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Oklahoma Senators Accept Free Trips Before Voting On National Popular Vote

The publicity and outrage over the Oklahoma State Senate voting to change the way Oklahoma awards electoral votes has resulted in another report that is just as outrageous.  Several Oklahoma Senators accepted expenses-paid trips to Miami and Las Vegas before casting their votes to essentially nullify the Electoral College.  The trips were paid for by a non-profit group called FairVote, which is pushing for the national popular vote to elect the president instead of the Electoral College.

Normally, I do not quote entire news articles on my blog but this has too many important points to leave any of it out.

The Gazette – Several Oklahoma legislators accepted expenses-paid trips to Miami and Las Vegas from a group that wants to change the way the U.S. elects a president, but because the travel was sponsored by a nonprofit group, rather than traditional lobbyists, there’s no requirement for the lawmakers to disclose the trips to the public.

FairVote, which wants states to allocate electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most votes nationally, extended invitations to legislators to attend seminars to learn more about the national popular vote proposal. Another one is set for next month in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

One House member and two state senators, including one who sponsored a bill to change Oklahoma’s law, told The Associated Press they were among the Oklahoma legislators who attended the seminars. All three said the trips didn’t influence their position on the bill, which passed the Senate last week on a 28-18 vote and was sent to the House.

“To me it’s a good way to actually sit down and discuss issues uninterrupted away from the Capitol building,” said state Sen. Rob Johnson, R-Yukon, the Senate author of the bill. “I understand some people’s concerns, but they’re not junkets. We’re there to work. We sat there the entire time and discussed the issue.”

Also attending were Rep. Tom Newell, R-Seminole, and Sen. John Sparks, D-Norman. Sparks and Johnson both support the bill, while Newell said he opposes it.

Because the trips were not funded by lobbyists or the companies that employ them, there is no requirement that the lawmakers disclose the travel and lodging, said Lee Slater, executive director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission.

A legislator who did not make a trip said the travel and lodging should be disclosed.

“It’s a mighty inappropriate loophole that needs to be closed,” said Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, a longtime critic of the influence that lobbyists and the companies they represent have at the Capitol. “It’s the lack of transparency that concerns me, the fact that very few in the public knew these trips were even going on.”

Johnson said he attended a fall seminar in Las Vegas, while Newell and Sparks went to a separate event in Miami. Another seminar is scheduled for March in St. Croix, but FairVote’s Executive Director Rob Richie said that trip may be canceled.

“We put out invites, but it’s not clear if it will happen,” Richie said.

FairVote is a Maryland-based 501(c)(3) that supports several election reforms, including using the national popular vote to determine the president.

Under the bill, Oklahoma would join nine other states and the District of Columbia that have passed legislation to award electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The intent, its backers say, would ensure every vote counts, not just those in traditional “swing states” that influence the outcome of presidential elections.

The state Republican Party opposes the bill. Dave Weston, the state party chairman, noted George W. Bush would have lost to Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election if the national popular vote had been in effect.

“The same would apply to the 2008 and 2012 elections; despite Oklahoma’s overwhelming support for the Republican nominee, our electoral votes would also have been awarded to Barack Obama,” Weston said. “Our country’s founders gave smaller states an intentional advantage with the electoral college. The numbers don’t work in our favor when we give that up.”

Rep. Don Armes, the House author of the bill, declined to say Wednesday whether he attended any of the trips sponsored by FairVote.

“I’m not ready to talk about all of that,” said Armes, R-Faxon.

10184972_SAMike McCarville is reporting on his blog this morning that an unspecified number of House members were scheduled to take a junket to St. Croix, funded by FairVote, scheduled for March 14th.  After the criticism heaped on Senators who voted in favor of the change these House members have suddenly lost interest in the free trip. 

While I will not go so far as to say these legislators were bribed with a free trip into voting to destroy the Electoral College, these free trips have the stench of dog excrement.  While I have not always agreed with everything Rep. Jason Murphey has supported, I cannot think of any legislator on the state or federal level who has done more to maintain his own ethics and that of the legislature.  I sincerely hope he pursues closing the loophole that allows free gifts and trips from non-profit groups to go unreported by the legislators who accept them.

And lastly, I am extremely pleased that the driving force behind the national popular vote in the State Senate, Senator Rob Johnson, has announced he will not be seeking reelection.  While he may have sponsored and supported some quality economic legislation during his time in office, his continual attempts to get legislation passed that would change the way Oklahoma’s electoral votes are awarded make him someone who should be not be in office.  Had this change been enacted when he first proposed it, after Mitt Romney won 66 percent of the vote in Oklahoma and the majority vote in all 77 counties, Oklahoma’s electoral votes would have been awarded to Barack Obama in 2012.  Utter foolishness.  If Senator Johnson believes a free trip to Las Vegas is the only place he can find to sit and discuss an issue involving Oklahoma, then he apparently does not care about the appearance of impropriety.  Good riddance to you, Senator. 

Rep. Armes may not want to reveal whether he took any free trips (which tells me he took them), but he is term limited this year and will not be back.  Good riddance to you too, Mr. Armes.

While I have known about and even written before about Rob Johnson’s attempts to destroy the Electoral College, until last week I would never have suspected that a majority of our State Senators would vote to do just that.  It underscores the fact that even in Oklahoma, the reddest of the red states, the legislature should be watched like a hawk and its members held accountable, lest outside interests entice them with free trips and other gifts into votes that would destroy Oklahoma’s interests and influence on the national level.  Eternal vigilance…

2 comments to Oklahoma Senators Accept Free Trips Before Voting On National Popular Vote

  • I had not heard about these trips, even though I’ve been watching the proceedings in OKC. I don’t like the idea that our legislators are able to take trips such as this, paid for by some outside influence, without general public knowledge. They may think it’s a grand idea, but I do not. I suspect the average Oklahoma citizen probably feels the same way.

    As for the idea of a national popular vote to determine the President and Vice President of the United States, that is utter foolishness. The thought that so many of our Senators thought it was anything less than that is troublesome. As you said, it highlights the need for us to be ever watchful of their actions, even in Oklahoma.

    • I’m sure the temptation to accept gifts and trips is great and many legislators succumb. I have no doubt the lobbyists at our capitol are ready to throw down all kinds of enticements to get the votes they want. Just today I read of some other legislators who took an expenses-paid trip to Boston to attend some kind of meeting about education. Senator Clark Jolley was one of them. Odd that he would be so interested in education that he would go to Boston to attend a meeting but he would not make the walk across the capitol rotunda to attend a committee meeting about the issue. I have said before about Jolley and the private prison issue, he is a bought and paid for politician. I hate to think he might possibly be taking James Lankford’s Congressional seat.

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