- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

The Oklahoman, Sept. 21, 2015

Widow’s request highlights little-known Oklahoma statute

A state law that requires officials to consider appointing the spouse of a deceased officeholder to fill out the remainder of that individual’s term, informally known as a “widow’s mandate,” is gaining attention for the first time in years. The widow of late Labor Commissioner Mark Costello is citing the law as she seeks her husband’s job.

Regardless of any discussion of Cathy Costello’s qualifications for the position, some question whether a “widow’s mandate” law is good policy. Yet so long as the law only requires consideration of a spouse, rather than mandating their appointment, this is a law most Oklahomans can live with.

In situations where an officeholder dies, Oklahoma law declares that his or her “surviving spouse shall be eligible (if otherwise qualified) to be appointed to and to hold said office” for the remainder of the term.

Few were even aware this law was on the books, and its origins aren’t well known. Some have suggested the law was written so a qualified spouse could succeed a husband or wife without running afoul of any anti- nepotism laws. But the law was originally enacted in 1953, which means it predates many Oklahoma laws designed to prevent cronyism in government hiring.

Another suggestion, offered by Keith Gaddie, chairman of the University of Oklahoma’s political science department, is that the law originally was designed to protect the family of a deceased officeholder while still providing opportunity for other would-be officeholders.

“It was largely intended to allow a widow a temporary means of income after the death of an incumbent, while allowing other, interested men to line up for a fair fight in the next primary,” Gaddie told CNHI News Service.

Today, the idea of using a state job for that reason will not sit well with many citizens. There are better ways to help a family in a time of tragedy than to give them a government job. The labor commissioner position entails a $105,053 annual salary and management of an $8.8 million budget and 84 employees.

Still, the law also requires that a surviving spouse be “qualified” to hold a given position. That should prevent appointments driven by pity more than the desire to ensure a government agency continues to operate efficiently.

Also, the law merely requires that a surviving spouse be given a fair shot. Nothing says the spouse must get the job. This means Gov. Mary Fallin is free to consider a range of applicants and make an appointment based on who she thinks is best suited for the position, not on family relationship to the prior officeholder.

It’s certainly commendable to try to carry on a loved one’s legacy, and there have been many instances nationwide where a surviving spouse has gone on to serve in a job vacated by the death of a husband, including several congressional seats. But there are also other ways to honor a loved one’s memory that can be just as impactful, if not more so. Should Cathy Costello not be appointed labor commissioner, we have no doubt she will find meaningful ways to honor her husband’s memory.

The “widow’s mandate” in Oklahoma law isn’t particularly objectionable, but it is redundant. Simply put, the law requires Fallin to consider and appoint a qualified officeholder. We have every confidence she will do so.

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Enid News, Sept. 21, 2015

State’s budget situation does not look good

Falling oil prices have hurt every sector of Oklahoma’s economy.

The biggest hit may come soon to state government agencies. Already, some estimates have the budget hole for next fiscal year reaching $1 billion. That’s on top of the $611 million hole lawmakers and agencies had to deal with for the current fiscal year.

The drop in oil prices has taken a toll on state revenues, but the budget situation is worsened because lawmakers used more than $500 million in one-time revenue last session to deal with the budget shortfall. They won’t have that luxury next session, which begins in February 2016. Also, an income tax cut is to take effect Jan. 1, which is estimated to reduce revenue by $57 million.

However, the continued downward trend in state revenue collections could have an impact sooner than next year. Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger, has met with legislative budget leaders and is urging agency directors to begin looking for ways to save money.

If revenue continues to fall drops below 95 percent of predictions, Doerflinger may have to order cuts this fiscal year.

It would be an understatement to say lawmakers are going to have to do something.

The state’s needs are many. Schools are struggling to even hire enough qualified teachers. Department of Corrections is having to deal with a lack of corrections officers and a burgeoning prison population. Department of Transportation must deal with how to keep our roads and bridges in shape.

Nothing should be off the table for lawmakers when they return to the Capitol. We’ve urged them before to look at the number of tax credits the state issues. Some have merit, but others may have outlived their usefulness, especially in light of the budget situation.

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Tahlequah Daily Press, Sept. 17, 2015

Reforming Oklahoma’s outdated liquor laws will boost economy

The Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma is spot-on when its president, Byron Kerr, says many of the state’s laws on alcohol regulation were never needed - and those that might have been practical at one time have outlived their usefulness.

Changes are needed to spur tourism and economic growth, and public opinion polls show the vast majority of Oklahomans agree.

Admittedly, the naysayers complain that looser liquor laws will increase alcoholism and result in more drunken driving accidents.

But Kerr says responsible reforms can be put into place to enhance the economic value of liquor law changes without altering the harsh penalties for those who drink and drive.

His association proposes several reasonable changes:

- Allow the sale of refrigerated beer with an alcohol content of more than 3.2 percent.

- License grocery stores to sell wine along with beer.

- Permit Oklahoma breweries to sell beer on-site, the same as Oklahoma wineries do now.

- Allow the sale of alcohol on Independence Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day.

About the only consumer-friendly suggestion the association doesn’t advocate at this time is extending the hours liquor can be sold. Kerr says that would increase sales but would also create bad public policy.

The Sooner Poll on the state’s liquor laws did not support additional hours for stores selling alcohol.

The repeal of Prohibition in 1933 is a good point of reference for reforming Oklahoma’s liquor laws. It was widely unpopular the 14 years that it lasted, and the nation did not fall apart upon its repeal as predicted by temperance advocates.

While there doubtless are still Okies who would like to see more restrictive alcohol laws, even those who object to alcohol on religious grounds appear to accept the rights of others to buy and drink it.

Alcohol, after all, is an optional consumer product: If you don’t want to drink it, then don’t; if you don’t want to sell it, don’t do that, either.

If the state Legislature won’t reform the liquor laws, then the people should be allowed to vote on the issue in a statewide referendum.


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