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If Fallin, Pruitt Go To Washington, Oklahoma Law Limits Replacement Options

Gov. Mary Fallin and her husband Wade Christensen look out from an elevator as she arrives at Trump Tower, Monday, Nov. 21, 2016 in New York.
Carolyn Kaster
Gov. Mary Fallin and her husband Wade Christensen look out from an elevator as she arrives at Trump Tower, Monday, Nov. 21, 2016 in New York.

Two high-level officials in Oklahoma are under consideration for President-elect Donald Trump’s administration, but state law is particular about who can fill their seats if one or both move to Washington.

Gov. Mary Fallin and Attorney General Scott Pruitt have both met with Trump as he forms his Cabinet. Fallin is rumored to be a candidate for Secretary of the Interior, and Pruitt’s name has been floated for a role within the Environmental Protection Agency.

Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb would assume Fallin’s office if she joins the administration, and would appoint his own replacement. However, there are some caveats, as The Journal Record’s Dale Denwalt reports:

Despite the long line of eager politicians who could benefit from holding that office, the governor would not be able to elevate a state senator or representative to the position. In a University of Tulsa Law Review article published in 2000, attorney Kevin Abel wrote that a legislator cannot be appointed to a position in government during his or her elected term, even if the legislator resigns. This constitutional prohibition could lead to the selection of a former lawmaker, a civil servant or even a private-sector candidate to be Lamb’s lieutenant governor. The same limits apply to the appointment of an attorney general if Pruitt vacates the seat he’s held for six years.

The potential transition wouldn’t happen immediately – since the vacancy wouldn’t officially occur until after the U.S. Senate confirmation process.

Oklahoma City University constitutional law professor Andrew Spiropoulos says there could be a lot of political calculations if Lamb has to pick his successor.

He says a new governor should appoint someone popular, but willing to stay behind the scenes, especially since Oklahoma’s second-in-command doesn’t have many defined roles within state government. Spiropoulos also said it’s unlikely an appointed lieutenant governor would mount a primary challenge against a Gov. Lamb.

“If someone accepts the lieutenant governor’s job, it could be very difficult for them to be able to run against you in a primary down the road,” he said. “Actually, trying to get someone to take that job is not a bad way of knocking them out as a potential opponent, because they’re less likely to run against you.” For attorney general, the governor would have more freedom to pick someone from outside politics, he said. It can be a prominent attorney, a former prosecutor or judge. “The most important concern for any governor that has to fill the attorney general’s position is to get someone who people are going to believe is fair and is going to do the job as a lawyer as well as it could be done,” Spiropoulos said.

Fallin's office says her position on Trump's transition team hasn't interfered with her duties as governor, and she can carry out the role primarily by telephone. Spokesman Michael McNutt told Sean Murphy with The Associated Press Fallin's primary responsibility is to provide the president-elect's staff with policy ideas and suggestions about who should fill key positions.

McNutt also said that Fallin's selection as a vice chair of the transition team doesn't affect her consideration for a post in the Trump administration. Fallin met with Trump last week and is being considered to head the U.S. Department of the Interior, which has 70,000 employees and oversees 11 separate federal agencies. She was among a dozen people named on Tuesday to serve on Trump's transition team.

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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