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Capitol Insider: Inhofe Retirement Likely To Set Off Candidate Scramble In 2022 Elections

U.S. Senate Photographic Studio,/U.S. Senate Photographic Studio,

Oklahoma's senior U.S. Senator James Inhofe has announced plans to retire, bringing to a close a long and storied political career that began in 1967. Inhofe has served in the U.S. Senate since 1994 and is the Ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Inhofe plans to remain in the Senate until January 3, 2023.


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with Quorum Call publisher Shawn Ashley. Oklahoma senior U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe has announced that he is retiring this year. Inhofe is 87 and was elected to his fifth six-year term in 2020. Shawn, the timing of the announcement was driven by a new Oklahoma law regarding resignation, specifically from the U.S. Senate, which appeared to be directed toward Senator Inhofe. What does the law provide for?

Shawn Ashley: Senator Inhofe had to announce his resignation by Tuesday, March 1st, to trigger a special election that will be held at the same time as this year's general election. According to the law, he must provide a written, irrevocable letter of resignation to the Secretary of State by March 1st. That law came from Senate Bill 959, which passed in 2021. Now, lawmakers have been working on this bill for several years, and there were several different renditions of it over time. Some which called for the governor to appoint someone to fill the vacancy for the remainder of the term, no matter how long it was, or others that called for a special election, no matter when the vacancy occurred. Senate Bill 959 was the ultimate compromise.

Dick Pryor: The special election will happen in November. This significantly changes the dynamics of the 2022 election. Some people who might want to run for Inhofe’s Senate seat probably were going to be on the general election ballot, but now they will have to make a choice, so this could be a real free for all.

Shawn Ashley: It really could. You know, members of the congressional delegation, such as Markwayne Mullin and Kevin Hern, who have expressed an interest in the seat, any statewide elected official like Governor Stitt or members of the state House or those in an even numbered state Senate seat will have to make a choice - seek reelection to their current seat or compete for the U.S. Senate seat. And if they decide to run for the U.S. Senate, that leaves their current seat open. It's a domino effect that we won't know the full impact of for six weeks when candidates formally file for office April 13th through the 15th. Now it's my understanding that on Friday, Governor Stitt indicated that he's going to seek reelection for governor and not run for the U.S. Senate.

Dick Pryor: Attorney General John O'Connor made an abrupt decision on Thursday not to review a list of more than 50 books in school libraries to determine whether they are obscene. The AG is not allowed to do that under Oklahoma law, but he had just announced his intention to review the books three days before. It was a curious chain of events, Shawn, since the law is clear on these matters,.

Shawn Ashley: Yeah, it really, really was. On Monday, O'Connor told The Frontier, an online news organization, that he was reviewing the books to determine whether they violate the state's obscenity law in response to complaints from parents and several groups. His office confirmed that review Tuesday in statements to the Tulsa World and The Oklahoman. But on Thursday, O'Connor issued a statement in which he said, “Our office is not conducting an investigation into this matter at this time.” Now, according to state law, the AG is not authorized to determine whether something is obscene. That's left up to the courts, and state statute establishes a process by which the AG or a district attorney may petition a court to make that determination.

Dick Pryor: The State Board of Equalization has made more money available for state appropriation in Fiscal Year 2023 than was previously expected. What do the revenue figures show?

Shawn Ashley: The total amount of funds available for appropriation for Fiscal Year 2023 increased by more than $160 million, according to the numbers presented to the Board of Equalization. Now, the driving force behind that increase was a jump in General Revenue Fund collections, particularly in terms of the state individual income tax, sales and use taxes, and the gross production taxes on oil and natural gas.

Dick Pryor: Are there any indications with more money to spend, whether next year's budget might change?

Shawn Ashley: Not really. Governor Stitt and leaders of the Legislature's appropriation committees continue to stress the need to limit recurring expenditures to recurring revenues. Now, General Revenue Fund collections are recurring revenues. But as Governor Stitt talked about when we spoke to him before State of the State speech earlier this month, he still wants to take a conservative approach.

Dick Pryor: The House and Senate were set back a couple of days because of the winter weather, with no sessions on Wednesday and Thursday. How does that impact their workload?

Shawn Ashley: It's going to be a busy, busy week. Thursday is the deadline for bills to be heard in a committee of their chamber of origin, and they lost a couple of days of that work, so they'll have to make it up in the coming days.

Dick Pryor: Thanks, Shawn.

Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.

Dick Pryor: We would like to hear from you. Email your questions to news@kgou.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @QuorumCallShawn. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.

Dick Pryor has more than 30 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November 2016.
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