Capitol Insider: Inside The Legislative Process
With just over a month left in the 2021 Oklahoma legislative session, we pause to discuss what it's really like to be a legislator. State Senator Darrell Weaver, (R) Moore, was an agency director before being elected to the State Senate. That gives him unique perspective on the governing process. Weaver tells KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley what really goes on "inside the walls" at the State Capitol in this segment of Capitol Insider.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol news director, Shawn Ashley. And rather than talking about divisive legislation that's grabbing headlines, we want to take a different approach this week and discuss how members of the Oklahoma legislature are working together on legislation… or not. To do that, we’re joined by State Senator Darrell Weaver, Republican from Moore. Senator Weaver, it's good to have you with us.
Sen. Darrell Weaver: Well, it's my pleasure. It really is good to see you. And it's just an honor to be here to answer questions and talk about our great state capital.
Dick Pryor: There's just a little over a month left in the session. How would you rate it so far?
Sen. Darrell Weaver: Well, you know, I've told people we're trying to cram two sessions into one session. COVID had just destroyed so many bills last year, not getting a hearing, I think we're doing very well considering the amount of work that we've taken on, you know. Because of that, I rate it very high. I really do. I think of my three years this will end up being my most successful year just simply on the magnitude of the things accomplished.
Shawn Ashley: Senator, you came to the legislature with a different resume than a lot of other lawmakers. You led an agency for a number of years as director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. How has that experience given you a different perspective on the legislature and its role?
Sen. Darrell Weaver: One thing about a citizen legislature, everybody comes with different perspectives, and that's really the beauty of it. Some people think, well, that that person don't know that much about X, Y and Z, but they know a lot about M, L and P, and I think that that's important up there. So everybody has the skill set in the wheelhouse, if you would, to kind of function from or at least where they came from, and mine was in public safety. And I've been told the only time a legislator actually in the Senate came from an agency head, now we've had some that came from the Senate into an agency head, but I think I'm the only one that's ever done that in our state's history.
And it's really give me a unique perspective, because everybody has a role at the state capitol. I had a role - I fought very hard for the men and women of the Bureau of Narcotics because we were up against everything from opioids to methamphetamine issues to drug cartels. I mean, we had a lot of issues when I was over there. We were trying to fight a large battle and I was at the Capitol and I was trying to get money and I was trying to get resources and I was trying to get manpower. And I came at that unashamed and that was my role. Today, it's a different perspective, if you would. I’m elected. Our primary function, one of them obviously, is the budget in how we spend taxpayers money. But really, it's an advantage, the process being on appropriations, I mean, I went through that a lot and it's ironic I'm serving with people today that were in the Senate when I was in executive branch. And there will be there'll be pictures of timelines come up where I was in their district, helping them. With Senator Allen, Senator Simpson and Senator Jecht and I are friends and I mean all these people that I had a different role and now I'm sitting as a colleague and sittin’ and votin’ beside ‘em and arguing for one day and against them the next. So, it's a different dynamic.
Dick Pryor: As lawmakers go about appropriating money and developing policies that affect state agencies, what do you think your colleagues need to know that they may not understand about the operation of state agencies?
Sen. Darrell Weaver: Well, you know, Dick, that's a great question. And I really go back to my executive branch just for a moment again and I always respected the legislators that would listen, and I think listening is the key at 23rd and Lincoln for success. You've really got to listen to people. It's very dangerous, in my opinion, to believe you know everything about something and you can get a little speckle of knowledge and not know much about anything, to be frank with you, and it’s very dangerous.
So, I think when it comes to budget, I think that if I had advice for someone just elected that had not been around government much, I would say, you know what? Take time to drill down and do some dives and if you're on appropriations on public safety, then go out and kick the tires on some of these agencies, meet with their directors, meet with their staff. If they have a program where you can go out and see the operations go out and look at it, talk to the agents or the employees in the field and say, you know, what's going on? “What do you think about this?” and let's get real insight of what's going on.
