On Friday, October 9, the State Department of Health reported the largest one-day total for number of new coronavirus cases in Oklahoma - 1,524. The new number pushed the seven-day rolling average for new cases in Oklahoma to 1,075. And, statewide hospitalizations reached a record high for the second time in a week.
Despite the increases, Governor Kevin Stitt pushed back against reporting from the White House Coronavirus Task Force, asking for clarification of language that indicated Oklahoma has had "many preventable deaths." KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley discuss that story and more in the latest Capitol Insider.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside politics, policy government and elections. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley. Shawn, the State Department of Health released the latest White House Coronavirus Task Force report on Wednesday. The governor's office was not happy. What did they take exception to?
Shawn Ashley: That's right. There was a line in this week's report that indicated that community transmission remains high, resulting in many preventable deaths. And it was the last part of the sentence, of course, that the governor's office took issue with. They went so far as to contact the White House about it. And we're told that the same line was used in a number of other reports as well. Oklahoma, as the report indicates, has seen high community transmission and its positivity rate remains over ten-point-one percent, putting it in both the red zone for new cases and for positivity rate.
Dick Pryor: And the state has been in those red zones for many weeks.
Shawn Ashley: That's correct.
Dick Pryor: That was the same day the governor and several other state administration officials announced the establishment of the Oklahoma Pandemic Center for Innovation and Excellence and the relocation of the state's public health lab. Everything is moving to Stillwater in a couple of years. What's the reason for the move and what is their plan?
Shawn Ashley: Well, the public health lab has needed to be replaced for a number of years, and Department of Health officials have sought funding for that through the long-range Capitol Planning Commission. But were never successful in obtaining it. But in 2017, they did win approval of a nearly 60 million-dollar bond issue to build a new health department lab, but they have not moved forward with that yet. The creation of the pandemic center, it appears, comes out of the response to something we heard Dr. Lance Frye, the commissioner of health, say to the House Public Health Committee a few weeks ago and to us as well.
And that is the state was not prepared to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. What they hope this center will do is to provide information so that the state can be prepared for future pandemics, as well as information that can be shared with other states. They'll fund the establishment of the center, as well as additional work related to the public health lab with 25 million dollars of the federal CARES Act funding that the state of Oklahoma received.
Dick Pryor: We're in the middle of our Oklahoma Engaged election coverage and the deadline to register or change your registration for the general election on November 3rd has passed. New party registrations this year have shown a major Republican advantage, and the Republican edge over Democrats was already significant in Oklahoma.
Shawn Ashley: That's correct. At the end of September, there were one-point-one million registered Republicans in the state of Oklahoma and about 740,000 registered Democrats. The remainder of the registries were made up of Libertarians and Independents. In the month of October, the state election board recently reported an additional 20,000 individuals have registered to vote. And really, Republicans continue the trend, outpacing Democrats by two to one. Some 52 percent of those who have registered to vote since the start of October registered as Republicans, while only 26 percent registered as Democrats.
Dick Pryor: Democrats continue to do well in urban areas, but Republicans much better in rural areas. So, it is a major lift right now for the Democratic Party in Oklahoma.
Shawn Ashley: Democrats face a big challenge, both in terms of the CD-5 race, where a Republican state senator, Stephanie Bice, is challenging sitting congresswoman, Kendra Horn. And registration there does tend to favor Republicans. And then statewide, where you have Abby Broyles, a Democrat, challenging U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe on a statewide basis, too, the numbers favor Republicans and a chance for Senator Inhofe to return to the U.S. capital.
Dick Pryor: The latest state gross revenue report showed a year-over-year decline. What does State Treasurer Randy McDaniel's report indicate?
Shawn Ashley: Yeah, the report indicated that only one of the four major revenue sources - individual and corporate income tax collections - showed an increase over one year ago. But that may be a bit of a mirage due to the unemployment benefits that were being paid out of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. Since March, the commission has paid out three-point-four billion dollars in unemployment benefits. That's more than they paid out from 2010 to 2019.
Dick Pryor: Thanks, Shawn.
Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.
Dick Pryor: That's Capitol Insider. If you have questions, e-mail us at email@example.com 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.