Capitol Insider: Top Ten Oklahoma Stories Of 2021 (Part Two)
In the final Capitol Insider segment of 2021, Dick and Shawn discuss the top five political and government stories of the year in Oklahoma.
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. It's time to close out 2021, with the second of a two-part discussion highlighting the top ten Oklahoma political and government stories of the year, as heard on Capitol Insider. Shawn, now to number five: Redistricting changes congressional districts for the next 10 years.
Shawn Ashley: Lawmakers had hoped to address congressional redistricting during the 2021 regular session, but the delay in receiving the numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau pushed that off to a November special session. Probably the biggest change comes in the 3rd and 5th Congressional Districts, where a portion of the 5th Congressional District was carved out and placed in the 3rd in order to balance the representation in each district. However, critics have pointed out that that particularly impacts the Hispanic community in southern Oklahoma City and southern Oklahoma County, moving them from the 5th Congressional District, where they once made up 18 percent of the electorate, into the 3rd Congressional District, reducing the Hispanic representation in the 5th District down to 10 percent.
Dick Pryor: Now, number four: Resumption of executions and the Julius Jones case that resulted in Gov. Kevin Stitt's decision to spare his life but commute his sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. This story has received national and international attention.
Shawn Ashley: And this is a story we likely will hear more about in 2022. What we saw in 2021 is that a number of death row inmates who were not part of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Oklahoma's death penalty process scheduled for execution. One of those individuals was Julius Jones, who has maintained his innocence throughout his more than 20 years on death row. Initially, the Pardon and Parole Board recommended that Jones’ sentence be commutated, but Governor Kevin Stitt rejected that recommendation. When the board recommended clemency for Jones, Governor Stitt agreed to that and reduced his sentence to life without the possibility of parole. As we move into 2022, there is that challenge to the constitutionality of Oklahoma's death penalty process that still has to be heard by a federal court, and then that decision could ultimately be appealed to the Supreme Court. While there are a couple more executions scheduled in early 2022, the remainder of Oklahoma's death row inmates largely are involved in that lawsuit, so that could slow the rate of executions in Oklahoma going forward.
Dick Pryor: Now, number three in our top ten list: The Stitt administration's relentless opposition to federal vaccination requirements. Why are Governor Stitt and Attorney General John O'Connor fighting this fight?
Shawn Ashley: Well, there are a couple of reasons it appears. First of all, both Governor Stitt and Attorney General O'Connor have expressed the idea that whether someone receives a vaccine is ultimately their decision and a matter of personal responsibility. Now, a number of officials in Oklahoma have complained for a number of years about what they consider to be federal overreach, and that is what Governor Stitt and Attorney General O'Connor have called these federal mandates. And during the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers passed and Governor Stitt signed, House Bill 1236, which created a special unit within the Attorney General's Office, just to deal with such matters and provided $10 million for that cause.
Dick Pryor: Number two: Continued conflict between the Stitt administration and sovereign nations - Native American tribes. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma prompted a flurry of responses from the Stitt administration, intended or not, that have driven a wedge between the state of Oklahoma and the tribes that reside here. What's ahead in this relationship?
Shawn Ashley: Well, a lot of mending needs to take place between the tribes and the governor's office in order for their relationship to return to what it once was. In terms of resolving McGirt, that's ultimately going to be up to a court to decide. The state of Oklahoma has filed a number of cases with the U.S. Supreme Court asking that the 2020 decision either be clarified or overturned in its entirety, and we'll have to see how that plays out for them.
Dick Pryor: And now the number one story on our list of top stories from the year 2021: State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister changes parties to challenge Kevin Stitt for governor in 2022. This was the Oklahoma political “shot heard ‘round the world” as Hofmeister announced she will run as a member of the Democratic Party. And her decision looms large over the 2022 election.
Shawn Ashley: Yes, I think it's the top story of 2021, not only because she knows that she is challenging him, but because Superintendent Hofmeister indicated that the Oklahoma Republican Party has left her behind, and therefore she is becoming a member of the Democratic Party. She likely will face a primary challenge from former state senator Connie Johnson, which in and of itself will be interesting for the Democratic Party. And then we'll have to see if she makes it to the general election as a Democrat, which I believe she will, what sort of impact she will have on other races across the state.
Dick Pryor: Hofmeister’s candidacy as a Democrat looks to turn what was going to be a lackluster election season into one seriously worth watching. Thanks, Shawn.
Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.
Dick Pryor: And Happy New Year, everybody. Remember we'd like to hear from you. Email your questions to email@example.com or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @ecapitol. Until next time with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.