When we did VIP days with the bureau, we had people out and I always told everybody, them VIPs that were out there, many at the time were legislators, and I'd say, “listen, you can ask my agents, you can ask my employees anything.” I did not care. You find out what you want to know about this agency - had nothing to hide. And so, I think you just have to kick the tires on these agencies to find out what their real needs are. And I know some - I've got to be careful here - because I call it the tricks and I don't want to call it tricks because I don't think the executive branch, I never tricked anybody, but I told my wife sitting on the first time I went over all the appropriations for the public safety and judiciary, I turned to her and I said, “honey, this is an unfair fight because these folks are using - they're using things that I developed,” and I said that tongue in cheek and they're all great people, but I have an insight. I know. I'm not saying I can't be buffaloed a little bit, but it's going to be hard to come in, especially in public safety and judiciary and try to tell me something that's not true.
Shawn Ashley: On the federal level we seem to see some clear lines drawn between Democrats and Republicans with very little compromise ever seriously considered. Is there is a difference in the Oklahoma legislature?
Sen. Darrell Weaver: You know, that's a great question, again, we’re asked a lot. And because there's such turmoil in Washington, D.C., some people think that that's reflective of what happens at 23rd and Lincoln. And let me say without hesitation that that's not what happens. I mean, frankly, the Democrats of Oklahoma, not all, but some are much different to the Democrats at a federal level. And I think we all recognize that at some level. And we, I get along we get along as a group in the Senate especially. Very well, in my opinion there's some great minds in the Democratic Senate right now, quite frankly.
Minority Leader Floyd and my friend Senator Brooks, I mean, these are attorneys that I'm on Judiciary with and then Senator Brooks, and then Senator Matthews from North Tulsa. He's a retired fireman. And Senator Matthews and I may disagree on an issue now and then, but which you know what? He's a public safety guy and he served hard and we have a lot of common ground.
One thing you learn of being a legislator and I want to get this in – it is a unique place, especially in the Senate, I believe, and I've never been in the House, but the Senate folks try to get along. You'll be voting against your colleague one moment, but yet you'll need their vote the next moment. People from the gallery may say, “oh, my gosh, you and Senator John John Doe was going at each other and then I saw you walking down the stairs- you're going to lunch together.” And they're like scratching their heads and they're like, “how does that happen?”
But that's the dynamics of politics in trying to get things done, because reasonable minds, I believe strongly reasonable minds can disagree. And we do disagree. And I've got great friends. I mean, they're beyond colleagues or friends that I disagree with sometimes a lot, but we bring the work of the state forward.
Shawn Ashley: Well, that really leads us to our next question. Republicans have supermajorities in the House and the Senate, in the Oklahoma legislature. They could do whatever they want without involving Democrats. But the Senate doesn't operate that way. In fact, you're an example of that. Your bill on aggravated trafficking got held up for a few days because not all the members had a copy of it and the Democrats brought that to your attention. How important is that collegiality in the legislative process? And is there a conscious effort among members to practice it?
Sen. Darrell Weaver: It's a daily effort to practice it. We talk about how we're going to decorum on the floor, how we address it, how we address members and this Republican or Democrat, it's just something different about it. And I and I cherish my almost three decades in law enforcement being a director and I love the men and women in blue. But there's something when you get your name on a ballot and you walk in that capitol and then you're sitting in that chair and you realize the weight that you have and you're sitting there in the Senate and you're just thinking about the history of the state and those type of things it really is pretty heavy sometimes, quite frankly. And it's just, just such an honor and you want to bring honor where our honors deserve. I'm telling you, I don't care if you're Democrat, Republican, Independent, if you run for office, I'm going to respect you. In my opinion is the greatest risk that you'll ever take because your name is on the ballot. But we get along well. We work at it to get along. We want to get along. And we have a high level of respect in the Senate. But you have to get along to get anything done. If you make a bunch of people mad, even within your own party it gets pretty rough pretty quick up there.
Dick Pryor: State Senator Darrell Weaver, thank you for joining us on Capitol Insider.
Sen. Darrell Weaver: Well, it's been my pleasure, gentlemen. It's been my pleasure.
Dick Pryor: If you have questions, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @ecapitol. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.