org or finding me on Twitter at @tbrownokc.

Tweet Watch

News can happen fast sometimes.

Clifton Adcock, with the Frontier, reported earlier this week that the Oklahoma’s attorney general was investigating whether dozens of books, including classics like Of Mice and MenBrave New World, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, violate the state’s obscenity law.

That story got a lot of traction on social media and elsewhere. Then, a few days later, Attorney General John O’Connor announced he is dropping the investigation.

Read the full story here.

What I’m Reading This Week

  • James Inhofe, Oklahoma’s high-ranking and longest-serving member of Congress, announced Friday he will leave office by early 2023 and endorsed his latest chief of staff in the special election that will determine his successor. [Tulsa World]
  • The launching of cashless tolls and a political push by Gov. Kevin Stitt are being credited with inspiring an unprecedented $5 billion makeover of the state’s turnpike system. [The Oklahoman]
  • The U.S. Supreme Court has reaffirmed that its ruling to limit state jurisdiction for crimes committed on tribal reservations by or against tribal citizens is not retroactive. [The Associated Press]
  • Gov. Kevin Stitt confirmed on Tuesday that officials are trying to lure a huge company to eastern Oklahoma. [Tulsa World]
  • Across the spectrum of issues the Oklahoma Legislature will take up this session, from protecting gun rights to allowing Oklahomans to grow their own food, many bills intend to limit federal oversight. [The Oklahoman]

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