In this episode of Capitol Insider, KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley interview Senate Democratic Leader Kay Floyd of Oklahoma City. Floyd explains her opposition to the Republican plan to give the governor more authority over state agencies and her hopes for increasing education funding.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics and policy. I'm Dick Pryor, with eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley. And our guest is Senator Kay Floyd of Oklahoma City, the Democratic leader in the state Senate. Welcome.
Sen. Kay Floyd: Thank you. Happy to be here.
Shawn Ashley: Senator, on Wednesday the Senate approved measures that would expand the governor's authority to hire and fire the directors of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. In debate, you asked Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat about the confirmation process. Were you satisfied with his answer?
Floyd: I believe that Senator Treat was direct with his answers. I would have liked more. Senator Treat has said that he wants to have a robust confirmation process, and we'd like to know what that looks like. What kind of questions are we going to be allowed to ask of the nominees? Are we going to be able to to inquire as to conflicts of interest? Financial situations? Previous experience? Qualifications for the job? So, if we're going to have robust vetting, we'd like to know what that looks like.
Pryor: Governor Stitt has wanted these changes as it relates to agencies and boards. Do you think that's necessary?
Floyd: I think that the system that we've had has worked well. I think there have been a few agencies, a few bad actors, or a few bad situations, if you will, but to throw out an entire system believing that because we had a few bad situations all the agencies aren't working properly or that the process isn't working properly didn't make a lot of sense to us.
The system that we have now is you've got the governor appointing the boards. The boards have certain qualifications that they have to meet. Those are statutory. And those boards, who are considered experts in their field and knowledgeable about their field, would hire the executive director. The system that we have right now is the governor has a cabinet in place and directors answer to the cabinet. So we felt like that the system that we had could be tweaked. I mean, everything can be improved, but we didn't feel like this was the direction to go.
You know I'll concede that the state of Oklahoma does not have as expansive an executive branch as some states. But again, I feel like going in and overhauling, making mass overhauls on agencies, completely doing away with a process... Which frankly no one has been able to to give me examples of when it wasn't working.
Ashley: Let's switch gears a bit and talk about your caucus that you lead. It's only nine members. What do you see the role of the Democratic minority caucus being in the Senate this legislative session?
Floyd: The role of the minority is to shine the light on in dark places and to make sure that everyone is held accountable, and that's what that's what we do. We ask questions on the floor. That's part of our job. We debate. That's part of our job. And sometimes people don't understand that. They think we're just being partisan, or arbitrary, or stubborn, and that's not the case. We have basic philosophical differences between Democrats and Republicans, and the policies that come through sometimes reflect those philosophical differences, and it's our job in the minority to make sure the voice of our constituents are heard.
Pryor: Are there issues this session where Democrats are likely to take a stand and not move?
Floyd: I will tell you on certain issues regarding education I anticipate Democrats will stand as strong as we did last session. You know, the first pay raise for the teachers last session was just that. It was just a pay raise, and the Democrats weren't willing to settle for that. The teachers needed a pay raise, but we needed more money in the classrooms. We needed more support. We need to be able to bring teachers back into the state. So there will be...There probably will be issues, especially regarding education, that that Democrats just... We'll come to the table. We'll discuss it. If we can find reasonable ways for everybody to get along, we'll do it. But, there may be some philosophical issues that the Democrats are going to feel one way and the Republicans are going to feel another.
Ashley: Governor Stitt has proposed a $1200 pay raise for teachers. The House has passed that bill, but the reluctance seems to be in the Senate, both among Republicans and Democrats that maybe that money would be better directed toward the classroom. Is it possible that Senate Republicans and Democrats will end up joining hands in pushing for more classroom funding against the governor and the House?
Floyd: I can't speak to what the Senate Republicans will do, but I can tell you that the Senate Democrats don't think it should be an either or proposition. It's not a $1200 pay raise to the teachers or more money into the classroom for the students. We don't accept that proposition. We believe that we can have it all. We believe that teachers need to be paid, and we believe that we need to make sure our per-pupil spending is at least regional standards and more. I mean we're 10 years behind in funding education. We've been making cuts for 10 years. We've got a lot of ground to make up.
Pryor: Senate Democratic Leader Kay Floyd, thank you very much.
Floyd: Thank you for having me.
Pryor: That's Capitol Insider. If you have questions e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us on Twitter at @kgounews. You can also find us online at kgou.org and eCapitol.net. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.