The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

4 May 2005

A handful of woolyboogers

Based on the events of the last week or so, I have to conclude that Lieutenant Governor Mary Fallin thinks the quickest road to the Governor's Mansion is to paint the Senate as a bunch of do-nothings.

Which, most of the time, they are. The Democrats' powder-taking, reminiscent of the way their Texas counterparts fled quorum calls during the redistricting dust-up in Austin, might be characterized as a tad juvenile. The spectacle of the Republicans doing the same was comparably silly. But the Democrats do have one thing on their side: they can point to Mary Fallin and say "Well, she started it." The state GOP is asking the state Supreme Court just what power Fallin actually has; they could have saved themselves a trip by asking Mike Morgan.

Oh, the pertinent Constitutional passage?

The Senate shall, at the beginning of each regular session and at such other times as may be necessary, elect one of its members President pro tempore, who shall preside over its deliberations in the absence or place of the Lieutenant Governor; and the Senate shall provide for all its standing committees and, by a majority vote, elect the members thereof.

Not the most precise wording, to be sure, but if the writers of the Constitution had intended that the Lieutenant Governor should always preside when present, it's reasonable to assume that they would have said so, rather than go through the trouble of requiring the Senate to elect a President pro tempore in the first place.

And frankly, I'm inclined to distrust anyone's bill when its proponents insist that it should pass without going through a conference committee, even though it didn't get out of committee in the house in which it was introduced.

Anyone for a nuclear option?

Posted at 6:29 AM to Soonerland

TrackBack: 9:25 AM, 4 May 2005
» Someone tell Kos and Atrios from Life and Deatherage
The GOP holds 22 seats in the Oklahoma Senate, and Democrats hold the other 26....[read more]

Is she claiming the Senate shouldn't sit if she's present but chooses not to preside? Because I think that's the only possibility precluded by the wording.

If that's what she's asserting, she ought to write for sitcoms.

Posted by: McGehee at 8:02 AM on 4 May 2005

The thing is, she seldom if ever shows up in the Senate chamber; her other duties have always taken precedence. She's coming in now because the GOP caucus wants their workers'-comp bill, which originated in the House, to get a vote, despite the fact that it didn't make it out of the Senate committee.

Posted by: CGHill at 8:53 AM on 4 May 2005

I couldn't disagree more that the Democratic response to this is "a tad juvenile," or should be described that way. I said so the other day on ye olde blogge, kindly linked above by our proprietor:

Nationally, the GOP (including two Oklahoma Senators and four Oklahoma Representatives) insists that, when they're the majority, they don't have to give the minority any rights. On the state level, the same party insists that they can ignore the majority by having the Lieutenant Governor quite literally take over the Senate. The Democrats here are smart enough not to let her have a quorum, because if she chairs the chamber once, they're going to claim she can do it whenever she wants - and that will be whenever the GOP can't get its agenda passed.

On other site, it was pointed out that the Democrats could let Fallin take the chair and then challenge every one of her rulings, defeating them by majority vote - provided she recognizes them for their challenging motions. If she refuses to recognize anyone but Republicans, and if the Senate has no way of its own to get her out of the chair, then the end result is no different than if they just don't provide quorum: nothing will happen.

Someone else posited that the constitutional language "in the absence of place of the Lieutenant Governor" means only if she is not present or if the office is vacant, but since the rest of the constitution refers to executive vacancies in much clearer terms, I can't believe that's what the authors intended.

I may post more on it later depending on what happens today in Episode Five of Oklahoma Senate Survivor, as we wait to see who gets voted off the island.

Posted by: Matt at 9:23 AM on 4 May 2005

Maybe it's just me at my advanced age, but I don't see anything particularly mature about "I'm taking my ball and going home," even if it's a ball I like.

On the basic premise here — the GOP is trying to get away with something — I think we're more or less in agreement.

Posted by: CGHill at 10:17 AM on 4 May 2005

Funny, this is the current "It is written" quote that popped up when arriving at this site:
"Sock it to me?" Richard Nixon, 1968

And we can thank him for creating this confusion over the role of President *pro tempore (*for the time being) to begin with.
From John Adams in 1789 to Alben Barkley in 1952, presiding over the Senate was the chief function of vice presidents, who had an office in the Capitol, received their staff support and office expenses through the legislative appropriations, and who often were not invited to participate in cabinet meetings or other executive activities. In 1953, Vice President Richard M. Nixon changed the vice presidency by moving his chief office from the Capitol to the White House, by directing his attention to executive functions, and by attending Senate sessions only at critical times when his vote, or ruling from the chair, might be necessary. Vice presidents since Nixon's time have followed his example.

When we consider that the vice president used to be the Senate's regular presiding officer, we can better understand why the Constitution further provided that in the absence of the vice president the Senate could choose a president pro tempore to perform the duties of the chair.

Posted by: MikeH at 10:38 AM on 4 May 2005

The thing is, she seldom if ever shows up in the Senate chamber; her other duties have always taken precedence. She's coming in now because the GOP caucus wants their workers'-comp bill, which originated in the House, to get a vote, despite the fact that it didn't make it out of the Senate committee.

Well, nothing in the constitutional passage you quoted says that the Senate has any way to stop the lite-gubnor from presiding if she decides she's going to. As for the lack of clarity, remember who writes constitutions these days.

And yes, of course the Republicans are trying to get away with something. When the majority party is not the same as that of the ex officio president of the Senate, them's the "benefits" of divided government.

Posted by: McGehee at 10:45 AM on 4 May 2005

Well, the Republicans have asked the State Supreme Court for a ruling; one way or another, this should be settled fairly quickly.

And actually, the level of fractiousness in the Oklahoma Legislature these days is not a whole lot above normal; they were a cranky bunch even when one party (the Democrats) ran the whole show.

Posted by: CGHill at 10:53 AM on 4 May 2005

And as far as I know, the "It is written" stuff isn't context-sensitive; it just grabs a line from a 70k text file.

Posted by: CGHill at 10:55 AM on 4 May 2005