Oklahoma politicians never seem to lack for ways to appear self-serving and hypocritical. Back when the Democrats controlled Congress, the Republicans called for term limits; now that the GOP holds majorities, however slender, in both houses, their enthusiasm has cooled considerably. When Don Nickles first ran for the Senate, he seldom missed an opportunity to complain about career politicians, such as his opponent; no one, said Nickles, ought to be serving more than two terms — twelve years — in the Senate. That was 1980. Where is Don Nickles today? Certainly not selling farm machinery.

Similarly, Rep. J. C. Watts, a member of the GOP class of '94 which cleared out decades of Democratic deadwood, and current poster boy for the family-values crowd, is apparently having second thoughts about his pledge to serve three terms and no more. Perhaps he was inspired by the President he so often condemns; Watts' sexual indiscretions and enthusiasm for lobbyist money seem to have no more effect on the electorate than did Bill Clinton's.

Of course, for sheer egregiousness, it's hard to beat Rep. Ernest Istook, who is currently circulating a plan to expand the House of Representatives by approximately thirty seats. Istook points out, correctly, that the size of the House has varied over the years, reaching its current 435 early in this century. Indeed, the Constitution doesn't address the question of how big the House should be, except to specify that the number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every 30,000. But Istook has been screaming about the evils of Big Government for years; why would he suddenly want to make one house of Congress seven percent bigger? He hasn't come to his senses — he fears the Census is coming to him. The population of Oklahoma is growing substantially slower than the national average. In 1990, the state narrowly missed losing one of its six seats in the House. In 2000, losing a seat is almost inevitable, which means that there's at least a one-in-six chance that Istook will have to get a real job. The prospect seems to scare him. The fact that Rep. Tom Coburn, another member of the class of '94, is planning to stick to his pledge not to run for a fourth term — Coburn is clueless, but apparently honest, which ought to be worth something — apparently doesn't make Istook feel any more secure. Then again, apart from ostensibly controlling the reapportionment process, the state's hapless Democrats don't pose any threat to him; this is, after all, the party that came perilously close to running a dead woman against Don Nickles in 1998. In the unlikely event that they pick up a House seat, God only knows what sort of bizarre episodes will ensue — but I expect to be here to watch.

The Vent

#147
1 May 1999

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 Copyright © 1999 by Charles G. Hill