The last ride of Mark McBride
(Mike Allen)

As the cold and barren off-seasson for lawmakers thaws and the first session of Oklahoma’s 59th Legislature approaches, the focus in January has been state agency budget requests, with legislative committees hearing presentations and proposals over the past few weeks.

Last week, many people on Twitter revealed that they did not understand how this process works, with education advocates and even some journalists mistaking a change to the State Board of Education’s budget request as a change to the State Department of Education’s budget. It’s an easy error to make, especially with the confusing nature of Tuesday’s House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Education hearing.

Chairman Mark McBride (R-Moore) and new Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters did not seem to be on the same page for that hearing. Walters told McBride that he would be amending the budget request proposed by his predecessor Joy Hofmeister, and he did on Thursday at the State Board of Education meeting by proposing that the bulk of dollars dedicated to any teacher pay raise be applied with some sort of “merit” system.

McBride, depicted above based on Bennett Brinkman‘s reporting, said he is open to the idea of merit-pay, but he wants to start with a base-pay increase and have subsequent cost-of-living pay bumps as well for educators. While Walters can request whatever he wants, the state budget and any statutory changes are controlled by legislators like McBride, who is beginning his sixth and final term in office. Put another way, Walters has been on the job for about three weeks, while McBride has been in the Legislature for 10 years.

If lawmakers received pay bonuses for merit — which would be far different from the proposal that legislators receive a bonus if they file only two or fewer bills — McBride’s track record in the Legislature might net him a pretty penny.

A former chairman of the House Energy Committee, McBride was a staunch opponent of raising the gross production tax on oil and gas — until he wasn’t. Equipped with a straight-shooting attitude and a temper that can blow up a caucus meeting, McBride went from a petroleum company champion who frustrated education advocates to the only Republican who signed a proposed deal with Democrats to raise GPT (and other taxes) in 2018 and enact a large teacher pay increase before that year’s teacher walkout. Around the same time, McBride had been a vocal critic of the state’s ballooning tax subsidies for wind farms, and he alleged that Texas representatives of multi-national energy companies were responsible for a tracking device planted on his truck. (McBride sued and settled his case, which means he won’t say what he learned about the tracking device.)

The wind farm tax subsidy drama also led to McBride’s prickly relationship with the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. The conservative advocacy group agreed with McBride that the tax subsidies were out of control, but somewhere in that process a personal disagreement started a fallout that led to “obscenities” being uttered during a confrontation with OCPA’s president. Fast forward to the 2022 election cycle, and an OCPA-connected dark money group ran TV ads against McBride and House Common Education Committee Chairwoman Rhonda Baker (R-Yukon), calling them “fake Republicans who voted with Democrats and stopped school freedom in Oklahoma.” (OCPA targeted four such Republicans in the 2022 primaries, taking out only former Rep. Logan Phillips, who himself had accidentally defeated a Democratic leader who had signed the 2018 revenue agreement with McBride.)

Now, with the first session of the 59th Legislature set to convene Feb. 6, the last ride of Mark McBride opens with Walters and OCPA aligned on a push for private school vouchers that rural Republican leaders of the House of Representatives largely consider unworkable. Riveting stuff, indeed, with major implications. Buckle up and sign up for NonDoc’s direct text program to receive stories about this topic all session.

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