The election of Donald Trump as president may ultimately set off a chain of events that could shape government power in Oklahoma for the next two years — and possibly longer.
If current Gov. Mary Fallin is selected for any sort of position in Trump’s cabinet, Article 6, Section 16 of the Oklahoma Constitution provides for the state’s lieutenant governor to replace her:
In case of impeachment of the Governor, or of his death, failure to qualify, resignation, removal from the State, or inability to discharge the powers and duties of the office, the said office, with its compensation, shall devolve upon the Lieutenant Governor for the residue of the term or until the disability shall be removed.
Should Mrs. Fallin go to Washington, the “residue” of her term would “devolve” to Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb.
Now, Oklahoma’s first female governor may leave her second term early if selected for a position in the Trump administration.
So far, Fallin’s name has been discussed by media most often as a potential secretary of the interior. The Department of the Interior includes 10 bureaus, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey.
A ticket that will take her anywhere but here
While the AP has said Fallin “downplayed” suggestion that she might join the Trump administration, the governor’s motivation for accepting a federal appointment would likely be two-fold.
First, holding office in a presidential administration is prestigious, and the governor aligned herself with Trump early on. She stood by her endorsement of Trump after his crude 2005 comments about sexually assaulting women became public. Some female Republican officials did not.
A second possible motivation for Fallin to join Trump in Washington, however, could be the state of Oklahoma’s ongoing budget woes. The state will almost certainly be facing a revenue shortfall between $500 million and $1.5 billion for the second consecutive session, all while educators and parents clamor for a teacher-pay hike that Fallin and legislative leaders were unable to come close to providing in 2016.
Other state entities are tight on money, too, and they also fear additional cuts. Higher education was cut heavily this year in anticipation of SQ 779 passing, which did not happen. Oklahoma’s Medicaid agency may again see rising costs with declining revenues, and the Oklahoma Board of Corrections recently voted to request $1 billion more than what it received last session, a completely improbable suggestion that highlights through hyperbole agency-director Joe Allbaugh’s alarm for the state’s corrections system.
All of that is to say, Fallin has numerous reasons to dream of walking away from the messy government she has overseen for the past six years, although the phrase “no one would blame her” should probably be avoided. Plenty of people blame Fallin for the state’s troubles now, and politicians who bail on their constituents mid-term always receive at least mild derision.
The partisan blog headline, “Fallin flees budget deficit for cushy appointment,” almost writes itself.
Would assuming the position be good or bad?
Should Fallin do so, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb would inherit a crumbling Capitol filled with an inexperienced Legislature and an angry populace. Being handed two years to govern a wobbly honey wagon could either be a boon or an impediment to Lamb’s widely assumed 2018 gubernatorial aspirations.
On the one hand, the former Edmond state senator would campaign two years from now with all the power of an incumbent. In the meantime, if he could somehow lead a grand budget deal that raises new revenue for teacher pay while staving off additional agency cuts, Lamb could appear competent and effective to the point of being nearly invincible in both a GOP primary and a general election.
On the other hand, two years of placating special interests and watching the Legislature ignore executive calls for sales tax reform — as Fallin spent much of last year doing — could paint Lamb as yet another do-nothing politician who couldn’t manage a bicycle out of a ditch.
Lamb’s office has ignored multiple NonDoc requests for an interview with the lieutenant governor.
Democrats await a Dan Boren decision
That latter option would be the hope of any potential 2018 GOP challengers for governor — Attorney General Scott Pruitt and State Treasurer Ken Miller come to mind — as well as potential 2018 Democratic candidates.
Among Dems kicking the tires on a 2018 run are 2014 candidate and Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy CEO Joe Dorman, House Minority Leader Scott Inman (D-Del City) and former U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, the son of OU president David L. Boren who serves as president of the Chickasaw Nation Department of Commerce.
Boren would be the early favorite in any such Democratic primary, though former Attorney General Drew Edmondson lost after holding similar stock in 2010.
In an October report from The Oklahoman’s Chris Casteel, numerous political veterans predicted Boren would likely not run for governor if Hillary Clinton were president. A Trump presidency, however, means Republicans will control every single level of government in places like Oklahoma City.
Or, as Inman put it while giving a fiery speech during the final minute of an Oklahoma City Thunder game at a bar last week, Oklahoma Republicans will no longer be able to blame economic and governmental failings on President Barack Obama.
Such a point is just cynical enough to be accurate.
Perhaps that makes three motivating factors for Fallin to accept any proposed position in a Trump cabinet.
As usual, the citizenry will wait and wonder.
(Editor’s note: Oklahoma oil mogul Harold Hamm has also been mentioned as a potential appointee, and outlets are reporting a Sunday meeting between Trump and former Oklahoma Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon.)