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Lawmakers packing 2010 ballot with propositions

Lawmakers packing 2010 ballot with propositions

This article appeared in the Tulsa World.

by: RON JENKINS Associated Press Writer
Monday, May 25, 2009

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahomans could be a bit bleary-eyed leaving the polls in 2010 because of a raft of state questions and a full slate of elective offices on the general election ballot.

Legislators already have adopted resolutions for statewide votes on at least eight propositions and one measure is headed for the ballot after a successful initiative petition drive. Another petition drive is pending on overhauling the Department of Human Services.

Other proposed referendums are in the pipeline and could be sent to the ballot by lawmakers next year.

Plans for adjournment in the Senate blew up Friday when leaders of the GOP majority were unable to muster the votes to pass a bill to name a chief information officer in charge of state computer systems.

Some of the GOP-backed referendums were sent to the statewide ballot for next year after they got through the legislative process but were vetoed by Democratic Gov. Brad Henry.

They include proposals to require Senate confirmation of appointments to the Workers' Compensation Court and requiring voters to present photo identification or other ID at the polls. Other referendums would declare English as "the common and unifying language of Oklahoma," limit most statewide officeholders to two four-year terms and increase from 13 to 15 the membership of the Judicial Nominating Commission.

The initiative petition already scheduled for a vote next year seeks to raise $850 million for education over a three-year period. Supporters of the Helping Oklahoma Public Education petition, including the Oklahoma Education Association, gathered more than 200,000 signatures.

Last week, the Legislature adopted a Republican-sponsored proposed constitutional amendment that could undo the HOPE plan.

Democrats fought the GOP resolution for a constitutional amendment to bar any set formula for distributing funds appropriated by the Legislature. They said the plan, by thwarting the HOPE initiative, usurps the right of the people to petition their government, while creating confusion at the ballot box.

Republicans said the Legislature should not be controlled by a formula pushed by "special interests" which would eliminate the flexibility needed to deal with changing revenue conditions and agency needs.

Charlie Laster, Democratic Senate leader, said sending so many issues to the ballot after vetoes or legislative defeat was part of the GOP majority's "my way or the highway" approach to governing. GOP leaders said Democrats were being obstructionists.

Republicans took control of the Senate for the first time ever after the 2008 elections, holding a 26-22 majority.

Sen. Todd Lamb, R-Edmond, said adoption of the HOPE plan would lead to debate on increasing taxes and mean needed state programs would have to be cut.

Some legislators said sending so many propositions to the 2010 ballot could create confusion, especially on the school funding issue.

Sen. Randy Brogdon, R-Owasso, said he would have preferred to have the Legislature pass some of the proposed laws contained in the state questions.

"But Oklahoma is a populist state and people are used to being able to vote on certain issues," said Brogdon, a Republican candidate for governor.

He said how much confusion there is for voters could depend on how the ballot titles are written.

The governor's race will likely be the premiere battle on the 2010 ballot since Henry cannot run for re-election because of term limits.

Democrats will be trying to hold onto the governor's mansion after losing control of both houses of the Legislature this decade.

Republicans took over the House in 2004 and became the majority party in the Senate for the first time in history in 2008.

In addition to the governor's race, next year's ballot includes contests for the U.S. Senate, Congress, the Legislature and various statewide offices such as attorney general and lieutenant governor.

The Democratic primary for governor is expected to be a close race between Attorney General Drew Edmondson and Lt. Gov. Jari Askins. Congresswoman Mary Fallin is considered the front-runner over Brogdon on the Republican side.

Ex-U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts had considered running against Fallin and Brogdon, but bowed out last week, saying he could not overcome hurdles involving his business enterprises.

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn of Muskogee has said he will announce by June 1 whether he will seek re-election. No major prospective candidates have announced for the post.

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