Oklahoma’s 2018 gubernatorial race is heating up, with campaigns releasing reform plans, taking firmer positions on state budget negotiations and one even accusing an opposing campaign manager of a nefarious action.
Thursday, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb announced a six-point “ethics reform” plan at a morning press conference. The recommendations are aimed at everything from punishing legislators who resign to applying campaign donation restrictions during special sessions. Lamb would also require stronger training about and repercussions for sexual harassment at the Capitol.
But for the past three days, the campaign of Tulsa businessman Kevin Stitt has been calling media to say Lamb’s campaign manager and longtime political associate, Keith Beall, “breached” a Stitt conference call Monday. Both Lamb and Stitt are running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2018.
“On Monday morning, Todd Lamb’s former chief of staff in the lieutenant governor’s office and current gubernatorial campaign manager, Keith Beall, breached a weekly Stitt Campaign conference call,” Stitt communications director Donelle Harder wrote in an email to NonDoc on Wednesday evening.
Harder provided a screenshot of a FreeConferenceCall.com report showing Beall’s cell phone number as a participant in the Nov. 27 call.
“Shortly after the call started, the organizer was notified someone else joined. This person did not identify himself. So the call organizer asked for people to say who was on the line, but it still didn’t prompt a response,” Harder said. “The organizer of the call then delivered a brief comment and made a quick excuse on needing to end the call out of concern about this unidentified caller. Keith’s number was then the last to hang up.”
Asked about the accusation after Lamb’s press conference, Beall said he was “snookered” and had received a text message saying he was late for a conference call. He said he simply called the number and hung up a minute later after realizing whose call it was.
“I was texted a number saying, ‘You’re missing the call,’ or something like that. ‘Are you getting on the call?'” Beall said. “I got snookered.”
Asked multiple times to provide the number that texted him, Beall declined.
“There’s no reason to get into that. To me, it’s a non-story. I got on the call, realized I’d been snookered, and then I got off the call,” he said. “I have no idea (who did it). I assume, now, based off how fast they ran to the press. But I’m not accusing anyone because I don’t know who did it. It could have been you. You know what I’m saying? I have no idea.”
Following the initial publication of this story, Lamb’s campaign spokesman, John Cox, emailed a statement.
“Unfortunately, a petty political trick was attempted against our campaign by an unknown entity. When Mr. Beall realized the deception, he immediately disconnected from the call in question and deleted the message so the Stitt campaign conference call number was not accidently ever called again,” Cox said. “Whether their campaign allowed sensitive information to be leaked, or they are playing political games, either way, I am very disappointed one of our opponents has taken a negative turn when we should be focused on substantive issues.”
Stitt looking at GPT, but wants state competitive
Harder joined Stitt’s campaign Nov. 17, the same day the Legislature adjourned its tumultuous special session. She had been vice president of communications for the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association, and she said she is finishing up projects for OKOGA on a temporary basis during the transition.
Ten days before Harder’s first day on the Stitt campaign, an article from The Frontier noted that Stitt said he supports raising Oklahoma’s gross production tax incentive rate. OKOGA has publicly opposed raising the GPT.
Thursday, Harder said it’s more accurate to say Stitt, founder and CEO of Gateway Mortgage, is “open” to looking at the gross production tax but would not support anything that puts Oklahoma at a competitive disadvantage.
“Kevin Stitt, as a successful businessman, is focused on making sure our tax rates are competitive with neighboring states,” Harder said. “He is looking at the gross production tax because he has been asked about this on the campaign trail, and he is committed to making sure it remains competitive as he assesses how it is structured.”
Lamb’s six ethics reform proposals
At his press conference Thursday, Lamb focused on his six proposals for ethics reform, which were detailed in an accompanying release:
- “Any legislator who resigns their seat before the end of their term will forgo any state retirement related to their term in elected office until the cost of the special election (with interest) to fill their unexpired term is repaid to the state.” The proposal would include three potential exemptions.
- “Apply current restrictions on donations by lobbyists and lobbyist principals during regular session to any special legislative session.” The proposal would also decrease by various percentages over the course of a special session.
- “Required sexual harassment training for statewide and legislative elected officials to be conducted by the office of the Oklahoma Attorney General.” The proposal would also create a state ombudsman to whom people could report concerns about sexual harassment from lawmakers or state employees, and it would terminate benefits for any legislator who is expelled or who resigns over sexual harassment.
- “Cooling-off period for elected officials and agency directors. Legislators, statewide elected officials and agency directors shall not assist or represent any private interest for compensation in a lobbying or consulting role on a matter that is the subject of legislative or executive action for a minimum of two years following the end of their state service, whether elected or appointed. For legislators, this change would affect all new terms in office.” The proposal is similar to one being considered by the Oklahoma Ethics Commission currently, but Lamb said Thursday he had not been notified of the commission’s effort.
- “Elimination of special legislative vehicle license tags. Enforcement of prohibition against consuming alcohol within the state Capitol.”
- “Create an ombudsman position within the office of the Oklahoma Attorney General where state employees can, with protection, expose corruption, report government waste and offer cost-saving ideas.” The proposal also includes the creation of “non-cash Ethical Excellence Awards to recognize outstanding state employees who demonstrate ethical behavior.”
At his press conference, Lamb said he has been traveling Oklahoma from corner to corner discussing the state’s issues.
“The conversation about the budget does not just occur in this building,” Lamb said when asked about state finances. “I’ve been very detailed in my plan about how to address the budget. I have a two-pronged proposal on efficiencies within the appropriated dollars we have now and reforming the legislative process. The actual legislative budget process we have right now does not work and is broken.”
In a Nov. 26 article written by Ben Felder of The Oklahoman, Lamb was quoted as saying, “But no one has convinced me yet that we have a serious revenue problem.”
Asked Thursday about the quote and what types of revenue he might support if he were in the Legislature currently, Lamb said, “I think that statement stands on its own.”
Edmondson would create new office
Lamb was not the only 2018 candidate to announce a plan in the vein of improving government this week. Democratic candidate Drew Edmondson’s campaign sent out a release Wednesday saying the former attorney general would create an “Office of Open Government” within the governor’s office, if elected. He said the office would focus on compliance with the state’s “sunshine laws” concerning open records and open meetings.
“Government belongs to the people,” Edmondson said in the release. “The meetings we hold, the records we create — all of that belongs to the people. We should be working to guarantee that access. Instead, over the last seven years, we’ve seen an effort from the current administration to skirt the law and, in some cases, to outright stonewall the public. That has to stop.”
(Update: This story was updated at 2:14 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 30, to correct the spelling of Donelle Harder’s name. It was updated again at 3:05 p.m. to include John Cox’s statement.)