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Frank Keating, OCPA
Frank Keating reviews documents during a meeting of the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents on Thursday, May 9, 2020. (Michael Duncan)

Former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating has resigned from the board of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, according to an email obtained by NonDoc.

Keating has been a board trustee for OCPA — the state’s leading conservative think tank that has fluctuated in its influence at the State Capitol — since February 2017. (In March 2017, he was appointed to the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents.)

Keating addressed his resignation letter to OCPA board chairman Larry Parman, an estate planning attorney who held cabinet positions in the administration of Gov. Mary Fallin. In the email, Keating references a series of frustrations:

Larry:

I admire you as a friend and hope to continue to be your friend. I have been disappointed with OCPA’s libertarian drift and am unhappy with the staff coup that I witnessed over the unwise State Question 805 debate and the continuing dismissive attitude toward Native American aspirations. For the staff to slander the entirety of the Republican State House delegation and to smear the public leadership of Mike Hunter and Dan Boren (to name a few) is beyond the pale.

My request of the staff to be able to help host my friend Jim Gallogly and the daughter of one of my best governor friends, Mike Huckabee at our coming dinner, went unanswered.

The final straw was our hiring of a career criminal defense attorney to advise us about what’s best for public safety and law enforcement.

It is best that I resign from the board. My voice is no longer relevant at OCPA.

Frank

Keating said his email was sent “in early September,” and its reference to “our coming dinner” would indicate that it was sent prior to the OCPA’s Liberty Gala held Wednesday, Sept. 16.

Keating’s name no longer appears on the webpage for OCPA’s board. The most recent screenshot of the page available online is from May 6, and Keating’s name appeared there at the time.

Keating has opposed State Question 805, which would end the use of sentence enhancements for any crime currently not defined as a violent crime in state statute. OCPA is in favor of SQ 805.

Keating responded to a text message seeking comment shortly after the publication of this story.

“I still respect the integrity and good will of the board and staff at OCPA. I regret terribly that the staff alone forced OCPA to endorse State Question 805, the worst infection to plague the state,” Keating wrote. “It is a career criminal stance and embarrassing to a once proud conservative organization.”

Jonathan Small, president of OCPA, returned a phone call after the publication of this story and said he appreciates Keating’s service to his organization.

“We’re so grateful for our work over the years with Gov. Frank Keating. We have given him an award. We have worked hard with him to advance parental school choice and worked to protect Oklahoma families from tax increases,” Small said. “We look forward to continuing to work with him on the issues where we agree for the betterment of all Oklahomans.”

But Small said OCPA “is governed by principles, not personalities.”

“So whether it’s fighting for parental school choice or trying to help nonviolent offenders learn from past mistakes and improve their lives and take care of their families, we fight every day for the most vulnerable and to try to help Oklahomans hold government accountable,” Small said.

In particular, Small responded to the former governor’s characterization of OCPA’s position regarding state-tribal policies.

“As it relates to native nations, we believe that Oklahoma must be a place not governed by two sets of rules for different Oklahomans, but based on fairness for all Oklahomans regardless of their demographics or their financial positions,” Small said.

An attorney and former FBI agent, Keating was the third Republican to be elected governor of the state of Oklahoma in 1994.

Background about OCPA

Formed in 1993, the OCPA has been a leading advocate for smaller government, lower taxes, free-market ideology, school choice and — more recently — criminal justice reform.

When the Oklahoma Legislature shifted to Republican control for the first time in state history about a decade ago, OCPA wielded significant influence among legislators, both rank and file Republicans and legislative leaders.

In recent years, however, OCPA’s influence among new Republican members of the Legislature has waned. The organization also faced criticism from some business leaders when it became the first conservative group to endorse increasing the gross production tax on oil and gas to 5 percent in February 2018. (The Legislature ultimately passed a revenue package that increased the GPT tax to 5 percent.)

In recent years, OCPA has been a prominent voice criticizing the existing Model Tribal Gaming Compact between Oklahoma and tribes that operate casinos in Oklahoma.

(Update: This article was updated at 3:55 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24, to include comment from Frank Keating and add additional information. It was updated again at 4:30 p.m. to include comment from Jonathan Small.)